Chatting with Ted Kilgore of Planter's House in St. Louis

- interview by Sara Gorelick

Sara spoke with Ted Kilgore, co-owner and head mixologist at Planter's House in St. Louis. Ted is a big fan of DIY cocktails and encourages consumers to enjoy cocktails at home (in addition to at his bar). At Tales of the Cocktail, Ted led a seminar called "Make it Your Own" workshop, focusing on the growth of the craft cocktail movement among home bartenders. Read on about Ted's bar, his love for his guests and their cocktail knowledge, and finding what he calls "three ingredient bliss."

Can you tell me about yourself and what you do?

I am the owner and beverage director of Planter's House in St. Louis. Planter's House is my spirits and cocktail playground. While I have been a bartender for 17 years, owning my own place has been a dream come true for me. I am really a super geeky cocktail and spirits dork at heart. I enjoy sharing my obsession with anyone who is interested. I am also the house mixologist for Everclear, and I am helping the brand with their new do-it-yourself infusion project called "Make It Your Own." Currently, I've been focusing on creating flavors and you don't see the shelf, such as Earl Grey Blueberry Liqueur and Chamomile Cucumber Liqueur. It is shaping up to be quite an exciting project.

What is Planter's House and who are your guests?

Planter's House is a St. Louis-centric bar and restaurant focusing of the history and re-imagination of St. Louis cocktail lore. We have more than 300 spirits and a cocktail list of more than 50 cocktails. Our usual guest is a person looking to have a cocktail experience. They usually come into the restaurant looking to broaden their horizons, and are very adventurous and open minded.

How did you get into the industry?

I spent my twenties as an industrial perfumer, but was always a bit of a cocktail and spirit enthusiast. I left the perfuming job and was doing some soul searching about my next move and thought maybe I should give bartending a try. The next week I was at a bartending school in Tulsa. I pretty much aced the course and landed my first job at the Holiday Inn later that year. Seventeen years and 7 jobs later, I have found my home at Planter's House.

Why do you love infusions?

Infusions give you the opportunity to create flavors that you don't see on the shelf. It is a blank canvas to build all kinds of spirits, liqueurs, bitters, and tinctures.   

Do you encourage your guests to make their own infusions?

Absolutely. I have always been an open book as far as recipes and techniques go. Anything I use at Planter's House I openly share. I have a ton of guests who are cocktail enthusiasts, and quite often they will bring in infusions that they have created on their own.

You have worked with many industry greats - what would you say is the most important lesson you learned?

A couple of years ago, Gaz Regan wrote and spoke about putting positive thoughts and energy into making a cocktail. When I bartend, I always think to myself, this cocktail is going to be the best cocktail I have ever made. I think the customers can taste your emotion as much as the spirits themselves. Love what you do, and who you're doing it for... and it will be felt.

What is your go-to cocktail?

I love to drink Manhattans, Martinis, Old Fashioneds, Negronis, Sazeracs, and Daiquiris. I can't choose just one. To make, I love turning people on to the joys of a real Daiquiri. Three ingredient bliss. Just make sure you have great rum.

How would you describe your career?

Crazy. It's crazy that when I was 22 I bought a Mr. Boston's Guide and now I have multiple cocktails in the current Mr. Boston's guide. Crazy. 

What's your favorite part of making a cocktail?

I enjoy the entire process. Choosing the spirit, pouring, shaking, stirring, carefully garnishing, then sliding the cocktail to the guest. It feels like the only dance I am good at.