TISHOMINGO — Nichole Dominique Slaughter, a Chicago-native, has trained her voice in classical music for 16 of her 30 years.
“I won’t have a career until my mid-40s,” Slaughter said, comparing an opera singer’s training to earning a doctoral degree. “It takes time to build stamina and a level of expertise to sing Verdi or Wagner — which is where my big, contralto sound will really fit.”
A contralto is essentially the bass of female singers and considered the rarest of female voices. (Source)
Having entered what could be described as the entr’acte of her career, Slaughter has pushed her way through the red curtains onto a different stage, one in which she is creating the shots and pouring her artistry into a new craft: mixology.
A novel field that is gaining traction in urban bars, mixology is an art where “mixologists” — or bartenders, as Slaughter refers to herself — mix spirits and invent cocktails.
“To me, a mixologist is both an alchemist and an inventor of sorts,” Slaughter said. “[Someone] who has studied [the] different flavor profiles and spirits, and with this knowledge, creates or alters cocktail recipes with the aim of exciting the palate.”
Creating a mixologist
Aided with the wisdom of scores of cocktail books, ranging from the 1935 edition of Old Mr. Boston’s Deluxe Official Bartenders Guide to Death & Co. Modern Classics, Slaughter has emerged in the field of spirits.
For the past year and a half, she has served as a bartender for Neiman Marcus’s chic Bar on 4 on the famed Michigan Avenue in Chicago. On average, she creates 10 to 15 drinks during the fashion season, each mixed specially and uniquely for the hosts of Neiman Marcus’ special events.
Her work at Neiman Marcus spurred an opportunity for creativity in the unlikeliest of places: the small town of Tishomingo, Okla.
Staci Addison, general manager of The Pink Pistol and The Ladysmith, a bed and breakfast, discovered Slaughter last August when she stepped into the Chicago bar for a few drinks with friends. The Pink Pistol and The Ladysmith are owned by country star Miranda Lambert.
“When I walked in, she just had this way about her that, it’s almost like she twinkles,” Addison said. “I noticed her smallest attention to detail. It was kind of an ‘ah-ha’ moment because I was looking for a bartender manager, and I asked her genuinely, ‘Would you move to Oklahoma?’ and she looked at me and started laughing.”
The two exchanged information, and through a series of emails, it was determined that Slaughter would come to Oklahoma and create drinks for The Ladysmith based upon the history of the area and upon Lambert’s famed country songs, like Gunpowder and Lead.
Slaughter researched the history behind The Ladysmith and the Tishomingo area, along with what natural resources and local ingredients were readily available. She then set to work, modifying each creation by considering flavor profile, aesthetics and the key ingredient: “lots of tasting.”
Nichole Dominique Slaughter’s Creations for The Ladysmith
580 (a play on Tishomingo’s area code): Rum-based cocktail with mint, lime, pomegranate, brown sugar and club soda. A variation of a mojito.
Gunpowder and Lead: Hendricks gin infused with gunpowder green tea, Grand Marnier, Glenlivet 12-year, prosecco and fresh sour.
Pinker the Pistol: Prairie Wolf vodka, Chambord, pineapple juice, muddled raspberries and jalapeno.
Good Springs: Waterloo Barrel Aged Gin, grapefruit, agave, club soda.
The Lady: George Dickel No 1 White Whiskey, zested simple syrup, rose water, lemon.
All in all, Slaughter created five drinks for The Ladysmith and its adjoining bar, The Platinum Ballroom. One of those drinks is Gunpowder and Lead, a green tea-infused gin cocktail using fresh lemon and simple syrup that adds a kick with a scotch floater.
“In the pioneering era of scotch whiskey from the end of the 1400s to 1700s, distillers would test the proof by putting a dram — which is a fraction of an ounce — of scotch whiskey into a metal bucket with a little bit of gunpowder,” Slaughter said. “Then they would light it on fire to see how much it burned. If it fizzled right away, the distiller knew it was weak and too watered down. If it created a big fire or exploded, they knew it was too strong, but if it had a steady blue flame, then it was ‘proof.’”
Another drink she has created for Lambert’s B&B is The Lady, which uses moonshine from a nearby Texas distillery. To temper the moonshine, a home-made syrup (thickened sugar syrup and lemon zest) is used along with a special aromatic touch.
“We add a couple of drops of rose water that make it — I wouldn’t say girly, but definitely fragrant,” Slaughter said.
Last week, Slaughter flew from Chicago to Oklahoma to train The Ladysmith staff how to make her drinks. During her training, she also emphasized raising guest service to an art form, where the history and conversation surrounding a drink are just as important as the aesthetics and flavor, Addison said.
“I would think that even if you went into a larger market in Oklahoma, like Tulsa or Oklahoma City, the likelihood of having the influence of someone of Nichole’s caliber, with her sophisticated and high-class skill set, is something that doesn’t happen everywhere,” Addison said. “To me, it makes The Ladysmith — and Tishomingo — very special.”
Drinking as art
Slaughter said she wants to elevate the drinking culture in southern Oklahoma.
“This is [Tishomingo’s] first bar to be able to sell spirits by the glass, which leaves some of its inhabitants unaware of the arts of mixing and drinking cocktails,” Slaughter said. “And, yes, I did refer to drinking as an art. Just ask Kingsley Amis or Ernest Hemingway. It is my hope that … The Ladysmith team will educate their guests to the point where the guests start expecting a well-crafted cocktail everywhere they go. In six months to a year, it would be nice to see guests visiting and being able to tell their bartender how they’d like their martinis or manhattans. As simple as this knowledge may be, it creates a higher standard of culture and edifies the person experiencing that standard.”
Although she is enjoying her time working in the spirits, Slaughter said she still focuses on the big picture — her career in opera. Having performed for Verismo Opera Theater in La Traviata and Da Cornetto Opera in Nabucco, she has studied for the past 10 years with renowned basso cantante Myron Myers. She also writes for the famed Lyric Opera of Chicago’s nationally syndicated radio show, Lyric Opera Live.
Despite the heavy load of pursuing two careers simultaneously, Slaughter seems to embrace the challenges of both.
“Like they say,” Slaughter said, smiling, “a piece of art is never really done, right?”