ENTREPRENEUR  SPOTLIGHT - Norma Smith is Mixing it Up

ENTREPRENEUR SPOTLIGHT – Norma Smith is Mixing it Up

Born in Kentucky, and raised everywhere, Norma Smith’s roots remained in Kentucky and more specifically, Lexington. Having a brother with disabilities, Norma’s goal was to become a special education teacher and to help pave (and pay) the way, she began bartending. During this time of bartending, 2 things happened. The bourbon industry took off, as did the interest in craft cocktails. Being as she was in Kentucky, you might say Norma was in the eye of the storm. Starting out at a hotel bar at 21C, an art influenced hotel chain with a property in Louisville, she honed her craft for 5 years, working under their stellar cocktail program. But with Covid and everything associated with it, work was inconsistent, if at all, and Norma decided the time had come to strike out on her own. She had started teaching cocktail and bourbon classes in 2019, and creating her own line of hand-crafted mixers, so the jump to a solo career had already begun. Let’s find out a little more about Norma. Past, present and future…

BP: Hi Norma, appreciate your time to answer a few questions for Booze Press


NS: My pleasure, thanks for having me

BP: We spoke earlier about your time at 21C and how you were able to sharpen your skills there. Why don’t we pick up the story when you decided to make the leap to your own business

NS: Sure. As I mentioned, Covid had a huge affect on the beverage and bartending business, as well hotels. And since my employment relied on both, I felt that it was the right time to do my own thing

BP: So did you throw your life savings into a run down shack and and covert it into a multi-million dollar enterprise?

NS: Umm no (laughing) There’s a place here in Lexington called the Julietta Market. Its a huge indoor, small business incubator. There’s something like 70 businesses under one roof, which is subsidized by the city. It’s such a unique place. With it, I was able to open up my own storefront and have my own bar for a very affordable rate. All the businesses in the market are small and independently owned. They don’t allow large corporate businesses

BP: …and they allow you to serve alcohol?

NS: Yes, I got my liquor license, which was a huge deal. I originally just planned on selling my cocktail mixers, but when they said I could get a license, I jumped at it. People can come in and buy a mixer, or they can come in and try a cocktail that I will make for them.

BP: What’s going on with the cocktail classes?

NS: By having this shop, I’m able to host my classes out of there as well

BP: So living in Kentucky, you’re obviously a bourbon drinker, so are you more of a neat or cocktail girl

NS: Hmm…I definitely enjoy my bourbon neat, but I make cocktails (and mixers) for a living. One thing I always say though. I make cocktails for bourbon drinkers who like it neat. In other words, very balanced and very bourbon forward, not sweet

BP: OK, so 2 bourbons that are your cocktail “go to’s”

NS: Old Forester 86, it’s a high rye bourbon that holds up very well in an old fashioned. Then 4 Roses 80 proof. For being lower in alcohol, its still complex and holds it’s own in a number of cocktails.

BP: …and 2 “Neats”

NS: My absolute number 1 would be George T Stagg and then Colonel Taylor Single Barrel. Those are my top 2

BP: So let’s talk about the mixers. Where did the idea for those start? I heard your grandmother had a hand in some of it

NS: Well, the logo is hers, since she and I share the name Norma. I have used her recipe mainly for holiday punches. I also use it sometimes in my classes. I have it in her handwriting which is cool and I give it out to people. The “X” in my logo came from where she had signed it, It never was xNorma, but because of the logo and people calling me that, I adopted it. But her “recipe” was mainly for food and generally consisted of substituting bourbon for water in any recipe (laughs)

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BP: So if not grandma Norma, where did the recipes come from?

NS: From me mostly. During my time at 21C I would experiment. They allowed me to come in on Thursday mornings which was R&D time, and allow me to create whatever I wanted. Many of them came from that time

BP: What is your most popular mixer?

NS: I would say it’s a toss up between Pineapple Sage and the Old Fashioned. The Pineapple Sage is extremely versatile. You can mix it with gin, vodka, tequila…I’ve even put it in bourbon. The Old Fashioned is my workhorse though, I sell a ton during the holidays, especially in kits and I’m really proud of it

BP: Because it’s a syrup, does it tend to be sweeter?

NS: Actually no. I use local high springs (limestone) water, then I infuse it with some warming spices. I then use Turbinado sugar which is more natural with it’s molasses flavor. With my 2:1 ratio with the infused water, I end up using less sugar than a traditional method, plus it’s more evenly distributed than using a sugar cube

BP: Your social media sites (@xnorma @xnorma_smith and @weekend.dame) shows the business side but it also shows a sexy and sometimes pinup side of you. Is that a brand or just you?

NS: Both actually, my shop has a very cool vintage vibe. I like that sexy, loungey kinda feel. It’s definitely a brand. People coming into my shop will see lots of vintage artwork and bar stuff from liquor brands. I love that whole aesthetic

BS: So what’s the future hold for xNorma?

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NS: My immediate goal is to have my own cocktail shop. Then ultimately opening up a bar and restaurant, that serves clean, healthy food. The fact that I have been able to do what I do at the market, has allowed me to think of something for the future that I thought was unattainable. I have been able to save up money for it, plus it’s allowing me to build my brand before I open up my own brick and mortar

BP: So what about the mixers, would you like to take them national?

NS: Eventually yes. But right now it’s just me and I make everything by hand. I’d love to be able to get them into the distilleries her in Kentucky though

BP: That makes sense. Hopefully Booze Press can help you with that, Norma, thank you so much for sharing your history and your vision with Booze Press, we look forward to seeing your successes

NS: Thank you for speaking with me. I really appreciate everything

For more information on Norma Smith and her cocktail mixers, follow @xnorma and @xnorma_smith and go to xnorma.com to order

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