For some, a good cocktail means the start of a good night. For Natalie Migliarini, the drink maven behind Beautiful Booze, it was the start of a new life.
In 2013, Migliarini, North Carolina-born but living and well-rooted in Seattle, was known for her themed dinner parties. She'd infuse inspiration from her bi-annual international trips into dishes and cocktails for her friends, who inevitably asked for the recipes.
"I was very interested in creating experiences with cocktails and wine," she said.
But working full-time didn't offer the space to elaborately indulge in her artistic interests and culinary endeavors.
Then, Migliarini was laid off. While looking for a job, she took the opportunity to return to her creative roots. Inspired by the craft cocktail renaissance occurring in Seattle and the rapidly rising reign of food bloggers on Instagram, Migliarini imagined an intersection of the two — "I wondered, why is no one doing this for cocktails?"
So, she started Beautiful Booze, a cocktail Instagram account (@BeautifulBooze).
"I wanted to do something with my time that wasn't work-focused. I wanted to do something fun," Migliarini said. "Teaching myself photography and developing recipes pushed me through the day. I didn't think it would take off like this."
It has since developed a large following, establishing Migliarini as a cocktail influencer, and has grown into a website with cocktail recipes and bar recommendations everywhere from Seattle to Iceland, a recently-released Beautiful Booze cocktail book, and a career that has allowed her to embrace the nomadic life and travel the world (though, because of COVID, she's temporarily returned to Seattle).
Migliarini is entirely self-taught, equipped with passion, motivation and a good sense of taste.
"I was really focused on putting flavors together that tasted good, not as much on methods," she said. "If I broke a bartending rule, I broke a bartending rule."
Not having formal training gave her the freedom to experiment and focus on creating what she liked, with what time and ingredients she had on hand, something she'd learned while growing up in North Carolina.
She wanted to create recipes that others could easily emulate, no matter their schedule.
"I wanted to find different ways to utilize what I had currently in my kitchen," she said. "When I think about when I was working, I think about what I would actually execute back then. If I wouldn't execute it back then, it's hard to expect other people too."
After two years, determined to help Beautiful Booze grow to its full potential, she dumped her apartment and her biggest expense, grabbed a suitcase and headed to Antigua, Guatemala.
"I thought I would do this for six months. It's turned into five years," she said.
Now, she's constantly on the road and has traveled to 31 countries; only two months of last year were spent in the United States. Of everywhere Beautiful Booze has taken her, Tokyo and Kyoto are Migliarini's recommendations for a cocktail-focused vacation.
"Japan as a whole, when you think about their culinary scene, you think about the perfection and the time that they devote to doing one skill or one kind of food — it's the same with cocktails," she said. "Going into bars there and watching bartenders is a form of art."
With everything she's learned from bartenders and everything that's inspired her, she integrates into the philosophy that created Beautiful Booze: simplicity.
A good, at-home cocktail begins with a liquor that you'd enjoy sipping solo — it doesn't have to be top-shelf, but Migliarini suggests investing in a slightly better bottle than what's cheapest. You want to utilize your ingredients to amplify its best qualities rather than mask its flavor profile. Take, for example, the Beautiful Booze interpretation of a margarita.
"Tequila, lime juice and agave syrup, it's so simplistic," she said.
For the first three years of Beautiful Booze, Natalie only used mason jars and still recommends them for shaking cocktails that contain juice or when creating an egg white cocktail, as it will create a good head of foam. For cocktails that are more alcohol heavy, like a Negroni, all you need is a glass and something to stir it with.
The only less-common tool she considers essential? A citrus press.
"Fresh citrus takes cocktails to the next level," she said. "I use the citrus press on a daily basis."
And what does a cocktail maven order out? Migliarini's go-to is a daiquiri. Along with being a tried-and-true favorite — and another ode to simplicity — it's her way of learning about specific cultures and cocktail trends in each place she visits.
"When I go to different bars, I get the bartender to make me a destination daiquiri, using an ingredient from that country or that city, or a local spirit," she said.