Candles & Cocktails: Interview with Leah Pupkin

Taste and smell are the two twin flames of the senses family. They can compete but they can also pair perfectly to give you a delightful sensual experience that is rooted in your memory for a lifetime. Recently, at NoseBest HQ we have been experimenting with how we can help our customers create their own “relaxation ritual” at home through various activities that involve awakening your other senses while enjoying NoseBest Candles. As a hospitality professional I have always appreciated the art of cocktail making and when creating scents for our candle line we definitely use some of the same techniques to make sure things blend together to make the perfect concoction. Let us know in the comments what your favorite activity to pair with burning a soothing smell is!

Meet Leah Pupkin:

I asked a talented Oregon based mixologist to help us out with creating some divine cocktails inspired by our original scents that you can attempt to make at home as well. Leah aka @thebardirector has launched bar programs and won cocktail competitions all over New York City, Long Island, and Australia. Pre-quarantine, she ran the bar program for Manhattan’s first axe-throwing bar, Live Axe, and slinging drinks at The Flower Shop. She also runs the only blog for film reviews accompanied by tailored cocktail pairings; you can read her reviews and sip cocktail recipes at

B: How has PDX differed from NYC regarding lifestyle and hospitality?

LP: Truthfully, it’s hard to say right now. I had never visited Portland before moving here. Since I opted to move in the middle of the pandemic, I’ve only seen it shut down. But that said, there are still plenty of noticeable differences. Portland is of course smaller and slower paced than New York, but it has a major advantage in its proximity to every type of nature imaginable: skiing, snowboarding, hiking, biking, deserts, dune buggies, hot springs…you name it, Oregon’s got it. So it’s definitely a very active and outdoorsy lifestyle, and that’s been a fun change of pace.

The hospitality industry is very tight-knit. Anyone who works in bars, restaurants, or liquor brands knows each other, and they make it a point to support local and small businesses. There are a ton of local breweries, wineries, and distilleries, and it’s cool to see them featured at the bars. I will say, however, that in my experience so far, the service industry here is very cliquey; many bartenders and bar owners here don’t seem too fond of letting outsiders in. In New York, your resume and experience speaks for itself; if you’re the most qualified person for the job, you’re hired. In the short time I’ve been here, I’ve noticed that I’m not treated with the same respect as all the male bartenders. Meaning no offense to the many talented bartenders and great bars here. But I miss New York for its driven, ambitious energy and its “no f*cks given” attitude.

B: What is it like dating another bartender- is there a line between collaboration vs competition?

LP: There will be times when one of us gets an opportunity and the other doesn’t. For example, Yancy just got a job. Of course, it’s natural for me to be a little jealous. I’m a competitive, goal-oriented person. But mostly, I’m happy for him because he deserves it. He works so hard and I’ve learned so much from him, so I love to see him succeed. The best thing about dating someone who does what you do is that they intrinsically “get” you. They understand you. They understand the passions and the struggles and the ups and downs of your career and lifestyle, because it’s theirs, too. I had never had that before. In the past, I dated guys who worked Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 type jobs. They’d be off on weekends and I would be working; it would take a toll on our social life. So it’s nice to be with someone who’s on the same wavelength as you.

B: How do you think smell impacts a drink? Is there a specific aroma you gravitate towards in cocktails?

LP: I’ve heard people make assertions that smell is anywhere between 70 and 95 percent of taste. I can’t speak to the science to back that up, but I’m sure there’s a major link. When you bring a drink to your lips, before you taste it, you’re smelling it, whether you realize it or not. That’s why bartenders zest a citrus peel over an egg white cocktail - because it’s nicer to smell lemon than egg. Or why we’ll slap a sprig of mint to express the oils before using it as a garnish on a mojito - you’re smelling that mint before you even taste it! Fresh herbs like mint, thyme, rosemary, sage…lemon, orange, and grapefruit peels. These are staples in the cocktail world and I use them all the time to elevate my drinks.

B: Tell us about your personal brands and your projects you're currently working on!

LP: Last year, I launched my blog, The Bar Director, where I review movies and create custom cocktails inspired by each film. I’ve been a film and television junkie for as long as I can remember. I was in an arts program in high school where I studied film and I’ve studied vocal jazz performance. I’ve been an artist my entire life thus making cocktails is 100% an art form. Naturally, curating cocktails inspired by other forms of art has always made sense to me. So I decided to build my brand out of that concept. It’s been super fun and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Last summer, I was approached by a film studio to attend a virtual premiere and do a review and cocktail pairing for one of their releases (a sci-fi comedy called “Save Yourselves”). The goal is for more of that to happen! And if IPIC, Alamo Drafthouse, or any other dine-in movie theaters are reading this - yes, I am available to curate your cocktail program.

B: Where can we find your content so readers can continue to follow your journey?

LP: You can find my blog, merch, and all my info on my website, I post daily cocktail content on Instagram, so be sure to follow me there @thebardirector. And I’ll be launching a YouTube channel for my movie reviews and cocktail pairings soon, so keep an eye out for that!

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