'It's like being at the chef's table for cocktails'

Leigh Ann Simms can't make a cocktail to save her life. Her partner, Blair Beavers, fares better; he mixes standards like martinis, Manhattans and Old Fashioneds at home each night. They work in health care and graphic design, respectively. And yet you could say they are at the center of the Columbus craft cocktail scene.

A couple of years ago, the cocktail enthusiasts founded the Columbus Craft Cocktail Tour, which explores different local bars.

“It marries two things that we really love, which is booze and the City of Columbus,” Simms said. “You hear all the time about New York City, New Orleans and Chicago. We've been to all those places, and we think our [scene] is better.”

The weekly series, which will stop at Soul at the Joseph, the Bar at Hyde Park and Denmark on High on Saturday, Jan. 12, is more than a bar hop.

“It's like being at the chef's table for cocktails,” Simms said. “When we come into a bar, we get the full attention of the bartenders. They talk about the spirits that they use. They talk about how they mix the cocktail … and then we get a little bit of food.”

Recipes from the bartenders can be found on columbuscraftcocktailtour.com. Simms and Beavers hope to collect them in a book. While the walking tours are currently concentrated in the Short North and Downtown areas, the couple may extend them to more neighborhoods, or experiment with “destination tours” in places with only one craft cocktail bar.

Simms and Beavers have not limited their creativity to the tours. In addition to creating an alcohol trivia board game, the Bourbon Run, they've recently launched a women-only tasting workshop, Women and American Whiskey.

“Here in the north, I feel like women aren't as comfortable drinking whiskey,” said Simms, who is from Louisville. “I think it's fun to get a group of girls together to train your palate and learn about the spirit itself,” she said.

They've also inspired amateurs to try their hand at mixology through the “I'm Not ‘Really' a Bartender” competition, which pairs enthusiasts with professionals. “It's a way to build community,” Simms said. “The last one we did, our contestants were a Catholic priest, an Irish whiskey guy and the superintendent of the Division of Liquor Control for the state of Ohio.”

Simms and Beavers are also in the early stages of planning a cocktail convention, and have dreams of producing a “Chopped”-style TV show centered on drinks.

“We have so many awesome bartenders,” Simms said. “We just have a ton of respect for what they do and we're really grateful for what they do.”