The Champion Behind Happy Accidents -
Happy Accidents bar interior

In the culinary world, it is rare to find one person who can affect a business, and even more rare to find a person that can impact an entire city, region, or culture. However, Kate Gerwin is a one of-a-kind force in the cocktail world who has taken her love for bartending culture and truly made a noticeable shift in the hospitality industry not only in New Mexico, but across the country, and the world. Her bar in Albuquerque, Happy Accidents, exemplifies her contributions. In 2021, Kate and her team opened Happy Accidents in Albuquerque, the most unique bar I have ever seen.

About Happy Accidents

There is a wall full of taps, each with its own creative cocktail connected to it, and a staff that carefully and swiftly retrieves your concoction with the perfect garnish or rimmer that pushes your tastebuds to places they have never been. Of course, you don’t have to take my word for it: Happy Accidents was named the 2022 Best New Bar in the U.S. at the Spirited Awards in New Orleans, which is the most prestigious award in the cocktail industry.

The Happy Accidents team has created an amazing experience for all customers who walk through the door, but it is their business model and care for the staff that makes Kate a true champion. All her employees make better than living wages, have health insurance, and are her priority, not an afterthought. Because Happy Accidents is a craft distillery bar, the profit structure is different,
and the staff has the opportunity to earn more. The staff members can even eventually become part owners of the bar.

The creative bar menu at Happy Accidents includes cocktails with fascinating names such as Funky Cold Maderia, Bitter Courage, and You Have Been Cleansed. There’s even an inspired non-alcoholic cocktail menu for your designated driver. Don’t just go to Happy Accidents for drinks because there is also a food menu with vegan options and allergens clearly labeled. Chicken fried steak burger, vegan mac-and-cheese, or elote mussels anyone?

Happy Accidents crew Kate Gerwin’s Training and Vision

The first steps of Kate’s culinary career were taken in California wine country, where the process of refining her palate began. Just like any other challenge in her life, Kate dove in headfirst with passion and dedication, completing the training and passing the tests to become an advanced sommelier. Eventually, Kate opened a now-closed restaurant near Albuquerque, where she developed a specially curated wine program to pair with the cuisine. It didn’t take long for Kate to realize that New Mexico had different likes and wants than the Napa Valley crowd, and her customer base was asking for cocktails as well.

Kate developed a small menu of libations, and unknowingly began the next phase of what would become the rest of her career. Because of Kate’s sommelier training and talent for understanding balance and flavor, her cocktail menu was a hit with the locals who frequented her restaurant and got the attention of various heavyweights in the mixology world who would stop in while visiting Albuquerque. One of these heavyweights was the current global head of ambassadors for William Grant and Sons, Charlotte Voisey, who encouraged Kate to participate in the heralded Tales of the Cocktail convention that takes place every year in New Orleans.

“That was it for me,” Kate says. “These were my people. I loved the culture, the attitudes. They embraced me; I embraced them; and I was hooked!” Thirteen years ago, not long after Tales of the Cocktail, I first met Kate and her then-apprentice Blaze Montana. Blaze was initially quiet but extremely intuitive, creative, and hard-working. I remember noticing the attention to detail the two of them put into every drink they presented to me, and how each one was equally unique and delicious. Kate and Blaze have come a long way since then, but their passion and dedication to the craft of cocktail making was obvious from early on.

Along the way, Kate became actively involved in the New Mexico community of the United States Bartending Guild (USBG), and her career was on the fast track to becoming one of the most recognized bartenders in the country. As a leader in this organization, Kate offered her mentorship to any dedicated member, those who shared her passion and fervor for perfection. One of these members was Adrienne Miller. Adrienne is a supernova of positive energy, a sponge for knowledge, and is unapologetically opposed to anything boring being near her aura, which made her perfect for the cocktail world and Kate.

Happy Accidents oreo cocktailCompetitions and TV Shows

Kate, who is a fierce competitor, began racking up cocktail competition wins at cocktail conventions around the country, and like a snowball rolling down a steep hill, her career was really picking up. She started getting noticed by numerous entities around the country. Kate took all the adulation and opportunity. She was breaking new ground and creating new paths for aspiring bartenders to follow.

The pinnacle of her individual competitive awards came in 2014 when she won the Bols Around the World competition. The competition had more than 3,000 registered applicants from all corners of the globe, and Kate was able to vanquish them all, becoming the first woman in the history of the competition to do so. The next year, in 2015, in a full-circle moment, and what she calls, “her favorite crowning moment,” Kate was inducted into the Tale of the Cocktail Dame Hall of Fame.

Her most famous and widely seen appearance in a cocktail competition was on the 2022 Netflix series Drink Masters in which Kate took on 11 other highly skilled bartenders from all over North America and made it all the way to the finals. Her command of the craft and trends in the industry was like none other on the show. Kate has also appeared on the popular John Taffer show Bar Rescue as a mixology expert who helps failing bars get back on track. She has been named one of the Top 100 Most Influential Figures in the World by Drinks International and continues to educate with Beverage Alcohol Resources, Le Cordon Bleu in Scottsdale, Arizona, New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Vermont, and the Culinary Institute of America in New York.

Give HAppy Accidents a Try

All these experiences helped Kate, Blaze, and Adrienne craft a venue people can’t wait to visit. So, the next time you’re in Albuquerque, have a “happy accident” and stop by Kate’s bar for a bite to eat and a creative cocktail!

Happy Accidents
3225 Central Ave. NE
Albuquerque, New Mexico


Get inspired by these other cocktail recipes you can try yourself.



Story by Daniel Gonzales | Courtesy photos
Originally published in Neighbors magazine.

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