Johnny Caldwell ’08 and Taneka Reaves ’11 met the first day of class their freshman year at the College of Charleston. Since then, they’ve taken their bond not only through years of friendship, but also into a blossoming partnership as experts in the field of imbibing.
Better known around the country as the Cocktail Bandits, Caldwell and Reaves have made a name for themselves as the foremost experts on Lowcountry libations — expertise that will be on full display in their new book Holy Spirits!
Their road to saucy fun started after both women graduated from CofC with matching political science degrees. Caldwell enrolled in Charleston School of Law, while Reaves went to work in the hospitality industry behind a bar. Their love of talking and blogging about cocktails led to a Facebook page, which led to an Instagram account, which led to 15,000 followers before the end of their first year.
The duo eventually went all in with the concept, leaving behind any other jobs. Reaves and Caldwell were spotted at almost every food and beverage event in town, leading the Charleston City Paper to profile the “curly ladies, who talk cocktails daily.” The piece caught the eye of culinary legends The Lee Brothers, who in turn invited the Cocktail Bandits to the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival.
At first, people weren’t sure of what to make of Reaves and Caldwell’s new career as full time bloggers and beverage industry experts.
“People can’t fathom that you can get paid to drink,” says Reaves. “But it’s not about getting drunk. It’s about relaying experiences to the readers, so that they can go have the same experience.”
Caldwell adds, “When we got into this industry, it was wide open because we’re black females, talking about alcohol from an elevated perspective.”
The winding path that led to Cocktail Bandits served the duo well — Reaves’ intimate knowledge of the alcohol industry in South Carolina has helped them navigate the world of sponsorships, purchasing, and distribution, while Caldwell’s background in intellectual property law allows them to tackle proposals and contracts, including their upcoming book deal.
Last year, Evening Post Books, the book division of The Post & Courier, reached out to the women to discuss putting out a book on the history of cocktails in the Lowcountry. Holy Spirits! will be out in January 2018 and will have recipes, insights into the Charleston scene, and the intertwining history of Gullah culture, sorghum, rum, and taverns.
“We wanted to share so much about Charleston and cocktails that we tried to almost put too much into the book,” says Caldwell, hinting that they did so much research there may be enough material for another volume. Holy Spirits! is available for pre-order online.