What do you as a mixologist think about beer? Any brews of note for you?
A vast amount of any bar's sales are in beer. Mixologists spend all of their efforts making sure they have the best ingredients, freshest herbs, most eclectic spirits, fanciest aperitifs & bitters, but often ignore or look down their noses at a huge proportion of their customer base.
Beer lists should be more extensive, avoid anything 'brewed under license', and feature a range of beers for every palate, including paired with food dishes. My beers of the moment are James Boags, Innis & Gunn (oak aged), & Fritz Maytag's excellent Anchor Porter.
If you could offer a couple of short pieces of advice to the average bartender, what would they be?
Learn. Read everything you can, take notes, go to every training & tasting. If you're travelling, visit the local wine / beer / spirit producers. Always ask questions. And remember not to get cocky - there's always more to learn!
Spatial awareness & economy of motion - think about every move you make behind a bar and try to make it neater, less effort and quicker.
Oh and one more - try and fresh squeeze EVERYTHING!
Surely you have some pet peeves about bartenders -- care to share?
The job is to tend the bar. Fixing good drinks is not everything. I can't stand arrogant bartenders who make a customer feel small for ordering a drink that's not 'good' enough. If a punter wants a Pina Colada, you should make them the best Pina Colada they've ever had, explaining how & why and the history of the drink. You can then steer their palates onto other things.
As a mixologist/consultant, you work directly with many restaurants on their drink menus -- describe the parts of this process.
Identify who the menu is for (target demographic), what you want it to say about the bar and thereby the best format for the venue.
Then make sure it is accessible, with high-GP and quick-to-make crowd-pleasers at the front for ease / speed.
The next step is choosing the drinks and costing them. There should be something for every palate, budget and time of day.
Lastly, training. All of the staff (ESPECIALLY floor-staff!) need to know a little about the origin, flavour profile & ingredients for each drink, and be able to recommend the next drink to follow.
How did you get started?
A little old-man's pub in Lancaster. They were all there playing dominoes, betting (illegally) on the horses, fighting and doing their best to steal booze from the skinny kid behind the bar (me). It was a baptism of fire, but I remember it fondly.
How were you trained in bartending?
Aside from the various books and personal research I've done over the last few years, I was originally trained in silver-service, then went to a more casual restaurant as a bartender waiter which helped to learn the relaxed professional style I prefer. The techniques for preparing mixed drinks were the result of the two joint bar managers at Popolo. Both had completely different styles, and would answer any question differently. I would ask each of them (separately) a question, then ask them why, then try to understand & adapt the answers to find my own way of doing things.
Did you take any courses?
I go to as many tastings, trainings, visits & events as I can. Before I retire, I'd like to see an accredited degree in bartending which covered all aspects thoroughly, and stopped all of the spurious courses, as well as lending a bit of weight to our profession. This is particularly important in terms of visas, as the government is blind to the existence of professional bartending as a real career.
What are some trends you're seeing in the market?
There's been a drive over the last few years to combine the old with the new. People are looking into the history of everything, searching for the most authentic, original recipe / product /method, whilst at the same time taking a very scientific approach to mixing, breaking it down to its purest elements and improving technique through experimentation. It's a very exciting time.
What's your process for creating a new cocktail?
Name first. For me it's usually a bad-pun or a tribute, but I find if you don't have a reason / theme behind your drink, often you're just throwing liquids into a glass to see what tastes good, which misses out on the idea of a 'drink' to me. Then I look for the flavours in my chosen base-ingredient, work out what complimentary flavours there are to play with, and what I want it to look like / do. From then on its trial, error, and a couple of drunken guinea-pigs before you get it.
Sometimes it works straightaway, as it did with the Man in Black which I made to honour Johnny Cash; other times it just never quite gets there. I've been tinkering with a whisky-based Mary/Snapper style drink for years to no avail. (I have got the name - Mary Queen of Scots)
What is your favorite cocktail to drink? To make?
I like to drink neat spirits a lot, and this is reflected in my mixed drink choices. I like really sweet Manhattans with a really dry base (Herradura Repo / Old Potrero rye); Negronis and wet gin martinis.
I like to make simple drinks with complex ingredients like bitters and vermouths. They can be a little harder to balance but it always worth it. I like making Cosmopolitans for the same reason - it's are a great drink that is way more than the sum of its parts.
What are some of your favorite tools?
The Mexican elbow. It makes me happy. Fresh squeezing makes me happy.
What is your favorite mixology resource?
Before, I would have named the vintage book sites I get my reading from, but now Robert Hess; Simon Difford; Jared Brown & Anistasia Miller & others like Ross Bolton are leading the way at digging up old texts, sifting through them and publishing their findings on free access sites, sometimes even including reprinting the originals for very little cost. There has never been more accessible info on the mixed drink.
What does success mean for you?
Being happy. Doing what I love as well as I can, and helping the industry I am part of develop.
What are some current trends you've seen in the cocktail market?
The Molecular stuff is filtering down more now - there's a lot of bars playing with foams, airs, infused dusts, etc. The best trend is a focus on using fresh, seasonal ingredients, and most importantly - ice.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I'd like to think I'll still be working with Santa Teresa, but also I'd like to own my own bar and put my money where my mouth is. (also, making money for myself might be nice after all the years of doing it for others!)
If you weren't in the drinks industry, what do you think you would be doing now?
Hopefully acting / writing, as they are the other things I enjoy.
Your hangover cure?
Tequila con sangrita. Then a berocca-based fruit smoothy.
Your biggest career influencer?
Ruaridh Brown. He was my first proper bar manager - He taught me to ask why, instead of just how.
First drink you ever tried?
Long Island Iced Tea.
We've all had a bad experience with at least one drink. What drink do you most avoid?
Fernet Branca. It was the nail in the coffin of a particularly embarrassing night in Ronnie Scott's.
£10m comes to you. What do you do next?
Family. Charity. Travel. Open a series of bespoke neighbourhood bars worldwide.
Bar or cellar at home?
Innis & Gunn.
Santa Teresa Bicentenario.
Bon Vivant in Edinburgh
Quo Vadis in London.
Loads. Difficult Loves - Italo Calvino.
Death to the Pixies - Best of the Pixies.