Mixologist of the Month - Tom Higham
- Date of Birth: 24th February 1988
- Birth place: Wirral
- Height: 5'9"
- Eye colour: Blue
- Nationality: English
"I started at fifteen covering a shift as a pot washer at a local restaurant. A few months later I had blagged my way to being on the floor. Even then I couldn't wait to get on the bar so I used to finish at the restaurant and go bar back at a cocktail bar down the road. I was a bit keen so they taught me how to make a few drinks like mojitos and white Russians.
When I moved to Sheffield for university, I immediately wanted a job so probably exaggerated my experience to get a job in a bar in town. After six months or so, I was loving my job and hating my course so I dropped out of university. From here I landed my first serious bar job Menzels in Sheffield where I started to appreciate properly made drinks and got my first experience of competitions and the industry world.
After Sheffield I have worked mainly around Manchester and Cheshire in a variety of roles. I was lounge manager and assistant sommelier for Aiden Byrne at The Hillbark Hotel on the Wirral the UK's smallest five star hotel. I went on to manage another of Aidens Restaurants before slowly working my way back to Manchester. On the way I ran The Wick at Both Ends in Sheffield and worked for a variety of brands doing training and events in the UK and Europe.
Back in Manchester in the last couple of years I worked initially for Heart Soul, Rock and Roll doing pop up projects before moving to Beautiful Drinks where I ended up managing Socio Rehab and Keko Moku as well as doing work with Almost Famous. When Socio closed I opened Luck, Lust Liquor and Burn as General Manager. I now work for The Liquorists and Avant Garde drinks in Manchester and Sheffield."
Tom's Signature Cocktails
Awards, Accolades and Trophies
Diageo world class uk finalist 2009
Shortlisted for Theme UK Bartender of the Year back in 2009
Zacapa Manchester Winner 2012
Runner Up Jack Daniels Birthday team competition with Jonathan 'Jonboy' Leathley
2nd in last years UK El Dorado Swizzle final my highlight as the standard was out of this world (was really humbling to do so well)
Claim to Fame
The 'dry swizzle?' ha.
Q & A
What do you as a mixologist think about beer? Any brews of note for you?
I have got into beer in the last couple of years particularly with liquor and burn. I like hoppy American IPAs, Sierra Nevada being a favourite. The best tasting beer for me though is still the cold one in your hand at the end of a long shift.
If you could offer a couple of short pieces of advice to the average bartender, what would they be?
Be self critical, always look at the details as objectively as possible. Sometimes (more often than not for me) a great idea on paper just wont work. Apart from that remember this is the service industry and the customer in front of you is the most important person in the room.
Surely you have some pet peeves about bartenders -- care to share?
I think the tendency to over do 'banter,' particularly at the expense of knowledge. Good chat is essential but you should always be able to back yourself up. Plus most people just want a nice drink and to enjoy their evening with their friends without being picked apart by the person serving them.
As a mixologist/consultant, you work directly with many restaurants on their drink menus -- describe the parts of this process.
I think once you have the core theme you kind of work from there. I like to overlap flavours used in the food, either compliment or contrast. I enjoy playing commonly associated existing ideas and tweak and fuse them with something slightly more off the wall. The most important thing is tailoring them to the standard of staff, allowing for turnover. The menu has to be replicable and consistent in quality after you leave.
How did you get started?
I started as a pot washer aged fifteen in a local restaurant and it kind of took off from there...
How were you trained in bartending?
Worked with some great people. I also drank a lot and watched a lot. I used to go visit places like LAB and Jakes on my day off to watch and learn from the bartenders.
Did you take any courses?
Not really early on though I have since done some WSET stuff and am hoping to get to Diploma level in wine in the next couple of years.
What are some trends you're seeing in the market?
I think people are really starting to look at glassware and garnish to give the extra wow factor. The presentation you get in some bars now is amazing. I also like the fact that lower ABV products are being used as the main ingredient more and more. Sherries, ports, vermouths and liquors are getting better recognition for their own merits rather than just as a modifier to the traditional base spirits.
What's your process for creating a new cocktail? And what inspired you in the first place?
Often there's a brief. If not then I create one. I try and see the drink I want to end up with and how I want it to come across and then work backwards until I'm happy with the result. I find it helps ideas become tighter and clearer.
What is your favourite cocktail to make?
I love making bloody marys when you have a good selection of ingredients. I think a Clover Club is very satisfying visually and I love the first sip or a really well made martini.
What are some of your favourite tools?
I don't really go for anything fancy but a frozen flask for stirring and a good two-piece Parisian shaker generally gets the job done.
What is your favourite mixology resource?
Food! Most flavour combinations we could think off will also have appeared somewhere in a book or restaurant or family recipe, I love try to recreate not just the flavour but the sensory experience form a really good dish in drink form.
What does success mean for you?
Having the balance of enjoying going to work and enjoying being at home. If you can do both you're on to a winner. Money is a bye product of success.
What are some current trends you've seen in the cocktail market?
Like Rob said Garnishes are going crazy, the last few comps I did I couldn't believe the extent which some of the guys went, the creativity was awesome. On a down side too many bars/bartenders are trying to imitate trends in renowned bars without properly doing their homework and nailing the basics. I'v seen some awful 'molecular' offerings recently.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Over 30. Honestly no idea, if you had asked me the same question 5 years ago I very much doubt I would have predicted where I am now. The industry is like that and I love it.
If you weren't in the drinks industry, what do you think you would be doing now?
I studied Law, but probably not that. Writing but unemployed probabaly!
Your biggest career influencer?
James Hill (Diageo) and Andy Trudgill of Avante Garde Drinks from my first shift at Menzels to today. Working with Beau, Marie and John at beautiful drinks I learnt an incredible amount in quite a short time. Plus 'Captain' Lyndon Higginson has always berated, intoxicated and educated me in equal measure with amazing patience. Im lucky to work with the guys at the Liquorists a lot now. Tom Sneesby, Jody Monteith, Pete Sheppard, Jamie Jones and co are constantly moving the industry forward so they keep me on my toes.
First drink you ever tried?
Red wine at the dinner table.
We've all had a bad experience with at least one drink. What drink do you most avoid?
Last Word. Its trendy and I love chartreuse but I just cant get to like this drink. (sorry Jamie)
Your hangover cure?
An awesome bloody mary.
£10m comes to you. What do you do next?
Travel. Simple as that.
Bar or cellar at home?
Cellar, if under my bed counts.
Trimbach Riesling form Alsace or NZ Pinot Noir. Some Young Punks stuff from OZ is wicked as well.
Tequila to sip. Everything else a close second.
Depending on my mood either a Fish House Punch, Hemingway Daiquiri or Rob Roy.
In no particular order... Socio Rehab (RIP), Mojo, Rick's Cafe Jamaica, Milk & Honey, Neon Cactus. Keko Moku.
Gaucho. I love steak!
Bordeaux or Rome.
LA Confidential or anything with John Belushi.
Dispatches by Michael Herr, about booze probably Ted Haigh vintage spirits forgotten cocktails.
Gold by Ryan Adams.