Mixologist of the Month - Tom Vernon
- Date of Birth: 4th July 1985
- Birth place: Kingston Upon Thames
- Height: 6ft (Just)
- Eye colour: Green/brown
- Nationality: British
"I started working at my local pub in the kitchen when I was 15 and soon developed a love for all things drinks and food related. On my gap year I worked in the rare wine and spirits department of Fortnum & Masons and then moved up to Leeds for university. In my time in Leeds I opened the wine & spirits shop at Harvey Nichols, learnt how to make drinks at Skippy's bar and went to work at Smokestack. Then followed a move back to London to run the Portobello Star. A brief stint back up North followed and I ran Socio Rehab and helped to open Almost Famous, moving on to head up the Bacardi Brown Forman tactical training for the North of England.
I currently work for the American company Brown Forman and am extremely proud to head up American Whiskey in an ambassadorial role."
Tom's Signature Cocktails
Awards, Accolades and Trophies
I won first prize for making a Captain Hook hand puppet at school when I was little
A fair few awards both national and international drinks competitions and bar tending competitions
Q & A
What do you think about beer? Any brews of note for you?
I think it plays an important role in the drinks industry and I think it's very sad to see so many traditional British pubs closing. Its amazing to see all of these new craft beers especially coming out of London, as well as people using beer in cocktails more. Personally I'll either drink Guinness or a very cold bottle of Pilsner. But if I'm in the countryside always a hand pulled bitter.
If you could offer a couple of short pieces of advice to the average bartender, what would they be?
Be humble and don't take yourself too seriously.
Surely you have some pet peeves about bartenders -- care to share?
Lots and lots, however I was probably doing them all back in the day when I was behind the stick so I can't be too judgemental.
As a mixologist/consultant, you work directly with many restaurants on their drink menus -- describe the parts of this process.
I always try to look at a few factors. Obviously the style of venue and surroundings play a key role. But seasonality as well as price point etc. all contributes to the list. Overall looking to provide an exciting and well balanced menu of drinks.
How did you get started?
I guess I started mixing drinks for my Grandfather when I was very young. I used to make him a short Gin & Bitter lemon and take him his cigarettes. I worked on the bar in our local pub when I was 16, it was a great place and had a wonderful set of regulars. Following that I worked in the rare wine & spirits department at Fortnum & Masons and at university I started work at Harvey Nichols before moving to a cocktail bar. That's when I really developed a passion for drinks and hospitality.
How were you trained in bartending?
I was at Leeds University and was lucky enough to be surrounded by a great deal of bartending talent and figures in the industry. Declan McGurk got me going and I remember him training me for my first cocktail competition. A certain Mr Burger and Mal Evans were smashing it in the city centre along with a host of other fine bartenders in the city. Growing up, competing and imbibing with a lot of great people had a big effect on my training and I learnt a great deal in my time behind the bar whilst I was in Leeds. As well as making some of my best friends.
Did you take any courses?
Not really, educational trips to distilleries, training, master classes etc. We are all very lucky with the amount of information and training available these days. The level of training and knowledge some bartenders have these days is staggering.
What are some trends you're seeing in the market?
I like the fact that people are getting back to having some fun with drinks and not taking themselves too seriously. Gone are the previous years of zero smiles and 16th Century drinks that taste like dusty sellotape and monks robes. People are having more fun with their menus and drinks which in turn has a positive effect on the atmosphere of your establishment.
What's your process for creating a new cocktail? And what inspired you in the first place?
I look at the base spirit and build around the flavour profile and see what will show off the main ingredient or compliment it most. You can pretty much take inspiration from everything day to day though to create drinks. A catchy name does wonders as well.
What is your favourite cocktail to make?
Whatever makes the guest happy? You can't beat mixing up something for someone and getting it spot of for their mood. Even if they are unsure of what they would like.
What are some of your favourite tools?
As my boss will tell you I have to be physically restrained from all shiny bar equipment. I have an obsession. My bar kit is getting ridiculously heavy.
What is your favourite mixology resource?
It depends on what inspiration you are looking for. Its great to read all the classic books, however I love the flavour thesaurus for creativity and flavour matching as well as Schott's Food & Drink Miscellany. A great book full of weird and wonderful hosting tips.
What does success mean for you?
Being happy and healthy. Friends and family.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
No idea, hopefully progressing in my present role.
If you weren't in the drinks industry, what do you think you would be doing now?
Not a clue.
Your biggest career influencer?
My grandfather. Maybe one or two others that shall remain nameless.
First drink you ever tried?
I remember trying a gin & tonic when I was very young. My dad would let me drink whiskey when we went to Twickenham for the rugby to warm me up in the cold. The first cocktail I ever tried was a Manhattan when I was 15. I lost a game of spoof in the pub with my dad and had to buy the round. It was a big learning curve. It was the landlord's favourite drink. I remember being taken to the American Bar for a Manhattan when I was 19 and it changed my perception of the drink somewhat!
We've all had a bad experience with at least one drink. What drink do you most avoid?
Well if you spoke to a few people on Portobello Rd they will testify that it's not a great idea for me to have a lot of Sauvignon Blanc. I met a rather splendid old gentleman in a members club once that turned me on to snifters of port mixed with Cognac, that sends you a little a little loopy let me tell you.
Your hangover cure?
Ice cold sparkling water.
£10m comes to you. What do you do next?
Go on holiday somewhere peaceful and evaluate.
Bar or cellar at home?
Both if possible.
Guiness / Anchor Steam / Brooklyn / London Pride / Paulaner Pilsner.
Chateau Margaux / Riesling.
Bourbon / Gin.
Way too many to mention. I don't want to forget anyone.
Le Gavroche (London) / Cofoco (Copenhagen) / Monkey Bar at The Elysee Hotel (New York).
London / Copenhagen / New York.
American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis / Any Harry Potter.
Anything from the Stones or Bruce Springsteen.
The Rolling Stones / Bruce Springsteen / Prince.