Leo Higney - Mixologist of the Month
- Date of Birth: 19th April
- Birth place: Leeds
- Height: 5' 11"
- Eye Colour: Blue
- Nationality: British
"I began my career in hospitality at 18, starting as a night porter in a 4 star country house on the outskirts of Wetherby. I quickly fell in love with the industry and progressed my way through food and beverage, learning the art of fine dining and managing the 2 rosette restaurant and bar. From here my passion for bars and all things cocktail grew. I created my first cocktail menu at 20 which received great reviews. I wanted to delve deeper into the art and history of mixology so I moved to Malmaison as Bar Manager in 2014. I have continued to hone my mixology skills and I'm now part of the team that heads up the Beverage and cocktail program for the company, writing menus and training the bar teams up and down the country."
Clam To Fame
I have looked after various celebrities and dignitaries, I don’t like to name drop though!
Awards, Accolades and Trophies
Leeds Hotel & Venue Association Front of House Customer Service Winner 2015
2nd Best Selling Cocktail at Cocktails in the City 2015
Best Selling Cocktail at Cocktails in the City 2016
Best Selling Cocktail at The Cocktail Experience 2016
Q & A
What do you as a mixologist think about beer? Any brews of note for you?
I haven’t given it much attention over the last few years, focusing more on spirits. However, craft beers are becoming increasingly popular these days so I like to keep my toe in the water with whats going on. We have recently entered a new partnership with Brew Dog and am loving their Dead Pony Club. I’ve got a friend who runs a restaurant and nano-brewery called the Hungry Bear, his Vanilla Porter is incredible!
If you could offer a couple of short pieces of advice to the average bartender, what would they be?
Find a Bar that suits you and your personality! The great thing about this industry is how versatile and dynamic it is. Working in a place which doesn’t fit with who you are will kill your passion for the job!
Surely you have some pet peeves about bartenders -- care to share?
Bartenders who show off, I don’t mean flair bartenders (those guys are crazy!)but bartenders who like to throw their knowledge in the customers face to make themselves look good. I believe in educating my customers and getting them to explore and try new things without rubbing it in their face.
As a mixologist/consultant, you work directly with many restaurants on their drink menus -- describe the parts of this process.
I work exclusively with Malmaison although the process is very much the same. We start by reviewing what sells and what doesn’t to decide what to keep on and what to take off. We have several partnerships with brand owners so we look to incorporate their brands into the menu. Our concept revolves around classics and twists so we offer creative variations on popular drinks. We have a section of our own creations but we aim to keep things approachable and on trend.
How did you get started?
I fell into this industry by pure luck. After giving it a shot at being self employed I decided to get back into a proper job and a steady income. I had a few interviews and Wood Hall Hotel was the first one to offer me a job. From there they say the rest is history!
How were you trained in bartending?
I’m mainly self-taught, from my early time there was no one around me who was experienced in the drinks industry so I built up a library of books and joined various groups and forums to try and expand my knowledge. My manager at the time was brilliant in letting me experiment and try new things on the bar.
Did you take any courses?
I have attended a few workshops run by a number of brands and completed my WSET Level 2, I also attend lots of tastings and industry sessions to keep myself in the loop.
What are some trends you're seeing in the market?
Gin is still enjoying a massive boom, but I’m starting to see Rum emerge as the next big thing. I am getting asked more and more for different styles or Rums from specific countries, Leeds recently hosted a Rum festival which was a sold out success!
What's your process for creating a new cocktail? And what inspired you in the first place?
I like to start with the key flavour I’m going for, so depending on season or occasion I might start with Elderflower or Chocolate for example. From there I build the drink around it, from the base spirit to modifiers and bitters to bring it to life. Sometimes I introduce a new flavour to the mix to help compliment/contrast the drink, on the odd occasion I end up with a completely different drink from what I set out to make!
What is your favourite cocktail To make?
What are some of your favourite tools?
A decent mixing glass is a must. As is a tin on tin shaker, I could never go back to boston glasses!
What is your favourite mixology resource?
Small screen network on You Tube is brilliant to see how lots of cocktails are made, Jeffery Morgenthaler’s the bar book is a must have for any bartender. Difford’s Guide has settled many an argument with me and my team!
What does success mean for you?
Whatever makes you happy, if you find it, you’ve hit the jackpot.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Working with a company, developing the drinks program and training the bar teams. Or as a brand ambassador.
If you weren't in the drinks industry, what do you think you would be doing now?
Honestly, I have absolutely no idea!
Your biggest career influencer?
There’s too many to mention, I have had some great managers over the years that have pushed me to be the best I can be as well as some great bartenders that helped me keep my passion for the industry alive.
First drink you ever tried?
Mulled wine when I was a kid, thought it was Ribena…it wasn’t!
We've all had a bad experience with at least one drink. What drink do you most avoid?
Cider, I had a bad night on it back in my teens and can’t even smell the stuff now!
Your hangover cure?
2 pints of water before bed then a big greasy fry up in the morning!
£10m comes to you. What do you do next?
Travel the world, stopping at as many bars possible on the way.
Bar or cellar at home?
Bar, I’ve built up a nice bourbon collection just in time for Christmas!
Vanilla Porter – Hungry Bear Micro Brewery.
Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.
Gin, Ideally Gin Mare or G Boudier Saffron Gin.
Negroni, got a tip from bar legend Jarred Brown and now add a shot of sloe gin. It’s a revelation!
Dead Rabbit, New York.
New York City.
The Firm by John Grisham.
Oasis Morning Glory.