Stefanie Holt - Mixologist of the Month
- Date of Birth: 31st August
- Birth place: Yeovil, Somerset
- Height: 5'6" and a half!
- Eye colour: Hazel
- Nationality: British
I have been working in the bar industry for almost 10 years.
I learnt about cocktails in one of the top cocktail bars in Edinburgh while finishing off my degree in Genetics & Biochemistry. Once I graduated, I moved to the Candy Bar where I started entering cocktail competitions.
After 2 more years in Edinburgh, I moved to the Groucho Club in Soho, London, where I spent the next three years integrating myself into the London Cocktail scene.
In spring '08, Uk importer, Inspirit Brands offered me the position of UK Brand Ambassador for El Dorado Rums and I also write the occasional scientific piece for Tony Conigliaro's blog.
Awards, Accolades and Trophies
Finalist for Theme Bartender of the Year 2007.
Winner of Wyborowa Exquisite cocktail competition at the International Cocktail Experience compeition in Brighton.
Best Ketel One Cocktail at the Theme Bartender of the Year in London 2006.
2nd in the 2005 Dewar's White Label Whisky UK re-launch competition.
Placed 1st & 2nd in Spiritual Scotland mixology competitions in 2005.
Finalist in Dram Magazines Mixologist of the Year 2004.
Claim To Fame
"I ended up on Gardener's World by accident last year. The BBC were at 'Taste of London' & asked if I could give them some recipes for cocktails using herbs, apart from the obvious mojito. I agreed & they said they would come back the next day so I could make them the drinks. I thought they would take away the recipes & film them being made in a studio, but they came back with a camera & a presenter & filmed me making them! This was pretty embarrassing, especially as I didn't have time to organise hair/make up/decent clothes & I was a wee bit hungover! Got the presenter drunk though, so it turned out fine!"
Q & A
What do you as a mixologist think about beer? Any brews of note for you?
I am a big fan of beer & actually the first cocktail comp I won was where I used a whisky barrel aged beer (Innis & Gunn) to top off an old-fashioned style drink. The variety in beer is just as wide as that in wine/spirits, but it generally doesn't get the same recognition. Also a lot of cocktail bartenders only care about spirits - you should do your best to know about everything you serve - softs, wine, beers, & food should all be learnt about as well.
If you could offer a couple of short pieces of advice to the average bartender, what would they be?
Smile! And be proud of what you do - I know it's sometimes not seen as a 'proper' job by many people, but it's one of the coolest industries to be in & you can do really well if you put in the effort.
Surely you have some pet peeves about bartenders -- care to share?
My main one is people who call themselves 'mixologists' when they are really bartenders. Working blindly from recipe sheets & not being creative doesn't make you a mixologist in my eyes. Even if you think you have 'created' a drink, cocktail books should be checked to make sure you haven't just re-created it. And twisting a classic by just adding fruit doesn't really count either, as well as making drinks containing no spirits, only liqueurs! People should only be allowed to use the title of Mixologist once they have taken part in cocktail comps & won at least one! Then at least customers would know the 'mixologist' serving them can make up a drink for them on the spot if they require & understands how to balance a drink.
As a mixologist/consultant, you work directly with many restaurants on their drink menus -- describe the parts of this process.
It's hard to generalize really as it is all dependant on the venue. You need to look at the customers & what they want, what the staff are capable of, how quick the drinks need to be made & what kind of ingredients the bar is willing to stock. After you have done this, then it's pretty easy & you just have to make sure the staff get a proper training.
How did you get started?
Started off in Spain in a cheesy British-Themed bar just north of Barcelona after my first year of uni. I was 18 and I learnt to drink Jager, how to pour pints & the joys of after work clubbing. I then got a job in the oldest old man's pub in Edinburgh when I returned to the UK & spent the hours there soaking up information about whisky & Scottish beers. Also learnt how to deal with fights, drunks and sleazy old men! Then I moved to a new Belgian-themed style bar & learned how to waitress. I actually used to go around the tables & hide all the cocktail menus as I hated making cocktails. We had received no training whatsoever & the drinks we used to produce were just so embarrassing, even to me! Since then I have been a firm believer in training & if you are going to do something, then do it properly. No point serving cocktails if your staff don't have the knowledge or the proper equipment to make them. I first learnt about the amazing world of cocktails from James Stuart-Gammie. We worked in the VIP bar of a nightclub in Edinburgh & we had one of the best back-bars in Scotland. I had no idea there was so much history/knowledge/passion/variety behind the spirits industry & was immediately engrossed in reading about & tasting everything I could get my hands on.
How were you trained in bartending?
A variety of ways, but one thing I remember was the field trip. We had been discussing cocktails & their history & specs for a few weeks & we decided to organise a tour around the top 15 cocktail bars in Edinburgh. We each had to drink a classic cocktail in every bar & we were introduced to the various bartenders & bars in the city. It was a fantastic day & despite the amount of alcohol consumed I'll never forget that feeling of initiation.
Did you take any courses?
I didn't - I couldn't afford any at the beginning, and then brands started training people for free! I was lucky enough to get almost a comprehensive WSET training through things like the Appleton's Academy & Theme's monthly forums - Mark Ridgewell is like a walking encyclopedia!
What are some trends you're seeing in the market?
Molecular mixology & Mexican elbows. They are everywhere! It's really good as any bar can use them, whereas certain bars previously didn't want to spend the time juicing fruits every morning or couldn't afford to buy in pre-squeezed.
What's your process for creating a new cocktail?
I get a feeling for at the spirit first - lots of tasting & smelling & writing down tasting notes. I like to do aromatic drinks that don't have a lot added to them, so will usually use just a small amount of 1 or 2 things to enhance some of the flavours in the spirit. I almost always rinse the glass with something anise as well - it's become a bit of a joke! If all else fails then my back up ingredient is ginger beer - it makes anything taste nice!
What is your favourite cocktail to drink? To make?
I love drinking any well made cocktail - but if I'm stuck & can't think of anything then I'll go for a margarita. Tommys if poss. To make, I like making El Diablos as they always surprise people about tequila. I use ginger beer instead of ale though - ginger ale is the most pointless thing on a bar in my view!
What are some of your favorite tools?
Pourers. Hats off to whoever invented them.
What is your favourite mixology resource?
Other people. So often I think a drink I have made is horrid/amazing only to be told the complete opposite by someone else. Always remember everyone is different!
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Hopefully still with El Dorado rums. I do miss managing a bar & bartending though - it would be perfect if there was time enough in each day to do both and still have a life!
If you weren't in the drinks industry, what do you think you would be doing now?
I'd probably be a scientist - I specialized in Genetics at university, so I would be off cloning people & making designer babies.
Your hangover cure?
Sleep & a bacon & egg sarnie. Movies & duvets as well if it's a really bad one.
Your biggest career influencer?
Whoever my boss is at the time. If I am appreciated & valued then I progress & develop within that role - sometimes in directions I might not have thought about! Some of my most successful career moves have come about because I wasn't valued though - I moved onto somewhere else & did much better/more interesting things than I would have if I had stayed!
First drink you ever tried?
My mum used to rub brandy/whisky on my gums when I was teething as a baby, so technically that, but the first drink I ever ordered in a bar was Taboo. I hadn't really expected to get as far as ordering since I was only 14, I thought I would at least get asked for ID! Had to frantically look around the back bar for something that I thought wouldn't be disgusting. It was.
We've all had a bad experience with at least one drink. What drink do you most avoid?
Bacardi unfortunately. I used to drink it when I was a teenager, but we didn't understand about mixing drinks, so I used to drink Bacardi mixed with Cider! Bad, bad, bad. Although I can still drink Cider, I struggle to touch Bacardi.
£10m comes to you. What do you do next?
Firstly a massive party for everyone I know. Then I make sure my family don't need to work again & spend the rest of the time travelling doing volunteer work.
Bar or cellar at home?
Innis & Gunn.
A decent French Gewurztraminer or Pinot Noir.