Mixologist Of The Month - Sam Ameye
- Name: Sam Ameye
- Date of Birth: 24th January
- Height: 186cm
- Birth place: Roeselare, Belgium
- Eye colour: Blue
- Nationality: Belgian
"Hi, I’m Sam, your friendly neighbourhood bartender. I started my career with the Cocktail Trading Company when they just started their pop-up in Soho. I moved with them to their then site at Smithfield Market, and then later to their permanent site in Bethnal Green. They hired me as their barback in 2015, before training me as one of their own. After a fantastic one and a half years with them, I moved on to Bar Swift, where I now currently sling drinks."
List of your awards, accolades, trophies.
I haven’t been doing this for very long. However, I have managed to pick up a few things on the way. Besides winning Doorly’s 2016 National Competition, I’ve consistently ended in top three places across several other competitions.
Claim to fame
If you ask me, being able to provide an inclusive, fun atmosphere for anyone entering the bar. If you ask anyone else, that one time I set myself on fire during service without noticing. Thanks, CCTV.
Q & A
What do you as a mixologist think about beer? Any brews of note for you? Love it. Can’t get enough of it. I grew up with heavy Belgian beers like Westmalle and Omer, but my everyday brew would be Jupiler.
If you could offer a couple of short pieces of advice to the average bartender, what would they be? In whatever type of establishment you work, always consider the guests first. Think about how you’d feel when you walk into your own bar. On my day off, I have the habit of going into work as a guest every now and then just to see what the guest is seeing. It’s important to not get too focussed on the drinks part.
Surely you have some pet peeves about bartenders -- care to share? Stop being arsy about what drink the guest orders. Yes, they want a pornstar martini, and they want to pay for it. Get off your high horse and get back to work.
As a mixologist/consultant, you work directly with many restaurants on their drink menus -- describe the parts of this process. Firstly, consider the brand of the company you’re consulting for. Your own unique approach to drinks will not apply to them 90% of the time. Talk to management, sit down as a guest in the venue, and communicate constantly through the whole process.
Secondly, think about how you would make drinks behind their bar. Their setup will again be very different to what you’re used to. Make it easy for staff to make bespoke cocktails.
And lastly, make sure to do atleast one unique/fun/original thing that fits into their concept and that they can showcase to their patrons.
How did you get started? I read an article about The Cocktail Trading Company when I was still living in Belgium. One of the owners, Elliot, wrote a piece about staff turnover, and how to set up your venue around the staff and guests. At the time, I wasn’t even bartending. But, with them I saw a clear vision, competence and passion. They made me change sectors, and I haven’t looked back since.
How were you trained in bartending? Through doing a combination of barbacking, floorwork and the occasional barshift, slowly leveling out to doing all three jobs an equal amount of time.
Did you take any courses? I took EBS in Kos, Greece, and thought it was fun. Anything I did learn from them, I quickly unlearned when I came to London.
What are some trends you're seeing in the market? We’ve all seen the ‘less is more’ approach to drinking, as well as food, design and architecture. People don’t mind paying more for a higher quality product. Which is how the high-end cocktail bar came around, essentially. Also, people love knowing things that noone else knows. Things like hidden bars, new whiskeys/gins, and so on. It’s easy for brands to capitalize on this by limiting releases or allocating new products to specific places. Lastly, a resurging love for aged spirits is sweeping the country. Whisky is well ahead on this, but I can’t wait to see how both French and world brandies will evolve.
What's your process for creating a new cocktail? And what inspired you in the first place? I start with a spirit’s flavour profile and then decide on what I want to pair it with. For example, Bulleit Bourbon has a really distinctive dill note, which works well with flavours like coconut and walnut. From there you can choose on how to represent those ingredients: Could be coconut water, puree, butter fatwash or coconut chip garnish. Then integrate those ingredients into a set formula. Think about what kind of style of drink you want to go for. It’s always useful to think of cocktail families: Fixes, fizzes, flips, juleps, daisies, highballs, one and ones,..
Lastly, debug. Work out the kinks in the formula and balance. This is the hardest part. Always keep in your mind that you need to represent every flavour as fully as possible.
This last step can make a good cocktail a great cocktail, and I’ve thrown away countless recipes that didn’t make it through this last step.
What is your favourite cocktail To make? I’m not fussed. Whatever makes the guest happy. However, anyone ordering a Clover Club earns a special place in my heart. It’s just the way the pink foam rises, you know?
What are some of your favourite tools? Obviously you can get very far with just a two-piece shaker and a barspoon, but I also like the 1 pound IKEA thermos. They’re cheap, durable and retain heat very well. Unlike mixing glasses, they never break.
What is your favourite mixology resource? I’m a big whisky geek, so I use online sources like scotchwhisky.co.uk on a daily basis. I love Dave Broom and have most of his books aswell, alongside others for that category. Specifically for cocktails, I prefer books. Dave Wondrich does a few good ones explaining the history of the cocktail, and puts a lot of perspective behind the alcoholic drink. But I think I use Niki Segnit’s Flavour Thesaurus the most.
What does success mean for you? Personal success? I know I’ve made it in life when, one day, I own a well-run, cozy and unassuming cocktailpub. Draught beers, elegant and tasty cocktails, a well-curated whisky selection and a banging food menu.
What are some current trends you’ve seen in the cocktail market? Over the last few years, the food and drink industry has been taken by the ‘less is more’ attitude. People are knowledgeable of what they consume, which is a good thing. I’ve noticed from the other end of the counter that that means that salespeople (because that’s what we inherently are) need to stay ahead of the consumer and be experts in their field if they want to succeed. It seems that we are specializing in more niches than ever. These days, working in the top-end of cocktailbars means having knowledge and experience in a specific way of making drinks: batched, to order, sustainable, fast,..
Where do you see yourself in five years? I’d like to continue at Swift for the foreseeable future if I’m lucky enough to stay on board. After that, I’ve got an outline of a plan, but I’m sorry to say I’m keeping that close to the chest for now. More to follow ;)
If you weren't in the drinks industry, what do you think you would be doing now? I’ve asked myself this question almost every week over the last two years and honestly, I don’t know. There’s nothing in the world I can dedicate myself to as much as my current job.
Your biggest career influencer? There are three people who have defined my career from the beginning and to whom I owe a huge debt: Elliot, Olly and Andy from The Cocktail Trading Company. They were the ones to persevere in coaching me when I was just a kid with no real experience whatsoever.
First drink you ever tried? A Woo-Woo. Honestly one of the best drinks I’ve ever had.
We've all had a bad experience with at least one drink. What drink do you most avoid? One of my first nights in London, we ended in Trailer Happiness. They served us multiple 151 Swizzles, for which we played a betting game. Whoever lost, had to down the whole drink. I lost twice.
Not a good night.
Your hangover cure? When my colleagues see me come into work with a box of seedless grapes, they know what’s up.
£10m comes to you. What do you do next? First I’d buy the pub my mum used to own in my home village. I’d wanna renovate it and make it a classic Belgian cafe, with an open hearth, nice wooden floor and bar, atmospheric lighting. Y’know, cozy. After that, not much, probably. Just keep working.
Bar or cellar at home? Cellar. Ain’t no way I’m making drinks at home.
Favourite beer? Jupiler. Fantastic light Belgian beer with lots of flavour.
Wine? Love a Sancerre.
Spirit? Scotch whisky is a big part of my job and I do have my favourites. Sherried whiskys like Glenfarclas and Glendronach I can really enjoy, but my go-to everyday dram would be Clynelish 14 or, if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s so damn limited, Compass Box’s Whisky de Table.
Recently, Armagnac has really begun to grow on me. It’s just so full of flavour. Sadly, the category is dying off, so I want to taste it before it completely disappears.
Cocktail? Clover Clubs, Manhattans and Sherry Cobblers are probably my top three.
Fav Bar? I have the habit of working in the bars that I love. The Cocktail Trading Co used to be my favourite bar before I started there, then it was Swift before I started. I’ve recently gone alot to Coupette, but I don’t think that means I’m handing in my notice soon - CTC and Swift are still my favourite hangouts.
Restaurant? There’s this little seafood place around the corner from where I work called Bonnie Gull. They opened the same time that Swift did, but they never really get much footfall because it’s on Bateman street, which is a little Soho alley. I go there on my lunch break when I can afford it. They do a daily changing menu depending on what they find at the fish markets, they’ve got great oysters and it’s really cozy. You can also sit at the kitchen, which is great because the staff are really lovely.
World location? To be honest, I haven’t really traveled that much. I went backpacking in Sweden when I was 16 and it genuinely saw some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen. Apart from that, City-wise I’m definitely still in love with London. I like walkable cities too, places like Paris and Belfast.
Fav film? Probably The Shawshank Redemption. I know, I know, I’m a basic bitch. It just makes me tear up everytime I watch it.
Book? The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho if I were to pick one book, The Dark Tower Series by Stephen King if I were to pick a series. I really like classic Science Fiction books aswell.
Album? It’s gotta be Green Day’s American Idiot. I apologize.
Singer/band? Don’t particularly have a favourite, but I’m a big fan of Queens of The Stone Age, The Eagles of Death Metal and The Arctic Monkeys.