Simon Dacey - Mixologist Of The Month
- Date of Birth: 11th April
- Height: 6' 5"
- Birthplace: Maidstone
- Eye colour: Grey / Green
- Nationality: British
"I've been bartending professionally for a little over 3 years now, after a 19-year-old version of myself made a life-changing leap from international sport and a Chemistry degree into the unknown. I think it's safe to say it's gone pretty well so far.
I have a passion for learning and a love of spirits, most of all rum and other sugarcane goodness, and my career so far has reflected that. I recently picked up my WSET Level 3 Award in Spirits, certifying me as a true nerd, and before that I've managed 2 of London's premium spirits-specialist bars.
I've had a sprinkling of other cool opportunities too, including a global cocktail competition final in Trinidad, judging an international spirits competition, travelling the world for rum festivals, and an attempted relocation to Australia."
List of your awards, accolades, trophies.
Judge-World Drinks Awards 2019
UK Champion and Global Finalist-Angostura Global Cocktail Competition 2020
WSET-Level 3 in Spirits
Your claim to fame?
I love everything about rum; I’ve been to festivals across the world, judged a global competition for it, and can happily spend days talking about it.
Q & A
What do you as a mixologist think about beer? Any brews of note for you?
I’m a big fan of most beers, the first alcohol-related events I did were Real Ale festivals with my dad so I’ve been fortunate enough to experience a lot of unusual and exciting brews from around the world. I love that there is a beer for literally any occasion, be it a cool crisp Weissbier such as Augustiner for the summer or a bold milk stout from Wild Beer Co. for the middle of winter. (NEIPA can get in the bin though)
If you could offer a couple of short pieces of advice to the average bartender, what would they be?
Read. If you come across something that interests you, a spirit, a wine, a cocktail, dive as deep as you can into it and see where the rabbit hole leads. Ask. Everyone in this industry has stood in very similar shoes at the start of their journey, there is no shame is asking for guidance and learning off your peers. Enjoy. Your career will dominate your life, it is meant to be fun. If you’re not having a good time, consider a change of scene or focus, don’t be afraid to take your time finding your niche.
Surely you have some pet peeves about bartenders -- care to share?
Don’t act like you know everything; everyone you meet knows at least one thing you don’t. Offer help, offer insight, offer opinion, but don’t act like your way is the only way or the best way.
As a mixologist/consultant, you work directly with many restaurants on their drink menus -- describe the parts of this process.
In my experience, developing menus demands putting the guest in the centre of your focus; you can have 1001 good ideas but only the ones people want will stick. In a restaurant setting it is also important to ensure there is harmony between the drinks offering and the food menu, just as there is harmony within a drink or dish. So think about the target market for the food first, work around that demographic and the flavours they will experience in your space, and build ideas from there.
How did you get started?
Sort of by accident. I had a bit of a bad year in 2016 and had to drop my aspirations as an international athlete and my “backup plan” of a Chemistry degree. With very little left except some happy memories of running a makeshift bar out of my uni accommodation, I decided to go to a bartending school and see where that took me. Cue 4 weeks learning to mix drinks on a Caribbean beach, a few months learning what “real” bartending is like at a restaurant bar, and from there I followed opportunity whenever it knocked. I’ve been very fortunate in the opportunities afforded to me so far, and I’m very excited to see where the world takes me next.
How were you trained in bartending?
I started to teach myself how to mix drinks in 2016, as a party trick for university. When the university experience went south for me, I signed up to the European Bartender School and too their 4 week course in St Maarten. This gave me a solid foundation from which I’ve been continuously building over the past 3 years.
What are some trends you're seeing in the market?
Shockingly, given the pandemic the world is still struggling against, the two biggest trends I’ve seen blossom are Low-ABV and Ready to Drink (RTD) cocktails. The Low-ABV market had been growing for a couple of years now, spurned on by a lack of going out and the rise in popularity of hard seltzers and home-mixology the whole category is having its time to shine. RTDs are profiting from the same behaviours, with bars and independent companies pushing their original drinks for consumption at your own leisure.
What's your process for creating a new cocktail? And what inspired you in the first place?
This is a broad question. Inspiration comes from a lot of places, as I’ve learned by fire this past year. Personally I get inspired by people and music quite a lot, and I feel like I can relate colours, flavours and shapes reasonably well. So if I’m listening to a song, a particular lyric or riff will suddenly spark colours into my head, which in turn I associate with flavours and the drink builds itself. I also draw a lot of inspiration from well-established cocktails and their variants. In this current lockdown I’ve been diving into classics, “improving” them, then twisting them to create something unique but still recognisable. This multi-step process gives a nice structure to developing new flavours and experimenting with new techniques, something which can often be daunting if starting from zero.
What is your favourite cocktail to make?
The Mai Tai. It’s the best drink on the planet: a fascinating back story, endless versatility by virtue of being impossible to replicate perfectly, and just a great combination of core flavours to work off.
What are some of your favourite tools?
I think it was Sother Teague who said the most crucial piece of bar kit was a spoon, and I’m inclined to agree. Good drinks can be made with almost anything, Tupperware instead of shakers, sieves instead of strainers, measuring spoons instead of scales, but a good spoon is hard to beat. It stirs, measures, cracks ice, retrieves garnishes, acts as a fidget toy, the possibilities are endless.
What is your favourite mixology resource?
I’m always turning back to Liquid Intelligence (Dave Arnold) and The Curious Bartender Series (Tristan Stephenson) to drive me forward and guide my experiments. The network of friends I’m fortunate enough to have are also an excellent supply of trivia, data and ideas; the bartending community at large is its own best resource and I feel very lucky to be a part of it.
What does success mean for you?
Someone enjoying a drink I make. Awards are nice, keeping a business alive is important, but success is that flicker of a moment when you see a guest’s face light up thanks to something you made just for them. This is hospitality.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Somewhere overseas in a rum bar I may or may not own. Europe looks nice.
If you weren't in the drinks industry, what do you think you would be doing now?
No idea. I’d probably force myself to pick up a degree in something other than chemistry, or do a practical job like plumbing. But I honestly couldn’t tell you where I’d be without hospitality, it has literally been a life-saver.
Your biggest career influencer?
Everyone I’ve worked with has left their impression on me in some way or another, and I’ve worked very closely with a lot of very influential people. To try and pick one would be a disservice to all the others I’ve met along the way.
First drink you ever tried?
Probably some kind of ale at one of the dodgy pubs back in Maidstone. In terms of actual cocktails, my earliest memories involve disco drinks at various bars across Europe, on a trip just after I finished school; a Mojito bar in the back streets of Paris probably stands out the most to me.
We've all had a bad experience with at least one drink. What drink do you most avoid?
There are very few things I’d actively avoid if I’m out for a drink. I’m not a big fan of very sweet drinks, or over-hopped IPAs, but really there’s not a lot I’d say no to.
Your hangover cure?
Sleep. Lucozade, painkillers and antihistamines go a long way to helping me too.
£10m comes to you. What do you do next?
The world doesn’t need more millionaires, so I’d probably get comfortable, get a couple of bottles of rum in, help out a few friends, and scope out the environmental charities that would do the most with a big chunk of cash.
Bar or cellar at home?
Bar. Wine is my largest blind spot and while I love the stuff, I’d rather keep a collection of weird spirits and liqueurs I can slowly use repeatedly rather than a stack of bottles with the caveat “once it’s gone, it’s gone”.
Probably Delerium Tremens. Maybe a Guinness from Homeboy. Possibly this Portobello Lockdown Lager in my hand right now.
I’m a huge sucker for French wine, I know it’s a cliché but it’s true. I will never not be happy with a white Cotes du Rhone, a full bodied red from the Loire, or an indulgent Montagnac dessert wine.
Rum. Preferably Jamaican. Honourable mentions to Antigua, Belize and St Lucia.
I’ll give you 3: Trailer Happiness (London), 7 Flaskor (Uppsala), Attaboy (NYC)
The Gurkha Restaurant, Maidstone. If every you’re unfortunate enough to end up in town, The Gurkha provides its own brand of escapism, with excellent food and incredibly friendly staff in a low-key atomsphere.
Sweden has a very dear place in my heart, as does most of Europe. I tried to emigrate to Australia before Armageddon happened, and it was absolutely incredible so I’ll be back for another look soon.
Birdman. Quality cinema with a compelling story and a relatable message.
By The Smoke and the Smell-Thad Vogler. An excellent memoir and powerful guide to some of the world’s few remaining “authentic” spirits.
Volume 4-Black Sabbath. It’s one of those few albums I can just listen to all day and love every second of.
Ghost, an enigmatic metal band from Sweden blending Satanic overtones with enough awareness to not take themselves too seriously.