James Wynn-Williams - Mixologist of the Month
- Date of Birth: 8th March 1986
- Birth place: Christchurch, NZ
- Height: 6'3"ish
- Eye colour: Blue
- Nationality: New Zealand/British unless the All Blacks are playing
James Wynn-Williams started in the industry at a restaurant called Sticky Fingers in Christchurch NZ late 2003 after moving from the kitchen to the bar. After a year he left and took up the role of Bar Supervisor at Di Lusso. It was here where he began to dabble in Cocktail competitions and writing drinks menus.
He took over as Assistant Manager of The Concrete Club and had a hand in opening their new venue Double Happy in 2007.
Given the option of staying in New Zealand and becoming single or following his better half to London he ended up wandering the streets of West London with a C.V. and falling down the stairs into Trailer Happiness he was given the job of Junior Bartender. 2 and a half years later he left TH as the Assistant Manager to take over as the group Head Bartender at All Star Lanes where you will find him today.
Awards, Accolades and Trophies
National Finalist in the Gin 209 bartender duel (finals in November 2010)
Represented London at the 42BELOW Cocktail World Cup 2010 in New Zealand
Winner of the Jameson 'Mix Master' Competition 2010
South Island Mixologist of the year 2006
Reserve for the New Zealand Mixologist team for the Trans-Tasman Competition in 2005
Claim To Fame
Having a longer name than the Thai exchange student when at high school. Beating Jake Burger in a late night wrestling match on Portobello Road.
Q & A
What do you as a mixologist think about beer? Any brews of note for you?
There is sometimes no substitute for an ice cold beer! Beer always tastes better when drunk in its country of origin or after doing a Monday stock-take. Brews of note: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Stienlager Pure or Captain Cooker (from a tiny microbrewery over the back fence from my mother's house in the middle of nowhere NZ).
If you could offer a couple of short pieces of advice to the average bartender, what would they be?
You are only as good as the last drink you made, taste every drink you make and ask yourself would you be happy to pay X pounds for that drink. Proper preparation prevents piss poor performance. You can't live on a diet kebabs and Red Bull. No matter what there is always someone that is better, knows more, pulls more birds and richer than you.
Surely you have some pet peeves about bartenders -- care to share?
Drink snobs, liquor geeks and people that take it just that little bit too seriously aren't we here to have fun? Oh and dirty finger nails. Also the ones that walk into a busy bar and order ridiculously busy bar and start rattling off a seriously annoying drink order... seriously its 5 deep and you want how many Ramos Gin Fizzes? Jog on mate.
As a mixologist/consultant, you work directly with many restaurants on their drink menus -- describe the parts of this process.
Brief: have a clear idea of your brand identity and your target market your drinks menu should reflect this. Costs: are people going to be prepared to pay X price for that in your venue and are you going to hit target GP? Replication in production: are all your bartenders going to be able make these drinks over and over to the same standard you do?
How did you get started?
I was working as a pot washer at a local Christchurch restaurant when I finished high school I was planning on being a chef but would finish work and sit at the bar and watch the guys work and interact with the customers and thought that it would be a lot more fun being out front talking to girls than degreasing a kitchen extractor everyday begged the manager to make me a bar back, I was given my chance and was the best little glass master they had as I had sat there for weeks seeing where everything lived.
How were you trained in bartending?
On the job, a lot of it I have taught myself through trial and error the rest I have been yelled at enough that I won't make the same mistakes again. The rest came from books and Wikipedia.
Did you take any courses?
No only the Rikki Brodrick's Trailer Happiness harden the hell up course.
What are some trends you're seeing in the market?
The Tiki resurgence has been noticeable in London which is great that consumers want to enjoy the drinking experience. Molecular drinks keep on popping up, its something I have only dabbled in but it seems more and more places are doing and pulling it off in a very professional manner, its great to see but I am glad that I don't make drinks like that on a daily basis give me a mixing glass over a vaporizer any day of the week (except Sunday maybe). Hats, braces and waistcoats on bartenders I think it maybe the equivalent of strippers wearing clear heels.
What's your process for creating a new cocktail?
A lot of repetition, sniffing and tasting of the base spirit and pacing back and forth around an empty bar whilst listening to loud Reggae or Drum and Bass depending on the style of drink. Working at All Star Lanes its great when I have the private lanes to myself to work on a drink I tend to spread out my laptop, cocktail books and religious icons across the bar mix up certain different versions of a drink then when it all gets a bit much pick up a bowling ball and smash a strike (1 times out of ten) to relax.
What is your favourite cocktail to drink?
Negroni great for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
What are some of your favourite tools?
Mexican Elbows, Tim Stones, Bar Blades and Global knives.
What is your favourite mixology resource?
My imagination/daydreaming, spending late nights in dark bars with friends' way after bedtime and Food TV.
What does success mean for you?
Being proud of myself (I am my own worst critic), Mum being proud of me (after spending a lot of money to send me to one of New Zealand's most expensive schools to become a bartender) and having more google hits than my sister who swore whilst reporting live on the news. Or the end of a night when a customer comes up to the bar to thank me for a great night.
What goes into creating a cocktail? And what inspired you in the first place?
Usually for competitions I will leave everything till the last possible moment, I seem to get the bartenders version of writers block often, which often means I will end up turning to the Match Group Holy Trinity of Apple, Aperol and Passion fruit. My girlfriend is normally the first point of call when I need a second opinion and taster for a drink, she is also great at nodding and smiling when I come home later at night after a couple of cheeky shandies and explain my big new idea for the 'next cosmopolitan'. A lot of my inspiration comes from food I have eaten and read about and tried to mimic combinations of flavour in liquid form.
What is your favourite drink to make?
Old Fashioned's its fun to just stand there and stir for 5mins or so. Or any drink where someone specifies to minute details how they want it prepared eg 'a bone dry beefeater martini with a discarded grapefruit zest and two not three olives, stirred anti clockwise please!' you know that extra effort you put it will be appreciated(usually).
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Back in New Zealand probably covered in paint attempting to do my own renovations on a venue of my own to save money (you can learn how to be an electrician from youtube.com cant you?).
If you weren't in the drinks industry, what do you think you would be doing now?
Still living in New Zealand and paying off a student loan.
Your hangover cure?
Ice cold can of Coke, bacon butty and then a very spicy red snapper with a side of sparkling water.
Your biggest career influencer?
Tied between Matty J (Christchurch, NZ) the man could make anyone feel welcome at the bar and had loads of tales of late nights behind foreign bars. And Gregor De Gruyther having a dude like that tell me that I am going to 'take over London in 3 years' is a pretty hefty compliment and something that motivates me a lot(R.I.P. G the industry is never going to be quite as fun).
First drink you ever tried?
Mum has stories of me stealing her glass of red wine as a toddler and then rolling around the lounge before she realized why her glass seemed half empty. The Kaluha and milk episode as a 16 year old also springs to mind.
We've all had a bad experience with at least one drink. What drink do you most avoid?
Jose Cuervo Gold, 18 years old and the best part of a bottle in it took me around two years to even be able to smell tequila again. The Anchovie infused vodka from Sticky Fingers would have to get a mention but saying that I will avoid any alco-pop.
10 million pounds comes to you. What do you do next?
Book two seats on the next flight to Barbados for my girlfriend Qwan-Ling and myself. Then mail my keys for work back once I land.
Bar or cellar at home?
Cellar, I have a hard enough time breaking down my bar station properly at the end of the night and need a fair amount of encouragement to clean at home, put this together and I would have a fruit fly love hotel in my lounge.
Guinness only while I am in Ireland and Captain Cooker Manuka Beer (only when I get a care package from home) or can of Stella when at home watching the mighty Chelsea.
Main Divide Pinot Noir.
El Dorado 12 Year Old.
Negroni, Daquiri or Martini (maybe anything ending in the letter I works?).
At the moment?, Callooh Callay, Trailer Happiness, Portobello Star, The venue formerly known as Lab and The Salisbury in Queens Park.
Hawker Stalls Newton Circus in Singapore.
Golden Bay New Zealand.
Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.
The Yes Man - Danny Wallace, Great book and then ruined in movie form.
Cut The F**K up - By Pop Chop.
Fat Freddies Drop.