Mixologist of the Month - Jake Burger
- Date of Birth: 19th April 1974
- Birth place: Grew up in Leeds
- Height: 5'10"
- Eye colour: Brown with wisp of mint
- Nationality: English
"I started bartending in Leeds shortly after my 18th Birthday and was managing the bar within about 6 months. This was in the dark ages of the cocktail, it wasn't until I managed to blag myself into a job at The Townhouse in Leeds in around 1998 that the cocktail side of my career really took hold. Townhouse was an instant success and it was around this time that I started entering the competitions - in which I enjoyed some degree of success.
In 2004, after a brief tenure behind the stick at the World famous Mojo's in Leeds, I joined Leelex Ltd, the company founded by Ged Feltham which at that time consisted solely of Oporto - our ever popular Rock n Roll bar, Jakes Bar and Grill was our first project together and was, once again, an instant success. In the years since then we have opened The Portobello Star in Notting Hill, The Neon Cactus in Leeds and The Hummingbird in Leeds. More recent times have seen us launch The Ginstitute and The Still Rooms above The Star - read all about them here www.portobellostarbar.co.uk and of course our very own Portobello Road Gin."
Jake's Signature Cocktails
Awards, Accolades and Trophies
I won many competitions in my younger days - Blantons, Smirnoff, Wild Turkey, Sagatiba which earned me a steady supply of free holidays and most memorably a £10 000 diamond. I tend not to compete very often these days - I leave it to the youngsters..
Leelex have won Class Best Night Out/ Good Time Bar award for, I think, 5 of the 7 years it's been available.
The Star won a Time Out listing as best new bar when we opened.
'Jakes' won a number of the old Theme Awards.
I forget what else, but we've generally been fairly well rewarded for our work.
Claim to Fame
I don't think there is a particular one I would be loose lipped enough to divulge. A bartender never tells. If you stick around anywhere long enough you attain a certain level of fame. 20 years in the bar industry seems to have been enough for me to reach a comfortable level of recognition. Here's to the next 20!
Q & A
What do you as a mixologist think about beer? Any brews of note for you?
Well I consider myself a bartender rather than a mixologist and in my experience most bartenders don't drink a great many cocktails when they go out, they drink beer and shots. So yes, I consider beer an important part of my liquid diet. Sometimes I'll enjoy something refreshing and Mexican and perhaps not overly flavourful like a Pacifico or a Bohemia. But when back in Yorkshire there is not much I enjoy more than a pint of Tetley Bitter at The Half Moon in Poole with my old friend Mal Evans or a pot of what ever local brew they are serving at Whitelocks in the city centre that week.
If you could offer a couple of short pieces of advice to the average bartender, what would they be?
Learn your classics, don't get too distracted by the vast array of products and ingredients we have to play with these days, the ones that have been on the backbar for 100 years and more have probably earned their place there. Making great drinks is a big part of it but remember that really you're there to make sure your guests have a great night and a memorable time, that way they'll probably come back, or send their friends. Don't take it too seriously - it's supposed to be fun right?
Surely you have some pet peeves about bartenders - care to share?
Wear a shirt, I don't want to see your armpits. Stop going on about how annoying/stupid your customers are, some of them will be - its a given, but we kind of need them. Stop asking me for that obscure drink which was only printed in the Booths Gin Ltd Edition copy of The Savoy and that uses something which they don't make any more. Have a Pina Colada instead. Apart from that I think they are the finest people in the World... Oh I don't want any caviar or foam on my drink either thanks.
As a mixologist/consultant, you work directly with many restaurants on their drink menus - describe the parts of this process.
Restaurant Cocktail menus I find a bit more challenging to write than bar menus. It's not something I've had to do that many times, creating a list that reflects the cuisine or the ethos of the place is obviously the challenge. One that an astounding number of places get wrong. Most recently I was helping put the drinks concept together for our suburban restaurant in Leeds - The Hummingbird. Here we serve a lot of locally sourced food and use very little imported foods so I wanted the drinks selection to reflect that. Luckily that is much easier to achieve these days than it would have been just a few years ago. So we used lots of Gin - Portobello Road, of course, but not just that, also Sipsmith, Sacred and trusty old Beefeater and Plymouth. We also use some of the excellent Chase liqueurs and Alex's tremendous Kamm & Sons. Lots to play with these days.
How did you get started?
I was a wash up in a joint called Ikes Bistro from the age of 15, most of my fellow washeruppers graduated to the kitchen and became chefs - I never liked the look of that so I was one of the two wash ups to escape the kitchen, moving onto the bar the day after my 18th Birthday. An occasion which I recently celebrated the 20th Anniversary of. The other escapee went onto become Keith Lemon. Of course this was in 'The Dark Ages of the Cocktail' the first drink I learned was a Transplant - Gin, Galliano, Creme de Menthe and O.J. Forgive me Lord for I have sinned.
How were you trained in bartending?
It was in the days before barbacks had been invented so there was no climbing the ladder or apprenticeship programmes or anything. Proper in at the deep end stuff. Fortunately most of the drinks were so bad it was impossible to make them taste any worse by making them wrong. From there I read what little there was to read back then - no CLASS Magazine, no Google, no wikipedia and no Amazon back then. But as the industry progressed and training became something the brands involved themselves in, then my knowledge improved. I guess I'm 50% a product of the innovations that descended on our industry in the 90's, and 50% self taught.
Did you take any courses?
What are some trends you're seeing in the market?
Not sure if I'm seeing it or just wishing for it but the long overdue death of the mock speakeasy and it's anti fun ethos must be arriving any day now. We can hope anyway. Education here at the coalface seems to be gathering pace as well. Not for our staff but for our guests. Education doesn't have to be boring, sure the bartender who chastises the guest for ordering a white wine spritzer with lemonade by admonishing her and explaining that its not a spritzer if it's with lemonade, is going to be an unbearable bore, but programmes like our Gin Class at The Ginstitute and the boys from The Liquorists with their Gincidents and what have you, are proving that there is a demand for education from consumers, which we must applaud.
What's your process for creating a new cocktail?
They usually come to me in my sleep.
What is your favourite cocktail to drink?
Negroni probably, though there are occasions when only a Martini will do, and we shouldn't forget about the Manhattan, that said I do enjoy an Old Fashioned.
To make? I always enjoy making a Frozen Strawberry Daiquiri. Zen and the art of the blended cocktail n'all that.
What are some of your favourite tools?
Ed McPartaland, Paul Mant and Mark Jordan.
What is your favourite mixology resource?
When I am stuck for an answer that I can't find in my own library or on the internet, my first call is always to that encyclopaedic double act of Jared Brown and Anastatia Miller.
What does success mean for you?
When I can spend every Halloween on Fourth Street in Louisville, courtesy of a different Bourbon brand, then I will consider myself a success. In seriousness though, I think it's most productive to measure success from week to week, not by resting on the laurels of previous achievements. So my current focus is on growing Portobello Road Gin as a brand, maintaining standards in our five bars, and spreading the good word of Gin through the Ginstitute,. Ask me next year if it's been a success or not.
What are some current trends you've seen in the cocktail market?
I'm squirrelled away upstairs in The Ginstitute at the moment serving drinks that last saw the light of day in 1860, so I'm not the person to ask. My current favourite revival? The Worcestershire Sauce Cocktail from 1851 - its just a shot of Lea & Perrins. It's better than you think it's going to be.
What goes into creating a cocktail? And what inspired you in the first place?
It has to taste good, look even better, helps if it has a catchy name, helps even more if it has a good story. It has to have balance, clarity and harmony. Inspiration is a strange beast which appears unannounced and from the most unlikely places.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Retired and married to a Cheerleader named Sandi living in N'Orleans...
If you weren't in the drinks industry, what do you think you would be doing now?
The same but not getting paid for it.
Your hangover cure?
Worcestershire Sauce Cocktail.
Your biggest career influencer?
Dick Bradsell obviously, doesn't everyone say that?
First drink you ever tried?
Sherry I think, aged about 5. Without parental permission I hasten to add.
We've all had a bad experience with at least one drink. What drink do you most avoid?
Stroh, cannot touch it. And the old formula Sailor Jerry used to make me gag, new stuff is actually all right though...
£10m comes to you. What do you do next?
Buy an Aston Martin and a bottle of Krug then get on with the important business of invading France....
Bar or cellar at home?
Just boxes and boxes of rare/personalised/antique/discontinued/disgusting bottles that I'll never ever get through..
Pint of Landlord.
Chateauneuf Du Pape - as my Old Grandad used to say: If it's good enough for the Pope...
Spirit? Tequila, or Gin, or Bourbon, in fact scratch that, it's Cognac.
The Alibi. New Orleans.
1997 in Chinatown or The Olympic Cafe in Leeds.
London is the most exciting city on Earth, I'd rather be in Mexico though.
An impossible question. Bring It On?
This week it's Smith on Distilling from 1725
Dunno. Live At Folsom gets fairly heavy rotation.
Country, anything country.