Friday, 29 May 2015

Business of Booze: Drinks Stories with The London Sessions

This week in Business of Booze, we talk to Rebekkah Dooley, who’s been working on the drinks scene for 12 years now and is launching a new series of talks called The London Sessions.

1) So - tell us more about The London sessions - you were chatting over beer and tequila and... how was the idea shaped? What is your chief aim with these series of talks? 

The London Sessions came about during a conversation between myself and Tomas Estes, over dinner (and beer and tequila) at Cafe Pacifico. We were discussing how there are so many training sessions these days, but they all focus on technical knowledge, rather than people. 

Tomas is a wonderful, natural story teller, and so many bartenders are. We wanted to create a platform where people could share their stories in front of an engaged audience. I'm not a bartender, and even though I go to spirits trainings, I'm always more interested when someone starts talking about their first bar tending job, where they grew up, or what inspires them. So we wanted to share that.

2) You have fever tree lined up for the first talk - are there any other brands that you're really pushing to work with? 

Yes! I love working with Fever Tree because, aside from the fact that they make great products, it means I get to work with their brand manager Craig Harper - the sweetest, sweariest Scot you'll ever meet. 

Our first session is with Sean Muldoon & Jack McGarry from Dead Rabbit in New York. Sean & Jack are from Belfast, so for their session we approached Jameson, Guinness, and a range of Irish Whiskies. All the brands we're working with have relevance to the speakers, and they've been chosen by us specifically.

3) How do you feel the hospitality industry has changed over the last five/ten (you choose!) years? For better and for worse.

For better - The bar industry is growing massively at the moment. In previous years I don't think bar tending as a trade and a skill has received the respect it deserves, but it's great to see that changing with the rise of cocktails in newspapers, magazines, and on TV - people are recognising more and more that making cocktails is an art form in the same way that making food is. 

I think we'll soon see a rise in the number of 'Celebrity Bartenders' as we did with chefs 5 years back. Also, people are way more interested in what they're drinking at the moment, which makes our job - selling booze and cocktails, a lot more interesting. 

If I were to predict where it's going next, I would say look at the organic food market and the restaurant industry. Our boom will be the same as theirs. And for worse - The down side of that, is that with bartenders like Alex Kratena and Erik Lorincz becoming more widely known, I think more people are looking up to them and thinking 'I wanna do that!' but they're not putting in the leg work. 

I don't think people realise Erik came to London speaking very little English and that he worked as a glass collector - those are the stories we'll be telling in The London Sessions. You gotta do the hard work. 

So I think people are getting egos prematurely, and the ironic thing is that the people who could legitimately be entitled to have egos, people like Erik or Alex, are actually the kindest and most polite. So yeah - less egos, please.

4) And what do you think needs a refocus? 

That our industry is about people. Peter Dorelli is a great one to speak to about this, which is why we got him involved with The London Sessions. 

At the end of the day we're here to give the customer what they want, and 9 times out of 10, the customer really couldn't care less where you got your bitters came from, just make them a delicious drink and be nice whilst you're doing it. I think that's where the focus should be.

5) Who are you admiring in the world of bartending (personalities and/or establishments)?

Gareth Evans, one of The London Sessions co-founders. For me, Gareth has created and pioneered a style of cocktails which is all about being fun and accessible, but he's done it without compromising the quality of his drinks. 

Every time I see one of his serves I'm like 'What the hell is that?' and 'I want one' at the same time. He's a talented, driven individual, plus he has a great team in Kyle Wilkinson & Liam Webster. I think they're all going to go really far. 

Also Sean Muldoon & Jack McGarry at Dead Rabbit. It's my favourite bar in the world, and Sean is one of the people who inspired The London Sessions. He's a great story teller, and their determination to be the best is infectious, yet they remain humble and always eager to learn, which is the most important thing.

6) You designed the menus for Callooh Callay that helped them win their award, and has set the precedent for amazing creativity in these kind of bars. How has theatre/creativity changed over the years of your working in bars? 

The bar (excuse the pun) has been raised so much. Callooh Callay started making really cool menus when they opened 6 years ago. They were kind of the first. I think menus used to be an after thought for most venues but now people have realised their full potential, which means there's so much more competition. 

I love making menus because it's kind of like a puzzle - you need a cool idea but then you need to make sure it works logistically, that it's cost effective, marketable, it'll boost sales, photograph well. 

There are so many different elements and without all of them - the menu isn't going to be the best. My favourite menus are the Dead Rabbit menus, but then you go somewhere like Booker & Dax in New York where the menu is so simple, and yet I still have it stuck up on my bedroom wall. I actually do.

7) Apart from London, where do you rate in the world with an amazing bar scene at the moment? 

It has to be New York, but I still (sorry New York) think we're miles ahead of them.

8) And what do you think we have in London that makes us so special? 

I don't know. If we could bottle it and sell it, it wouldn't be so special, would it? Take a black cab to The Savoy, have one of the men with the big hats open your car door and go to The American Bar. That's what makes London Special, it's magical.

This was a guest post by Becky from Social and Cocktail.

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