Monday, July 13, 2009

Tales of the Cocktail 2009

Evening, I'm sitting at the airport on the way home from Tales of the Cocktail 2009, I feel a little tired but other than that I may have escaped relatively unscathed this year. Am casting my mind back over the 5 days in New Orleans.

I arrived on Wednesday morning and made my way straight to the W on Poydras Street, as I had mentioned I opted out of the Monteleone this year, I wanted to be able to Casper
 (disappear without saying goodbye) easily. Of course my plan was slightly foiled as many
 people had had the same idea this year so I bumped into most of London in the lobby.

I wandered over to the Mont for lunch with some American friends and we all ended up at Coop's, which is a New Orleans institution, proper 'down home' Southern food. I had my first plate of gumbo, I have been, in the past, a super picky eater and am currently trying to broaden my horizons and not turn my fussy nose up at anything. 

The great and the good were at Coop's including a big chunk of the blogging community. The gumbo was pretty good even if I couldn't identify most of what I was eating, probably not a bad thing for someone so fussy.

I had time for a cheeky nap and then onto the Beefeater welcome party which was of the normal creative high standard they always seem to pull off. Dinner with a collection of limeys and shermans (more about that reference later). We dined at Jacqueimos on Oak Street, which meant a beautiful drive through the garden district with all its beautiful huge colonial houses. There was an elderly door man of sorts who was also doing tarot card readings, apparently he traveled all around Europe lecturing on metaphysics. He kind of looked like Captain Birdseye, his reading what suitably vague and very work related, no surprises there. Last year I had a reading from a gentleman who worked at the voodoo museum whilst a huge albino python hung round his neck, his reading was far more random something about being a transexual lesbian which if you're already a woman is an oxymoron no?

I ate fried green tomatoes for the first time, it seems that most things in the South are fried, a bit like the Edinburgh of the Europe. Cagney rat made his first appearance at Tales and helped my fellow dining companion Ben finish his food. We then went onto Cure, which is a very swanky serious cocktail bar slightly off the beaten track. This wasn't your normal bar in New Orleans and wouldn't have been out of place in New York or San Francisco. I am very happy to say that on my first night I was safely tucked in bed by midnight.

Thursday was peppered with meetings, pool time (networking) and another pre evening nap.I also attended a tasting room where the seminar was entitled 'Limeys versus Shermans'presented by Jon Santer from SF and Ben Reed from London. They discussed the differences between bartending skills and then had a bit of a competition, I'm pretty sure it was a draw. The drinks at this seminar were some of the best I had during Tales. Our first stop of the evening was the Belvedere party with a large posse of English bartenders, a pit stop at the Monteleone and then it was time for the Old Absinthe House and Alibi. The crowd on the street outside the Old Absinthe House was immense and where pretty much all of Tales congregated each night until the wee hours. I sent myself to bed around 3am as I seemed to be amazed that I was still able to talk and walk, by talk I mean slur by walk, I mean stumble.

Friday was the first of 2 monumental hangovers and lots more meetings. Hangovers in New Orleans are particularly brutal, 90 degrees heat and 90% humidity, like being in a Bikram
 yoga studio but I don't go to Bikram after rolling into bed at 3am and never when dehydrated.  I managed to struggle up to the Boca Loca Cachaca lunch and revived myself with some tasty cocktails made my Jeffrey Morgenthaler. I was poolside again but lurking in the shade. 

My evening started with drinks at the W and then another trip to Cure and the repeat evening of the night before, ending up at the Old Absinthe House and Alibi. Tales is about 90% male so being a female you get a lot of attention! There are all sorts of shenanigans that go on behind closed doors and the Monteleone resembles at some times of the night a frat house during Spring break. The later into the night outside the Old Absinthe House the more random the chat becomes and the audacious the proposals. These are two of the chat up lines I experienced 'would you like to come and try my bitters', this is standard Tales speak as there is a wealth of people that bring their new product or home made 'bla bla' for people to try. It's a little like 'would you like to come and see my etchings?' The second line was 'go on, let me kiss you, if you don't like it we can stop' a logical approach I feel. I caspered around 3am again with my modesty intact.

Saturday was one of the worst hangovers I've ever had, I don't sleep very much and normally bounce out of bed, I missed 'Limeys versus Shermans' part 2 and just about made it to lunch to groan over my salad with the lovely Burr family who I had had the pleasure of meeting at their Rum Renaissance this year in Miami. Another disco nap was required before the Spirits Awards and the firm resolve of not drinking (hadn't touched a drop all day).

The Spirits Awards are the the pinnacle of Tales and where the great and the good both US and Internationally are awarded for outstanding excellence. Anyone can nominate people or 
bars for each category and then it is judged by a committee of experts from all over the world. I had the pleasure of being invited by Michael Silvers of Uber Bar Tools and Debbie Rizzo (PR). 

I was particularly happy for one winner, The Merchant in Belfast. The Merchant (home of the Connoisseurs Club) is one of my favourite hotels and bars in the world. Every time I've been fortunate enough to visit I've had an amazing evening with great bartenders and hosts (yes even you Steven Pattison).They swept the board with 3 wins and another Brit won best International Bartender of the Year, Tony Conigliaro. I've yet to visit his new bar but plan to upon my return, its in Islington and has no name as yet.

I snuck off early to retrieve Cagney rat and drink tea with a dear friend and have a good Tales gossip! Cagney had been quite a hit with the ladies and was having a little rest.

Cagney's new friends and me!

Tales was even better this year than last year and not only was it educational, huge fun but great for my new business IP Brands.

See you all next year and it was lovely seeing you all.

Now for the de-tox, by de-tox, I mean daily yoga, not going to do anything silly like give up drinking, support your industry is what I say!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Preparation for Tales of the Cocktail

In 5 days I will be boarding a plane in Newark to New Orleans for Tales of the Cocktail 2009, this is my 2nd year at Tales so hopefully I will be a little more prepared than last year.

Tales is the largest cocktail convention in the world, cocktail enthusiasts, bartenders, brand owners, distributors and journalists all congregate in New Orleans for 5 informative, steamy, boozy days on all matters cocktail related. So how am I preparing this year? and what did I learn last year?

Actually lets start with what I learnt last year?

The first two days of seeing everyone I had ever met in the drinks industry in the lobby of the Hotel Monteleone was fun, after that I would creep through in disguise or under the cover of the darkness.

Organisation - so many seminars, events, people to meet its important to remember your
diary and run a tight schedule for yourself, always allowing important time for 'networking'
by the pool.

Pace your drinking and eating - being from the UK we often forget about food when
distracted by tasty cocktails. Eating is obviously important especially breakfast.

Sleep - I am not the world's greatest sleeper and can often survive on 4 hours a night but
at Tales a cheeky nap in between seminars or before many of the parties is not only wise but
means you can stay out longer.

Time going into the lifts in the Monteleone well, it is very easy to get stuck for ages as people
shuttle between the lobby and seminars. Maybe try and use the stairs as its the only exercise you will get during the event other than raising glass to hand. I did manage one Bikram class last year but am not going to put such pressures on myself this year.

Hangovers are best spent by the roof top pool bar at the Monteleone drinking Americanos
with good company.

I actually left my voice at Tales last year, I completely lost it for about 4 days which was entertaining for all that know me. I went from Tales straight to a yoga retreat with a bunch of people I'd never met and literally couldn't talk for the first 3 days!

I'm more excited this year as I know I what to expect and also get to re-connect with so many friends from all over the world some of who I met for the first time last year at Tales and some of which I run into often on my travels. The global community of the drinks industry is impressive and there is a real sense of community that I witnessed first hand recently when everyone came together at the untimely loss of one of our much loved bartenders, Gregor de Gruyther, he would have been at Tales. I, and many others, had made plans to meet with him there. It has made me realise how lucky I am to work with such a group of interesting, creative people who keep me inspired and motivated.

How am I preparing this year?

Firstly I used the trip to the US as an excuse to catch up with family and friends on the East Coast, of course this doesn't help with the whole 'taking it easy' before Tales theory. Catching up with family and friends is always a reason for celebration but perhaps this is the best training of all?

This year I plan on taking some cocktail kit and some interesting new brands that aren't available in the US so that I can make drinks in my room. Most days and nights you end up having a drink or 2 back at someone's room or suite, the Hotel Monteleone resembles a kind of frat house/dormitory but all the students look a bit older and definitely have more refined drinking habits!

I have packed my gym kit, my hotel has a comprehensive gym and rooftop pool, I opted out of the Monteleone this year in favour of the W, the theory being I will be able to Casper (leave without saying goodbye, I know a little rude but affective) and retreat back to my room. The gym kit will hopefully get used as its that funny game we all play of if I do something good I can then indulge myself?

I will have Cagney rat too as a travelling companion, if you're not familiar with him, he is a rat (toy) that used to live in Jake Burger's bar, the Portobello Star. Myself, or one of the LUPEC London ladies 'borrowed' him at our first meeting in January and he has travelled extensively since. He is currently in NY after his road trip through France and England but really looking forward to his first Tales.

I am also taking blogging equipment, computer, camera, a flip video gizmo. I have been lucky enough to be included as one of the Tales bloggers this year and plan to blog daily so will keep you posted.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


So my 2nd blog about yoga. I am currently in the South of France on a Bikram yoga retreat, Lux-yoga.  This is my 2nd visit to this incredible place and I hope to make it a annual pilgrimage for years to come.

Last year I came straight from Tales of the Cocktail and had totally lost my voice, I couldn't speak for the first 2 days which if you know me was rather challenging especially when on a holiday with a bunch of people I hadn't met before. I haven't been on any other retreats, and although regularly holiday by myself had not done a group holiday type thing before. I can remember being apprehensive last year on the plane with the question that 
must have run through everyone's mind 'What if there all weirdos?'. Of course they weren't and this year's group is just as fun and interesting as last years.

Lux-yoga is not your normal yoga retreat, firstly its Bikram yoga which if you've taken class is not tree huggy, navel gazing yoga. It is a dynamic series of 26 different postures done in a room heated to 100 degrees. It is the most full on, all encompassing work out I've ever done and totally changed my opinion of yoga which I had previously found a little boring. 

Secondly, Lux-yoga is as its title says, luxurious. Ben and Craig who created the retreat wanted to create a vacation that they themselves would want to go on. There is daily yoga, every other day a double and posture clinics to further deepen your practice but there is also incredible accommodation, a huge house  on the Cote D'Azur over looking Nice, gourmet chef, literally some of the best food I've ever had the pleasure to eat. 

There are staff on hand to accommodate your every wish as well as a masseuse who visits and does an array of massages ranging from aromatherapy to deep sports massage.

Days are spent lazing by the pool in between classes and meal times or exploring local villages and beaches. Evenings are spent at dinner, drinking fine local wines and being entertained by your fellow guests or bands that visit. It is the perfect mix of yoga, relaxation and fun!

I am on day 3 of my visit this year and am writing this whilst looking at the amazing view from my bed, I do ache, in face my aches ache but its a good feeling and what I've learnt about yoga and life in the last 3 days has opened my thoughts, mind and heart a little more. It is good to immerse myself in something different and also give yoga the time it deserves without having to rush to and from class.

I shall leave you with this but will write more at the end of the retreat "A yogi is a seeker of balance, a yogi observes and connects and does not judge'.

Monday, May 11, 2009

International Bar and Cocktail Events - The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

I am fortunate enough to have attended in the last year Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans, BCB in Berlin and Cocktails and Spirits in Paris, each event was amazing for a variety of reasons which I will go into later.  The question I am asking myself again is why is the offering in the UK for the global cocktail community is so poor? We have by far one of the most impressive cocktail cultures in the world with some of the pioneers of the modern cocktail culture and many of the worlds best bars but yet our effort to educate and entertain our international peer group is way below standard. 

I am not alone in my view. The Bar Show in the early days was great, based at the Islington Design Centre, it was personable and well thought out. The last 2 years of the London Bar show I have been horrified by the thumping loud music, dodgy scantily clad promotional girls, very little in the way of innovative or interesting new products and hordes of drunken student bartenders. They need to drastically have a re-think or another organisation or collective need to create a new event.

It is not all bad, we do have some good events and organisations in the UK but maybe they need to be brought together to create an event that we can be proud of. We have the Connoisseurs Club over in Belfast, they have had some of the most impressive speakers in the world since they launched and continue to attract a big crowd all self funded by the attendees and no payment for the speakers. We have the Boutique Bar Show which allows small independent brands to be seen and doesn't allow any one brand or portfolio to dominate. There is Rum Fest which is also open to consumers that is growing each year and never has such a great collection of rum brands been under one roof. Rum Fest is particularly interesting as it is a category event, something I think other spirit categories should look at as I'm sure they will. There is also Distil which is part of the London Wine Trade Fair, still in its early stages but not as well publicised as the Bar Show despite being a much more serious and useful event.  

Perhaps if the UK could create a good event it shouldn't be held in London? So many of our other cities have significant cocktail scenes especially Edinburgh and Leeds.  The only positive of the London Bar Show is that it brings everyone in from all over the world and clever brands have made sure that they create events around the show that ensure these visitors have a good experience.  

So what do the aforementioned events do so well? Tales is the largest cocktail convention in the world, it is the place to meet up with everyone on a global level from brand owners, brand ambassadors, global distributors, writers, bloggers and bartenders. The fact that its in New Orleans and not in NY or San Fran, pretty much in one hotel adds to its success and charm.  

BCB created by Mixology Magazine and partners had some of the most informed and educational seminars I've ever attended. BCB clearly put a lot of thought into what was relevant for the industry to be educated on and then secured the experts in that field from the industry to present. It also ran over 2 days as does Cocktail and Spirits which is more than enough for any of us.  

Lastly, Cocktail and Spirits which I have just left had a dream team line up of inspiring creative bartenders and bar owners talking to bartenders about how many of their great bars were set up. This is what bartenders want to know, they want to know how to set up their own successful bar. The brands at this event were a nice back drop rather than the focus but they also had new and interesting brands as well as the famous brands we all know and love.  

As a member of the UK drinks industry I will endeavour to stop complaining and see what can be done, many of us are already talking, albeit late night normally at Jake's and scribbling notes on napkins but I am pretty confident in the next couple of years the UK will up its game.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Gimlet

Thought it was about time that I wrote about one of the other titles of this blog, the mighty Gimlet!

The Gimlet is one of my favourite cocktails of all time and has very much fueled my love affair with gin.

I was first introduced to this wonderful zesty fresh cocktail but Alex Kammerling, who created a modern version for Martin Miller's Gin. It was the first 'grown up' cocktail that I liked, by 'grown up' I mean martini style drink. 

Martin Miller's Gimlet

50ml Martin Miller's
2 bar spoons of Rose's lime marmalade
15ml freshly squeezed lime juice
10ml simple syrup

Method - shake hard and strain into a cocktail glass, garnish with a lime twist

The Gimlet has a great history although it slightly varies depending on who you read. According to The Joy of Mixology it was originally named the Gimlette after the naval surgeon who created it to administer lime juice to the naval officers to stop the spread of scurvy. 

Dr Rose is also involved in the history of the gimlet, he invented Dr Rose's lime cordial in 1867, he found a way to preserve citrus without using alcohol, personally I prefer my gimlet with fresh lime juice but there are many recipes on the net to make your own lime cordial.

The nick name 'limeys' used to describe Englishmen was also coined from the Gimlet.

Like many other classic cocktails, in the last 20 years vodka has taken over the Gimlet but with the much talked about gin renaissance in full swing many gin brands are reclaiming this great drink. This is also an easy drink for the home mixologist to make as the base ingredients are easily found.

So I will be blogging again later on this week as am having my first day of bartender training at IPB, will let you know how it goes!

Monday, March 30, 2009



In 1999 IPB opened threw open theirs doors and a groundbreaking concept in drinks training and cocktail consultancy was born. Created by bartenders for bartenders, IPB stood at the forefront of the UK cocktail renaissance, which continues to grow and flourish to this day.

To mark their 10th anniversary and continue the pioneering spirit with which they were shaped, IPB are expanding with the launch of IPBrands, IPBars and IP PR.

What have IPB achieved in the last 10 years?

IPB Bartender of the Year – The most rigorous and prestigious bartending competition in the UK, if not the world, now in it’s 5th year.

UK RumFest – principal co-ordinators of the London’s annual festival of Rum now into it’s 3rd year.

Brand consultancy – with Diageo as their first client, created a brand building consultancy, training ambassadors and driving an unrivalled quality of training for brands globally.

Event Mixology – brought professional mixologists and the very highest standard of cocktails to a huge range of events. Raised the Bar and elevated expectations at high profile events around the world, opening the door for swathes of event companies such as Shaker and Squeeze.

Training – created the ‘Every Serve Perfect’ program for Diageo, which has evolved into the ‘perfect serve’ training concept now accepted as industry standard.

Publishing – The UK’s first true celebrity mixologist Ben Reed has a canon of best selling cocktail books for professional and consumer alike, which continue to make the world of the cocktail bartender aspirational and accessible. Paul McFadyen launched Flavour magazine, one of the first industry magazines to properly address the bartending industry.

West 11 cocktails – created and launched a range of top quality pre-mixed cocktails in 2008. Cocktails without compromise, now selling well in Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, Harvey Nichols and other leading independent stores.

The IPB Legacy

Throughout it’s 10 years IPB has been home to some of the industry’s best known and most respected movers and shakers:

Tai Altman – founder of IPB and now an independent industry consultant in Scotland.
Alex Turner – Legendary drinks expert and now head of training for Bacardi Brown Forman
Alex Kammerling – Brand Ambassador for grey Goose Vodka
Liam Davy – former bartender of the Year and now Brand Ambassador for martin Miller’s Gin

The next 10 years

IP Brands

Concept, design, liquid, brand DNA, marketing tools, distribution both on/off trade in the UK and Globally. Marketing/PR strategy. IPB can now offer a ‘one stop shop’ for all elements of brands consultancy.

IP Bars Bar Assessment

IPB now presents IPBars, an operational consultancy utilizing their unrivalled industry expertise to provide an in depth analysis of the operational efficiency of any bar and team member. Reporting directly to senior management IPBars will establish every area of potential improvement throughout a bar operation and supply a targeted program of training and functional best practice. The only consultancy to offer this level of assessment, IPBars is designed to positively impact on the bottom line at every stage of the process.


IPB are the industry experts in terms of outlets, distribution, retail and both trade and consumer PR. IPB can now offer a comprehensive PR service for all elements of a brand from launch, driving distribution and maintaining market share.

The Space

IPB are home to over 1200 different bottles of spirits across all categories, its one of the most comprehensive collections of spirits in Europe.

IPB also have an extensive library containing 800 books and 2000 journals on all things drinks related. IPB will be opening their space for several events at the end of April to showcase their services.

If you require access to the library for research purposes or to their extensive drinks selection please telephone the IPB office to arrange an appointment.

The space is available for seminars, training sessions, meetings, tastings and events.

Trends Lab

IPB will be regularly hosting and chairing forums on all lifestyle trends within the food and drink arena, IPB have been responsible for setting trends in relation to where and how people drink cocktails for the last 10 years.

Bespoke tailor made training programmes for brands, sales teams, outlets, bartenders and training teams.

Rum Fest – 3rd year of this successful trade and consumer show

Who are IPB?

Ben Reed,Co Director, IPBartenders

Ben pioneered celebrity mixology and bartending in the UK, he began his career working with Sir Terence Conran to become head bartender of Mezzo but what really put him on the map was his three year stint as bar manager at London’s Met Bar bat (where he won cocktail bartender of the year in 1997). which was one of the first of the wave of ‘style bars’ in the UK.

Ben also wrote a column Barfly for the Saturday Times magazine for two years and his first book Hollywood Cocktails featured in the Times and the Telegraph newspapers top ten purchases for Christmas 99. His own book Cool Cocktails published in 2000 sold out in both the UK and the US in just four months and has currently sold 500,000 copies worldwide. Three more books, The Cocktail Hour, The Martini, and The Margarita and other Tequila cocktails were released in 2002. In 2003 he wrote The Art of the Cocktail to great acclaim. 2005 saw the release of three more books; Sunshine Cocktails, Party cocktails and Hangover Cures and his latest book "The Bartender's Guide" has just been released by RPS.

Apart from the 13 episode series that Ben presented (Shaker Maker for the BBC), Ben has a regular on the Carlton Food Network and has made appearances on; This Morning, GMTV, The Gloria Hunniford Show, UK Style, UK Food and Granada Breeze.
These days Ben is the brand ambassador for Wray and Nephew/Appleton rums, 
the spokesperson for Funkin' Fruit Purees and a regular trainer for IPB's other bar and brand clients. Ben and IPB are the authority on the rum category within the UK.

Paul McFadyen, Co-Director, IPBartenders

Paul comes from a drinks-media background beginning a decade ago, on the The Publican Newspaper and as Publisher of Flavour Magazine, a monthly cocktail bar trade magazine he launched in 2000. Paul joined IPBartenders as Commercial Director in 2003. Since then he has developed training and bartending projects with all of IPBartenders top clients including Diageo, Bacardi Brown-Forman, Mitchells & Butler and Coca-Cola.

Paul and Ben took 100% ownership of IPBartenders in August 2006 and act as Co Directors. In 2007, IPBartenders and Ian Burrell launched the UK Rum Fest, now entering it's third hugely successful year, a partnership that is wholly owned by IPB and Ian.

In demand for his media and drinks knowledge, Paul is acknowledged as a leading rum expert and presenter, delivering training and seminars for the West Indies Rum and Spirit Producers Association in UK, Spain and Italy, as well as various shows and events from Miami to Moscow.

Nick Wykes, Events and Training Manager – IPB Bar Assessment

After ten years tending and running bars around the world for over 15 years Nick brings an experienced eye and a polished professionalism to the IPBartenders team.

From the landmark bars of Oxford, Browns, Savannah, Maxwells and Mertons via the Channel Islands and an award winning brasserie group to bespoke bars everywhere from Miami, Shanghai, Rome, Cannes and Barcelona Nick has been in constant demand wherever he lays his tins.
After rejoining the Maxwell's group in 2003 as head bartender and overhauling the bar training programmes, menu's and internal protocols Nick joined IPBartenders in 2004 as bartender trainer and events manager. Now organising global cocktail events and parties and delivering professional training and running cocktail classes Nick can also be found propounding his wisdom within the pages of Imbibe Magazine.

Emma Davis, IPBrands/IP PR – new divisio

Emma brings 17 years of experience in the sales and marketing of wines and spirits including most recently 7 years launching and building the highly accoladed Martin Miller’s Gin both in the UK and globally.

Emma is an expert in distribution and marketing in the UK, US and other global markets.

She has also worked on many famous wine brands including Torres, Guigal, Jean Luc Columbo as well as Janneau armagnac, Chartreuse and other spirits.

Emma started her career in the in-house PR at Berry Bros and Rudd and will also be heading up with IPB, IP PR as collectively they are media savvy and have extensive contacts within the UK and globally.

Chairman of LUPEC UK, this is the first international chapter of LUPEC outside of the US. LUPEC UK will be a mentoring and advisory body for women in the industry.

Emma also contributes to Drinksology, Class magazine and some other on line media.

For more information on IPBartenders services and fees please contact

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Connoisseurs Club - Jeff Berry

Let me introduce you The Connoisseurs Club for those of you who haven't had the pleasure of attending. The Connoisseurs Club was created by Steven Pattison and Sean Muldoon on 2nd October 2007, the ethos behind it is to create regular seminars that educate and inform the bar tending and brand community. Since its conception it has welcomed 2000 visitors and 20 guest speakers from all over the world.

It is free to attend a seminar, you just have to find your way over to The Merchant in Belfast, which is a beautiful spot and is home to one of the best bars I've ever propped up.

I've been to 4 of the seminars at The Connoisseurs Club and each time the no of people in attendance has grown. The speakers are not paid, but each seminar is sponsored by a different brand. Jeff Berry's seminar on the history of Tiki Cocktails was sponsored by Bacardi.

I was excited about learning the history of Tiki cocktails as so far my research had included drinking my fair share in Trailer H and Mahiki. 

We all met at the Merchant hotel for a large rum and coke and were then ushered on to a double decker bus to a secret venue, the venue turned out to be the music hall at the Queens University, a very majestic setting for such a wonderfully interesting and historic subject. I had never met Jeff Berry before but was instantly dazzled by his amazing Tiki themed jacket, it put the other Hawaiian style shirts to shame.

This is some of what I learnt before the Tiki effect took hold. Tiki drinks were originally exotic of faux tropicals invented by bartenders in Hollywood in the 1930's, the first Tiki period was the 1930's to the 1970's, the Tiki bartenders were the molecular mixologists of their time, Tiki has been enjoying a bit of  a long overdue renaissance for the past few years. 

Imagine Hollywood in the 1930's, the glamour and decadence, bars were built like film sets, in fact art directors created bar design back then.

It was Don the Beachcomber that really put Tiki on the map, he was a legendary mixologist and one of the first pioneers of 'farm to glass'. Don was born in 1907 in New Orleans, his father owned a hotel but at an early age Don travelled the world particularly focusing on Polynesia, Don's grandfather had been a rum runner. Don opened his first Beachcomber bar in Hollywood in 1934. Don created many Tiki cocktails including The Zombie, Don's Daquiri and
 the Mai Tai (although there is much debate as to the true originator). 

Don married Sunny, a model from the mid west, she was the business brain behind Don and turned his bar into a big restaurant, it was the Spago of his day and patronised by Howard Hughes and Charlie Chaplin amongst other big stars.

Of course with any new successful trends, competition became rife and other Polynesian style restaurants started to pop up all over Hollywood, Don's bartenders started to get poached and his cocktail recipes stolen.  Don started to code his recipes, Tiki bartenders all had little black books which were their recipe bibles.

10 years later Victor Bergeron opened a chain of restaurants called Trader Vics, he claims to have invented the Mai Tai although Don claims to have invented this in 1932.

Don moved to Waikiki in Hawaii after World War II and opened another restaurant he also built an elaborate houseboat, the Marama, a prototype for what he hoped would be a floating housing in Hawaii, he eventually shipped it to Moorea where he lived out his retirement.

I am now on a quest to learn more about Tiki and have a new found respect for it. One of the first books I will be reading is Don's very own Hawaii Tropical Drinks and Cuisine.

My evening ended early as I had forgotten how very strong Tiki cocktails are, so I sent myself to bed with the my best Irish Goodbye yet! This was unusual for a Connoisseurs Club, the last one ended in a Country and Western night at The Spaniard.

The next Connoisseurs Club is in June.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

LeNell Part 3

So the store is packed up, the apartment is trashed after a most enjoyable party, LeNell still has a ton of stuff to do but LeNell's at 416 Van Brunt Street is now officially closed. The space looks forlorn, there is a sign on the door that says 'We've lost our lease at this location but continue to search for the perfect new home. Thanks for almost 6 beautiful years. I have the best customers in the whole wide world, if you would like to keep up with our news then send an email to My heart LeNell.'

The last day of the store was well attended and nearly all her stock got sold, many friends of the store popped in with gifts or amazing nips and drams of whisky. LeNell served one of her legendary punches, played music, hugged people, shouted at people, cried. I also managed to persuade her to take a rather saucy picture to mark the occasion. This in its self was done in typical Smothers style with her happily parading through her shop in some very beautiful underwear (that was designed by a customer who designs knickers for Hustler) and then waving at people as they walked whilst she was buck naked in the bath tub that used to be full of gin. We had her friend and professional photographer Scott Baker on hand to take the pics.

I asked LeNell what she had learnt. She said that its important to have a good accountant and lawyer, she had tried to do both on her own when she opened the store and she now realises that she can't do everything by herself. Her store was the coming together of lots of different elements and a large dash of magic. LeNell mused on her identity being so wrapped up with the store but in fact LeNell is far more known now for her character, bourbon knowledge and adventurous spirit than any building. LeNell feels that due to her virgo nature she often has tunnel vision especially when in pursuit of a goal. Losing the lease reminded her that life is about people and that nothing exists without them, a lot of people gave their time and energy to her store and her business over the last 6 years and she could never have done it without them.

The following evening she had a small gathering which was entitled 'LeNell's send off to the world of the uncut cock'. Friends and customers gathered at her home to enjoy more punch, lots of bacon, bourbon cake, vintage porn cartoons and a jeroboam of champagne which she sabered out on the street. She also debuted her new stripper thigh high boots which will be travelling to London and Amsterdam with her.

There will be a new LeNell's in the future and she will be putting a new space to even better use, for now she is off to Europe to travel, learn and clear her head and heart, she is also going to the Whisky Live Icons of Whisky awards to pick up her third award 'US Retailer of the year single outlet'.  There will be more on travels with LeNell soon, if you're in Portobello on the 4th March come down the Star for Lady and the Tramp (you will be surprised as to whose who) to see LeNell and myself making drinks under the watchful eye of Jake Burger.

Friday, February 20, 2009

LeNell Part 2

Greetings from Red Hook in Brooklyn, I arrived late Wednesday night and had the lovely surprise of finding Miss Misty Kalkofen of LUPEC Boston hanging with LeNell at the store. The store is looking
 empty but still very much loved. 

LeNell, myself and Misty relocated to LeNell's apartment and put the world to rights for a few hours whilst eating liqueur chocolates, cheese and drinking Duchess cocktails made my Lenell. 

I awoke on Thursday morning to Earl Grey tea and home cooked muffins, yep she bakes too. I also had a good look around her amazing apartment and her impressive drinks cabinet/shelves and book shelves. I'm currently reading a book called Dirty Helen which tells the story of a bar owner Helen Cromwell, sometimes Madame, who owned the Sunflower Inn in Milwaukee between the 1930's and 50's. She served only bourbon and scotch and had no seats just a very plush carpet for her guests to sit on.

We then went to the store to do the final cleaning, packing away and hopefully sell off the last few bottles. LeNell's store has 
been a real labour of love from start to finish, as we packed away various items, I realised that everything in this magical store has a story. I started with the chandalier, this had been in her house in Alabama. The building of the store dates back to early the 1900's no official date has been found, its a large square space with a kitchen out back and a large basement.

When LeNell got the store she put paper up on the windows one day and spent a day or 2 by herself stripping the plaster of the walls to expose the brick work, she discovered the original ceiling and restored it to its former glory. She spent 2 months removing the modern linoleum and exposing the beautiful hand tiled floor. In total it took her 5 months to get the store open.

Bottles are displayed in beautiful antique cabinets, an old bath tub is her gin display.

People came in and out of the store all day and the endless questions of 'what's happening?' and 'where you moving to?' are tiring but also highlight how well loved the store is and how it has become a real highlight of the neighbourhood. LeNell's opened on the 13th September 2003 (LeNell's birthday) and the area was very different then, the area 'came' up around LeNell's store and is now peppered with smart restaurants, wine bars and antique stores. The range at LeNell's has always been amazing and many a bartender over the years have made a pilgramage out there to find rare bitters and cocktail ingredients. LeNell's was also a centre of education with the good and the great of the spirit world holding masterclasses and tastings.

The end of Thursday ended with an unnecessary official eviction notice from her landlord, he seems like a sensitive charmer?! LeNell took it on the chin and served the last few customers with her normal charm and grace. Tomorrow is the final day of trading eased with a big bowl of punch to say 'until the next time' to her customers.

Ohhh check out LeNell's new haircut and tattoo for her European adventures.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

LeNell Smothers

A couple of years ago I was in New York on a work trip and I had the pleasure of meeting Miss LeNell Smothers. I had heard of her liquor store, LeNell's, a well kept secret by the global bartender community but had never encountered her in the flesh. She has a rather outrageous reputation that proceeds her but I was intrigued to meet this much talked/gossiped about woman.

We met at restaurant before hitting a few bars and in person she was much more demure that I had expected. LeNell is born and bred Alabama, she has the most awesome Southern twang that is charming even when she is regaling you with lewd stories, of which she has many. The below is copied from her latest bulletin regarding her store and her words are better than mine.

'Over eight years ago, this starry eyed country girl came to New York just hoping to some day get her foot in the door of the booze business in the big bad City. I never dreamed that a short while later this ole gal that grew up around a hog farm and a chicken hatchery would be able to say that she shared a sunset with her hero Dale Degroff in the Rainbow Room and helped Christian Moeuix of Chateau Petrus pour wine at a tasting on Madison Avenue. The memorable moments with people I had only admired from afar back in Alabama are too numerous to recount here. Many dear friendships enriched the journey to success.

Near six years go I signed a lease to open my shop in Red Hook. My time in this current space is officially coming to an end, celebrating the grande finale at 416 Van Brunt, Friday Feb 20th from 12pm-9pm'

I'm flying to New York on Wednesday 18th February to spend the last few days of the current site of LeNell's with its name sake, I will be blogging regularly throughout my trip with what we get up to and then she is hitting Europe! Whilst she's here do come down the Portobello Star for The Lady and the Tramp on Wednesday 4th March 2009.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

My First Class of Bikram Yoga

As the title of this blog includes the word 'yoga' I should probably introduce you all to the world of Bikram yoga and tell you about my first class which was nearly 4 years ago. I had been training for my 2nd marathon and my body was in bits.

I was introduced to Bikram yoga by a friend who had done one class and become quite hooked, I had vaguely heard about it and the only thing that had really registered was that it was done in a room that was heated to 105 degrees, it sounded quite ridiculous but intriguing none the less.

I arrived, as nearly all Bikram rookies, in proper sweat pants and a t-shirt, I was slightly amazed at how skimpy the clothing was of some of the other attendees, some in just bikinis. I lay down on my mat with my 2 litre bottle of water and didn't really know what to expect. I must admit at this stage vanity had brought me to a Bikram yoga studio, my friend had informed me that it was a fast track route to weight loss and toning up. 

Bikram yoga is a 90 minute class comprising of 26 postures that are repeated twice, the room is heated to 105 degrees to both protect you from injury and increase flexibility. Bikram's thinking was that this would replicate the climate in India and make it easier for Westerners.

Bikram yoga was invented by Bikram Choudray in 1965, it is a series based on hatha yoga which he had learned since he was a young boy. Bikram yoga is designed to heal your body inside and out, Bikram's theory is that if you heal the body the mind will follow. The series is designed to heal knees, backs, blood pressure, cholesterol amongst pretty much everything else. Some pretty big claims but from my experience and the many testimonials on the web he could just be on to something.

The teacher came in and introduced herself, she was Francesca, who at the time co-owned the studio. She was very tall, lean and glamorous, everything you would wish for and expect from a yoga teacher, she also had incredible energy. She explained to us nubies that the room would get hotter, that we were to take it easy, drink water after the warm up when we wanted but above all we must stay in the room, even if it was in a sweaty, hyperventilating puddle on the floor. Bikram yoga is a dialogue lead class and its very important that you stay with the dialogue and don't try and rush ahead of the teacher. In an ideal class everyone moves together and the energy is amazing.

Half the series is done standing and half on the floor, I had no idea what to expect other than that it was 90 mins long. I had naively thought all the positions would be impossible and everyone would be bending themselves into pretzels. Bikram yoga is as much about strength and stamina as it is about flexibility. The first couple of postures weren't too difficult but the heat was something else, I could barely breathe and within minutes rivers of sweat were dripping off me, this was somehow very cathartic and spurred me on to the next postures.

The third posture in the warm up series is awkward pose, never was a posture more aptly named, award pose is incredibly difficult both mentally and physically and I still struggle with it 4 years later, this is apparently because its the posture I need the most, urgh!

I staggered and grimaced through the standing series, glared daggers at the friend that had bought me, slipped on my mat, felt like running out of the room (still get that feeling when particularly hungover) and generally prayed I was anywhere but in that hot room with the other Bikram nutters.

The beginning of the floor series starts with a 2 minute savanasa, this is 'dead body pose' and never had hard ground felt so good, I had also accidentally placed myself near the door which the teacher kindly opened, the breeze was like angel kisses. The floor series was an exercise in concentration and 'stay in the room' but somehow I managed to get through the whole class, I had had moments of 'this is the most insane thing I've ever done' and 'these people are all nuts, I'm never coming back'. Explaining to Bikram virgins that Bikram yoga is one of the most intense full on work outs imaginable is difficult, as did I, most people think that yoga is a tree huggy, navel gazing pursuit of pierced and dread locked drop outs. Bikram yoga has been described as type A personality yoga. Athletes now combine their training with Bikram yoga and I have never experienced a work out where you heart is pounding but your breath is total measured and controlled.

Somehow though at the end of the class as I lay in the final savanasa, in the dark, with the air cooling around me I felt an amazing euphoric feeling of both peace and accomplishment (not to mention a healthy amount of pounding endorphins). I realised for the first time in years I had been entirely 'present' for 90 minutes. I tend to live my life in the future as in 'what's going to happen next?'. The freedom of being 'present' is quite profound.

Needless to say I returned to Bikram soon after but its only in the last year that my practice has become regular (at least 5 times per week) and that I'm really finally even beginning to get my head round what its really all about.

Bikram yoga for me is the perfect ying to my drinks trade yang, the detoxing effects are wonderfully efficient and the lessons it has taught me in the last year and the noticeable affect it has had on my body speak for themselves. I have never been fitter, less stressed, softer skinned (great side affect of sweating each day) or balanced in all areas of my life. My yoga practice has guided me through some trying times and that 90 minutes of freedom each day frees up so much space in my life for other positive things to flood in.

There are 10 studios in London and over 600 around the world, go to to find a class near you, go on, you won't regret it! The class is the same where ever you go in the world, I have practiced in London, New York, Miami, LA, San Fran, Chicago, Boston, Washington and Tokyo. 

I will write about my adventures in Bikram yoga again including a very special retreat in the South of France which I will be attending for the 2nd year this year

Namaste (the light in me sees the light in you).

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Mixology Monday - 'Broaden your horizons'

Mixology Monday is hosted today by A Mixed Dram, the theme is 'Broaden your horizons.'

So this is my first Mixology Monday and as I am not of bartender background I do not feel I have the knowledge or authority to write about this from a cocktail perspective so instead I'm going to write about how I am broadening my horizons in terms of learning how to bar tend properly with Jake Burger. 

I have worked with Wines and Spirits for the last 17 years, the last 7 being with the highly accoladed Martin Miller's Gin and although I can tell you about marketing strategy, event planning, distribution I've always left the art of cocktail making to the professionals
even to the point of being able to travel with Martin Miller's Gin own mixologists. One of my new year's resolutions for 2009 was to learn how to make drinks properly, I feel that as a brand person its a very important, and sometimes lacking, part of our education.

One very late night in New York with Jake, amongst other animals, we hatched the plan that I would start to bar back for him in the New Year and learn the art of making drinks and bar tending. In my opinion there are two key elements to being a great bartender, firstly the ability to make tasty well balanced drinks and secondly and most importantly the ability to 'chat' to your customers and make sure that every part of their experience at your bar is positive.

Let me firstly tell you about Mr Jake Burger. I first met Jake in Leeds about 4 and a half years ago, it was just before he opened Jake's Bar on Call Lane. I have spent many an enjoyable night at Jake's Bar, it's one of those bars that is a time bandit and before you know it the sun is coming up. Actually I have now realised that it isn't Jake's Bar, its Jake, the man himself that has this affect. 

Jake started his career in 1992 working at a bar called Ikes Bistro which at the time was the only proper cocktail bar in Leeds. The first drink he ever made was a 'Transplant' made up of gin, Bacardi, creme de menthe, orange juice and pineapple (don't try that one at home). He is pretty much self taught but over the last 17 years he has won numerous cocktail competitions including the Smirnoff Penka 'perfect cut' diamond competition, Blantons bartender of the year, Leeds Guide bartender of the year, Belvedere 2nd place in world final and most importantly Elements 8 Rum Pina Colada King!

There is also now the Portobello Star, his London home. This opened in November 2008 and has fast become a big industry hang out as well as local haunt of Notting Hill locals. 

My first lesson with Jake was on a quiet Tuesday evening. As we are often drinking partners we had agreed that the first few lessons would not involve any drinking (unless educational). We started off by cleaning all the bottles on the back bar, Jake instructed me that its important I know something about each product in his bar. We got through Gin, Vodka, Liqueurs, Tequila, Vermouth and bitters in about 3 hours. Jake is a bit of yoda when it comes to bitters and has an extremely rare bottle of Bokers bitters and Abbotts bitters. I learn all sorts of interesting facts about both much loved brands and new brands and realise some home study will enhance my knowledge. I'm also there to generally clear up and watch Jake make drinks. I think it will be a number of weeks before I'm let loose with a cocktail shaker but am looking forward to lesson no 2 next week. Jake is a great teacher and is the right combination of fun and interesting, if only all my teachers had tried teaching me lessons from behind a bar.

The only question I ask myself is why I didn't get behind the bar earlier? I think it is an essential part of my drinks industry education and would encourage all brand people to broaden their horizons in this way.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


So I find myself at 5.30am on a fairly chilly Tuesday morning pulling into Covent Garden Fruit and Veg market, I somehow had always romanticised this place, kind of expecting the scene from My Fair Lady where her father is singing ‘I’m getting married in the morning’ through a Victorian Covent Garden market. The reality is a little different but fascinating none-the-less. I was lucky enough to be invited by those clever guys from Soulshakers to visit the market to learn all about their new venture Soulfruits.

One of the many things we take for granted when sitting at a bar ordering a cocktail, or I do anyway, is the many different components and ingredients that make up my gimlet or daiquiri. Fruit obviously plays a very important part in many cocktails and how that fruit is prepared and the quality has a big impact on the taste of the drink. In the same way I care about the quality of the spirit as the base of my cocktail I also should care about the fruit.

Soulshakers do around 25 big events/festivals per year ranging from Glastonbury to small independent parties. They use fruit, at all of these events and a lot of fruit too. They estimate that last year they spent around £35,000 on fruit.

All great ideas and business connections normally start with a social interaction, Giles Looker of Soulshakers plays cricket and about 9 months ago met Andreas Georghiou playing cricket. Andreas has been in the fruit and veg business for around 20 years and being that Soulshakers use a lot of fruit they started to buy it through Andreas. After a particularly heavy weekend of fruit buying for an event, they realised that they might be missing a trick and started to investigate with Andreas the possibility of creating a premium fruit supplier to cocktail bars in London.

Despite the early hour the market was actually closing for that day’s business. They start at midnight. I walked around the many different stalls chatting to the fruit ‘dealers’. The Soulshakers guys knew everyone and who had the best mangoes, limes, grapefruits. They had clearly been on a steep learning curve and I gleamed a small amount of their knowledge. The best limes normally come from Mexico in terms of colour and yield but Brazilian ones are very juicy too although sometimes on the light side. We tried some delicious mango that had ripened on the tree rather than on the boat and was therefore 3 times more expensive but also three times more tasty. The best strawberries come from Egypt generally and strawberries stop ripening as soon as they are picked. I’m always a little concerned that the strawberries that I buy in UK supermarkets seems to last forever and are almost indestructible.

I also met Dennis who had the best grapefruits and I will be chatting to him some more about pineapples (I have a thing about pineapples but that will be another blog).

Now like the rest of their business model, Soulshakers don’t want to take over the world, they want to continue doing what they do to the best of their abilities. Whereas other companies may over extend themselves too quickly, Soulshakers have always worked within the parameters of enjoying what they do and making sure they execute to the highest standard, this rings true of the ethos behind Soulfruits.

So towards the end of last year they formed Soulfruits between the 3 Soulshaker guys, Giles, Michael, Kevin and Andreas. They want to be able to provide a premium fruit supply business to a select no of bars that care about the quality of their fruit and also offer alternative ranges for those who are more quality focused than cost.

They are aiming for 20 – 25 accounts, they already have Mahiki (Papa Jules was with us picking out his fruit for the day), Quo Vadis and potentially the Match Group.

Giles said that they want to provide a real personal service and connection with each account, rather like mixers and ice before them, they are aiming to be the premium end of the fruit supply business.

Soulfruits also supply squeezed juice to order and I visited the squeezing lab, where the great and the good spend the whole night squeezing limes, lemons etc… This is not some big stainless steel commercial machine squeezing line, these guys do it on domestic squeezers by hand, again this ensures the best quality although Michael (Butt) still advocates hand squeezing on the premises for cocktail bars. I suggested that for naughty bartenders who misbehave at the festivals this year this should be their punishment, a night on the squeezing line, so watch out!

From reading through their bumf, they have 3 kinds of pineapples, 4 kinds of grapefruits and 3 different Clementine’s. They will also send out a weekly fruit report to their customers, with market prices, harvest information and provenance.

Ordering is simple, just call them on 0208 995 0140 or fax them on 0208 747 0274 before 5am to receive your order that day, you can also email them They 
will soon have SMS too.