Hailing from Manchester, Global Bar Consultant, bartender extraordinaire and Group Bar Executive for the Jason Atherton’s group – The Social Company, Jamie Jones, was recently in Sydney, holding a cocktail masterclass at Kensington Street Social. Drinks World was lucky enough to catch up with Jones to ask the ‘Cocktail Hobbit’, a self-proclaimed all-round cocktail geek and lover of all things booze, about the industry and KSS opening up in Australia.
Drinks World: Tell us a little about yourself and how you started in the hospitality industry?
Jamie Jones: I started as a glass collector (glassy) almost 12 years ago. Before that, I was a shelf stacker in a supermarket. I immediately fell in love with the energy and excitement of working in a bar environment, and proceeded to learn as much as I could about drinks and flavours.
DW: Kensington Street Social opened earlier this year- tell us the concept behind the venue and why this location was selected?
JJ: With a relaxed all-day menu focused on British-Mediterranean share plates, KSS is designed to be flexible in its approach, from a cocktail and a snack, to a multi-course meal with paired wines.
DW: Do you have plans to open more venues in Australia?
JJ: Our international expansion has been very quick, and we are extremely pleased with the success of KSS. As it stands, there are no current plans to open more venues in Australia, but never-say-never.
DW: Australia, in particular, has a big coffee drinking culture, and we know you’re a big fan of the espresso martini. Where do you believe coffee fits in on a cocktail menu and have you come up with other coffee based drinks to offer across your venues?
JJ: Coffee is a wonderful drink and it can be super versatile. I always have a coffee cocktail or two on my menus, as it’s a “safe” flavour to lead people in with, they trust everything else you put in after.
A great example is a new drink I developed for KSS and the idea was to expand on the espresso martini, and actually make it more like a classic martini. I always drink my martini dirty, and so we have Absolut Elyx, Mr Black coffee liqueur and 2 dashes of soy sauce, stirred down and served straight up. The salinity of the soy brings some incredible dark chocolate flavours from the coffee liqueur. The drink is called ‘Black to the Future’ and garnished with a small “OUTATIME” number plate. It’s fun.
DW: Having won the G’Vine Gin Connoisseur in 2013, you’re a bit of a gin nerd, what other drinks, new or old, are you a fan of?
JJ: Bourbon has always been a favourite of mine and I have a big collection of rare and vintage bottles (including an unopened 1916 pre-prohibition bourbon). I always joke that bourbon is my wife and gin is my mistress.
DW: When developing a cocktail list for a new venue, what do you consider? How often should a venue mix up their cocktail list?
JJ: It’s really important to think about your guest and their wants, not yours. Making drinks accessible and enjoyable is crucial. I plan each of the menu changes across all of our sites, ensuring that the teams get behind the new concepts or path we want to take our guests. Changing a menu too often can be damaging, as your returning guests may find a drink they only experienced once or twice had disappeared, it means you never establish your own signature serves.
DW: You have venues in major cities across the globe, when developing a cocktail list do you consider the different palette profiles in each market? For example the palette profiles in Australia would be different to those in Asia?
JJ: Absolutely. It’s key to understand the marketplace and what they want and like. Perfect example is our new opening in Cebu, Philippines. There is a major draw towards sweet flavours and so the drinks list I produced has been tailored towards that palette, the same menu may not translate exactly back in the U.K. or Australia.
DW: Brexit is a hot topic at the moment, and will drive economic change across this globe – do you feel this will impact on the food & beverage industry not just in the UK but other major cities?
JJ: I hope there isn’t a major impact for anyone, it’s very hard to tell what will happen as it’s still very early days.
DW: Within your venues how do you manage the mix between working with global corporate brands and start up / niche industry brands?
JJ: If your product is good and your approach to business matches it, I’ll stick your product in our venues. We have really diverse back bars, and make a point of sticking the products we want to drink ourselves. Whether that’s a Ma & Pa boutique brand or an industrial mass-produced product, if it tastes great, we’ll buy it.
DW: From your time in Sydney, what other venues have you checked out and are excited about?
JJ: Eau de Vie, Hubert, and Palmer & Co are all great, and I managed to check out Big Poppa’s. That’s my hot new fave for sure – banging drinks and blazing hip hop to match.