In case you hadn’t heard, Tales of the Cocktail is decamping from its base in New Orleans to set up shop in Edinburgh. It’s not the first time that the team have taken Tales on tour. In the last few years this, the mini-me version of the greatest cocktail event on the calendar, has travelled from Vancouver to Buenos Aires and on to Mexico City. But from 1st to 5th April, it’s Europe’s turn. And as far as we’re concerned, there couldn’t be a better location for the action-packed, five day schedule of industry get togethers, seminars and very special events.
Why Edinburgh? Are you kidding? Not only is the city easy to navigate and chock-full of fantastic bars and restaurants, it’s been a hotbed of drinks industry talent for years. Some of the biggest, brightest, most influential names in the business have their roots here. Many have left and gone on to become brand ambassadors, bar owners and top dogs around the globe while others have stayed and continue to nurture and inspire. See the Edinburgh Connections section in our special Tales of the Cocktail on Tour supplement available from 1st April for more details.
In the meantime, Jane Ryan from DrinkUp London kicks off our celebration of all things Tales and Edinburgh flavoured, with her pick of the resident movers and shakers who continue to make the granite city one of the best drinking capitals in the world.
(FYI: People of America take note; this may be a good time to get the pronunciation of Edinburgh right: it’s Edin-brrruh not Edin–borrow. Thank us later – it’s a small thing that shows you know what’s what.)
Stuart McCluskey, owner of El Cartel, The Bon Vivant and The Devil’s Advocate
You can’t mention Edinburgh’s bar scene without referencing Stuart McCluskey. This is a man who has nurtured and inspired many careers and who continues to push his city onto the international stage with a passion that’s inexhaustible. Launching the Scottish 100 last year alongside other industry leaders like Mike Aikman, Stuart has been very publically trying to give Scottish hospitality, as he puts it, a kick up the arse and urge people to take control of the scene’s future. But before he started banging the drum for his peers, Stuart was, and still is, an owner operator of some of Edinburgh’s most fantastic venues – one of which makes the meanest tacos this side of the Atlantic. It all began with the opening of the Bon Vivant in 2008 on Thistle Street with backing from not just the bank and himself but family members too, all pledging in to get the doors open. Since then both Devil’s Advocate and El Cartel have joined the family, firmly cementing Stuart as one of the top operators here.
El Cartel, 64 Thistle Street, EH2 1EN. elcartelmexicana.co.uk
The Bon Vivant, 55 Thistle Street, EH2 1DY. bonvivantedinburgh.co.uk
The Devil’s Advocate, 8 Advocate’s Close, EH1 1ND. devilsadvocateedinburgh.co.uk
Mike Aikman, owner of Bramble, Lucky Liquor Co and The Last Word
Mike Aikman has been a leader of the Edinburgh scene since opening Bramble 10 years ago. Originally from Dalgety Bay, or as he describes it ‘a wee town in Fife’, Mike moved to Edinburgh for university aged 17, yet it wasn’t in Scotland that he got his first taste for life behind the bar. During a stint in Sydney he went to help out another Scotsman, Stuart McCluskey, at the Irish bar where Stu was working. Short staffed, they needed a glass collector, which then turned into Mike’s first job as a bartender. “I quickly got my chance on the bar, and loved it from day one,” he says. Back in Edinburgh Mike worked at several different places, from Blue Bar to Oloroso and Opal Lounge, before deciding to launch his own space with Jason Scott. “Opening Bramble will always be the most memorable moment in my career I think. It’s a massive step for a bartender to open your own bar and takes a huge leap of faith,” says Mike. Since then the duo have gone on to open successful bars Lucky Liquor Co and The Last Word as well as running events company Mothership. Today Bramble is still known as one of the world’s very best bars, and with that accolade under his belt, plus two other very successful venues, Mike and his team have their future sights set on their recently launched brands SeaWolf Rum, Cross Brew and Braemble and a new project they’re yet to talk about. The phrase stay tuned has never been used so aptly.
Bramble, 16a Queen Street, EH2 1JE. bramblebar.co.uk
Lucky Liquor Co, 39a Queen Street, Edinburgh EH2 3NH. luckyliquorco.com
The Last Word Saloon, 44 St. Stephen Street, Edinburgh EH3 5AL. lastwordsaloon.com
Iain McPherson, owner of Panda & Sons, Hoot the Redeemer and Señor Scoop
Iain was already one of the most recognised bartenders on the Edinburgh scene before launching his first site in November 2013. While Edinburgh is now the home he has known the longest, Iain is in fact Australian-born with a Scottish father and South Korean mother. He stumbled into the industry as a barback at the famed Voodoo Rooms in the city whilst at university and quickly discovered a career path that combined a love of art, history and creativity that wasn’t desk-bound. After an impressive five years at the Voodoo Rooms he started the work on Panda & Sons – a ‘cursed’ site that many of the existing bar operators in town had deemed too much work and too much money. “All I saw was exciting potential that had not been achieved yet. It was also my opportunity to show everyone that I was ready to run my own bar at the age of 26,” says Iain. Heading into 2017 it looks as if Panda and his family will be jumping on the road to take their unique style to the world, while Hoot the Redeemer continues to rake in great reviews. Iain’s other project, Señor Scoop, is an alcoholic ice cream brand that’s about to make boozy waves on the world stage. “Got to dream big,” says Iain, “but I have my feet firmly planted on the ground.”
Panda & Sons, 79 Queen Street, Edinburgh EH2 4NF. pandaandsons.com
Hoot the Redeemer/Signor Scoop, 7 Hanover Street, Edinburgh EH2 2DL. hoottheredeemer.com
Sian Buchan, Assistant Manager at Panda & Sons
Edinburgh may be known for its great talent but it truly has a reputation for producing some of the best female bartenders in the UK, and Sian Buchan is definitely one of the most respected people on the Edinburgh scene right now, known for her delicious drinks and effortless warm service. A Scottish native from outside Inverness, Sian lived and worked in Aberdeen for 10 years before making the move to the capital three years ago. Starting off at Heads & Tales, and with some brand work in-between, she’s now landed on her feet as one of the managers at Panda & Sons. Taking every chance to push herself forward, Sian has appeared in all the big cocktail competitions including Bacardi Legacy, Diplomatico, Nikka and Speed Rack. “I love what Ivy Mix and Lynnette Marrero do – they work so hard all the time and Speed Rack is an incredible competition,” she says, talking about bar mentors. For now you’ll regularly find Sian mixing up drinks behind Panda & Sons’ bar, enjoying the Bon Vivant after work or meeting friends for Sunday sessions at the Voodoo Rooms, but she’s certainly got some serious aspirations, and alongside husband Jody, we may be seeing her name in lights any day soon.
Sam Baxendale, Bar Manager at Bon Vivant
Making a great name for himself as bar manager at Bramble over the past two years, Sam Baxendale is now leading the way at the Bon Vivant – one of the scene’s original and best venues. Growing up just outside Manchester in Bolton, Sam is another ex-Edinburgh University student who found a passion for bartending while studying, and never looked back. Initially drawn to the social aspect of the job and starting off in a nightclub called Massa, which became Electric Circus, he moved up the rungs to become General Manager before moving across to Monteiths, a restaurant and bar in Edinburgh’s old town. Next up it was Bramble where Sam started to receive international attention and worked alongside his dream team of Sam McGarry and Simone Sanna. The trio may now be separated, but as Sam says, “we will always be brothers.” With future dreams set on travel and the prospect of a world filled with flavours he has yet to taste and ideas still to conceive, it seems only a mater of time before Sam Baxendale’s name will reach further shores. When asked of his mentors Sam comments that he has been lucky enough to work alongside the good and great of Edinburgh but “One person I never had the chance to work with, but have watched grow and learnt from since 2009, was Gordon Purnell. He just has so much genuine love, creativity and enthusiasm for hospitality, whilst being so humble. We should all be more like Gordy.”
Kaiko Tulloch, Bartender at Lucky Liquor Co
You’d have had to be living under a rock not have heard of Kaiko Tulloch’s name in the past year, as this incredible bartender has gone on to compete in nearly every competition final she’s set her sights on. In fact Kaiko lists as one of her favourite bartending memories the moment when the Tennessee Calling judges, including Erik Lorincz, come into the bar to be served her Jack Daniel’s drink, winning her a trip to New York and Tennessee. An Edinburgh local, Kaiko, like so many of her peers, was studying in Edinburgh when she discovered she loved her nights behind the bar far more than her days spent peering at books. She started off working at The Ghillie Dhu – transitioning from having to wear a kilt every day at school, to wearing a kilt every day at work. “Yay, Scotland,” she jokes. From The Ghillie Dhu, Kaiko went on to work at Cabaret Voltaire and 99 Hanover Street before settling down at Lucky Liquor Co, where she’s currently part of a tiny team of three, who are all integral to the site opening each day. With plenty of experience to her name, Kaiko is keen to take her skills to the next level and work in different cocktail cultures around the world.
Sam McGarry, owner at Nightcap
An Edinburgh local, born and bred, Sam McGarry has just opened his first venue Nightcap – along the same road as Bramble and Panda & Sons – which is quickly becoming a top cocktail destination for trade and consumers alike. Sam’s path into the industry was an unusual one to say the least, having left work as a mechanic after four years due to a lack of passion, before playing poker to get by. Realising that wasn’t exactly stable Sam went on to work for cash in hand at a local sports bar, which he describes as “the type of place you wipe your feet on the way out.” After handing out somewhere in the region of 200 CVs to Edinburgh bars, and without a single response, Sam started working in a hotel before landing a job at Bond No.9 in Leith. It was this stroke of luck combined with hard work that finally gave him the leg up into the cocktail bar scene. From Lucky Liquor Co he made his way into the now world famous Bramble and grew to become Assistant Manager. Just as Bramble’s owners before him, Sam then took that leap of faith, and alongside the team at Feed and St. Vincent, opened Nightcap. Originally starting as a pop-up for the Edinburgh festival, Nightcap was allowed to grow organically from there. “All we really wanted to do well,” says Sam, “was to have a place to get good food late night. The drinks don’t stop early, why should the food?”
3 York Place, Edinburgh EH1 3EB. nightcapbar.co.uk
Ross Bryant, owner at Bryant & Mack
Launching his own space less than one year ago, Ross Bryant is one of the latest additions to the owner-operator scene in Edinburgh. Originally from Oxford, Ross made the journey north after falling in love with Scotland’s beautiful capital and it was here, three and a half years ago, that he first started working in bars, although he’d been in hospitality since he was 15. Ross’s first job saw him behind the bar at the 52 Canoes, a Tiki bar in Edinburgh’s west end. From here he moved onto Sygn, and stayed with the group for a while, including stints at Monteiths and the West Room. During his formative bartending years Ross sites Damian Koval as a big mentor, not only teaching him about the trade but also how to teach others, an approach that resonated with Ross. His own space, Bryant & Mack Private Detectives, sits on Rose Street, one back from the famous Princes Street and close to most of Edinburgh’s great cocktail bars. “We’re not even a year in yet, but things are going better than we’d expected,” says Ross, meaning his future plans are firmly entrenched in this city and his bar.
87-89 Rose Street, EH2 3DT. facebook.com/bryantandmack
Words: Jane Ryan.
For the full Tales of the Cocktail on Tour schedule, running 1st to 5th April, check here