We take some time to catch up with the inspiring bartender locally on the ground in Sydney. See more…
- Congratulations on winning the Rookie of the Year award! How does it feel to be recognized for your talent and dedication in the bartending industry?
Thank you! I’m still quite taken aback, it feels surreal! It wasn’t really something I initially thought was possible until my friend Martin McConnell (Rookie of the Year 2022) convinced me to throw my hat in the ring. I was so honoured just to get nominated – the absolute calibre of the finalists this year was incredible, it truly underscores the remarkable growing strength of our industry in both mentors and rookies.
- Can you tell us about your journey as a bartender leading up to this achievement? What inspired you to pursue a career in bartending?
Bartending was never something I had my sights on. I got my first gig at a nightclub in Townsville while I was in university. Working weekends, I did a lot of bottle service and didn’t know the difference between Whisky and Jim Beam – but loved challenging myself to serve as many people and drinks as possible! When I was 18, I also got a job at a casino café where I slowly worked my way into the sports bar.
It wasn’t until I stepped into a place called The Heritage Exchange that my outlook on bartending changed. There, I had the privilege of being mentored by Alex Street, Dylan and Riley Brinkman. They patiently fielded my endless questions and offered unwavering support. It was during this time I entered my first competition, The Blend! I had made it to the finals, however, the onset of COVID brought my progress to a standstill.
I decided to use this opportunity to move down to Brisbane and continue with my university degree. However, my hiatus from hospitality was short-lived as my friend Reanna Gray-Smith, an extremely talented VM in Fortitude Valley reached out. After a year away from the industry, I couldn’t resist the allure and fell back in love.
I took a leap by joining Savile Row initially as a barback and working on the floor. For about three months, I absorbed the incredible teamwork and skills of the team – Jacob Cohen, Tim Speechly, Nick Sebar, David Brosnan, Zoltan Ognyenovits, Blade Deegan and Charlette Needleham – who all had pivotal roles in my progression. Gradually, I made my way into the bar where I worked for almost a year honing my craft and learning all things Whisky.
“Bartending was never something I had my sights on. I got my first gig at a nightclub in Townsville while I was in university. Working weekends, I did a lot of bottle service and didn’t know the difference between Whisky and Jim Beam – but loved challenging myself to serve as many people and drinks as possible!”
At the start of 2021, I decided to step away from bartending and take on the 9-5 “Mise en Place” role as I wanted to learn more about production and the creativity side. Since taking on this role, I have tried my hand in a variety of cocktail competitions including World Class, Patron Perfectionists, and Elit Martini Masters, where I was lucky enough to progress to the national finals. I believe all these moments have played a part in taking out Rookie of the Year!
- What challenges have you faced during your rookie years, and how did you overcome them?
Self-doubt has been a big one. Competing and achieving some success in comps, I often questioned my abilities. Overcoming this involved building a strong support network of mentors, colleagues, and friends who believed in me. While imposter syndrome still arises, I’ve learned to see it as a driver for growth, and a reminder to continue learning.
- Let’s talk cocktails specifically now, how do you approach creating unique and innovative cocktails? Can you share any tips or tricks for aspiring bartenders looking to develop their own signature drinks?
I draw a lot of inspiration from the world around me. I tend to turn to more abstract creative outlooks and think about how I can alter them into the medium of a cocktail. Pinterest is great for this – taking inspiration from fashion, cooking, architecture, and art and just exploring it until you find that spark. I also love my notes app – anytime I think of something I will write it down, so when it comes to cocktail comps, I can just skim through my notes to find a wellspring of inspiration.
- The Australian bartending scene is known for its creativity and diversity. How do you stay up to date with the latest trends and techniques in mixology?
Instagram! I genuinely find it so useful in so many ways. On my main account, I have a group chat with over 20 incredibly talented bartenders where we all share accounts or pictures that we think are innovative or inspiring. Every day I am exposed to a new trend or way to garnish a drink thanks to this. I also have a second account where I exclusively follow people who inspire me. The beauty of this approach is that it fine-tunes my Instagram feed, making it a constant source of fresh ideas.
- Can you share a memorable experience or story from your industry journey to date, that has had a significant impact on your bartending career?
Absolutely! The pivotal moment in my career was right after I had started working at The Heritage. I was still questioning if university was what I wanted to do, and if it wasn’t – what was? I had decided to go to a session organised in a Townsville Hospo Page – ‘Jamie Fleming (Alba Bar & Deli) on all things Hospitality’.
My understanding of hospitality until that moment had been quite one-dimensional; put drinks in cups, as fast as you can. But the moment I heard Jamie speak, it all changed. He illuminated the potential within hospitality – the power to create not just drinks, but moments, experiences, and meaningful connection. He introduced this storytelling aspect and passion about hospitality that I hadn’t seen before. It was at this moment I knew I wanted to be a part of something bigger.
- What skills or knowledge do you prioritize developing to excel in your craft?
Hospitability – To me, it underpins everything I do. It’s about creating an atmosphere where every guest feels valued, welcomed, comfortable and at home.
- What advice would you give to other aspiring bartenders who are just starting their journey in the industry?
Never be afraid to ask questions. I’ve gained a lot by simply reaching out to people who are doing interesting things and asking “how?”. Bartending is always evolving, and there are plenty of mentors who are happy to share their knowledge. This approach also helps you build a fantastic network of friends and colleagues. The hospitality industry thrives on collaboration and building relationships, the more you engage with others, the more fulfilling your experience can be.
Bartending is always evolving, and there are plenty of mentors who are happy to share their knowledge. This approach also helps you build a fantastic network of friends and colleagues.
- Are there any particular mentors or role models who have influenced your bartending style or career? How have they inspired you?
Currently, my biggest inspiration is Will Guidara – “Get them the hotdog” is a quote I think about almost incessantly. Personally, however, Millie Tang has definitely played a hand in my bartending style. The focus of storytelling and art behind cocktails is something we both prioritise, and she excels at it.
Additionally, Evan Stroeve has been a longstanding source of inspiration for me. Hailing from a family with a large farming background, I have a strong passion for working firsthand with producers. Working locally and championing environmental sustainability is something close to my heart – so seeing someone else who is an active advocate for that passion is inspiring.
- Looking ahead, what are your goals and aspirations as a bartender? How do you plan to continue growing and evolving in this industry?
I have no idea what my future holds, but I am currently embracing my new role as Creative Lead at The Waratah with enthusiasm. In my future years, I hope to tell more stories, and hopefully one day be a mentor to other up-and-coming bartenders.
- What’s your go-to drink?
Cognac, dry and lime! I recommend it to every new person I meet. It’s the ultimate refreshing highball and a go-to for any time of the week!
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