When I was managing the restaurant bar in Melbourne, I was lucky enough to work with a sommelier. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s basically a waiter who specialises in all aspects of wine service. They’re also required to have an in-depth knowledge on spirits, beer, & liqueurs. This sommelier happened to love whisky and his passion for wine & whisky was contagious. He was the first person to introduce me to these fascinating worlds.
But despite him trying to teach me, I just didn’t get it. I was interested in them, but I found them difficult to understand. And his long explanations of how the soil changes the flavor profile of the wine weren’t helping! At the time, I was more focused on other things, like managing the bar and learning how to craft delicious cocktails. So I didn’t spend enough time delving into the complexities of these worlds to really understand them.
It took another year before I started looking into it seriously and a year after that before it all started to make sense. And it was only because, when I moved to the UK, I landed a job at a hotel that employed 3 sommeliers and a whisky expert.
Now when a table orders an expensive bottle of wine that requires decanting, I know exactly what to do. When a customer asks me for a whisky recommendation, I can point them in the right direction. And when I go out for dinner with my fiance or friends, I can navigate the wine list like a pro.
I’ve still got a lot to learn but these worlds are a lot of fun to learn about. Especially when you consider that part of the learning process consists of tasting as much alcohol as you dare to try!
Why Wine & Whisky?
It’s not just the worlds of wine & whisky that are fascinating. Rum, tequila, gin, craft beer, cognac, & even vodka all have their unique characteristics and complexities. Wine & whisky just happen to the be the drinks that I’m most interested in, but I’ve met bartenders who were interested in them all.
What is it that makes these drinks so interesting? Don’t they just exist so you can get drunk and have a good time?
Sure. There’s definitely that aspect. But there’s another side to the world of alcoholic beverages that has evolved into an art form over the ages. And it starts with training your senses of taste and smell.
Tasting & Smelling Wine
For example, let’s take a glass of wine.
Instead of just mindlessly drinking it, smell the wine, taste the wine, and then think about what it is your smelling and tasting. Can you taste any fruits? If so, what kind of fruit? Can you smell any spices or herbs? Is there anything in the wine that you recognize but you can’t quite name? Pineapple, lychee, freshly mown grass, cherry, chocolate, cinnamon, tobacco, sweaty socks, and hundreds of others, are all scents & flavors that can be found in a simple glass of grape juice.
To me, that idea alone is mind-boggling…. The idea that grapes (and grains) can produce flavors completely unrelated to themselves is crazy!
By drinking wine (or any drink) in this way, not only do you figure out whether or not you like what you’re tasting (and why), but you learn how to engage your senses of taste and smell. Two of our senses that most of us barely know how to use…
If you take an interest in wine because of the kinds of flavors they can produce, you’ll undoubtedly start to wonder how it’s possible. That’s the other side of this world that makes these drinks so interesting.
Making The Wine
Chocolate, sweaty socks, and lychee?? How is it possible that a grape can produce so many different flavors? Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple answer for this.
Different countries grow different grapes and different cultures develop different flavor preferences. All of this influences the styles of wine that are produced around the world. The idea that a ‘pinot noir’ (a type of grape) produced in France would yield a completely different wine than a ‘pinot noir’ produced in Australia, is fascinating and begs the question why?
It depends on a lot of different factors. Firstly, what type of grape it is. Then where it was grown, what year it was grown, the climate, the soil, the ageing process, the winemaker, and several more. It would take years of study to fully understand the different factors that produce different styles of wine. Then a few more years after that, learning and practicing how to manipulate them. But that’s what winemakers do, and it’s evolved into both an art and science.
Whisky, gin, cognac, tequila, vodka and craft beer are exactly the same. They have different processes and factors that contribute to the end product, and they’re all just as interesting.
The world of wine & whisky is much bigger than you think. But when you take an interest in it, alcoholic beverages start to take on a whole different meaning. They definitely have for me.
Back to My Story
Setting The Scene
I’d just finished managing the bar at a nightclub in the French alps and it was the end of my second and final ski season. I wasn’t going back to do a third. Living in the mountains had been an incredible experience, but it was time to move on.
I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, but I knew that I wanted to learn more about wine & whisky. And I knew that I wanted to see if things could work out with my girlfriend. So rather than go back to an Australian winter, I decided to follow her to Brighton in the UK.
I had 6 months left on my working Visa. If everything went to plan, I’d land a job at one of the more prestigious bars in Brighton and my relationship would flourish. To say that it was an uncertain time in my life would be an understatement. But at the very least, I knew I’d be able to find a job. With management, barista, and advanced cocktail experience behind me, it wasn’t exactly going to be hard.
Moving to the UK
Following my girlfriend to the UK was a big decision for me. Up until I met Talia, I’d been single my whole life so I only ever had to think about myself. When I wanted to move to France, it was an easy decision. And when I wanted to work a couple of ski seasons in the alps, nothing was stopping me. Well, a lot of that changed when I found myself in a serious relationship.
I was no longer just thinking about myself. Now, any big decision that I needed to make (like where to live), had to be run through Talia. I wasn’t deciding anymore, we were deciding.
It wasn’t a bad thing. In fact, it was probably a good thing, but it was definitely different.
It wasn’t just my relationship status that had changed. Spending the previous 2 years living a crazy life had aged & changed me and I was ready to do something different.
I wanted to start studying wine & whisky. I wanted to start exercising again. And I wanted to visit other parts of Europe that Talia and I hadn’t seen before. None of that was going to happen if I spent my time and money on partying.
So when I arrived in the UK, I started researching the bars and restaurants of Brighton for work. The establishment I was looking for was very specific. I wanted somewhere that I could learn about wine & whisky; somewhere I could hear myself speak (ie: not a nightclub); a position that had flexible working hours; and I wanted to work within a professional team who actually cared about their work.
I managed to find the perfect position, a bartending role at ‘Hotel du Vin.’ And because I’ve become somewhat of an expert at landing bartending jobs over my time, I started working there 2 weeks later.
Working at Hotel Du Vin
Hotel Du Vin was running an extremely professional operation. It was one of, if not the best hotel in Brighton and as such, it attracted some very wealthy guests. For the staff, that meant that we were expected to adhere to incredibly high standards with everything.
There were grooming standards to follow, strict uniform requirements (think tucked shirt, waistcoat & tie), proper wine service procedures, etc. We were even required to speak with the customers in a certain way. And on top of all the rules & regulations, it was always extremely busy.
We gave table service in the bar area, served any customers waiting at the bar, we made drinks for the restaurant, cocktails were ordered left, right & centre, and we provided room service for the hotel guests. If we didn’t have such a strong team of bartenders, it would have been impossible to cope in such a busy environment. And even with such a strong team, there was the odd Saturday night where we would struggle.
But the flip-side to Hotel Du Vin’s high standards and stressful weekends was that because it was run so professionally, we were given training in absolutely everything. We were given cigar training, spirits training, sales training, wine service training, even customer service training!
In terms of what I was looking for in a job, Hotel Du Vin was better than I could have hoped for. I could hear myself speak, I had flexible hours, and I was working with an extremely professional team. All of us took our jobs seriously, we worked our arses off, and we got along like a house of cards on fire. It’s the best team of bartenders I’ve ever worked with, and probably ever will.
But the best part about working there was how much I was able to learn about wine & whisky.
Learning About Wine & Whisky
As I mentioned before, I was lucky enough to work with 3 sommeliers and a whisky expert. So considering that I wanted to learn about wine & whisky, it couldn’t have worked out any better. Whenever I had the chance, I’d ask them as many questions as I could.
What’s the best way to start learning about wine? What does a corked wine taste like? What’s the difference between a pinot noir and a shiraz? What’s the difference between a highlands scotch and an Islay Scotch? What whisky should I start off drinking? Should I drink whisky neat or on ice? What books would you recommend I read?
Hotel Du Vin had a huge wine & whisky list, so I would often receive impromptu on-the-job training sessions from my colleagues. And every now and then we would taste some of the wines & whiskies and go through their flavor profiles. This helped dramatically. They were teaching me how to engage my senses and I loved it!
In my spare time, I’d read books they recommended, I’d taste/drink as much as my girlfriend would allow, and whenever we went out for dinner I’d attempt to navigate the wine list.
By the time I’d finished working there, I’d built up a basic understanding of wine & whisky. But it wouldn’t be for another year (when I moved back to Australia) until I really started to understand these subjects.
Life in Brighton
Other than England’s notorious reputation for its weather, life in Brighton was great. I loved being in a relationship with Talia and for some weird reason, I enjoyed living with her family. Following Talia to the UK turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
The fact that both of us had flexible working hours made a huge difference. When we were working at Dick’s Tea Bar, it felt like our lives were at work. We worked 6 nights a week, we lived with our colleagues, and we spent all of our waking hours hanging out with them.
Working fewer hours and having a flexible working schedule gave us the time to start exercising again, catch up with friends, go out in London, and enjoy our days off together. And since Talia loves going away, we managed to organize a couple of mini-holidays.
We spent a week in Croatia driving around the islands on mopeds and enjoying luxurious dinners. We went camping in the English countryside with a bottle of Glenfiddich 12 and a stupid amount of camping gear (Women…). And we spent a few days in the South of France to watch my younger brother graduate and hang out on the beach.
It was a fantastic time and life there couldn’t have worked out any better. But when my visa ran out and the European summer was over, it was time to move back home.
Moving Back to Melbourne
Moving back to Melbourne was even stranger the second time around than it was the first. Unlike the first time where everything had stayed the same, everything had changed. My closest friends and older brother had gone off to travel South America and South-East Asia respectively. My parents had left the family home. And I was bringing back a souvenir from England!
Not having a home to come back to meant that I was thrown into work mode as soon as I got back. Unless I wanted to crash at my grandparent’s place, I needed to find a place to live and somewhere to work ASAP. But by then, I was used to being in that kind of situation.
It took less than a week to find a job and a week after that until we had moved into our new place. Talia and I ended up moving into an apartment with my younger brother to one of the edgiest areas in Melbourne – St Kilda.
Working at The Grosvenor Hotel
As far as work went, I wanted to keep learning about wine & whisky so I was looking for a place that would facilitate that process. In the end, I was fortunate enough to a land job at a high-end pub called ‘The Grosvenor Hotel’ that specialised in Australian wine and craft beer. I’ve been working there ever since.
As far as my wine & whisky education goes, the Grosvenor Hotel was the perfect follow-up to Hotel Du Vin. I haven’t learned much about whisky, but I’ve learnt tonnes about wine & craft beer. In fact, I’ve learnt more about wine in the past 6 months than I have my entire life. I’ve even started taking tasting notes.
And it all because of who I’ve been working with. Unlike at Hotel Du Vin, where everyone working there was around the same age, I’m working with a group of hospitality veterans who have been in the industry their entire lives. Needless to say, they know their shit and it’s because of them I’ve learnt so much.
Because of them, for the first time in my life I can confidently say that the world of wine is finally making sense. I can even navigate a wine list like a pro (at least in Australia!). It took a while, but I’m glad I eventually got there.
The Journey Continues
Well, life becomes a little more complicated (or interesting, as Talia would say) when you’re in a relationship with someone from the other side of the world… We couldn’t stay in the UK because my visa had run out, so we HAD to move to Australia. And when her Australian visa runs out, we will have to face the exact same problem except in reverse.
I say complicated, she says interesting…
Now that we’ve been living in Melbourne for almost a year, we’ve figured most of it out. But it took a while and we both went through a few mental breakdowns to get there.
My journey certainly isn’t over. In fact, it feels like it’s only just begun. I’ve just happened to pick a very compatible travel companion for this next chapter in my life. And I’m proud to say that Talia and I are currently engaged!
In February next year, Talia and I will be getting married. And after the wedding, we’ve decided to buy a camper van and travel around Australia. Then with plans to backpack around Asia before migrating back to the UK, I can’t help but think that life as a traveling bartender is pretty damn sweet.
How Bartending Changed My Life
It’s easy for me to look back on it now and see how bartending has changed my life. Before I got into the industry, I was a shy, innocent kid that hadn’t experienced much of the world. And for some strange reason, I thought it was a good idea to become an accountant and spend my life working in the corporate world.
Now, I couldn’t think of anything worse. For the past 4 years, bartending has given me the opportunity to travel around the world and live an extraordinary life. I’ve worked in the French alps, travelled around Europe, trained in Thailand, lived in the UK, and partied in Ibiza all because I decided to become a bartender.
That’s a big F#*@ you to the corporate world!
I’ve learnt some awesome skills along the way like learning how to manage a team, hire & fire staff, and train my senses of taste and smell. I’ve developed ninja-like social skills, a strong work ethic, and I’ve become a happier and more confident individual for it.
Becoming a bartender has literally changed my life. That’s why I created Crafty Bartending.
Enter Crafty Bartending
Anyone can become a bartender and live an extraordinary life. If I can do it, so can you. That’s one of the best parts about this industry. It’s not rocket science and you don’t have to attend an expensive school to study it. All you need is a little courage, a passion for life & adventure, and someone to point you in the right direction.
If you knew how you could literally land a bartending gig tomorrow. That kind of freedom and flexibility is priceless. That freedom gives you the opportunity to do extraordinary things, like live in the French alps, party in Ibiza, or backpack around Asia.
Crafty Bartending’s aim is to become the ultimate resource for aspiring & current bartenders. We want to help you live an extraordinary life by teaching you how to become the kind of bartender everyone wants to hire.
It’s not the easiest path to take. And if you want to succeed, you’re going to have to take action and push through some difficult challenges. But at the end it, when you’re managing a nightclub in the French Alps, you’ll know it was worth it!