What does it mean to be a world-class bartender? To find out, we tracked down Aidan Bowie at Dandelyan in the Mondrian Hotel in London where he’s head bartender. Bowie has been busy making signature drinks like the “Smoken Miso,” but also racking up the awards for churning out some of the best cocktails on the planet. To date, Dandelyan has taken home four wins at the Class Bar Awards, and Bowie himself won 2016’s Diageo World Class Cocktail Competition and let’s not forget the “Hot Stuff” Award at the Imbibe Awards. We spoke to the bartender extraordinaire here, and to get an idea of what kind of cocktails are waiting for you at Dandelyan be sure to check out Instagram.
How did you get into bartending?
I fell into it at university, like a lot of people do. I started by washing glasses, and then I got to see guys making drinks and having fun with the guests, and I thought, “That looks amazing, I’d like to do that.”
What do you like about bartending?
The opportunity to meet people. Everybody in the hotel is providing a service, and what you can do by bartending is improve people’s experience. At Dandelyan, we’re creating new drinks, so for a guest, you’re creating a unique experience.
What kind of personality do you think makes for the best bartender?
You have to be pretty versatile. It’s not just about having fun; you have to tailor your personality to the people that you’re working with and your guests as well. Especially in hotels, you’re dealing with such a variety of customers. That’s a skill in itself and something we have to teach new bartenders.
In 2016, you won Diageo’s World Class Cocktail Competition for Great Britain. Tell us about the drink that won the title for you.
We all got assigned a different herb, plant or flower. Mine was Vetiver and I made a Martini using Tanqueray 10 Gin and Sherry, Celery and the Vetiver Bitters.
Vetiver is used a lot in fragrance. I was inspired by Aesop who does a hand cream that has Vetiver. So when the judges came to my bar, they got to put the hand cream on first and rub their hands with it, so that relaxes you straight away. No one else did something like that. Then also, if you’ve got the hand cream on, if all the judges’ hands smell like that, even when they’re trying other drinks, they smell my drink. I did it on purpose obviously, but it was a method that the judges understood.
How have things changed for you since winning?
It’s been amazing. The competition puts you on a different level. Diageo World Class want that; they want it to be a development for you as a bartender. It’s also the most complete cocktail competition there is. It’s not just about one product, you have to know about every single spirit category and be well-rehearsed in everything.
One of the great things about Dandelyan is that it could be very intimidating. The bartenders are cool, the drinks are pretty serious, yet it’s so approachable. How do you put people at ease who seem intimidated by the world of cocktails or have no idea what they like to drink?
That is one of the most difficult things because as a hotel you’ve got people walking in who don’t know anything about the bar, you’ve got guests who don’t know about cocktails. You have to be in tune as to what the guest wants straight away.
Ask questions, find out what they normally like to drink. What flavors do they like and not like? The bar is beautiful, everybody in the team is fun, quite attractive. So it could be intimidating, but it’s not. And some bars don’t have that balance. The idea was always that it’s a luxury venue but with a neighborhood vibe.
Where do you drink in London?
In a pub!
What’s in store for you—and Dandelyan—this year?
Diageo World Class are taking me to a few places. I’m going to do some guest bartending slots around Europe and in Dubai and maybe Mexico.
Last week I got to bartend at the Brit Awards. Things like that are just amazing.
For Dandelyan, it’s a new team, so we’re building on what we’re doing. This is the fun time because the menu is done and it’s a great time to meet and talk to guys from the industry who are coming in.