Regarded an authority on the cocktail scene, Jamie Stephenson spent many years behind bars learning the ins and outs of the hospitality industry. Jamie is now inspiring many bartenders worldwide by passing on as much knowledge and enthusiasm as he can.
What made you want to focus on the drinks industry, and who is the person that inspired you the most?
I came into the drinks industry by happenstance. I was a teetotal student at University when a new “American Diner” announced they were opening and looking for cocktail bartenders. I had never even drunk a cocktail at that point in my life, let alone thought of making one, but I got the job. During our 3-week intensive pre-opening training, I fell in love with bartending lock, stock and barrel. By the time we opened to the public, I knew I’d found my calling and didn’t go back to University.
I think the person who inspired me the most was Peter Dorelli, who, at that time, was the Bar Manager of the Savoy and President of the UKBG. Although I was working as a flair bartender in an “American Diner,” I always had a penchant for the classic style of white-jacketed formal cocktail making and Peter epitomized that for me.
You are such a versatile person, you are the @cocktailguru, founder of the Bar Academy, owner of Jamie Stephenson Photography and passionate about sport. Which came first? How do you combine these worlds? How does the pandemic affect you and how are you working on getting out of it?
I really enjoyed my time working full-time behind bars. I spent over ten years learning the hospitality industry’s ins and outs, but there came a time for a change in direction and my passion for presenting and educating took over. I devoted so much time of my career learning that I wanted to pass on as much knowledge and enthusiasm as I could to the people who wanted to develop as career bartenders. I know that I was put on the right path by the people who trained me and wanted to do the same.
The photography began during childhood, but I went many years without taking any pictures. It was only when a drinks brand published a book using one of my drink recipes that photography came back. I realized that recipes could be interpreted differently when providing imagery to sit alongside the recipes I create and add value to what I can offer.
I got into the sport after many years of inactivity, late nights and bad food, etc. I was approaching 30 and feeling like I might not make it to 40, so I started going to the gym and took up running. I enjoyed it for a while until I got injured and then the kids came along, so I ended up having a seven-year hiatus in which the weight piled back on and my self-esteem took a bit of a dive. Fortunately, I’ve been able to transition back into an active lifestyle which is great for keeping my head straight and feeling good generally.
You have been a close partner to Libbey. You contributed with your spectacular NEGRONI LEGGERO for “Modern Vintage Leaflet”; you have joined the Online Quarantine Cocktail Challenge on Glassology Facebook Community, and you were one of the five winners with the relaxing and fresh Toro Toro Toro, in Libbey’s glass The Gats. What can you share about these creative and unique interactions?
One of the factors behind my success with cocktail creations has come from the way I’ve interpreted the brief. I look at what is being sought and then begin the research process, ensuring that every stage is within those boundaries. Creativity and innovation are fine, but you must know how that fits within a customer/sponsor/client’s vision. I try to ensure all my ingredients are relevant and cohesive and that the finished result is something someone would be happy to pay for, drink and then order another.
“Negroni Leggero” by Jamie Stephenson
in Libbey’s Carats for Modern Vintage leaflet
Which cocktail (you created) are you most proud of?
Probably the’ French Rock’ n’ Roll,’ which I came up with for the FLVR Bartender of the Year competition. The idea of it came to me in a dream; everything about its development literally fell into place and the result far exceeded my expectations. Its base is a large measure of Absinthe, which is quite polarising. One of the judges, who I learned on my way to the competition, hated Absinthe but ended up loving it much to his amazement – I love that kind of reaction to my drinks.
Photo & Cocktail creation by Jamie Stephenson
in Libbey’s Modern America – Martini shape
What is your favorite glass shape to drink from? And Why?
A martini glass. It’s the perfect icon of the cocktail world. Other types are more functional, but my first and true love is the classic V shape.
Why is the glass important for a drink?
The glass is absolutely the most important part of a cocktail. Far too many people see it as simply a means of delivery from hand to mouth, but it serves to stimulate all your senses and elevates your drink to greater heights. It provides a visual stimulus; if it looks awesome, people will judge it favorably before picking it up. The glass’s style and weight affect our perception of quality – heavy, textured, chunky or smooth, elegant, and light; drinks will appear to ‘taste’ different from different glasses. There’s also the development of bouquet and how the olfactory senses pick up aroma; your glass choice will have a huge impact on this, which changes how people ‘taste’.
What is your favorite Libbey glass? Do you go for sturdy or elegant?
Do you go for sturdy or elegant? I’m torn, to be honest, because I really love the elegance of the SPKSY Nick & Nora, which is one of my go-to glasses for photographing drinks, but at the same time, I love the weight and feel of the Hobstar DOF on my hands too.
What do you think the next big trend in the drinks Industry will be?
We seem to be getting a lot of next big things all at the same time. The diversity of this industry is being showcased by some very passionate individuals with the social media platform, so we see simple but serious low and no alcohol, fun, sustainability and responsibility all trending concurrently.
What will be the one major change in the Hospitality after the pandemic?
I would like to think that we will see a rise in hygiene consciousness and that customers will start to reject drinks/bars that don’t employ good cleanliness levels, both in the environment and working practices.
What can be an awesome invention that will emerge in the Hospitality from this crisis?
Fast-speed Wi-Fi that works all the time when all your till and payment systems rely on it and and provide your guests the ability to Instagram how awesome your creations are! Probably asking a bit too much there, I know, but maybe sometime in the future…
What can we expect from you from now in terms of projects, new challenges?
I’m still looking for the perfect opportunity to put all of my skills to good use under one roof. As much as I love developing and creating projects with brands, I really miss hosting and delivering exceptional service to people. Once I know my family is safe from me being out and about in public again, then I’ll start dusting the shakers off again.