Hannah Lanfear is the person you want on your quiz team when a tricky question pops up about anything to do with drinks. Not only can she call on her experience as a bartender and bar manager at gone but not forgotten London venues including Milk & Honey, Bungalow 8 and more besides, as the founder of the fab, highly esteemed educational platform The Mixing Class she’s the go-to gal for answers to do with anything and everything spirits related. Which is why she was asked to partner with the Wine & Spirit Education Trust to develop its spirits courses, why she was appointed armagnac educator for the UK by the Bureau National Interprofessionnel de l’Armagnac (BNIA) and why she was named Imbibe Educator of the Year 2019.
More recently Hannah has partnered with Deano Moncrieffe to launch The Equal Measures Education & Mentorship Project, an amazing, much needed initiative designed to bring positive change and people from diverse backgrounds into the drinks industry. And you wonder why we love her? You will too after reading her answers to our Desert Island Drinks questions. Anyone who admits to liking Cliff Richard’s Devil Woman is pretty damned cool with us…
The early years…
Tell us about the young(er) Hannah. Where did you grow up? What were you like as a child?
I grew up in a fishing village in Cornwall. I was a bit of an imp as a youngster, a bit too naughty to fit into the regimen of school but bright enough to get through without really paying attention. While I was distracted in the classroom I did love books, and would be reading almost constantly. Nowadays I feel a bit conflicted about the idea of home and don’t get the chance to go back to Cornwall often (I could fly to Cairo quicker!), but I think I’ll always be a sailor at heart.
Is there a particular song that takes you back to this early period in your life?
The Waterboys – Fisherman’s Blues
What drink takes you back to this time? Obviously, this can be a soft drink (seeing as you were a child!), your first drinking experience, or the first that you clearly remember enjoying.
As a tot of three I remember the summer holiday treat of having a can of 7Up through a tiny red straw while sat on a picnic bench at Covean Cottages on St. Agnes in Scilly, still today my favourite place on earth. The bubbles were too much and prickled my eyes and made them water. By the time I had grown into my rebellious streak I’d be half-inching cans of my dad’s John Smiths to go and drink on a bench on the clifftops with friends as we bunked off school. Not quite so angelic as the first memory!
First bar job…
When did you start bartending and what are your memories of this time?
I got my first bar job at the Harbour Tavern in Mevagissey on my 17th birthday. I had been angling for it for a while and the owner Henry gave in. It was a properly individual sort of a place, if you knelt down to put money in the pool table when the tide was high you’d get up with a damp patch on your knee! It had fallen out of fashion with the locals a bit after a real boom in the heydays of the fishing industry when everyone had a bit of money in their pockets to spend but the owner was a real rum enthusiast and had a good hundred rums behind the bar. Not that we used to move much of it but I think I liked that he was such a maverick, though a gruff old git besides. I’ve always been drawn to people like that.
Give us a taster of a track that you associate with this period in your life and why it stands out for you?
The Harbour Tavern had a jukebox of 7-inch records, all of which had been ‘programmed’ into the jukebox with name cards written in Henry’s gothic handwriting, meaning they were essentially illegible. Tourists would put a pound in the juke box and end up just walking away after maybe finding one song they could just about recognize. Me and my school pals had figured it out and had probably only five songs of choice that we would put on in a continuous loop which drove Henry so mad he would swap the records around so the numbers didn’t match the music. Steve Harley’s Cockney Rebel was on near constant rotation when we could find it but my favourite selection from the juke box would have to be Deacon Blue’s Fergus Sings the Blues which my brother had put on a mix-tape for me when I was small and he’d left home.
And the drink?
I’d have been drinking Jack Daniels and Coke at the time, and you know what, even now as a spirits educator I have got so much time for Jack Daniels. I taste it with my classes at least once a week as an example of a Tennessee Whiskey and it’s so consistent in quality and so well-made at the price-point. Tasty too! I’d still enjoy a Jack and Coke, especially now the weather is drawing in but would sub in the delicious cola Fever-Tree make and maybe add a pinch of sea salt ‘cause I’m so fancy now!
Now take us back to a key moment in your career and how and why it changed things for you?
As a bartender I had been working at the Oxo Tower but was constantly pestering the (then) Group Head Bartender Sam Jeveons of the Match Group for a trial at Milk & Honey. I had been the 34th person to trial for the role of Junior Bartender and managed to squeak the job after two trials and an exam. It was really tough and I remember how incredible hard I worked, how desperate I was to do better. Famously they had an excellent monthly education program which rewarded learning in a very competitive pool of bartenders. We’d nerd off excessively about the minutiae of making drinks over after work beers. I would cite that job as a direct influence on the weight I’ve attached to learning within hospitality, as would many of my peers at the time I’m sure.
After eventually leaving as Head Bartender I moved into Bar Management positions. There weren’t really any bars other than M&H I wanted to move on to and it seemed like a natural progression but I think I really missed the learning and the creativity of bartending thereafter.
That sounds like a major breakthrough in your career, are there any key points that stand out for you?
In 2013 I left the on-trade to work at Bermondsey Distillery. My job was to set up new international markets and support them as the International Bar Ambassador. I loved making friends around the world and got to visit some fantastic places while talking about gin and gin history but I once I met my now wife, the extended travel became a little heart breaking each time. I founded The Mixing Class three and a half years ago and made my love of spirits education the central pillar of my work.
Is there a record that takes you right back to this time?
You Send Me – Aretha Franklin, it was the song I got married to!
How about a drink that you associate with this time?
I would say the Martini has always been an essential staple in my life. From the Roosevelt to the Chicago Martini to the phenomenal Gibson at Dear Irving in Manhattan. There’s one for every mood. I like them as cold as can be and have shared many a freezer-finished Martini with pals.
How would you describe where you are in your career and life in general now and is there a song that captures your present spirit?
I’ve never really been at peace more in my home life. My favourite moments at home would be sticking a record on our exorbitantly wonderful hifi with the wife and having a cocktail together. I’ve loved James Vincent McMorrow a long time and his third record produced by Nineteen85 sounds incredible at top volume. If you’ve been round my house for dinner or drinks then you’ve definitely been subjected to this far too loud!
Rising Water – James Vincent McMorrow
Is there a drink that captures how you feel now? If so, please tell.
Present favourite for the wind down of autumn is a Strawberry Gin & It using Christian Jensen’s handmade strawberry-infused Bermondsey Dry gin, and I’ve split the vermouth between Sacred’s wonderful Original English vermouth and their Amber vermouth. It’s a lovely cocktail which reassures me that I’m not such a has-bean bartender after all!
If you could only have one spirit while stranded on a desert island what would it be and why?
My neighbour and dear friend Georgie Bell once loaned me a bottle of Craigellachie 19yo to show on my WSET Level 3 course as an example of a whisky that uses worm tub condensers. Needless to say I gave it a taste and it was so delicious I don’t think she actually got any of the bottle back. Oops! I’d take it for the campfire-side in the night time ‘cause you’d need a warming dram, and those oil-fired maltings give a bit of sulphurous ‘oomph’ that I adore. They call it the bad boy of Speyside and it’s a single malt that definitely goes against the grain. The 19yo has got a properly mushroomy and tropical note that sings of the magic old whisky has. I love it. I wish I could still buy it but was duty free only and now is gone, gone, gone!
If you could only have one cocktail on your desert island what would it be and why?
A Jungle Bird definitely. I loved them at Swift with their house rum blend with a bit of Smith and Cross in. The mixture of bitter-sweet and sour tantalises the tastebuds to the point that I’ve usually finished it in two minutes flat which makes them very dangerous!
What would be the one song that you would pick to accompany you on your desert island?
My all time favourite song is Outstanding by The Gap Band. So it would have to be that!
What luxury item would you take with you on your desert island?
A mask, snorkel and fins and I would be happy skin-diving for the rest of my days.
Hannah’s ultimate playlist including bangers from Lenny Kravitz, A-Ha, George Michael and, wait for it: Cliff Richard!
For more details of The Mixing Class and The Equal Measures Education & Mentorship Project, see themixingclass.com