Tom Pople works at Smokin’ Aces in Bournemouth. He is 24 and has been bartending for six years. Tom goes through to the World Class UK Final with his Gentlemen’s Drink, A Blind Walk.
What does the World Class competition mean to you?
In my eyes it epitomises what cocktail bartenders are capable of. It’s a great way to show off the skill needed in the trade and to encourage creativity and innovation. As this is my first time entering World Class, I’m very excited about being given the chance to compete at such a high level.
What is your earliest cocktail memory?
As clichéd as it sounds, it would be sneaking a sip of my parents’ Piña Colada as a child on holiday. My interpretation of a cocktail was the archetypal ‘holiday drink’, laden with umbrellas and fruit until I started as a bartender and a world of possibilities was opened up to me!
Did you choose the profession or did it choose you?
It chose me. I started as a nightclub bartender while studying at university, and soon I was pulled into the industry more and more. Once I had the chance to work in restaurants and cocktail bars, my passion for work was spurred on and I’ve loved it ever since.
How do you think bartending is regarded as a career?
At first I think a bartending career is looked at derogatorily, which is a real pity to me. But once working in the higher echelons of the industry it tends to be viewed with an inherent respect. Of course, this is a generalisation but I can always respect a hard working bar back or bar man whatever their level, which might be overlooked by others.
If drink hadn’t entered the equation, what would you like to think you’d be doing now?
I’ve no doubt that I would still be enjoying cocktails, but on a beach in a tropical paradise working as a scuba diving instructor. I enjoy my job so much because cocktails are definitely one of my passions in life. If I wasn’t doing this, I’d be living my other passion, scuba.
What’s the best thing about your job?
The best thing to me is that brief realisation when during the middle of a busy (sometimes downright crazy) service and the world is moving fast and furiously, you think to yourself “this is what I live for”. That’s the moment I smile to myself and get back to work!
And the hardest?
There aren’t many things that I would pin down to being the hardest thing in the industry. To go far there is a need to be inherently hard-working, so therefore long shifts and late nights come with the territory. To be honest, the hardest thing for me is remembering the many names of our many regulars and happy customers. There’s nothing worse than being addressed by name at the bar and drawing an absolute blank.
Who’s the most memorable person you’ve ever created a cocktail for? Who was it, what was it and why does it stand out for you?
I’ve never had the pleasure of making a cocktail for anyone considered A-list, but have certainly made many memorable cocktails. The one that stands out for me was about a year ago, when I was on a live-aboard dive boat in the Red Sea. From a few trips I’d taken before I had taken to carrying a few bottles of rum and whisky with me to enjoy under the stars. For the most recent trip I took a shaker, some bitters, some Talisker 10 and Zacapa 23. I instantly became the focus of the boat after dinner, and I’ll always remember making really raw sours and Old-Fashioneds with gomme from a coffee mug, crushing ice with a spanner and enjoying simple tasty cocktails with people I’d only met the day before.
Who’s your favourite cocktail drinker and why? (living, dead or fictional)
However popular the choice may be, my favourite has to be The Dude, of Big Lebowski fame. He popularised the White Russian so much that it can’t be ignored, much like Sex and the City did for the Cosmo. But to me personally, I love the way he free pours and makes such rough-edged cocktails, not to match a true recipe, but simply to make a taste he enjoys.
What’s the most valuable piece of advice you picked up at the World Class Forum?
It would have to be the chat from Lorena Vasquez at the Forum in Harrods. About fifty bartenders sat cross-legged on the floor, with Lorena speaking through a translator. But, hearing the tone in her voice and the expertise she simply exuded, it gave me a new understanding of the delicacies involved in the product.
What’s your favourite cocktail:
A Caipirinha. A little unoriginal I know, but after working with a few really talented Brazilian bartenders and hearing the versatility of the cocktail in its country of origin, they taught me a few tricks that I enjoy putting into action. They work everytime.
If I had to choose, it would be a well made, straight-up cocktail, anything from an Old-Fashioned to a Vespa. However, if I’m drinking at a bar I seldom visit, I’m always up for trying anything exciting on the menu.
On your menu?
List three ingredients you’d put in a cocktail to sum up the facets of your personality.
1. Sloe Gin – Very English, but better when homemade.
2. Flamed bitters – Adds flavour while showing off.
3. Agua – Honourable mention.
You’ve created a World Class cocktail to secure your place in the finals, can you give us a simple failsafe recipe for cocktail lovers to create at home?
With summer time coming up, it has to be my perfect sunshine cocktail –
15ml St Germain
20 ml lime juice
Dash simple syrup to taste.
Serve over ice cubes in a tall glass. Top with tonic water or bitter lemon.
The recipe that got him through:
A Blind Walk
60ml Johnnie Walker Blue whisky
10ml Grand Marnier
1 dash Fee Brothers Grapefruit Bitters
1 dash Bitter Truth Orange Bitters
Glass rinse of Talisker whisky
15ml fresh orange juice
10ml fresh lime juice
5ml fresh grapefruit juice
Rinse glass with Talisker whisky. Build all other ingredients with cubed ice. Flame orange bitters over the top and garnish with orange and grapefruit twists.