Joe Harper’s Pillars of the Community – Craig Harper

Joe Harper is the current Bacardi Legacy UK champion. Fingers crossed, he will go on to nail the global final and bring the Legacy crown back to the UK, but before he can do that, Joe is tasked with creating a campaign to promote himself and his Legacy cocktail, ‘Pilar’. Joe is interviewing a number of industry luminaries as part of this campaign, and we were very happy to say yes when Joe asked if BarLifeUK would publish them. Primarily because we’ll always help a UK competitor when we can. But also because we never say no to free editorial – ED 

Craig Harper (no relation) is a man you may have met over a martini masterclass, tonic indoctrination or Malibu-laced-Guinness. If you have met him, you will know that his often unprintable opinions can be well disguised sage advice. On that note, I’d like to thank Craig for keeping things fairly light for this piece. 

Craig, you’ve worn quite a few different hats in your time in the industry – but how did you start out?Craig-Harper

My dad ran a pub in Inverness, and pulled first pint behind that in 1989 I’d guess. I then joined the Royal Marines, but would still pull shifts in my local in Dundee during leave periods, and after leaving the Marines while I tried a few “proper” jobs, I always had a bar job on go too as I really enjoyed it. Cocktails came about by accident, I was working on the door of a cocktail bar (I tend to sing that sentence to tune of “Don’t you love me baby” by Human League) when I had had enough of door I was going to go back behind the bar in a pub. That was when the guys at Tonic in Edinburgh took a chance, trained me up and I loved it.

Was there anyone early in your career who really inspired you to persevere with it? If so, what about them was so influential for you?

The Team at Tonic was 3 ex-TGIs and 1 ex-Atlantic in London, you couldn’t ask for a better grounding in fun, fast bartending. I was really lucky in that the guys at IPBartenders took me under their wing too, which helped me enormously. My biggest single influence would be Jason Scott of Bramble though, as if it wasn’t for him my drinks would probably all still taste of jam.

How was the transition from being behind the bar to playing a different role in the industry? Were there particular people that helped with that?

We were lucky in Edinburgh, as along with Leeds we were considered somewhere outside of London that had a cocktail culture back then, this meant brands spent time and money up here, and I benefited from trainings they gave, and then acting on their behalf. IPBartnders set me up with my first training role a few days a month with Bacardi, and Emma Wykes from Millers also was kind enough to give me work. Emma is still my friend and business mentor today.

You walk into a bar, spot an old acquaintance or friend, and decide to send them over a drink. Who is it and what’s the drink?

It’s the team from Tonic, Paul, Nairn, James and Andy, and I send a round of Malibu Daiquiris cos that’s probably what I’m drinking anyway

How have you approached mentoring younger bartenders, and what aspects of that relationship do you think are the most important?

This sounds like grooming.

I don’t have an approach, but if someone has ever asked for help or advice, I hope I have done my best to do so. I have also learnt so much from them too though, guys like Ryan Chetiwardana and Jack McGary I have known for years, and their enthusiasm and thirst for being better and pushing industry further has helped me much more than anything I have done for them.

As an old git, I do believe I have a duty to pass on the knowledge that was so freely given to me by Alex Turner, Angus Winchester, Ben Reed, Micheal Butt and countless others, but listen as much as you talk, you’ll learn as much from them back.

Are there any trends or fads that have been and gone that you miss? What about any you’re glad have run their course?

I wish the trend of predicting the next big thing would fuck off.

In certain circles you’re known for a fondness for blue drinks. What’s the best way to make a drink blue?

With love, and tongue firmly in cheek.