2016 BarLifeUK & Mixxit Rookie Programme Kicks Off

13 eager young bartenders start their year long journey on the best training programme of its kind in the world.

Last year BarLifeUK and Amanda Humphrey from Mixxit stood in NOLA bar unsure of what to expect as we waited for the first ever group of Rookies to arrive. A year later and that group of innocent, expectant bartenders are already beginning to make huge marks on the UK’s bar industry.

John in full flow
John in full flow

You would have thought this time round we would be more relaxed, but no. Once again we found ourselves looking at Amanda and seeing our nervous excitement reflected. Had we picked the right people? Were they all going to turn up? Were any of them going to be massive dicks?

An hour later and all worries were firmly in the past. We had met all 13, they were a great bunch and true to form the only person in the room we wouldn’t want to spend any time with was us, but we are used to that (find out who this years group of Rookies are here).

For anyone still not familiar with the Rookie Programme, it is a collaboration between BarLifeUK and Mixxit to provide a unique year long training programme for young bartenders (with 2 years or less experience behind a cocktail bar) to ensure the next generation of bartenders are ready to keep growing and pushing our industry forward.

Over the next twelve months these 13 bartenders will learn everything they need to be the superstars of the future from the absolute best in their fields. They will meet their hero’s and peers, and have the opportunity to learn directly from them.

Day one was no exception, and after a brief introduction, they were straight into it with a flavour and taste masterclass with John Parsons. Last year John (as he was then Clay) ran a similar session and it was voted as one of the best of the year by the Rookies, this year we gave him more time and he didn’t disappoint.

Tongue Map Slap

If you have never seen John’s flavour and taste presentation you are missing out. Not only is it massively interesting but it is also hugely entertaining and makes you rethink what you take as read.

Let’s be honest, any presentation that starts off with the question ‘What does a Raspberry taste like?’ is going to get you thinking.

Within an hour John had them pinching their noses, sticking their tongues out and generally trying to avoid the camera we were pointing in their faces. He also, unceremoniously, debunked the ‘Tongue Map’ theory (if you ever go to a presentation where they seriously use this hokum please send them our way, we will happily slap them about a bit).

Unbeknownst to us there is a new, sixth taste, about to be announced to the world. We will tell you all about it in a couple of weeks when we delve a little deeper into John’s talk and pass on some of the knowledge he so eloquently delivered.

The morning session ended sampling Makers Mark White Dog and Bols Genever distillate, not a bad way to kick off the programme.

If the morning was a cerebral session the afternoon was….. well not that.

Since we started the Rookie Programme we have been staggered by the support the industry have given it. Be it bars such as NOLA giving up their venue for the day and letting us do our thing whilst Triffo and Ian are huddled outside on the smoking deck having their meetings, or bartenders and owners giving their time freely to impart knowledge.

And for our next song...
And for our next song…

As we settled down for the afternoon I looked at our panel of speakers and wondered if there was any other industry in the world where 4 such busy and successful people would take an afternoon off to chat to a group of people starting out in their careers, so freely.

The looks of awe and excitement and the Rookies faces as I introduced JJ Goodman, Elliot Ball, Booby Hiddleston and Ali Reynolds told its own story. The panel were there to inspire the group with tales of their careers, their lives behind the stick, stories and advice. In essence we’d invited them to come down and talk about themselves, so perhaps their enthusiasm wasn’t quiet as surprising….

It may have had the appearance of a 90’s boyband intervention, but the experience and knowledge the four collectively have was soon being dished out. Of course there were more than a few digs and jibes being traded including Ali’s take on JJ’s love of flairing ‘if you’ve got time to flair you’ve got time to clean that table!’.

The Rookies lapped up the advice in all it’s forms and areas from JJ’s take on opening your own bar, Elliot’s do’s and don’ts of applying for a job, Bobby’s views on the importance of working in different bars and cities and Ali’s look at the importance of competitions and how opening your own bar isn’t for everyone.

It was a great couple of hours and the guys graciously hung around for beers afterwards to continue chatting to the group.

The evening saw us checking out Cocktail Trading Co, Callooh Callay and NOLA (in it’s true late night form) as well as dinner at Meat Mission. Big thanks to all the bars for looking after us as well as Rob Worsley for being a champ and getting us into MM at short notice.

Magnificent Thirteen

This year the Rookie Programme is taking place over two days every second month so we can cram even more information in, although I must admit to regretting that last Maker’s and ginger as I rocked up at Callooh Callay at 9am.

Richard Wynne had kindly handed over the Jub Jub bar to us, and it was time to get the Rookies behind the bar and see where their bartending skills were at.

The Magnificent Amanda
The Magnificent Amanda

Amanda led the day with an introduction to the classic cocktails through the Mixxit Magnificent 7 training. Last year Alex Kratena held a session with the Rookies during which he mentioned that the Magnificent 7 session he’d been given by Wayne Collins was one of the first he’d had and that he still used the principles today when creating a new drink or menu.

For those who haven’t seen a Mixxit Mag 7 session the clue is in the name. The premise is that all cocktails can find their roots in one of 7 styles of drink, like a boozy version of Who Do You Think You Are.

The styles in question are Highball, Punch, Cocktail, Sour, Milk Punch, Sling and Cobbler. One by one Amanda explained the history of each category and the rules the drinks in said category follow, before knocking out a classic example.

Then it was over to the Rookies to have a go at creating their own versions and up to BarLifeUK to test them all…. once again we get the tough part of the gig. All the way through Amanda also dropped in general bartending tips and facts (one of our personal favourites – there is the equivalent of 2 plastic bags in each straw).

In the afternoon we welcomed back Elliot Ball, this time he was behind the bar to talk the group through round building and efficient bartending. Anyone who has been to Cocktail Trading Co will know that the cocktails are all fun and Instagram-able serves but there is no long wait for your drinks.

To have that, all to rare, combination you need to have honed your skills and employ all the tricks of the trade behind the bar. Elliot went through them all from pouring techniques to efficient shaking (including the one handed tin on tin shaker opening which we are still working on) as well as the most efficient way to build a round of drinks on order.

Elliot's round
Elliot’s round

All the way through he encouraged to Rookies to critique him, to spot where he could have been quicker, where he missed a trick, ensuring they thought about everything they saw, a trick they will all be taking back to their own bars to improve their own skills.

As it was Elliot there were also plenty of comedy war stories and banter knocking around, a lot of which involved Andy Mil.

We finished the session by showing them Bobby Hiddleston and Nathan Shearer’s Rematch throw down video as much for our own entertainment as anything.

It was a great couple of days with our 2016 Rookie class and we are very excited to see how they all progress over the next 12 months. They have big shoes to fill from the 2015 group but from what we have seen they are certainly up to the task.

As always a huge thanks to the bars that so kindly allowed us to use them, Callooh Callay and NOLA were stars, as well to all our speakers who left the Rookies buzzing with excitement. Finally much thanks to Mixxit and in particular Amanda for helping us make this whole programme happen.

We’ll be back with the Rookies in June and will of course bring you all the news.