Many BarLifeUK readers will know Tom Vernon from his days as GM at Manchester’s Socio Rehab, or the Portobello Star in Notting Hill…
However Tom recently joined the Brown-Forman family as American Whiskey ambassador, and offered to answer readers questions on the sector. In the first of two articles, we bring you the answers to those questions (well, the ones which were printable, you cheeky scamps).
What is your favourite cocktail and why?
I’d have to say the Manhattan. It completely epitomises American Whiskey and sums up the city. Plus it’s quick and simple to make.
What is your favourite cocktail bar?
Just one?! I’d have to say Employees Only in New York. It’s got a great atmosphere, great bartenders – it’s got everything! In the UK I love Milk & Honey, a classic, old school bar. The Savoy is great for classic old school glamour, whilst Callooh Callay and The Nightjar are leading the way in innovation. Another personal favourite is The Toucan, which serves the best pint of Guinness in London!
Who is Tom Vernon?
I actually started my working life at Fortnum & Mason, before opening bars in Leeds and Manchester. My bartending experiences spans work as General Manager at Socio Rehab in Manchester’s trendy Northern Quarter, General Manager at the renowned Portobello Star in London’s fashionable Notting Hill, as well as stints at Manchester’s Almost Famous and Smokestack in Edinburgh.
Aside from a passion for whiskey, I’m a huge golf lover and enjoy long walks in the country.
Which of the two Woodford Reserve ryes would make the better Old Fashioned?
The rye whiskies, Woodford Reserve New Cask Rye and Woodford Reserve Aged Cask Rye, are actually better suited to the Manhattan serve. Made from 100% rye mash, but with one matured in fresh, charred oak and the other in a used barrel, these have a slightly spicy flavour, with a touch of anise which lends itself well to this classic serve.
Within the Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection, I’d recommend using Woodford Reserve Maple Wood Finish or Woodford Reserve Seasoned Oak as these have a slightly sweeter favour profile offering a more rounded whiskey – perfect for the Old Fashioned cocktail.
Given the increasing resurgence in the popularity of rye whiskey, which classic drinks (Manhattan, Sazerac etc) would you make with rye as opposed to bourbon or is it interchangeable depending on the situation/customer?
Bourbon lends itself well to serves such as the Old Fashioned, whereas rye whiskies work better in the classic Manhattan serve. We have recently seen a resurgence in rye based whiskies, which were hugely popular in the prohibition period and have made a come-back as we see more speak-easy venues and prohibition inspired venues opening up.
However I would always recommend asking your customers what their preferences are when mixing drinks. This way you can find out what their personal favourites are when it comes to spirits and flavours and guide them in the right direction.
With all distilleries trying to be creative with new products to increase market share, what new / unique expressions would you expect or hope to see in the American Whiskey category in the near future?
The Woodford Reserve distillery was established in 1812 when bourbon laws were founded. Built by Elijah Pepper the brands produced there have changed regularly over the years.
These include Pepper Bourbon and the original Old Crow Bourbon, produced by Master Distiller Dr. James Crow, who began experimenting with the sugar content in whiskey in 1835. Innovation is therefore part of our heritage and remains a driving factor for the brand and overall whiskey category.
Today’s Master Distiller, Chris Morris, has worked with Woodford reserve for over ten years, with both his mother and father employed there before him. During this time we have launched the Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection to help continue to push the boundaries in terms of flavours, aging process and the types of mash used.
In terms of the wider category we have seen a rush of new expressions introduced in recent years, which have been shaped by a desire to recruit new generations of drinkers. For example the flavoured whiskey segment in particular, has helped boost sales of the drink and open the category up to new consumers.
The whiskey category has also benefited from resurgence in prohibition style bars and a rival of classic American whiskey cocktails, inspired by series such as Man Men and Boardwalk Empire. This has helped resurrect the vintage glamour and sophistication of urban American culture, which is at the heart of the Woodford Reserve brand.
I expect these trends to continue to shape the American Whiskey category and lead to the development of new brands and expressions within it, in turn helping to keep the category relevant and leverage connections with a new generation of drinkers.