Food & Spirits: Leading up to the Tales of the Cocktail, July 21 - 25 in New Orleans, we decided to ask renowned mixologist Charlotte Voisey a few questions:
As Company Mixologist for William Grant & Sons, how do you approach designing cocktails across the company's portfolio? Do some spirits receive a greater share of your attention than others?
It is no secret that Hendrick's Gin is my favorite brand and indeed the reason that I moved to the USA to work for William Grant and Sons. I fell in love with Hendrick's when it first came out and still love mixing with it. I am now fortunate enough to look after the whole company portfolio. I really enjoy the breadth and depth of the great tasting, top class brands that we have and the mixability that they offer.
You have been referred to in various articles as "a doyenne" and "a slinky brand ambassador." What role, if any, does gender play in doing what you do?
This is a question I get often and understandably since bartending is still dominated by the boys. If anything, it may have helped me get my fair share of the limelight during my career but in no way helps or hinders the quality of cocktails that I create. I have been inspired by great personalities of both genders and I see the industry currently offering equal opportunities to all.
How have cocktails evolved over the years?
The evolution of cocktail culture is a fascinating story. Its history goes back to England in the 1600s, when gin punches were popular. In the 1800s, after the phylloxera aphid blight wiped out most brandy production, whisky, rum, and other spirits replaced brandy in cocktails. Today, old ingredients like Old Tom Gin and Genever are making a comeback. Add culinary trends, the demand for fresh ingredients in food, and widespread exposure to other cultures through travel, and you have an exciting emergence of exotic ingredients for cocktails.
How does this cocktail culture change geographically, say from San Francisco to New York?
There is definitely a local twist in each city although the overriding theme right now for bartenders across the country is spreading the passion for what we do in terms of raising the game - understanding the importance of good technique, fresh ingredients, well distilled spirits and appropriate glassware size. New York is famous for mastering the classics and creating great stirred cocktails, whereas San Francisco is famous for using farmers??? market ingredients and lots of fresh, seasonal fruits and herbs in their cocktails.
Your Punch & Judy creation was named Cocktail of the Year at Tales of the Cocktail in 2008. What is your inspiration in creating a new cocktail, and the P&J in particular?
Inspiration for a new cocktail can come from anywhere and that is the fun part. Sometimes I create a cocktail specifically to showcase the base spirit, other times my objective is to incorporate flavors of the season, culture of a geographical location, or even to celebrate a particular event. Food menus also inspire my creations, such as the farmers' market style menu I put together at FIG restaurant in Santa Monica, CA. The Punch and Judy was created to be a big, bold spiced punch - fun flavors that everyone would enjoy.
Seasons definitely inspire cocktails, both in terms of ingredients used and level of refreshment. A cucumber cocktail with Hendrick's is my go to summer base. Tales of the Cocktail embraces all styles of cocktails from all over the world in every way possible so the cocktails we create and share there are not seasonal but rather the best collection of mixed drinks on show anywhere in the world.
Let's get personal: What is your own favorite cocktail?
It really depends on the moment. I love trying new things. For example, if I were to throw a summer cocktail party at home (NYC) one of my favorite cocktails would be a pitcher of classic bellinis.
What are some of your favorite bars?
My favorite bars include Hakkasan (London), The Bar at the Dorchester (London), Zig Zag Caf (Seattle) Clover Club (Brooklyn), PDT (NYC) and The Varnish (Los Angeles).
Do you have a mixology mentor?
Jason Fendick was the first to open my eyes to the art of flavor combination and since then I have been surrounded by passionate and creative people who continue to inspire me when it comes to cocktails such as Tony Abou Ganim, Julie Reiner, Charles Joly and Jackie Patterson.
Where do you do your creating and experimentation?
When I am on the road it is a challenge, however I try and stop by a friendly bar and get a couple of hours of "development" in. Largely I create drinks at home, in my kitchen, which is set up like a bar. The neighbors probably think I am crazy, making martinis in my pajamas!
And finally, from your travels, do you have a favorite Tale of the Cocktail?
Generally it is a wonderful mix of work hard play hard, but my most unforgettable memory must be from last year, Tales 2009 when my co-presenter of "Cocktails of the Tales", Jim Ryan, was dressed as a hungover cockroach under the covers in bed in the seminar!
Charlotte Voisey Accolades:
UK Bartender of the Year 2004
Silver Medal at the World Female Bartender Championships in Italy in 2006
Golden Spirit Award for Best Presenter at Tales of the Cocktail in 2007 and 2009
Created Cocktail of the Year at Tales of the Cocktail, 2008 - the Punch & Judy
Recognized for contributions to mixology at the James Beard Awards 2009