In the daylight hours he works in the world of IT but as night falls Jay Hepburn becomes Cocktail Man! The founder of Oh Gosh, a website dedicated to all things drinkable, dons his cape and catches up with Gintime.
So IT by day and cocktails by night! How’s that working out for you?
I’m a bit of a night owl, so the cocktails by night bit are never usually a problem. Getting up in the morning for the day job can sometimes be a little trickier!
How did you get interested in cocktails?
It started at university, where the local pubs served very sugary “cocktails” that were essentially just vodka delivery mechanisms. Something about them piqued my interest though, so I bought a copy of Difford’s Guide to Cocktails and began just trying random recipes at home. I eventually noticed I tended towards the older recipes, and began reading about classic cocktails in more books and online. After that things just snowballed, especially once I moved to London and had so many amazing bars on my doorstep.
When did you set up your website and how’s it going?
I started Oh Gosh! Two years ago now – looking back it’s incredible to see how much I have learned in that time and the opportunities the site has opened up to me. I started it as a way to record the cocktails I was trying – if you’re just making drinks at home you might enjoy a drink but then never give it much more thought. Writing about the drinks helped me remember them, and also made me consider why it was I was enjoying the drinks.
We hear you’re a bit of a film buff – what’s your all time favourite movie?
I always find picking my favourite anything, be it colour, drink or indeed movie, an almost impossible task – I’m far too indecisive. I’m a huge fan of classic films – directors like Fritz Lang, Jules Dassin, Melville, and anything starring Audrey Hepburn, Bette Davis or Fred & Ginger.
How did you go about learning mixology?
Mainly by reading – a lot. Old cocktail books, the many websites and other blogs, and the more modern cocktail books like Joy of Mixology by Gary Regan and Imbibe by David Wondrich.
Have you ever worked in a bar?
No, never. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing given my interests. Being a good bartender requires a lot of energy and a certain personality, and I think I’m much more suited for the other side of the bar.
Would you consider yourself to be a cocktail expert?
Not at all. A very keen amateur, yes, but I still have much to learn.
What’s going on in the gin world that excites you right now?
I love the fact Old Tom gins are becoming more accessible. Brands like Hayman’s and Jensen here in the UK, the two Haromex Old Toms from Germany, Death’s Door gin in the US, etc. The category now also seems popular enough for people to start being more experimental – the recent aged gin from Citadelle is delicious, and a great example of a company trying something a bit different.
We notice a healthy, well stocked cocktail cabinet on your website! Are there many parties round at yours?
Yes, thanks to my inability not to say no when buying alcohol, and companies that are good enough to send me samples of their products, my cocktail cabinet has become better stocked than most bars! I do sometimes mix up drinks for friends but in all honesty most of them aren’t that in to cocktails. I am slowly working some of them around to my way of thinking though, and it is surprising how receptive they are to gin-based cocktails even when they claim to not like gin – you just have to avoid telling them what’s in the drink until they’ve tried it!
Any top tips for making great cocktails?
For the home environment one of the most important things to pay attention to, which is often overlooked, is ice. If you have a freezer that makes ice, it’s almost certainly going to be poor quality – small and wet – and will make warm, over-diluted cocktails. Investing in some decent, large ice-cube molds, or buying in quality bagged ice, will make a big difference to your drinks.
Do you create any recipes yourself?
Very rarely – I prefer to leave it to the experts. I do sometimes tweak recipe proportions or try adding or substituting ingredients.
What interesting places has your website taken you to?
Since starting Oh Gosh! I’ve traveled to New Orleans for Tales of the Cocktail, Berlin for the Bar Convent Berlin, and Paris for Cocktails & Spirits. It’s also given me the chance to visit some great bars like Quo Vadis and Salvatore @ Fifty, both of which I would likely never have heard of, let alone had a chance to visit.
What’s your favourite bar or bars?
I just recently visited Le Lion, a bar in Hamburg, Germany owned by a gentlemen called Jörg Meyer that is definitely one of the best bars I have ever been to. He and his team have created a very special place, combining beautiful design, superb drinks and exceptional hospitality – I really cannot say enough good things about it.
I have favourites in every city I’ve visited though – I love Death & Co, PDT and Clover Club in New York, Rum Trader and Lebenstern in Berlin, Experimental Cocktail Club and Curio Parlor in Paris, the Connaught Bar and Montgomery Place here in London. I love visiting different cities and exploring how their cocktail scenes vary – I can’t imagine ever finding one “favourite bar” as they’re all great in their own ways.
Who in the industry do you most admire?
I recently had the pleasure of visiting Salvatore @ Fifty, which was a very special experience. Mr. Calabrese really is an incredible host, and above all I think that’s what really counts in a bar. You can have the best drinks in the world, the biggest range of spirits, and the most beautiful bar, but without decent hospitality the guest isn’t going to enjoy it.
Describe your ideal night out and who you would you spend it with?
My ideal night out is spent with my best friends. I’d rather drink warm beer in a bad bar with them than drink great drinks in a superb bar with bad company! Of course if you can combine the two, then great.
Where do UK bars get it right, and wrong?
While there are of course major exceptions to this, I do think as a whole the UK bar scene can get a little caught up in the mixology aspect of things, and forget about the hospitality side of bartending.
What’s going to be the next big trend in the cocktail world?
Floral flavours seem to be quite big this year – lavender bitters, infused syrups and Gran Centenario Rosangel, hibiscus flower flavoured tequila are all quite popular at the moment.
What interesting stuff is coming up for you?
I’m looking forward to heading to Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans for the second time this year. I’m traveling via Washington DC this time, and I cannot wait to check out the bars there, as I’ve heard a lot of good things. I’m also hoping to spend some more time in Germany… after the US and UK the Germans have the most vibrant cocktail scene in the world. Unfortunately due to the language barrier, and the fact they don’t shout about it as much as the US and UK do, it seems to be a little overlooked.
Jay’s favourite Gin Cocktail:
While a good Martini (3:1 with a twist) is hard to beat, I have to be in the right mood for one. The Martinez is just as delicious, but a little more versatile. I prefer mine as follows:
- 30ml Old Tom gin
- 30ml Punt e Mes
- 1 1/2 bar spoons Maraschino
- 2 dashes The Bitter Truth aromatic bitters
- 1 dash The Bitter Truth orange bitters
Stir, serve in a chilled cocktail glass, garnish with an orange zest twist.
Tune into Oh Gosh! TV . Showcasing the finest bars around the world and the people at the forefront of cocktail and bar culture, Jay’s new video series has so far covered two of the finest bars in Europe and one of the biggest cocktail book collections around – there’s plenty more to come! And check out Jay’s great blog at www.ohgo.sh