So, I have got off pretty lightly with the Pandemic. I mean I was out of work for 15 months and lost a job I was enjoying, my dream of opening my own bar has been indefinitely postponed, the various Bar Shows I was involved with have all been cancelled or gone digital and I have had to move my family to the other side of the world to find work and purpose… but I feel I got off lightly. Only one person I know well has caught Covid and no-one I know well has died. I’ve been lucky. Its been shit but one has to look for positives and reasons to be cheerful. But I do have one large regret and that’s that my normal travel schedules been obliterated. Now of course I know why but it hits and hits hard and here is why.
Travel: The most important tool of a bartender
The only reasons you are reading this article is because of my travel. The only reason I am the Education Director for BCB is because of travel. The only reason even a few of you may be aware of me is because of travel. The single greatest advantage I have had in my career is the recognition of the important of and the ability to travel to other countries. Ask me what the most important tool any bartender can use and I will say its their passport. But why?
Spreading the cocktail culture
Now of course travel is indelibly linked to our industry in so many ways. In the early days of America “cocktails’ were very much associated with hotels and travellers and the spread pf cocktails across the USA can be neatly matched to railroads and the like. And, of course globally it was the diaspora of American bartenders during Prohibition that spread cocktail culture and made cities like Paris, London, Havana and elsewhere hotbeds of mixology and cocktail culture. And I can argue that London is the most important city for Cocktails and bartending not because I am English but because the best bartenders from all over Europe have moved there - often to learn and practice English as well as learn new skills.
My path to travel
But for me it had a personal aspect. My father was a foreign correspondent for a British newspaper and that meant he travelled the world constantly or we moved across the globe to live where he got posted. He would sit at the dinner table and talk of all these amazing places he visited and journeys he took and people he met and what he learned there. And some of it rubbed off and I found myself first backpacking and later migrating around the world. Oxford became London became New York became a blur of cities and countries for the last 20 years. My career has been amazing and its all thanks to travel.
Knowledge through travel
I was lucky. I visited cities and bars and watched and learned and most importantly shared the information afterwards. Yes, sometimes it was in paid for seminars run by brands but more often it was in email newsletters and bulletin board posts. I shared what I had seen not just for fortune and fame (I wish) but if I didn’t share it my head would explode. It was the early days of Youtube and before blogs and social media but I like to think I “built my brand” not by boasting of my travels but by sharing the stuff I saw. I think Jim Meehan once said it amazingly “before we had the Internet we had Angus”.
Travel for personal development
But travel wasn’t just about developing a career but its also about developing one’s humanity. Its too easy to grow up and think the world you live in and the way you live in it is fixed but travel to – and most importantly living in - a “foreign” country shows you that other ways of life exist. Some you may appreciate, other you may have to tolerate but it shows you about diversity and tolerance and so many other amazing virtues.
So now we are slowly emerging from this madness and things slowly get back to normal and you start to consider next moves or upskilling I urge you to consider travel and more importantly if you are able to consider moving to another country – at least for a year or so. And not just to developed and obvious countries like the UK or USA but anywhere. Most of the most successful bartenders and amazing human beings I know have done so and it’s one of the greatest advantages our industry has that bartending and drinking is truly a global pursuit. So, go prove it and find your path onwards and upwards!