Words by: Karen Fick (sponsored by Stolichnaya)
Matthew Dakers is the UK Brand Ambassador for Stolichnaya, and if it’s not the career his parents thought he’d have, at least he’s able to say to them that he’s achieved a goal he set for himself at a young age. “I’ve been bartending for a long time and it’s either have your own bar or become a brand ambassador”. Matthew always wanted to be a Brand Ambassador.
Straight out of school, bartending wasn’t his first or most obvious choice as a career. At that time it was a simple way of making cash while studying law at Aberdeen University. But when it came to the moment for his career to begin he figured that as he was really good at bartending that should be his road.
From Scotland he went to Barcelona (which is still a second home) and from there he made a very career conscious decision to move to London. “I knew I had to keep progressing in my career”. “I moved to London from The Dry Martini in Barcelona because London is the mecca, it’s where everybody comes. If you’re going to make it you have to put yourself up against the best, I knew that if you’re going to make a name for yourself it’s going to be in London”.
His first stop was The Hoxton Pony where in 2009, he shared the Time Out Best Bar Team award with Gerry Calabrese and Andy Pearson. He then went to Trailer Happiness, then to Mahiki and then Whistling Shop. In that time he was nominated twice for CLASS UK bartender of the year “I kept moving. I was advised that it was essential to becoming a brand ambassador. I needed to be Matthew from London, not Matthew from a particular bar.”
As far as mentors go Matthew feels lucky to have had a lot “they come and go and you learn from them”, but the ones he remembers most right now are Paco Garcia and Seferino, two head bartenders at Dry Martini, “they didn’t tell me how to behave but they led by example, I could just watch them.”
The ambassadorial call finally came in 2010 from Chartreuse, and then in April 2013 Matthew was recruited from LinkedIn to be the UK Brand Ambassador for Stolichnaya.
“Every day is different, it starts with emails, then maybe travelling to different cities or countries and then trainings or tastings. There might be a meeting with the PR agency and the sales force and at the end of the day visits to some of the bars that didn’t make it to the tastings sessions.” He says he loves everything about his job but especially passing on a message, “maybe telling people something they didn’t know”.
“The good thing about vodka for me is that in my previous job I only really spoke to high end bartenders but I can speak to everyone about vodka, it’s the one spirit everybody uses. I think it’s got a really bad reputation in the industry, it’s getting better though, people are starting to understand that famous saying ‘vodka pays the bills’ - it does indeed. I think every spirit has a place on the shelf and there’s no such thing as a bad liquid.”
Matthew is involved in developing the flavours in the entire Stolichnaya portfolio, “flavoured vodka is probably the predecessor of today’s vodka so it’s always good to try and introduce people to new flavours and all our flavours are 100% naturally flavoured”.
Stolichnaya has its own tale of two cities. “We’ve never changed the way our vodka is made but the borders of the two countries in which it’s prepared, Russia and Latvia, have, so the company has quite an interesting historic story. We use Russian grain spirit made to a patented Russian method of production but the grain spirit only becomes vodka when water is added so technically we’re a Latvian vodka”.
“It’s hard to claim any heritage in the vodka category, a lot of the vodkas bartenders use are less than 20 years old but Stolichnaya has been around for over 70 years”. All this history in the brand contrasts agreeably for Matthew with the Talvis Distillery were the grain spirit is made which is one of the most modern in Europe.
Stolichnaya has also very much been there as a forerunner when you consider developments in the industry, “when you think about flavours, when you think about premium vodka, even vodka in space, Stolichnaya seems to have been there.”
Matthew is passionate about the Stoli lemonade. “Lemonades may sound simple but they can be quite complicated. Jerry Thomas’ book The Bartenders Guide has a section on lemonades so I see this as the basics for bartending. “You can vary the lemonade. It can be sparkling or cloudy or still. When I started bartending we always made a recipe to a two one half ratio - that was old school, so I use three bar spoons of caster sugar (equivalent to about 10-12ml sugar syrup) stirred with 25ml of lemon juice (to keep that ratio one and half) to dissolve the sugar. I then add 50ml of vodka and stir again and wait till the very end to add ice so I’m not over diluting. I’ll then add still water for a really traditional Victorian lemonade. It doesn’t matter if the sugar isn’t fully dissolved it’s going to have that mouthfeel that people say they like in a crunchy mojito. Then I’ll add ice to the top and a lemon wedge to garnish. Really simple but a very good cocktail.”