Words by: Jane Ryan
Ever wondered what it's like to work in New Zealand, India, South Africa or even Ghana? Managing to pin down globetrotter Tim Etherington-Judge is difficult to say the least. We managed to snag a brief conversation in-between his sojourn in India and jetting off again to South Africa.
I was working in Cornwall in 2005 at a beach resort café selling ice cream alongside mixed drinks. As I started to get interested in cocktails and their history I bought a few books and put together, what I can honestly say now, was a very cringe worthy first menu.
At the end of that year my mum passed away and it changed my life, I guess it gave me the courage to follow my passion. I got a one way ticket to New Zealand, via Kenya for a month, and left with the sole intention of becoming a cocktail bartender.
In those days the scene wasn't as developed as it is now, and Wellington was much stronger than Auckland where I was. I landed a job at Sky City, a casino which did flare bartending and quickly realised I wasn't good at that side of flashy showmanship. Ted Haigh's Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails cemented for me that I was more into crafting cocktails.
After working my way around I became General Manager at this great bar called Sweet which was a breeding ground for the up and coming bartenders there. Jacob briars convinced me to go in to competitions and in 2009 I won bartender of the year in New Zealand.
It was shortly after that I received a call from India offering me a position to work at the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai. The bar had been closed after the terrorist attacks and needed to be re-launched so I stayed there for a year, revamping it and training up staff.
From there I joined Diageo Reserve and became the Brand Ambassador for India. On my first day on the job I had to fly to London and was told World Class would be held in India in six months. One heck of a first day.
I had half a year to conceptualise and execute the world finals in Delhi. It was a lot of hard work but brilliant. I also trained bartenders from Indian for the competition, including six weeks with Hemant Pathak who won the Indian finals and the award for classic and vintage drinks with a twist at the grand finale. He was fantastic, he worked so hard, I would open the bar at 11 am and he would be sitting there with a book, having fallen asleep studying after he had finished his shift the night before. Hemant now works in a New York Michelin star restaurant.
Although there are some fabulous bartenders in India there are also incalculable problems. Import duties are still incredibly high and then each state has its own laws and adds its own duty on top of the national one. It's a hard market to penetrate because of this. That said Johnnie Walker Black Label is synonymous in India with Scotch - whether they can afford it or not everyone aspires to that.
Having left India I'm now Reserve Brand Ambassador for Africa. Similarly to India the bartenders are wonderful, maybe not as skilled or technical as a bartender from London but with zero ego.
Africa is full of surprises with an amazing talent base, they're just waiting for someone to give them a chance. I went to a Japanese restaurant in Ghana which was probably in the top three Japanese meals I've ever had in my life. Then we went to the top cocktail bar in the capital Accra and it was phenomenal. A bar back wanted to make me a drink so I told him to make whatever he wanted and he came back with a perfectly crafted Ramos Gin Fizz.
I have to keep pinching myself, it's been the best seven years of my life. There are plans and dreams for a book and maybe a bar in the future as I miss being behind one. I just think it would be great to be a young bartender now, the scene has come on so far in such a short time. I'm truly jealous.