Words by: Jane Ryan
Aidan Bowie was given the opportunity of a life time in May when he jetted across the Atlantic to live and work as a New York bartender for two weeks. After winning Auchentoshan's Switch competition last year, he spent 12 days shaking cocktails at The Dead Rabbit, being a tourist in Manhattan and exploring the great and good of the city's cocktail bars.
"I started out my bar career as a bar back in Tiger Lily in Edinburgh. I was there at the same time as people like Jamie Mac, Joey Medrington and Georgie Bell. I was never really a bartender there, but I did get the chance to get behind the stick for occasional shifts and mostly worked as a waiter. It was a great team to be part of.
University called me away from Edinburgh to Glasgow. I had met Mal Spence previously, quite briefly, and had wanted to work for him so I jumped at the chance of a job at the newly opened Blysthwood Square Hotel.
I was there from day one as part of the opening team. When you open a bar it always feels like it belongs to you, even now when I live in a different city and am no longer bartending that space is still mine. We certainly weren't the best team the bar world has ever seen but we had the best bar. Mal's name brought press and, despite the fact that no one drank in hotel bars in Glasgow then, the bar worked from the beginning.
By the time the Auchentoshan Switch Scottish heat came around I'd only entered one competition before, which was simply uploading a picture and recipe. As the heat was held at the Blysthwood Square Hotel it was a good opportunity to enter. Most people had a drink which was super serious, stirred down with a lot of bitters and amaros. I like my drinks to have a story.
Faff & Haff looks like a half pint of ale with scampi on the side. It's based on a pub I know where you can see the bookies so blokes come in, pay 2 pounds for a half pint and shot of whisky and sit there watching the horses. Betting slips litter the place, it's a typical glorious old boozer.
Faff & Haff
Glass: Half pint tankard
Garnish: Scampi and betting slips on the side
Method: Shake and double strain over a block of ice into a half pint tankard. Top with a ginger and lemon foam. Foam is made with lecithin powder and ginger beer.
50ml Auchentoshan Three Wood
25ml lemon juice
25ml peach puree
15ml honey & ginger syrup
10ml Amer Picon
When the day came I was very scared. Because it was being held in my bar I had to do the set up, but once the bar was ready I went out the back. I really didn't want to hear what anyone was saying. I presented my drink and won, and then had the European final in London where I was up against really good bartenders from iconic bars but managed to win that as well.
Between the competition, in October, and getting to do the Switch in May, I moved with Mal to the Kelvingrove Cafe for six months, which is a lovely dim candle-lit bar. I worked there till I moved to London, in January with a full time position from Martin Miller gin.
The competition prize worked out incredibly well. I met the North American winner, Michael Webster from Canada, in Glasgow where we did a tour of the distillery and had a tasting for some 20 whiskies. We stayed at the Blythswood then took a flight to London, after which I jetted off to New York, a city I'd never seen before.
It was like something out of a film when I arrived on the Thursday, complete with someone holding a card with my name on (spelt incorrectly). I was staying in Soho, smack bang in the middle of everything, 10 minutes from the financial district where The Dead Rabbit is and from the East Village.
I was lucky enough to have two friends make the journey with me to spend some time in New York. That night we ate pizza and went to a dive bar which was a relaxed, great first night. On Friday I had lunch with Phil from Auchentoshan, alongside two beers and two shots and went off for my first shift.
The success of the Merchant Hotel in Belfast was what we drew inspiration from in Glasgow. If they could create a great international bar there, then that could be replicated. But with The Dead Rabbit there was a lot of pressure to open from the global community.
I'd been in touch with Bobby Hiddleston, the then head bartender, and two days before I started he sent the drinks specs over. At this point I hadn't worked in a bar for five months.
The specs were intense. Even the classics are slightly different. My first shift was during Manhattan Cocktail Classic on that Friday night. I arrived for 4pm, doors opened 5pm and I was bar backing for my first shift, familiarising myself with the bar. On Sunday they did the Artesian vs Dead Rabbit where the entire industry descended on us but by Monday I was bartending.
Wednesday night we did an Auchentoshan press party for me, which was very special. A third of the drinks that night were mine, but what was amazing was just to converse with like-minded people, being told the places to go and getting an insight into New York life. My shifts started at 5pm so during the day I'd hangout with my friends, being typical tourists. It was mildly exhausting though and I was usually up by 9am despite getting to bed most nights at 5am.
Auchentoshan's brand people had so much time for me. I was taken to a Yankee's match and almost caught a ball, we had hot dogs at Crift Dogs, where we went to simply drink beer and try to get the highest Pac Man score on the machine there. On my last night in New York I went out to bars with Jack McGarry, we went to PDT, Attaboy where Sam made me a Penicillin, and to Death & Co which was my favourite bar after The Dead Rabbit.
I had a very privileged 12 days, time with friends, time to be a tourist, and time to not only see the great bars, but to work in one. It was incredible. I got my job off the back of this competition, and I'd certainly encourage anyone to enter it."