#ThatExtraDash with Gareth Wainwright

This year, Angostura’s That Extra Dash series takes a look at the rise of some of SA’s top bartenders and provides insights for up-and-comers to take note of.

In this interview, we speak to industry legend, Gareth Wainwright.

Gareth was a technical judge at the recent Angostura Global Cocktail Challenge South Africa National in September. He was also the Diageo Luxury Brand Ambassador in Gauteng from 2012 until 2014 and the Botanist Forager National Winner in 2015.

“Angostura remains a key ingredient behind the world’s top bars by investing in and supporting the new generation of drinks professionals, endlessly excited about what the future has in store for this spirited industry.”

Gareth, how did you start out in the cocktail industry?

When I was sixteen my parents told me I needed to get a part time job. There was a small Mediterranean restaurant called Topolinos two blocks from their house and I started bussing tables there (horribly I might add!). After getting fired I didn’t do much until I finished school in 2000 with a music degree specialising in Jazz.

A friend that I studied with had a part time job at The Blues Room and on the last day of exams, while we were dead keen on celebrating, I didn’t have a car and he couldn’t get out of the shift he was rostered for so I ended up helping out. The rest, as they say, is history.

Travis Kuhn and Gareth Wainwright judging at AGCC SA National 2020. Image credit Robyn Davie Photography #ThatExtraDash with Gareth Wainwright

All these years on, what are you up to now?

I’m the owner operator of the Little Fox Gin and Cocktail Bar in Johannesburg and I have a consultancy company named The Republican Drinks Agency.

Who has been a major mentor throughout your career?

When Victor Pirez first mentioned the name Sasha Petraske to me, I knew this was a man to follow. Sasha’s hard-headed ideology was something I could really resonate with. I sobbed like a baby the day he passed as I had not had the opportunity to meet him or thank him personally.

Gaz Regan’s Joy of Mixology was also a big game changer book for me in my earlier years. It changed a lot about my perceptions of the craft and where I was in the grander scheme of things.

And what are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learnt along the way?

You’re going to make mistakes. Make them well.

Do you have any advice for rookie bartenders?

Be patient. Trust the process. Make Mistakes. Learn, learn, learn.

Don’t take criticisms personally. Critiques are a gift, what you do with them is entirely up to you.

Don’t trust everything you read. Trust your palate and your gut and have an educated opinion about things. Read every book about a subject, not just the fancy ones.

Should the end goal be to own a bar one day, learn everything about running a bar that has nothing to do with cocktails or bartending. Fix a fridge compressor, change the aircon filter, renew a liquor license etc. Should it be to be a brand ambassador, learn the corporate lingo, understand budgets and spreadsheets, answer emails quickly etc. 

What was your first encounter with bitters? And Angostura aromatic bitters specifically?

In 2001 I worked at a bar that was an Irish themed pub. We easily made about 40 cocktails containing Angostura bitters a day. Every bar I worked at thereafter had a bottle of Angostura aromatic bitters behind the counter.

Always and forever.

Which is your absolute favourite bittered cocktail?

Improved Holland Cocktail, but any dark spirited cocktail would be amiss without a dash or two of bitters. 

Can you finish the sentence: My extra dash would be… for luck.

With your experience, you must have designed many cocktails that call for bitters. Which one’s been a standout for you?

The Shortbread Flip

Flip 8 #ThatExtraDash with Gareth Wainwright

Ingredients

  • 60ml Angostura 1919 Rum
  • 3 dashes Shortbread Angostura aromatic bitters (add 5ml shortbread essence to a 210ml Angostura aromatic bottle)
  • 1 egg
  • 15ml Tio Pepe Pedro Ximenez Sherry
  • 5ml Honey
  • Whole nutmeg

Instructions

Reverse dry shake and fine strain into a chilled Campbell glass. Garnish with grated nutmeg.