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Creating Cocktails: Kyle Wilkinson

Jake O'Brien Murphy speaks with some of the best bartenders working today to discover how they creatively invent drinks. First up is Kyle Wilkinson from The Beaufort Bar.

The Beaufort Bar at the Savoy Hotel has the charm of transporting a guest to a transcendental experience of opulence, among the lofty jet black walls, subtle flourishes of gold fringing the rococo maximalist stylings of the furnishing you can lose hours to the charm of the bar. The head bartender Kyle Wilkinson has the distinction of reaching one of the highest positions in the bar industry while keeping his stalwart commitment to what he calls “honest drinks” and a particular brand of service that is never subservient but always genuine and accommodating. When I visited Kyle at the bar he was coincidentally experimenting with some different concepts for the Beaufort’s up and coming menu, making it a perfect time for a discussion.

As we talked, I asked Kyle a number of questions - from a brief background of his time in the industry to how he thinks about cocktails and his ideas about the cocktail industry moving forward. Kyle had one recurring theme in his considerations and answers, which was a rather egalitarian, democratic approach to his craft. 

Origins in the Industry

“It was a job to start with” Kyle told me of how he began his career working in bars in Sunderland collecting glasses spending two years aquatinting himself with the day to day mechanics of how bars operate. When the time was right he moved to Nottingham for for five years where he tended bar at the now mythic Brass Monkey with its garrison of bartending alumni. Eventually the draw of London brought him to Social Eating Company where helped pioneer his particular style of bartending, bringing some of London’s premier drinking spots to life such as The Blind Pig.

Influences and Style

“Drinks should be honest” Kyle explained in his candid fashion, an opinion that Kyle admits proudly stems from his time working in Pubs. He begins his creative process by engaging with classic cocktails, pursuing his concepts in a scholastic fashion and using what he calls the “primary building blocks” of drinks, the tried and tested recipes of history, and working outward from there. “No matter how far a drink falls from that initial idea, I can always rationalise it through classic cocktails, the drinks that people love and have done throughout history. Look at the Daiquiri, in its simplest form a three ingredient drink that is universally loved. Then consider the thousands of iterations it has seen throughout its history; it makes sense that these families of drinks work well” it was a poignant point as I sipped on a drink that had materialised before me, such is the magic of the Beaufort Bar, a subtle twist on a champagne cocktail with frissons of chocolate and pineapple being animated by the playful effervescence of a vintage champagne. 

 “When you approach drinks in this way, it keeps them honest, you allow your guest to engage on every level. It is easy to assume your guest knows as much as you, but drinking is universally enjoyed and it doesn’t take a genius to realise drinks therefore should be.” something that is distinctly apparent in Kyle’s contemplations is his adherence to creating something that his guest can foremost enjoy without the pretensions of mixing for his own palate, a danger for many bartenders putting together drinks lists.

Approach to Drinks

 With an inherently creative professions it is all to easy to be sidelined by blind ambition to creative something unique and end up with something convoluted. I asked Kyle his opinion on this “It isn’t a bad thing that we want to create, in fact it’s brilliant. I think we need to check ourselves, if a drink comes from one or two people who run a bar or own the bar that is the final word theirs then how will they really know if it works before it goes live? Any drink I ever create will make it onto a list until every member of staff has tried it and is in agreement that it deserves to be”; with this democratic approach in mind drinks are able to please the senses and not just the ego of the mixer. 

“Even here at the Beaufort this idea translates, the drinks we are developing are simple riffs on classics but thoroughly considered.” Kyle placed a fresh drink in front of me, Gin and a Dubbonet reduction they had made earlier that day. The drink looked liked crushed velvet in a glass, reminded me of a more spirituous bramble, with similar flavours but with it’s own particular nuances. “I want these drinks to engage with our guests on a primary level of flavour firstly and then we can discuss the methods we have employed in creating syrups and cordials, what the spirit acts like in the drink and so on.”

Kyle’s idea of honesty in drinks is thought provoking, I gathered that for drinks to be honest then the bartender must be. If you approach drinks with the understanding people visit bars for indulgence and enjoyment and that you have the power to create something simply wonderful and engaging, you could be in a pub in Sunderland or behind stick at the Beaufort Bar, you're still dealing in honest to god brilliance.