Straight up refers to an alcoholic drink served neat without the addition of ice, water or any other lengthening agent. In other words…straight to the point.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to be a bartender as a lifelong profession, as long as he/she aspires to be the best possible…
Dre Masso has been involved within the London cocktail scene for nearly 20 years, working and running bars at The Rock Garden in Covent Garden, Oliver Peyton’s Atlantic Bar & Grill, 10 Room in Piccadilly, Lab Bar, Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen, Salvador & Amanda in Leicester Square, and the Lonsdale Bar in Notting Hill. He has also worked with The Irish Bank and Tommy’s Mexican restaurant in San Francisco.
In 2004 Dre formed a company with Henry Besant called The Worldwide Cocktail Club which consulted on the beverage programme for the legendary Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, Amy Sacco’s Bungalow 8, Alfred Dunhill’s private members bar in Mayfair, All Star Lanes American bowling bar, Le Prince Maurice Hotel, Mauritius and Circus in Covent Garden.
His period with The Worldwide Cocktail Club found Dre visiting more than 50 cities, in over 40 countries, educating and inspiring thousands of bartenders. In 2005, together with Henry Besant, Dre published his first book, Margarita Rocks, featuring 70 authentic recipes as well as factual information on the history of tequila and its production methods. This led to the opening of his own tequila bar and restaurant in London’s East End, Green & Red which in its first year was voted the Evening Standard’s Bar of the Year.
In 2010 Dre decided to go independent and in his last 2 years he has headed the beverage programme for Potato Head in Indonesia, Sun n’ Sand Hotel in Mumbai, Bennett’s British Brasserie and both The Social & the Dalston Superstore in London.
Bartending is often perceived as an in-between job, that does not require much skill. I disagree with the notion completely…
Where did you start and what inspired you to become a bartender and the Master Mixologist you are today, anyone worth mentioning? Any career influences past and current?
At the time my mother worked in a famous members club where I managed to get a job there where I worked over weekends cleaning ashtrays and washing glasses. It was extra income at the time, but I was indubitably intrigued by the environment.
During college I worked in a handful of dive bars to fund my photographic studies.
At the age of 18 I had an urge to work in the heart of the Capital. I opened a copy of London’s Time Out magazine at the bars and clubs section and without looking placed my finger on the page where it landed on The Rock Garden Café. I wrote the telephone number on a piece of paper and found the nearest public telephone box. I managed to get through to the bar manager and asked if they were looking for bar staff. He asked me to come in for an interview and within the following week I started work. This was in 1993, a thriving period for British house music culture and dance clubs. The Rock Garden turned into The Gardening Club at the weekends and was the spot for clubbers during this period.
In 1996 a friend of mine told me about a new and happening place called the Atlantic Bar & Grill in Piccadilly. I remember walking in and being swallowed up by its grandeur. Gigantic chandeliers hung from the tall ceilings, weird and wonderful artwork adorned the walls. The Atlantic was owned and run by Oliver Peyton who had played an influential role in launching Absolut vodka in the UK. His philosophy was that “restaurants and bars should be about style, most importantly, having fun”. I was desperate to work there. I started as a barback, learning how things were done. This place literally changed my life. The bartenders were like nothing I had seen before. Adorned in designer shirts from Saville Row and arm bands around their elbows they would stylishly and effortlessly throw bottles to each other from one end of the long bar to the other. Atlantic’s beverage menu had the perfect balance of classic and vintage mixed drinks with contemporary and cutting edge cocktails.
Being heavily involved in the industry for many years, was there a period in your life where you decided to change career paths? The industry perceived by many in South Africa and possibly in many parts of the world in my opinion is seen as not a viable career choice but somewhat a basic means to generate income on the side, what are your thoughts on this? Do you think there is a global shift in attitude towards this?
There most definitely is a positive outlook towards our industry. We now have a more recognised and established industry. Unfortunately the average UK bartender is still remunerated ineptly. Bartending is often perceived as an in-between job that does not require much skill. I disagree with the notion completely. There are now many talented individuals that have made exceptional careers out of bartending. Some have developed into other roles within the trade, working with leading brands. Others have continued to bartend and open their own venues. Great business skills can be learnt from working within bars. Bartenders are writing books and appearing on TV. It is up to the individual to take as much as he/she wants from the job. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be a bartender as a lifelong profession, as long as he/she aspires to be the best possible. Most people I meet seem interested with the nature of my work. It involves people, places, culture and flavour. Most 9 to 5’ers can have very one-dimensional and unsatisfying careers that they say drives them insane. I have not really thought about leaving this field, but I am always discovering new areas within it.
I am pleased to hear that people are talking / focusing on the importance of hospitality and customer care.
What are your goals / aspirations within the industry?
I am focusing my attention towards the general public, to engage, educate and inspire them further about the industry. I am currently the guest editor for ginandtales.com. I am also working on a do-it-at-home cocktail book which is due to be published later within the year. In the not too distant future I would like to open my own bar again. London prices make this a tremendous challenge.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
On a farm in East Spain making olive oil, honey and wine
Any awards or accolades worth mentioning?
Over the course of my career I have won numerous cocktail competitions and have been awarded UK bartender of the year three times. At the moment I am generally asked to judge competitions. There are some incredible individuals participating in these events.
If you weren’t working behind the bar, what would you be doing?
I love photography, yoga and martial arts, possibly one of those interests. It is hard to say.
What trends and techniques are you currently seeing within the industry?
I am pleased to hear that people are talking / focusing on the importance of hospitality and customer care. There has been an obsession with different trends like; crafted ice, barrel aged cocktails, vintage glassware, speakeasies, multi-sensory mixology and styles of shakes. All of these aspects are great, having fun and looking after the customer is of the upmost importance to me.
What is your process when conceptualising on a new drink?
It depends, there are so many aspects to take into consideration; the occasion, the spirit that needs to be showcased, theme / style. I am currently working on the beverage programme for a bar in Mumbai, India, where I have spent a considerable amount of time with the head chef tasting and experimenting with local ingredients. Generally my inspiration stems from something I have tasted before, I find ways of twisting a classic. Alternatively, I will start with a key flavour which will pair and partner other ingredients. There are some important rules relating to balance that I always adhere to.
What are some of your favourite tools?
I like to have a quality knife, chopping board and wide citrus peeler. A measure is vital.
Any particular drink you enjoy making?
The classics. There is a reason why they have stood the test of time. Simple yet exquisite.
Any resources / mixology related material worth mentioning?
I don’t have an expansive selection of material. They are either new or re-prints rather than expensive antiques on my shelves. The ones I keep close by are The Fine Art of Making Drinks by David Embury and The Joy of Mixology by Gary Regan
Any celebrities you have served behind the bar or showcased your ability?
During my time at The Atlantic we had everyone from a notorious London Gangster named Mr Pink to Joan Collins and Madonna. Robert De Niro drank vodka Gimlets and Dry Martinis. Bill Murray had to be my all-time favourite, he has a really good understanding of the bar culture and the upmost respect for bartenders. He made his own Champagne cocktail for himself and his guests whilst seated at the bar.
Any short pieces of advice you could share to aspiring bartenders
Learn your trade. History is good, so is speed and customer service. Work with people you respect and want to learn from. Do not be arrogant. Travel the world.
Hangover Cure? Bloody Maria
First drink you ever tasted? Guinness
Worst drinking experience? Blended black olives in a cocktail
Worst experience working behind the bar? Setting someone’s eyebrows alight
Bartender Myths? Not sure about myths. There is a lot of bullshit.
Favourite Cocktail? Tommy’s Margarita
Favourite Spirit? Tequila
Favourite Bar? La Capilla, Tequila Town, Mexico.
Favourite World Location? London
Dre Masso Signature Drinks:
Glass: Old Fashioned
Garnish: Dried hibiscus leaves
Method: Shake and strain over crushed ice
50 ml Blanco tequila
37.5 ml Hibiscus juice
20 ml freshly squeezed Lime juice
12.5 ml Agave syrup
Comment: Created by Dre Masso at Green & Red Cantina in London in 2008.
Kumquat and Almond Caipirinha:
Glass: Old Fashioned
Garnish: Kumquat cut in half
Method: Muddle kumquat and lime in base of glass to release the juices and oils in its skin. Pour Cachaça, Orgeat and rose water into glass, add crushed ice and stir with bar spoon.
50 ml Cachaça
½ fresh Lime cut into wedges
4 fresh Kumquats cut in half
20 ml Orgeat syrup
2 dashes Rose water
Comment: Created by Dre Masso at Circus 2009, Covent Garden, London, England. Inspired by trips to Asia.
Cloud Nine Fizz:
Garnish: 3 thin lime wheels
Method: Shake and Strain over cubed ice
50 ml Lemongrass infused gin
25 ml freshly squeezed lime juice
20 ml Kaffir lime sugar syrup*
½ fresh egg white
Lengthen with Soda Water
Comment: Created by Dre Masso at the Potato Head Beach Club 2010, Bali, Indonesia.
* 700 ml Kaffir lime Sugar syrup: Combine all ingredients in a large pan. Bring to the boil, simmer for 20 minutes. Strain and leave to cool.
350ml castor sugar
6 x fresh kaffir lime leaves (a thorny bush with aromatic and distinctively double shaped leaves. The kaffir lime is a rough, bumpy green fruit. The green lime fruit is distinguished by its bumpy exterior and its small size.)