The American Bar at The Savoy, London needs no introduction. Iconic classic American cocktails, impeccable service, and the birthplace of every bartender’s bible, the legendary Savoy Cocktail Book.
We caught up with Declan McGurk from the American Bar at The Savoy. Declan discovered the bar World in 1999. After success on the bartending competition circuit he became Bar Manager of Trio Bar and Grill in Leeds in 2003, under the leadership of Declan the bar was crowned Class Magazine Best Night Out in 2005. Due to such success a promotion quickly followed Declan take over as Bar Development Manager for Arc Inspirations LLP. During this period Declan received recognition nationally for his efforts, being twice-nominated as Class Magazine Bartender of the Year and crowned victorious in 2007 as Class Magazine National Bar Manager of the Year.
A move to London beckoned with Speciality Brands, working within the 5 Star Hotel sector. Then in 2013, Declan fulfilled a career long ambition by taking over as Bar Manager of The American Bar at The Savoy. Working very closely with the team and in particular Erik Lorincz his ambition is to honour the heritage of this great bar whilst keeping a contemporary edge so that it remains at the peak of the industry!
We asked Declan a few pertinent questions about whisky, bartending, and experiences. Here’s what he had to say.
What is your favourite Whisky/Whiskey and why?
My preferred Whisky is Clynelish 14year old. I love the waxy notes it has and the subtle balance between rich fruity notes whilst maintaining smokey characteristics. I am a big fan of everything Springbank do too and if it were a range of Whiskies to comment on this would be my choice.
If you were to make your own Whisky, what are the qualities of 5 whisky brands that you admire and would be inspired by?
- Kilchoman – they have jumped into a real landmine of production area with a farmed, hand-crafted approach which is perfect.
- Chichibu – the whole process seems to orientate around quality and perfection.
- Mitchells Yellow and Green Spot – delicious liquid at accurate price points
- Springbank – Family legacy and restraint not to sell out
- Compass Box – Playful approach to a usually conservative category
What is your take on age statements and the current ambiguity and industry changes?
I am a little more in line with creativity and flavour. I feel making age statements dictate quality is a shame and prefer the approach of master blenders akin to Cognac. I don’t really care how old the Whisky is, it is more important to me what sort of qualities its profile has.
How seriously do you take reviews and tasting notes in books and media – do your opinions ever vary wildly based on what you read?
I tend to stick to tasting notes as we all smell the same thing but translate it differently. However the more we can agree on the styles and aromas the easier it becomes to communicate to the consumer. The approach is very disciplined in wine here and Whisky would benefit from such an approach.
Would you seek to convert someone who staunchly believes they do not enjoy Whisky and if so, how?
If they hate whisky I would never make them drink it as there are more spirits out there. I don’t believe we fight a crusade and that people will explore when less pressured and be able to select themselves.
What advice would you give to people wishing to get into professional spirit tasting, writing and connoisseur-ship as a hobby or career?
Humility is important, very quickly people believe they know it all and have seen it all. Find a mentor too so you can reference findings and beliefs as Whisky is a huge category.
What is the most memorable highlight of your career in the beverage industry thus far?
This year at the International Bar Awards, ‘Spirited Awards – New Orleans’, I had the great pleasure of going on stage to pick up the award for Best International Bar Team 2016 recognising the hard work of everyone in the American Bar
We hope you’re a little more inspired after reading what Declan McGurk has to say.
Is there anyone else you’d like to hear from? Let us know in the comments below. In the meanwhile, watch out for another exclusive interview next week.