Five minutes with Rich Woods (aka The Cocktail Guy)
Rich Woods, perhaps better known as ‘The Cocktail Guy’, is an award-winning bartender bridging the gap between the food and drink worlds. He is prized for his pioneering, avant-garde approach to mixology.
In 2014, he earned first place in Bombay Sapphire’s World’s Most Imaginative Bartender Competition for the UK and Ireland, ultimately finishing as runner-up in the world finals. Rich has gone on to win an array of industry awards and in 2017 launched his debut book The Cocktail Guy which features over 70 innovative cocktail recipes.
Now, as Global Head of Drink Development for Orange Brands Management, Rich oversees the development of ever-changing drinks programmes across some of London’s most iconic bars including SUSHISAMBA and Duck & Waffle.
We found out what Rich’s first memories of food and drink were, the recipes he can’t live without, his desert island dishes and his dream dinner party guests.
1. What’s your first memory of food?
Alfresco dinner with my mum, dad and sister. My mum is an avid gardener so she used to grow and pick all we ate. I remember when I was young, the smell of freshly picked garden peas. That memory stuck with me and was the inspiration behind one of my most popular drinks, ‘Mind Your Peas & Q’s’, which was a sugar-snap pea gin & tonic.
2. What’s the first cocktail you learned to make?
Ha, no comment! Let’s just say it’s far removed from what I tend to create now. I first started working in a gastro-bar, so cocktails were popular orders but at the time, not well-made. Thank goodness the industry has come a long way since then. It was only when I moved to London and started to venture out to all the various bars in the capital, I really started to get the buzz. Now I spend a lot of my time experimenting, especially with ingredients people consider as waste or would typically throw out. I want to push the boundaries on what can be achieved with a cocktail.
3. What’s the recipe you can’t live without?
I really love a simple daiquiri. Like the martini or Manhattan, it perfectly reflects the spirit and character of its base liquor, without excessive preparation. You can make a daiquiri in a few minutes simply with some light rum, a squeeze of fresh lime and a splash of sugar. Just one sip can transport you to the warm, crystal clear blue beaches of the Caribbean. You can’t beat it!
4. What’s the one ingredient you’d take to a desert island with you?
As a bartender I’d have to say salt. It’s essential seasoning for drinks. It lifts bitterness, suppresses sourness and generally brightens a drink. I’m sure I could hunt down some fresh fruit on the island and create some interesting cocktails… especially if I had some booze in my suitcase!
5. What’s the meal you’d miss the most on the island?
I absolutely love a roast – especially if it’s chicken with all the trimmings. I love Mexican food, too. Particularly baja fish tacos loaded with fresh ingredients and perfectly seasoned with plump fish… They always go down well with some tequila!
6. You can have a one-off dinner party on your island… who would you invite?
My dad, my mum, my sister, my grandparents – basically my whole family. My family is hugely important to me and I absolutely cherish the time we have together. Because of our busy schedules we can’t all meet often but when we do, it’s really precious. With family, I like to keep the drinks fairly simple and stick to a classic gin fizz that I know everyone will enjoy.
7. What would be your guests’ welcome drink?
I’d probably start with a light cocktail like ‘Wine Serve’ I created recently for a Franklin & Sons supperclub. By swapping out spirits for fortified wines and aperitifs, you can create cocktails that don’t pack such a boozy punch. The drink is a wine serve which is a beautiful low ABV option for a summer evening.