The chance to meet and interview Charlotte Voisey at this year’s Tales of the Cocktail was an opportunity too good to pass up. Charlotte has long been an inspiration to me as one of the leading female figures in the liquor industry.
How did you start out in the business?
I studied hospitality at university and the course I chose had a one year in-industry work experience. During that year I joined ‘My Kinda Town Restaurant Group’ and worked for 6 months in London at the Chicago Rib Shack and then went over to Spain with as part of their restaurant management training program. You spent 6 months training and then you work as a manager with one of their units anywhere in the world. I wanted to learn Spanish so I went to Barcelona to run one of their restaurants.
When I graduated I loved the experience I had and I quickly found from my peers that the company offered me way more training than any of their jobs, so I went back to them and headed off to Argentina for 2 years and ran restaurants for them out there. Then I got the call to say, “We want to open a cocktail bar. It’s the first one really for the group. Do you want to come back and run it?. That was how I opened Apartment 195.
Had you had much cocktail experience while you were running the restaurants?
I’d had some cocktail experience, but it was long island iced teas, pina coladas. It was still very worthwhile, but more about speed and fun than classic cocktails.
So after 4 or 5 years at Apartment 195 you went to William Grant?
Yes, they offered me the chance to travel, move to America and be an ambassador with them.
Wow! How long did that decision take to make?
It actually took me a couple of months! I had also been offered a global position with another company. I had these two amazing opportunities, but I came to the conclusion that as amazing as travelling the world sounded, I wanted to be a bit more grounded. The chance to live in New York and have a new home base was more attractive to me. Plus I had already fell in love with Hendrick’s Gin by then! I’ve been in New York for 10 years now.
So what does being Director of Brand Advocacy involve?
My role has 3 components. The first, and the part that I enjoy most, is leading the Brand Ambassador Group that we have. We have 26 full-time ambassadors in the US across all of our brands. They report into their brand managers, but I’m like the mentor, the big sister, whatever you want to call it, that just supports and advises them. I also advise their managers how to get the most from them because I’ve been there and done that, and not a lot of marketing people have.
Then I oversee all of the PR for the company which is quite big part of my job. I work with a PR manager and the agencies. It’s nice to get my teeth into something a bit new.
The third part is advocacy which is a word people throw around and it means different things to different people, but it ultimately it’s about getting influential people to fall in love with your brands.
What’s the best thing about your job?
The events. The William Grant party for Tales of the Cocktail is still my baby and we start planning that in January. Putting those elements together and then watching it happen and seeing people’s reactions is so great. I guess it goes back to bartending days and that enjoyment of handing a drink over to somebody and seeing them go, “Oh my goodness. That’s really delicious.” It’s still wanting that feedback. You get this amazing, instant satisfaction which you don’t get by sitting in an office and planning.
What’s your proudest achievement so far?
I think the two things I’m most proud of having a hand in, would be what we do at Tales every year because William Grant is such a small company. Obviously, we are seen as a big business but William Grant has only 1% of the spirits business in the US. At Tales, through the relationship that I built early and well with Anne (Tuennerman), and the attitude that we have to this event, we’ve been able to stand up with Bacardi, and the other big groups as equal players. I’m quite proud that we’ve managed to hold our own against companies with larger budgets or bigger ideas. I think it’s down to the personal touch.
The second is our Brand Ambassador Program. I’m quite proud of the way I’ve been able to keep it non-corporate in a corporate world.
What inspires you?
I spend the year traveling and being amazed by the creativity and talent that there is all around America. When I first got here I felt like I had a bit more of an educating role because I came from London where the cocktails scene at the time was better than America. I felt like I had a bit of duty to impart knowledge and share and show. Now I feel like I can sit back a little and be inspired by them. What people are doing in cocktail bars all over America makes me think, “Right. It’s my turn to thank them. I’ve got to up my game because they deserve to be surprise and delighted like I am when I go to their bars.” I think that’s what it is. It’s being inspired to stand up and give people what they deserve.
The Proper Pour is fantastic resource for me, I’m amazed at how you do it. What’s the most challenging part of making cocktails on camera ? Do you do it in one take?
I do! We film about 10 episodes in a day. Honestly, it’s the easiest thing I do. First of all I don’t over think it. I wanted the show just to be me doing my style. I’m not trying to be an expert. I’m not trying to be the best. It’s just me just making drinks the way I make them and talking about them in a way that I think is interesting and succinct. It’s all very natural. I don’t have a script. I have a couple of things that I want to include and we just get to the recipe, hat way there’s nothing I say wrong because there’s nothing … there’s no script. I find it very natural and easy.
What’s your favorite gin cocktail and why?
I go back and forth. It’s between the White Lady and the French 75. The White Lady is exactly the type of cocktail I like the most, shaken, delicate, so you can taste the botanicals of the gin. It works very well with Hendricks because the floral components come through. I’m more of a fan of that style of cocktail than stirred drinks like martinis, as I have a low tolerance and I find them too strong.
The French 75 is probably my other go to. It always feels right. It’s an elegant cocktail, looks beautiful and most bars can make it if you think about it. It’s really just gin, lemon and maybe a bit of sugar and some lime as well in mine. It’s one that you can probably fall back on quite a bit.
What do you see as the next cocktail trend?
As the industry quickly gets more advanced everywhere you’re seeing lots of trends pop up. I just came from Tim Hurley’s seminar and they were talking about the use of aquafaba, a vegan substitute for egg white. Really interesting.
What are your favourite bars?
Tough question! I was very impressed when I went to Australia last year. I’d previously own been to Sydney on holiday and it was my first time to Melbourne. I was just blown away by the attention to detail, the excellence and of course the service. They were so happy to have us there and not just because it was me. You saw it everywhere.
In addition, I enjoy the Tiki bars in Chicago. They’re doing really well. I love Broken Shaker here in Miami. In London, The Savoy is still such a treat. Dandelyan is awesome, they are doing some great things. I’ve only been to Night Jar once, but when I went in there it was possibly one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in a bar.
What do you think makes a great bar?
It’s when you walk in and it feels like you should be there and that you are welcome. That comes from the energy, mainly from service and the bartenders, how they are behaving and whether they are smiling or not. Personally, I prize beautiful décor, service, and energy as the most important things. When it’s grumpy or feels negative, I really don’t like that.
One thing that I’ve really noticed from the American bar scene is that women seem to be much more prominent and at a higher level in the industry compared to other countries. What do you think it is about the bar scene in America that fosters that?
I think it’s two things. First, you have people like Julie (Reiner) and Audrey (Saunders) who have been doing this long enough to have risen up and be mentor quality so that others can be like, “Oh, I want to be like them.” Until you have those aspirational figures, there’s nothing to look up to.
The second thing here, is Speedrack. Lynnette (Marrero) and Ivy (Mix) have done an amazing job pulling women together and giving them an amazing confidence boost and letting them shine.
Finally, do you see there being brand extensions for Hendricks, like a Navy Strength or a Barrel-Aged version?
I couldn’t say yes or no to that. I think there will always be experimentation. Hendricks, by very definition is so unique and very particular. Leslie is an amazing talent and having that level of creativity, if Hendricks were to do a line extension, how exciting would that be? I think everyone would trust that it would be pretty awesome!