Bombay Sapphire’s Artistry of the G&T Workshop. A Q&A with Mr Toby Heap, The Wilderness.
Taking place at intimate bar and cocktail emporium, TT Liquor in Shoreditch, twelve leading bartenders, each representing one of the UK’s most respected bars, showcased a series of three new twists on Bombay Sapphire’s signature G&T.
With participants from the likes of Artesian, Kwānt, Below Stairs, Bramble and more, the bartenders then worked collaboratively with their guests to decide which artistic expression will feature as a serve on their own bar menus across the country for a period of three months commencing this month.
Off The Cuff were privileged enough to be asked to join the workshop to help the bartender’s tailor their delectable creations. Our assigned bartender was the highly skilled Toby Heap of The Wilderness, Birmingham. Following the evening, we caught up with Toby to delve a little further into the ideas behind his cocktails.
An interview with Mr Toby Heap, The Wilderness
OTC: You based your three cocktails on the arts. What gave you the idea to do that?
Toby: As the event was entitled Artistry of the Gin and Tonic, I wanted to go down an artistic route. Originally looking art and music as the main inspiration, I then started to think more into it. Even with a classic Gin and Tonic there’s an art involved in making it. We’ve all had a bad one before with one lonely ice cube slowly melting in its luke warm glass. So, you could say there’s an art to everything. I’ve always believed you should do what you love and turn your passion into a profession, so this is where the idea stemmed from. I furthered my research by looking into other industries which are forgotten/overlooked: art forms like bartending.
OTC: What are your two favourite accompaniments for Bombay Sapphire?
Toby: Vermouth and a lemon twist!
OTC: Did you find the masterclass useful and if so what did you learn?
Toby: I had tonnes of fun at the masterclass! It was lovely to meet Off The Cuff as well as some old and new faces. I found it useful as everyone in the room had a varied knowledge of drinks and the practises behind making them. It’s always refreshing to talk to people and spin ball ideas with others who have slightly less knowledge in an area. If you work in one field for long enough you start to find rhythms in what you do and create boxes for yourself to fit in, whilst someone without any of these boxes will always have the most inventive ideas!
OTC: Tell us a bit more about The Wilderness and its signature style for cocktails.
Toby: The Wilderness is casual fine dining at its best, currently based in the heart of Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter! We hold three AA Rosettes and are Michelin Recommended. So, we’re featured in the guide but have our fingers crossed for our first Michelin Star this year! When you visit our restaurant, you enjoy delicious food and drinks whilst listening to a range of nostalgic and recent rock anthems sure to get your foot tapping. We embody superb quality with a truly relaxed approach, I think in recent years it’s a style of service the guests really appreciate.
As for the drinks I don’t think I really have a signature style – it’s just me on the cocktail front here currently – I just try to create something delicious as best as I can. Complexity is a word that gets thrown around a lot these days, but that’s always what I strive for with drinks for the menu. I try to use flavours people always can understand and relate to – coming out for drinks should never be intimidating, so it’s all about making it as fun for the guest as can be!
We’ve also got some exciting things coming up this year so this space is definitely one to keep your eyes on!
OTC: Your final drink was called Fashion, Describe the drink for us including the components, when it is ideal for and your general thinking behind it.
Toby: Fashion is an aperitif style drink: something easy drinking and bitter sweet. It’s ideal for pre-dinner drinks, or just enjoying a drink in the sun somewhere. I’ve always loved this style of cocktail so it’s always something I enjoy playing with. It’s designed to be served and look similar to champagne as I wanted it to be a celebration of fashion. To do this I force carbonate inside a champagne bottle, charging it with CO2 for effervescence. It’s composed of Bombay Sapphire, bay leaf infused Sauternes – a delicious dessert wine with stone fruit and vanilla notes, homemade foraged elderflower cordial and tonic water. It keeps the bitter sweet refreshing characteristics of a gin and tonic, with a couple of additional flavours, served as a celebration of fashion with that world recognised pop of a champagne bottle.
OTC: How regularly does Wilderness change their cocktail menu?
Toby: Currently the cocktail menu is ever-evolving, being a smaller style of venue with a current cocktail list of 7 drinks… but this might all be changing soon!
OTC: What is your all-time favourite cocktail?
Toby: All-time favourite is always a tricky question! I have 3 drinks I generally go for currently when out and about though: Americano (not the coffee) Campari, Sweet Vermouth and (this might upset a few people) I prefer mine topped with tonic. Adonis, this is a right treat for a relatively low abv drink. Dry Sherry, Sweet Vermouth and Orange Bitters. Last but definitely not least, a Tequila Martini, me and Tequila have always had an affinity for one another and this drink is all me, I like it 3:1 Patron Silver, Martini Ambrato and a dash of Suze, stir it down serve in a chilled glass and a lemon zest.
OTC: Finish this sentence. A cocktail should always…
Toby:…taste right to the person drinking it. It isn’t the bartender’s job to tell you how you like your drinks but going off what you enjoy we might try to steer you down a delicious path of goodies!
OTC: Did you find it useful to talk to the other bartenders at the event?
Toby: Yeah, it was nice to have a catch up with some and meet others for the first time! It’s always interesting to see what people across the UK are up to, as well as how they interpreted the challenge differently to me. Everyone has their own influences, style and mindset and I love discovering others!
OTC: How do you usually test out new cocktails for The Wilderness?
Toby: Generally, I just pass them around as many people as possible to get a decent range of feedback. Working alongside such amazing chefs is an utter blessing because of their understanding of flavour. I always go to the General Manager and Head Chef first though, as you have to keep the higher powers happy and boozy!
OTC: What makes Bombay Sapphire better for creative cocktails above other gin?
Toby: Bombay Sapphire is great for creative serves as it has a slightly more neutral taste compared to other gins due to its vapour infusion of botanicals. This means that it can lend itself nicely to a variety of drinks as it isn’t too heavy in one specific flavour.
Enjoy reading about Bombay Sapphire and Toby from The Wilderness? Check out more of our drinks pieces here.