At Home With... Leon Wilkes Back
Leon, first thing's first, we saw recently you moved back up to Edinburgh. We love Edinburgh! One of our favourite cities to spend time in. Does it feel good to be home? & how's the new job been?
It does feel great to be home, like yourselves at Canvas I love the city of Edinburgh dearly. It holds lots of special memories for me. One of which was when I was a young bartender bartending in Tigerlily when I was in my late teens early 20’s and now, after a number of years away from the city I've come back to Edinburgh and taken on the role of Bar Manager. It has definitely been a challenging time for the industry and Tigerlily no different. Its been great to come back, begin to build a new team and I am very excited for the future of the bar.
In fact, next month we have Edinburgh Cocktail Week which we have a special cocktail on in partnership with Ketel One. Check out the drink here
I spent a lot of the first lockdown experimenting with cocktails at home, applying my knowledge of cocktails in the home setting. What I discovered is that not only can you make world-class cocktails in the comfort of your own home, but you actually have more control of the variables to make extremely high quality drinks. I set myself a little task to find out exactly how many variables I had control over at home and noted them to compare the difference when I got back to a bar.
I'm always of the opinion that there is always a correct drink for a time and place, and of course this changes from person to person. I think for me I enjoy making Martinis at home the most as they still have this moment of bliss attached to them for me. My wife, Kaitlin, and I do enjoy getting a little snack board arranged, stirring up a couple of martinis and enjoying each others company at home.
We know ice is a huge component of a great cocktail, and we know you're a big fan of making bangin' clear ice at home. Could you share your secrets with the Guestlist?So there is a famous bartender called Sasha Petraske who opened a bar called Milk & Honey in New York. He believed that are 3 simple rules to making cocktails. These I have applied in my home bar and honestly if you really follow these rules they will never fail you.
1. Put the ice in last - this makes sure you don’t over dilute your drinks before shaking, stirring or building them in a glass.
2. Citrus must be fresh - any citrus juice your are using try to juice it the moment you need it for your chosen cocktail, as soon as it is cut open it starts to go off. Fresh is Best.
3. Ice - you can make better ice at home than. 99% of the bars out there.
I have a fascination with clear ice at home and also in cocktail bars as it has a real “sexy” elegance to it. You see even a Gin & Tonic with a big spear of ice or nice big chunks and it draws you in. It becomes a key part of the experience you are having.
As far as tips go, make sure your freezer is very clean as ice takes on flavour of anything that might be lingering around. Please follow the steps I have in the video I have below and I promise you will then have better ice in your freezer at home than most bars around.
Leon's clear ice at home tutorial
For me, it's about treating cocktail time the same as a nice dinner. It's about the sense of occasion, and I believe you can make an occasion happen yourself at home. Three key elements for me would be:
1. Good music - (I'm currently into Lo-Fi Spotify playlists)
2. Good Company
3. Tasty Drinks
This is the foundation of any great experience. Elevation of the experience is the the attention to detail, whatever they might be - scented candles, fairy lights, flowers. I also think its important to look at the details that make your home what it is, and highlighting these things. Maybe you have a hero setting in your house like a coffee table or dining table. Kaitlin and I have a coffee table at home where everyone gathers around, its usually dressed in our favourite nibbles and candles around the room. It acts as the centre-piece to the evening. 'The Devil is in the detail' I think best way to sum up my Philosophy of elevating an experience.
With that in mind, set the scene for us. You're having a few pals round for some drinks, what's the plan? What world are we walking into?
So if we host anyone in our home we like to look after them as well as we can. If we know we going to have couple of drinks I will have plenty ice prepared, glasses in the freezer nice and frosty. We have a wee trolley which I roll out to make drinks on so I am not away from everyone and I can be next to them all and chatting away.
My Wife and I would prep our coffee table with our favourite nibbles, set candles around the room & some nice sexy lighting - not to bright. Both Kaitlin and I believe there is a good drink for every occasion, and that includes those not drinking. Aside from prepping alcoholic drinks we also recently made a non alcoholic punch as one of our friends coming didn’t drink alcohol.
When it comes to the brands & products I have at home I have a range that I've built up over the years. I have of course a huge connection to Bacardi Rum, whom I spent the best part of year working alongside for my own global campaign for my Bacardi Legacy Cocktail, Queen Street - a homage to the Edinburgh Hospitality community. You will always find a bottle of Bacardi Rum on my shelves.
I also work for a beautiful bitters Brand called Bittered Sling as their UK/ Scotland Ambassador. Something which fits with my philosophy of 'the Devil is in the detail' is adding bitters into your cocktails to really elevate your drinking experience - you can really mix up the flavours you play with. One of my favourite examples is taking a Tom Collins and adding in Bittered Sling Lem Marrakech Bitters, it takes this delicious classic cocktail to a different level of spice and complexity. (For other tasty recipes with Bittered Sling check out the brand on instagram)
If you want to follow Leon, Bittered Sling & Tigerlily they're all on instagram here, here & here!