In this instalment of Connect the Gram, we meet Matt H aka the Amateur Mixologist, the Mixing Brit who we've also had the pleasure of connecting in real life with at London Cocktail Week 2017. Affable, charismatic and a smooth talker when it comes to cocktails (he also has his own channel on YouTube), Matt has impressed lots of 'grammers with his creative concoctions, made all the more impressive when we find out they're mostly conjured up within a 20 minute window, between juggling a full time job, a kid and organising Insta campaigns such as #peacepours and the upcoming #brancamentaday on 2 December 2017. Want to know how he does it? Read on to find out!
What’s your IG handle and tell us a little bit about yourself
My name’s Matt but I’m also known as @theamateurmixologist on Instagram. I’m from the UK; a Londoner born and bred…it’s a city I’m hugely passionate about and thankful for in how it's helped to frame my view of the world. Nowadays, I live in Southend, an hour East from London on the coast, with my Northern Irish wife of 11 years and our hilarious three year old boy.
Cocktails are a hobby for me, hence my IG name, but for a day job I’m an Information Architect and UX Strategist, running my own agency with my wife. I love exploring, culture, travel, football, good coffee, books and collecting antique maps that I customise and sell on Etsy (and sometimes feature as props in cocktail photos).
Do you remember how your interest in cocktails started?
It all started with gin (which could sound like the start of a therapy session). I don’t recall exactly when, but I began drinking G&Ts with my wife, which led me to discover the huge range on offer, all made possible by the distiller’s choice of botanicals. This realisation that the flavour of spirits wasn’t limited to broad categories of rum, gin or bourbon took me on a journey that slowly saw me buying different bottles to pair with my gin base: vermouth, bitters etc
When did you start your Instagram account and what was the motivation for it?
My parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 2016 and duly, my siblings and I threw a big party for friends and family to celebrate the occasion. As part of the day I created a choice of two cocktails for the guests inspired by ‘Gold’ for their Golden Anniversary.
On a whim, that same night, I decided to put photos of my two drinks up on Instagram. I have a private Instagram account for day-to-day photos and I’d become increasingly aware that my friends might not want to see every photo I took of a rocks glass with ice cubes in it. With no plan for anything more, I picked a random name for a new account and posted the photos there.
From then on, I perhaps made a cocktail and posted a photo every couple of weeks, slung in a few hashtags for good measure but never really engaged with people. Cue the third week of January 2017 with 400 followers, I realised I didn’t have a new year’s resolution, so in a room with a bunch of friends announced that I resolved to be more purposeful with my boozy account as a creative outlet. Three months later and I’d posted a cocktail photo every day since that night and discovered a generous community of global drinkstagrammers I am glad to be a part of.
How often do you post and do you have a process for deciding what to make/feature on each post?
I try to post as often as I can, but posting daily has become increasingly difficult in the balance of running a business, parenting, being part of my local community etc. The majority of the time there’s a small window of opportunity between the end of work and my son’s bath/bed routine when I can take 20 minutes to mix a drink and take a photo. I like to imagine myself as the 1980s American action hero, MacGyver, able to perform any cocktail related task in a tight window of opportunity with only a paperclip and some lemon zest to either make a Sazerac or stop a mineshaft from caving in on itself.
My choice of what to make is often governed by the practicalities of which ingredients I have in the house but I try to be thematic wherever possible as there are countless days dedicated to different spirits, many of which I take part in. I see making a cocktail as a combination of being like a chef when it comes to ingredients and an artist when it comes to narrative. Anyone who has ever drunk or mixed a craft or classic cocktail will see the art that has gone into it and all art can tell a story, so if something happens in the world that impacts people, a drink can be made in response to that can bring inspiration or comfort; if there’s a national day for pancakes, or flowers, or MacGyver, a drink can be inspired by that too,
Beyond those themes, I don’t own a lot of cocktail books but regularly search Diffordsguide and spend a lot of time crafting ideas in the Notes section on my phone. I’m also passionate about supporting local producers, so try to highlight spirits and mixers made in the UK, often by people like me, starting their own business and trying to make a living out of something they’re deeply passionate about.
What has been the weirdest/strangest cocktail you’ve made or drank, where you thought on paper, all the ingredients wouldn’t mix together well, or it used a particularly insane ingredient? Did it work?
I washed a cocktail in Marmite (vegemite) once, I drank it but I was definitely too heavy handed with the yeasty goodness. I also began attempting fat washes earlier this year and used paté washed overproof gin with a lemon shrub and chartreuse; this was pretty special, but again I wish I’d used less of the fat.
I’ve taken part in a few cocktail competitions and reached a couple of finals. In these environments I’m increasingly aware that amateurs have a freedom to experiment with weird and strange ideas in a way that many full time bartenders aren’t able to, simply because they’re working every night behind the bar, mixing the drinks that are set by their menus.
The flip side of the competition experience is that I fall behind in my technical abilities when compared to people who shake and stir for 30 - 40 hours a week. The day after a regional final, where I’d been mixing in front of judges with clipboards, I took out my Boston Shaker set at a social event with friends and proceeded to smash the glass can into a million pieces smothering people with egg white and shrapnel. As I picked the shards from my hands and albumen from my hair, I was relieved it hadn’t happened 24 hours earlier.
Introduce us to the one cocktail ingredient you cannot do without and tell us what you love so much about it
A while ago I started using a 50/50 splits for mixers in a lot of my tall drinks. Inspired by the ginger ale and cola used in Summer Cups. If any drink calls for Tonic or Ginger Ale, try going 50/50 with them both. The combination of the quinine and the ginger is wonderful but it also looks pretty good when you simultaneously pour from two bottles.
Aside from that, vinegar has become a go to. I make a lot of homemade shrubs: generally equal parts vinegar, fruit and sugar, but I’ve also begun adding dashes of vinegar on its own. Try out just 5ml of apple cider vinegar in a tall gin or rum drink and you’ll be amazed by the transformation it makes.
Tell us about 3 bars you'd recommend to a fellow enthusiast visiting your hometown
London and Belfast are my primary cocktailing locations and there are so many different kinds of vibes and experiences and views, but here’s three for each but if you’re ever visiting, message me and I’ll give you the long lists.....
- Dandelyan Bar
- Duck and Waffle
- XXX Liquor
- Berts Jazz Bar
We’re throwing a cocktail party at home! Throw me some of your cheat sheet tips for making cocktails for the masses (and still have a good time!)
Firstly, BATCH. If you can pre make a cocktail in a large batch, then all you have to do is pour…or let your guests help themselves from a punch bowl or tap.
Secondly, BLEND. If you want to make cocktails with egg whites for large numbers of people, your life will be transformed by your blender. Throw all your pre-chilled ingredients in with the egg whites and a little water to simulate the dilution from ice, then press a button. Just make sure you pour quickly to share that foamy goodness around all the glasses.
Thirdly, PREP. If you’re planning extravagant garnishes or even just a few citrus twists. Cut them all in advance and keep them in the fridge. This will make the finishing touches a whole lot easier.
Thanks for speaking to us Matt! You can find him on Instagram as @theamateurmixologist and on YouTube here