By Dave Hunter
AIDAN Bowie is a solid example of the impact Scotland’s bartenders are having on the world stage.
Now the head bartender at The Aviary in New York, Aidan began his career in the licensed trade collecting glasses at Edinburgh bar Tigerlily, before relocating to Glasgow and working behind the bar at The Blythswood under head bartender Mal Spence.
A stint as brand ambassador for Martin Miller’s gin followed, before Aidan moved back behind the bar – this time at newly-opened London cocktail bar, Dandelyan.
“The way they (at Dandelyan) approached things was very different to how we approached things at Blythswood,” said Aidan.
“So I went there and I’d put up a drink and they would chuck it down the sink because it didn’t look good or wasn’t done in a specific way.
“I’d gone down there with this idea that I knew my stuff and it was an entirely new learning experience. What I got from it was amazing. I worked with some really wonderful bartenders and got to learn a lot from them.”
It was during his time at Dandelyan that Aidan took part in Diageo’s World Class competition, emerging as the winner of the GB final of the contest in 2016.
He said: “I entered the competition to test myself and to meet new people in the industry.
“I ended up winning it, which was ridiculous.”
The famously tough competition took him to Miami for the global final. Though he missed out on the title of overall winner (the competition was won by French bartender Jennifer Le Nechet that year) it was an opportunity to meet like-minded people from across the world.
“It’s a really wonderful opportunity to network, so some people approached it as a networking thing and made sure they were sociable and relaxed and spoke to the rest of the competitors,” said Aidan.
“Others would just hide in their rooms and practice. It depends on what your personality is.
“I was very much of the opinion that I was in Miami, there were hundreds of people there that share the same passion, so it was a nice opportunity to meet new people.”
Relationships have played an important role in Aidan’s career.
When he first moved to Glasgow it was to work with a bartender (Spence) that he knew and had worked with at Tigerlily.
Similarly, Dandelyan owner Ryan Chetiyawardana and Aidan knew each other from the latter’s time at Edinburgh bar Bramble, as well as Aidan’s Martin Miller stint.
And, last year, when Chicago cocktail bar The Aviary was looking for someone to head up the two bars at its soon-to-open New York venue, one of the team knew Aidan and knew he was keen to work in the city.
For Aidan, it was an opportunity to work for a company he had been interested in since his days in Glasgow.
He said: “Even at Blythswood I had started to follow what The Aviary had been doing, because their approach to drinks is really good. They were doing all this cool stuff with ice.
“Even in Glasgow, when I first started bartending, I’d been following them. So to then work with them is cool.”
And while he considers the standard of cocktail bars in Scotland, London and New York to be very close, the venues in the Big Apple do benefit from a more ingrained cocktail culture.
“I think at the top level bars the standards are great across the board,” said Aidan.
“But the cool thing about New York is that it’s had a cocktail culture for so long that the guests know exactly how they want their drink. And that’s something that was new for me.
“People are like ‘I want this Margarita, I want it with this type of tequila, and I want it like this’.”
Knowledge – on both sides of the bar – has driven the growth of the cocktail scene in the UK and overseas. And Aidan advised any aspiring mixologist to learn everything they can from more experienced bartenders.
“Rather than jumping ship every six months because there’s something shiny, spend time working in a venue that’s going to look after you and learn from the people around you,” he said.
“There’s opportunities everywhere to learn and develop.
“And if you’re hungry and driven then you’ll find them.”