Bartender out of his shell in collective

Knowledge and networking underpin William Grant & Sons initiative

Dundee bartender Turtle Higgins began his trade career in the kitchen

TURTLE Higgins, general manager of Bird & Bear and Abandon Ship Bar in Dundee, was invited to join William Grant & Sons’ on-trade advocacy programme, the 1887 Collective, this year.

Here he explains how the initiative has benefitted him – and talks cocktails, card games and camping.

How long have you worked in the trade and how did you start?

I’ve been in the trade for almost 20 years, but only full-time since I finished uni ten years ago. I’d always wanted to be an architect growing up, but this has turned out to be what I love doing. I actually started in kitchens, but gravitated to front of house.

Describe your venue and its drinks offer.

Bird & Bear is a contemporary bar and restaurant with a focus on decent food and cocktails with a little something for everyone, within a setting of foliage, bird cages and hip-hop.
Abandon Ship Bar is a dive bar where we do dumb stuff, and have fun doing it. It’s a joint effort with Abandon Ship Apparel and we sell merchandise, serve messy food and enjoy retro arcade games, with a great selection of world beers.

What’s your favourite part of the job?

The variety. I meet people from all walks of life, and no day is ever the same. There’s always a new challenge and we are continuously learning.

What’s your favourite drink and why?

I don’t have one. It all depends on my mood but I have many that remind me of good times. I’m always happy with a good beer, but towards the end of the night I’ll tend to go towards the bitter side of the palate.

What’s your career highlight so far?

The first big competition I won was to design the UK Fernet coin in 2018. This meant so much to me as I was able to combine my creative background with my bartending career in a way that made me re-evaluate how I had been using my skills.

Who do you admire in the industry and why?

Phil Donaldson and AJ McMenemy. They are the driving force behind the company I am with and a large reason for why I enjoy what I am doing. They do not stop. Ever. They’ve shaped the Dundee scene and now are looking further afield, all whilst staying pretty humble and happy that they are providing opportunities to so many people within our close-knit company.

How do you relax outside of work?

On a day off I’ll generally chill with a book or play online gaming. We’ll regularly organise a games night with board and card games, and some decent food. I’m pretty competitive though so I don’t think it’s too relaxing for my girlfriend sometimes!

If you could invite anyone for a drink who would you ask, where would you go and what would you drink?

Probably either of my Grandads. I never knew them as they died before I was a year old so it would be nice to just sit in a local pub in Ireland and enjoy a Guinness and a nip, and talk about nothing of importance.

How did you get involved in the William Grant & Sons 1887 Collective?

We’ve always had a great relationship with William Grant & Sons in Dundee, so I was aware of the collective. I was surprised when I was asked to join as I knew the calibre and potential of a lot of the past members.

In which ways did the 1887 Collective benefit you?

I’ve met people from all over the world that I know will be lifelong friends.
The group of people support each other through anything we are involved in and offer advice or opinions if we need it.

What was your own highlight from the 1887 Collective programme?

Spending a night camping on Mersea Island and watching the sunset on the beach as a group after a day of adventures, foraging and kayaking. I enjoy events that have an element of the outdoors as it breaks up the monotony of being behind the bar or stuck in the office.

How is the 1887 Collective going to help you in your trade career going forward?

I’ve made connections with people through the 1887, both in this year’s collective and the previous three years’, that I would maybe not have done otherwise.

The knowledge I have gained throughout the year has helped me already and this will only prove itself time and again moving forward.