By David Ransom
Charlotte Voisey doesn’t look back. Ask her why, and she’ll tell you it has nothing to do with her ambitions. It’s more of a physical thing. It causes her no pain (don’t worry, her neck is fine), and actually makes her laugh.
Laughter comes easily to Charlotte. With her easygoing nature and hardworking spirit, she’s found a niche in the world of spirits that few get the opportunity to attain, and she’s making the most of it. As Portfolio Ambassador and award winning “Company Mixologist” for William Grant & Sons, Charlotte is in charge of promotions for a number of brands, most visibly, Hendrick’s Gin, one of the leaders in the wave of new world gins that have taken the cocktail world by storm over the last few years, and to say that she is good at what she does, is an understatement. Charlotte is as equally at home shaking cocktails behind a bar or in competitions, as she is teaching in front of a crowd, and her enthusiasm draws you in. “You’ll find I‘m not shy,” she says. A few minutes in conversation with her, and you’ll realize just how right she is.
Raised in London, England, Charlotte hails from a family of strong minds; all of whom have chosen a different path to their success (her mother is a top graphic designer, and her sister is a physics professor at Cambridge), so it’s no surprise that Charlotte ended up at the top of her chosen profession.
After majoring in international hospitality in university, Charlotte cut her teeth behind the bar in some of the London’s up and coming establishments, eventually working her way up to the management level. After a while, finding she loved the business, but also wanting to see the world a bit, Charlotte left England, much to the dismay of her employers, and spent a couple of years in Barcelona and Buenos Aires, before returning to London at the request of one of her previous employers, who had been thrilled with her work and ambitious ideas, to spearhead the cocktail program as GM at a new venture.
This new venture, Apartment 195, which opened in 2002, ended up being at the forefront of the cocktail movement that was “stirring” in London’s trendy King’s Road at the time. It was her work there, that led Charlotte to enter Class Magazine’s UK Bartender of the Year comptetition in 2004. As the only woman in the field of competitors, “there were 16 of us, 15 boys and me”, Charlotte walked away with the top prize, cementing her place at the upper echelons of the industry.
It was also at Apartment 195, while working “late nights and long days” training and organizing her staff, that Charlotte realized the niche she was most comfortable in was promotions and education, which allowed her to use her now extensive bar knowledge and people skills to teach employees and clients about the industry she had come to love.
In 2005, her star continuing to rise, Charlotte was asked to guest bartend at the Food and Wine Classic in Aspen alongside Tony Abou-Ganim, now considered one of her mentors and a good friend. Afterwards returning to London, Charlotte was soon approached by William Grant & Sons with a concept they thought she’d be perfect for. They were looking for someone with “behind the bar” knowledge, to educate the mixology industry from the inside to drive sales of some of its key brands. Seeing a chance to put her ideas, and ideals, to work, Charlotte accepted the challenge, and in 2006 found herself back in New York. “I was looking for a change AND a challenge” she says, “and I’d been hearing great things about the NY cocktail scene, so I thought, why not!”
Quickly finding the hot spots, introducing herself to the bar crowd in New York (remember, she’s NOT shy), and putting her name out there, Charlotte’s first work was promoting two of William Grant’s scotches: Glenfiddich and The Balvenie. When William Grant brought in Hendrick’s Gin, Charlotte just fell in love with the brand and it’s been a match made in heaven ever since. She says, “You have to be in love with the product you rep. So much time is spent on it; you must be sincere, or it will show through.”
These days, Charlotte is on the road with William Grant’s brands much of the time, balancing brand promotions and education with much sought after cocktail expertise, which she puts to use developing cocktails and cocktail lists around the country. Somehow, she also still finds time to compete internationally, garnering accolades around the globe for her unique cocktail recipes in such events as the World Female Bartender Championships in Italy (Silver Medal in 2006), and Tales of the Cocktail, where her “Punch and Judy” was named Cocktail of the Year in 2008.
I caught up with Charlotte over a couple of cocktails (sadly, not hers) at Gramercy Tavern in New York City recently, and had a chance to ask her a few questions:
DR: White Spirits or Brown?
CV: I like white spirits mostly, I just happen to like them matured for 10-12 years.
DR: Cubed or Crushed ice?
CV: CRUSHED! Especially in a Cuban rum mojito… Everyone has a crushed ice machine at home, don’t they?
DR: Do you have a favorite ingredient?
CV: Angostura Bitters. It really does make everything taste better, and it’s fixed more drinks for me than I care to say.
DR: What was your last big learning experience?
CV: Opening the Mandarin Oriental in Las Vegas, where I created the entire cocktail program, was an enormous learning experience for me. It’s the largest project I’ve done, to date.
DR: What is your favorite spirit to drink straight, neat, or on the rocks?
CV: Aged Rum, such as Havana Club or Zacapa, or a good cognac.
DR: Do you have a favorite garnish?
CV: Citrus spirals. They remind me of when I was a little girl, and dreamed of having curly hair.
DR: What cocktail have you had recently that blew you away? Who’s was it, and why was it special?
CV: The “Vin Amer Fizz” by Jackson Cannon of Eastern Standard in Boston. He makes his own rosé vermouth, and pairs it with apricot and egg white. It’s just beautiful in flavor profile, balance and texture. I remember sipping it and going “Oh My God!”
DR: Should Rappers have spirit brands?
CV: OMG, that’s so funny. It doesn’t make much difference to me, but I do have a funny story to tell on the concept: when Ian Shrager was opening the Gramercy Park Hotel in NYC, he asked me to come up with the spirits program. One night (I was not there), Diddy came in and started pushing to get Ciroc on the list. The managers were all very nice, but firmly told him that “all decisions will have to be approved by Charlotte.” Said Diddy in reply: “Charlotte! Who the hell is Charlotte?!?!” and walked out.
DR: How do you feel about pairing cocktails with multi-course dinners?
CV: While I love a glass of good wine with dinner, I do think it’s a valuable exercise, because it provides the opportunity for the spirits industry to show the versatility of cocktails. The key is not to serve them full size or full strength. I was doing one at Lumiere, Daniel Boulud’s restaurant in Vancouver, BC., and while passing a martini out with the beef dish, I quipped, “This is as close as you’ll get to a glass of red wine all night, so enjoy it,” which they did.
DR: Favorite Beer?
CV: I WILL get killed for this, but… (cringes) Corona with lime… There, I said it! You’re not printing that, I hope…
DR reply: Of course not, next question…
DR: Where do you see yourself in ten years?
CV: Hosting my own TV show about spirits and cocktails.
DR: Describe what you think makes the perfect cocktail.
CV: Easy, three things: All cocktails need to have good balance of flavor, an engaging name, and be well-chilled (sorry to you flaming/warm spiced cocktail guys).
DR: Favorite words to live by?
CV: As Gary Regan says, “Bartenders don’t serve drinks, they serve people.”
DR: Last one. Tell me just why is it that you don’t look back?
CV: It’s not that I don’t (laughs), it’s that I can’t…(laughs again) …and the reason is that every place I’ve ever left has gone out of business…
Did you hear that William Grant?
Punch & Judy
By Charlotte Voisey
½ oz Hendrick’s Gin
1 oz Cognac
¼ oz Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum
½ oz Bols Orange Curacao
2 oz fresh pineapple juice
½ oz fresh lime juice
½ oz fresh orange juice
½ oz agave nectar
2 dashes Angostura bitters
4 mint leaves
Combine all ingredients and shake hard
Strain into a goblet
Garnish with a lime wheel and heavy sprinkles of freshly ground nutmeg