Vance Henderson has a history of working with iconic brands.
In fact, his resume includes spirited names like Flor de Cana Rum, Hendrick’s Gin, Milagro Tequila and Monkey Shoulder Scotch Whisky. He has a knack for creating innovative beverage programs that bring a brand’s drink strategies to life.
Vance worked his way up in the food and cocktail industry, starting as a dishwasher moving up in rank to running beverage programs. Vance’s experience and expertise managing bar initiatives and hosting spirited events led him to launch Flavor Ink, a full-service catering company, and Supperwhere?, an underground dining collective. A gifted bartender, Vance has won several ‘Best of’ cocktail awards and competitions.
Read on, Vance talks crafting cocktails. See why Drambuie is his spirit of choice for creating his latest, well-built cocktail programs.
Tell us about your position as brand ambassador for Drambuie, USA.
First of all, it’s the coolest position on the planet. I’m privileged to travel and share my experience and passion for spirits and fresh, quality ingredients with others. It’s pretty awesome that I get to be myself and be super-creative. Of course, I love being able to help shape the future story of what I like to call our ‘living liquid legend,’ that’s a huge honor.
Tell us a bit about your background in the industry.
I’ve been in the food and cocktail industry for more than 14 years. I’ve learned all sides of the business (back of the house/front of the house). I started in restaurants while in college as a host and server, and was intrigued with the way bartenders engaged with their guests. It was as if they were hosting a show every night to a packed house and I wanted to be a part of it. So, over the years, working my way up through the ranks of the restaurant business I eventually found myself behind the bar. While doing that I eventually opened my own full-service catering company. Throughout my career there has always been this focus on appreciating spirits and quality ingredients, and it really plays out to where I am today with Drambuie.
Tell us about the latest cocktail creations you are launching using Drambuie.
The first major partnership has been with Chameleon Cold Brew coffee, out of Austin, Texas. We are in a season now of really showcasing the versatility of Drambuie and just how it well works in so many different realms. With Chameleon we partnered to create a home delivery package kit through Cocktail Courier, where consumers can go online to purchase the kit to make these cocktails at home. The lead cocktail for this particular package is the DRAMBUIE x CHAMELEON Java Royal, which is very simple to make and uses Drambuie, Green Chartreuse, Chameleon Cold-Brew Vanilla Coffee and some candied ginger. It is absolutely fantastic. We put together a whole entire menu of cocktails that showcase the popularity of cold brew coffee and again the versatility of Drambuie- highlighting how the bold flavors, warm notes, and herbal tastes of the coffee coupled with those of Drambuie really fair well together. Also, with traditional coffee cocktails, you’d think of hot coffee with some type of spirit added, like a cordial you’d pour into it, whereas we riff off of that. These are coffee cocktails that you can drink on the beach or that are great with brunch, plus they are easy to make at home. They do a phenomenal job of breaking up that notion of what coffee cocktails are supposed to be and how they taste.
I’m very happy and excited about these new cocktails – they work well for the fall and winter seasons as well as for the holidays. We’ve also created some punches, some variations on eggnog, a hot chocolate recipe, hot buttered rum (we call it the Hot Honey Butter) and a few other cocktails. They’re fun, innovative cocktails and showcase Drambuie in a way that’s different from how people usually see or think about the liqueur.
Talk to us about the inspiration for your cocktail menus.
Having been behind the bar and now on the brand side, the base for me is to really showcase the quality of the spirit- in this case Drambuie and its rich history. It’s not by any means a fly by night brand, it’s been around for more than 270 years and that is a testament to its quality and how it has stood the test of time. I like to say that Drambuie is both timely and timeless because as much as it was relevant then, Drambuie is in the very same place – versatile and relevant – in today’s cocktail culture.
This is not a ‘stay in your lane’ type of liqueur. It is about allowing bartenders to experiment and push their creative boundaries. Drambuie is an aged Scotch whisky liqueur that has been blended and infused with heather honey and herbs and spices with this beautiful brass color that comes from infusions with saffron- it is truly an icon. And that is why I call it a ‘living liquid legend.’ Its history testifies that it is, in fact, a legend and what we endeavor to do is prove that its living- it serves a purpose. We love and respect and will always honor our classic Rusty Nail but Drambuie is so much more than the Rusty Nail.
We’re asking bartenders to see beyond that iconic cocktail. We are linking and drawing a parallel between Drambuie and jazz. I am loving that, because with jazz (straight ahead jazz) there was no script for how you should do it, just like a Drambuie cocktail. The artist (or the bartender) has a blank palate for where they want to go, and they allow themselves to be inspired, to use whatever colors, notes, feelings and create something fantastic, so it’s that character that I pull from. I want to impart that improvisation on bartenders – to think beyond the walls and to dig in and create something you feel. Not something that follows a pattern. You have to feel it and it comes from within. That is what I’m seeing across the country when I travel, bartenders are creating some of the most phenomenal cocktails that I have seen in a while and it’s even more inspiring because it’s with this legendary liquid. Once they’ve taken that first taste of Drambuie and pick up those herbal, honey and spiced notes, you see their intuition meeting the instrumentation in their minds and then they just take off from there. That is really amazing for me to see.
Have you always been a fan of Drambuie?
Since I’ve been behind the bar, I’ve always been aware of Drambuie – working in establishments that carried it, serving guests who requested it. I started out in a bar at Union Station in Washington, D.C. In the early 2000s it was all commuters and people on Capitol Hill, and they were all drinking the classics, so the Rusty Nail was a popular order and by making them, you’d ask, ‘so what is this Drambuie anyway?’ This liqueur is unlike any other, it’s 40% ABV, so it carries a strength that stands on its own and doesn’t have to be used with another spirit. But if you are pairing it with something else, it adds a depth of flavor and additional character to the cocktail. So yes, it’s kind of stuck with me over the years. Drambuie is that ‘something’ I’ve always reached for when looking for an extra touch for my cocktails and it always fits extremely well.
Drambuie has been around for over two hundred years. What do you find most interesting about the brands heritage?
Drambuie has a character all its own. It’s a warrior, going back all these years, making its way through the Isle of Skye with Bonnie Prince Charlie, through the MacKinnon Clan and over all these years. The Rusty Nail was popular during the Rat Pack years – that’s what was fashionable and cool. Classic is cool now and vintage is where it’s at. Drambuie is a modern classic. Drambuie is embracing that character of hip and cool, and lends its versatility to many different settings.
We are in different periods of relevancy now, where Drambuie doesn’t belong in one place. It can fit everywhere, but it has to be appreciated. Bartenders have to be intentional about its use. It takes that type of bartender who will dig in to their creativity- to make something that is the new modern standard.
What are some simple cocktails that drinkers can make to familiarize themselves with the liqueur?
Our latest is the Drambuie Collins; it’s extremely simple, I call it the 1,2,4: 1 part lemon juice, 2 parts Drambuie, 4 parts club soda, 8 mint leaves- accessible ingredients, easy to remember and simple to build. Put all the ingredients in a Collins glass over ice and stir to mix. It is one of my favorites and my go-to cocktail when reintroducing Drambuie. The essence of Drambuie comes through in this cocktail and it’s very approachable to the palate.
Another is the iconic Rusty Nail – strong, spirit forward, sweet. The Drambuie Collins is refreshing, light, an easy sip. I like to think of the Drambuie Collins as a cocktail that opens the liqueur, the same way you would add a drop of water to open a Scotch. With the Collins you can taste each note.
Also, with the Collins base, and using the 124-step, this cocktail can be manipulated into something else, putting a spin on it in different directions. You can switch out herbs or add bitters, or add other bubbles in place of the club soda. Down at Tales of the Cocktail we hosted a spirited dinner and created the Drambuie Creole Collins. We kept the 124 – 1 part lemon juice, 2 parts Drambuie and 4 parts club soda- but I infused the Drambuie with chili flakes and added bright red creole bitters. I infused one bottle of Drambuie and two tablespoons of red chili flakes for about an hour and added a couple dashes of bright red creole bitters. It looked gorgeous, really an eye catcher, and carried a nice spice. Then you take that sip, with everything mixed, and the taste is easy, refreshing and light but full of character and depth. It’s this beautiful, tall gold brass liquid and with a rim of red bitters over the top and mint floating on top. Just a simple variation on a very simple cocktail.
Talk to us about the popularity of whiskey today. Are you surprised that whiskey has become so popular?
I’m not. We are already seeing that huge interest in whisky cocktails and some exciting, versatile drinks being served out there, like the Drambuie Collins. I think that when it comes to Scotch and Bourbon or American Whiskey, the bartender and the trade are looking for items that are close to home, easily accessible and brands that are authentic. They’re looking for ingredients that take time, have character, are not mass produced or are ‘get lost’ spirits. They want spirits that are rich, that have a heritage and also tell a story. It’s a natural fit for Drambuie. The brand meticulously adds herbs and spices and ingredients to a recipe that has been so closely guarded for all these years. I’m still asking if one day I will be able to find out what that is exactly. How high up do I have to go in the brand to get an idea of what makes up this miraculous blend?
What would you like bartenders to know about Drambuie?
We are looking to bring Drambuie to the men, women and bartenders all over the world who regularly drink premium spirits and have an appreciation for craft cocktails. We are looking to that group of people who value authentic brands and those who are open to new tastes and sophisticated flavors. Drambuie is without question timeless and timely. It is versatile and it works in any form or fashion (from coffee cocktails to tiki cocktails) and complements all spirits (mezcal, gin).
So to the bartenders, stay tuned…I’m on my way! I want to show bartenders that they can’t be afraid to improvise and let their intuition meet the instrumentation when it relates to Drambuie.
Must Mix Drambuie Coffee Cocktails From Vance Henderson, Drambuie National Ambassador
Drambuie Ice Kaffe
Tico, Washington D.C.
- 3/4 parts Drambuie
- 3/4 parts Tequila Cream
- 1/2 parts Light Agave
- 1 1/2 parts Milk
- 1 1/2 parts Coffee
Preparation: Pour all ingredients into a cocktail shaker and shake 3 times. Double-strain into an Old Fashioned glass. Garnish with a frozen coffee ball.
- 1 part Drambuie
- 1/2 part Green Chartreuse
- 3 parts Chameleon Cold-Brew Vanilla Coffee Concentrate
Preparation: Combine with ice in a rocks glass, stir until well chilled. Garnish with a skewered piece of candied ginger.
Apples & Honey
- 1 1/4 parts Drambuie
- 2 parts Pressed Apple Cider
- 3/4 part Lime Juice
- 1 small pinch Salt
- 1 dash Angostura Bitters
- 1 part Sparkling White Wine (For Dryer Cocktail 2 parts Sparkling Wine)
Preparation: Combine liquid ingredients and salt minus wine into a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake and strain over ice. Pour into Double Rocks glass. Top with Sparkling wine and garnish with thin apple slices and mint.