Shine’s advice for a successful spirits career? Big love for yourself, your cocktails, and your guests – advice he will share personally with the winner of the VEEV “Better Way to Drink” competition.
Don’t jump to the end of this story, just to see if we’re telling the truth — okay, go ahead, you know you can’t help yourself, but do come back up here afterwards – but veteran bartender Willy Shine’s last words of advice in this piece are the following…”Big Love!” That really sorts out, in a nutshell, what this crazy world of bartending is all about. At least from Shine’s invaluable, and successfully navigated position.
Take it from a man who knows. A man who has been at it for well over a decade, in front of and behind the bar creating cocktails, serving guests, working with brands, getting creative with spirits, batching thousands of gallons of cocktails at a time, running a consulting business and all the while maintaining his wits about him and balancing a rewarding home life.
Want to succeed, young grasshopper? Want to figure out how you’re going to take that English lit degree and turn it into something productive and revenue-producing that you can be proud of? Want to know the truth that Shine preaches about not being afraid to take risks with your alcohol choices like exploring vodka alternatives such as VEEV (a brand he represents) which are a great way to add an unexpected twist to your cocktail, enhance flavor, and guarantee fresh, organic ingredients?
Then take a page out of Shine’s book. It’s all about big love; big love for yourself (you can’t be efficient if you aren’t confident and believe in yourself and your skills) – though that doesn’t mean being arrogant; big love for spirits, big love for cocktail creation, big love for learning, and big BIG love for welcoming your guests and understanding and delivering exactly what they need.
But don’t take it from us, just because we’ve seen Shine continuously soar with every step he takes in this industry. Take it from the source himself, in his own words.
Recently, Shine took some time out from his busy schedule to share his passion for bartending, in hopes it might inspire you. Currently he’s inspired by the newly reformulated VEEV and the versatility this winter wheat and acai berry spirit offers at 70 proof. He agreed to share this passion personally, when he mentors one talented (and not yet named,) winner of the “Better Way to Drink” competition. The winner of this competition will receive an once-in-a-lifetime prize of hotel stay, airfare, special invitations to seminars, tastings, and exclusive events at Tales of the Cocktail; all this while rubbing elbows with top professionals in the industry alongside Shine.
Enter your cocktail before the June 7th, 2015 deadline at chilledmagazine.com/veev
And, whether you win or not, read the interview below to get some tips from Shine right now.
Chilled: What advice would you give to a novice bartender who wanted to become known in the industry and master the mixology game?
Willy Shine: Don’t be a one-trick pony and learn to be keen to all styles of bartending. Don’t run before you can walk; teach only when you have become an excellent, dedicated student. Stay humble and be a sponge. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Chilled: Tell us three tips for the new bartender wanting to up his/her game.
a) Learn your spirit categories inside and out.
b) Learn the classic building block cocktails inside and out.
c) Get out there. Find opportunities to showcase your skills and put them to the test. VEEV Spirits’ “A Better Way to Drink” Bartender Challenge is an excellent opportunity to make a name for yourself as a bartender. The winner will receive a mentorship by yours truly at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans, travel accommodations, and access to exclusive seminars and events, so you can learn from other pros.
Chilled: What were the obstacles you faced when becoming a professional bartender?
Willy Shine: Sometimes you have to take a step back to take a big step forward. One time I took a server job over the winter in Nantucket Island in order to meet and gain the respect of the local community to ultimately get one of the best jobs on the island.
I began bartending at a very young age so you could say that I grew up and really found myself through bartending and the hospitality industry. There was a point in my career where I made a bad decision and almost paid the ultimate price but with a strong and amazing group of friends and community I prevailed and was given a second chance to become the person I am today.
Early on in my career the only real education was on-the- job training and experience. I gravitated towards the kitchen as I lived with a bunch of chefs in Aspen and on Nantucket Island in the late ’90s. This made me incorporate culinary techniques and fresh ingredients, and ultimately create my first cocktail menus. Now education is everywhere for the up-and-coming bartender and I would advise to learn as much as you can.
Chilled: What are some of the biggest mistakes you’ve made?
Willy Shine: The mistakes I have made in my life and career were more based on making bad decisions. I have always had an incredible work ethic and leadership capabilities, but early on in my career I was trying to make my own way at a very young age and ultimately took a couple wrong turns. I learned my lessons and became a better man and bartender for it.
Chilled: What are some of your greatest personal successes?
Willy Shine: My first great success in my career was when I landed an incredible job at the Pearl & the Boarding House in Nantucket Island. Here is where I learned the true meaning of service and hospitality.
I was a small partner and bar director of The Biltmore Room restaurant in Manhattan in the early 2000s where Bill Grimes gave his last 3-star review.
I was hired as the bar director and head bartender at BED Nightclub & restaurant in 2003 with Dale DeGroff as our cocktail consultant. We had one of the best bar teams to date with the likes of Tim Cooper, Leo DeGroff, Candice Coy, Remy Shobitan, Edwin Medina & John Lermayer amongst many others. 8000 square feet, two floors with a roof deck and the biggest beverage and cocktail program of its time!
Creating a globally recognized Cocktail Consulting company from the ground up in 2007 called Contemporary Cocktails. It was based on bar and cocktail education, events & marketing.
Being chosen as an advisory board member of Liquor.com.
Being chosen as partner and cocktail expert for VEEV Spirits where I travel the country and educate bartenders and consumers on the new VEEV (reformulated VEEV 2.0,) create new signature cocktails, and represent VEEV at industry events like Tales of the Cocktail.
Chilled: What advice would you give to someone who wanted to learn more about the business?
Willy Shine: Bartend for as long as you can because it is the greatest job in the world. It’s a privilege to be able to put smiles on people’s faces on a daily basis. Don’t make the jump into the corporate world too early. That being said, learning all sides of the business is invaluable. Find your passion within this world and set sail.
Chilled: Tell us something most people don’t know about you.
Willy Shine: I was two-sport athlete in college baseball and basketball, and I majored in architecture.
I have stand-up paddled around Manhattan three times.
I’m a dedicated husband, and father of two amazing boys.
Chilled: Is there anything else you’d like new-to-the-game bartenders to know about you and this industry?
Willy Shine: I was a force to be reckoned with behind the bar! I was a dedicated hard- working badass bartender who competed with himself every day to make himself better. I love this industry and would do anything to help any of the up-and-comers to make themselves better bartenders and better people. Big Love!