‘We’re asking bartenders to think outside of the box,’ says Dre Masso

The influential bartender talks collaboration, creating Altos tequila, and the $50,000 USD prize that could change your career.

‘We’re asking bartenders to think outside of the box,’ says Dre Masso

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In January, legendary London bartender Dre Masso is coming to Australia and New Zealand. Dre has had a considerably creative career, and is in many ways a trailblazer: he got the bartending bug at seminal London institution, The Atlantic Bar & Grill in the 1990s, at a time long before the words craft cocktail were ever uttered — before the arm garters and the professionalisation of bartenders became a thing. Back then, the mark of a great bartender was their flairing chops, the drinks secondary.

We live in a different world today.

Dre also spent time at Lab Bar in London and Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen, among a number of other high-profile venues, has published two cocktail books, and trained thousands of bartenders.

But his biggest impact in many ways — the project that has touched the most people around the world — comes from his experience as the co-creator of Altos Tequila. The collaboration, between him, his creative partner Henry Besant, and Olmeca’s Jesus Hernandez was a first at the time, back in 2009, and he continues to work with the brand today.

He’s visiting Australia — along with tequila legend Julio Bermejo, creator of the Tommy’s Margarita — and New Zealand in January to share his knowledge and advice and to encourage bartenders to enter Altos Tequila’s global comp, The Collective Spirit.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • A finalist from both Australia and New Zealand will be announced in March 2023 and will be flown to Mexico in June 2023 to present at the Global finals.
  • The winner will score with $50,000 USD and a years’ worth of mentoring from the Harvard Innovation Lab.
  • The Collective Spirit is a global competition from Altos Tequila and the Tahona Society, giving hospitality professionals a chance to create and launch a business concept that could change their bars and the industry forever.
  • To enter, submit an idea, concept or business plan focusing on sustainability or social welfare through the Tahona Society website by February 28 2023.
  • But before you enter, catch a masterclass with Dre Masso for advice — he’s touring Australia and New Zealand in January.
Dre Masso & The Collective Spirit masterclass tour dates
Brisbane - The Gresham, Sunday 15th
Sydney - PS40, Monday 16th
Melbourne - Mejico, Tuesday 17th
Adelaide - Crybaby, Wednesday 18th
Perth - Mechanics Institute, Thursday 19th
Auckland - COOPS, Sunday 22nd
Wellington - Hanging Ditch, Monday 23rd

The events in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Auckland and Wellington will be followed by the Altos Very Happy Hour parties, where your hosts will jump behind the bar, bringing drinks from Dre’s London venue The Drinks Trolley and, of course, Julio’s signature Tommy’s.

Below, we’ve got a few quotable highlights from my conversation with Mr Masso, but I’d encourage anyone who is keen to learn more about how to get to the top of your game to give Dre a listen — there’s a wealth of experience to be mined.

Dre Masso is touring Australia and New Zealand in January. Photo: Supplied
Dre Masso is touring Australia and New Zealand in January. Photo: Supplied

The Quotable Dre Masso

“I found The Atlantic Bar & Grill.” Perhaps the best advice for any young bartender wanting to up their game is to go work at a place that is at the top of its game — and in 1990s London, there was no better place than The Atlantic Bar & Grill.

“It was kind of like the Wembley Stadium of bars at the time — it was setting the blueprint for what we now know today,” Dre says.

On collaborations, like that which led to the creation of Altos Tequila: “It has all happened in a very natural and organic way.”

“A lot of what I’ve done has not really been that planned out.” This is a recurring theme among the 30 guests I’ve spoken to for Drinks At Work this year — you’ve got be adaptable in hospitality, and take your chances when opportunity arises.

“We’re asking them to think outside of the box — and a lot of bartenders are intimidated by this process,” he says of the Tahona Society competition and its focus on building business and pitching acumen — but that’s why he and Julio Bermejo are coming to town. As Dre says, “this really is for everyone.

“I’m so proud to be a part of this.”

It’s remarkable to see how they come on day one, and explaining their idea in a certain way; then on day five they’re up on stage in front of a big audience being judged and tested, and it ends up being very polished.”

“I know how inspirational it is... [it’s] the reason I’ve done what I’ve done with this bar.” Dre isn’t just advocating for The Collective Spirit competition — the advice and lessons on offer inspired him to get back into a bar of his own.

“I just think he’s a great life ambassador. It’s so refreshing to be around him.” On the great Julio Bermejo — and I couldn’t agree more. The man is the embodiment of hospitality, and there’s so much to learn from him.

“We enter the lab and there were 40 different expressions.”  On collaborating with Olmeca master distiller Jesus Hernandez on the development of Altos Tequila. “Did that really happen?”

“Often it’s just a feeling.” On what makes a great bar.

“You kind of just know, and you know because of an energy or a feeling.”

“The lights are bright. It’s a bit of a dump. But you walk in and it feels magical.” On one of the world’s special bars, La Capilla in Tequila town, and the intangible, hard to find things that leave an indelible mark in our minds.

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