“ Over nearly 30 years I believe I’ve made and sampled more cocktails than anybody else in history – and I’m still going ” – Simon Difford.
Simon Difford – a bar industry guru, the owner and chief editor of the most renowned drinks websites in the world – diffordsguide.com. Famous for his encyclopedic knowledge of cocktails, Simon is rather a writer than a bartender, but you can hardly find anyone who knows alcohol better than he does. In the early 1990-s Simon started compiling a database of cocktails and spirits used in them, and in 2001 he published his first book with 1,000 recipes. Today Simon’s electronic guide counts over 4,500 cocktails. However, Simon Difford doesn’t rest on his laurels and keeps on searching and trying out new recipes. We asked Simon how his love of cocktails started, how many recipes he knows by heart, what cocktails he prefers for himself and what he does in his free time.
How many recipes of cocktails do you know and could cook without looking into the recipe book?)
Very few. There are over 4,500 cocktails on our database and I’m continually looking at and trying out new recipes to add to this. I can try as many as 10 different variations on a recipe before deciding which one I think is best and then I also revisit recipes to adjust if I come across a better version. This is very different to the period I spent working in a bar where we had just 30 or so cocktails on our menu, and as it was a Tex-Mex restaurant people mostly ordered blended Margaritas and a handful of other drinks. I could make those in my sleep without looking at spec.
You are a bartender or a writer at the end?
I’m a drinker who writes for a living. I can make tasty cocktails, but I’d never claim to be a bartender. Bartending is so much more than just making drinks.
When and how your interest in bar culture started?
Back in 1990 I was a wholesaler supplying liquor stores and restaurants. I also had my own liquor store. My interest in cocktail culture started when the owner of a neighbouring American restaurant that specialised in cocktails asked me to obtain what were then specialist hard to obtain ingredients for him – Monin syrups, cream of coconut and such like. It changed my business and life – I became a cocktail specialist.
What point was crucial in the creation of Difford’s Guide? What goals did you set at that time? Have you managed to achieve them?
Very early in the 1990s I started building a database of both cocktails and the spirits and liqueurs used in them. Originally, this was for my own benefit. When I met Dick Bradsell in 1997 he helped build this and convinced me of its importance. These databases are the foundation of Difford’s Guide. In 2001, we published our first cocktail book with 1,000 cocktail recipes. We made and photographed every drink. This brought my database to life. When our IT Director, Harry, joined the company almost a decade ago he made it available to the world via our website.
Gurus of the bar industry from different countries congratulated you on your 50th birthday – these were dozens of congratulations in one video. Tell us, please, how does it feel to have friends in every corner of the world?
Travel much and drink in lots of bars. Be sure to buy rounds and tip well.
What else can surprise you?
Discovering great drinks in the most unlikely locations.
Does a person who knows thousands of recipes have a favourite cocktail?
I wouldn’t say I know 1000’s of cocktails (see above) but I have made and drunk 1000’s of different cocktails. Over nearly 30 years I believe I’ve made and sampled more cocktails than anybody else in history – and I’m still going (at least at the time of writing). My favourite cocktail for decades has been a Daiquiri.
What is the funniest cocktail name you have ever heard/invented yourself?
In-Seine is a cocktail I created for the lunch of St-Germain liqueur, a liqueur named after a district on the left bank of the River Seine. It also includes absinthe, which in the early 1900s was thought to turn drinkers insane.
What is the most popular cocktail in your Guide?
Porn Star Martini is still the most viewed recipe – but I’ve noticed its popularity waning. I use fresh passion fruit to make our Porn Star recipe tasty. However, there are many better drinks on our database. Perhaps one day, one of them will be as popular as a Porn Star Martini. It’s all in the name I guess.
What could you name a spirit of the future (nearest or far)?
It’s not a spirit but I believe sake is an underrated category which will find more mass market appeal in the future.
What was the weirdest cocktail you ever made/tried/saw in your life?
Atholl Brose is made with oatmeal water and it’s delicious.
Describe your own cocktails in one or two words. What are they? What are your secrets of cocktail preparation?
Hopefully, they are perfectly balanced and definitely simple and easy to replicate. Simple equals beautiful.
You often travel. Which countries and local products impressed you the most?
Greece always lifts my spirits. It’s a country with its own problems but despite this the Greeks excel at hospitality. It’s a warm country in every respect.
What projects take most of your time today?
Continually updating and adding to the content, and improving the functionality of our website occupies most of my time. However, I’ve been working on a new liqueur and that has been a fun diversion. I’m also building two new bars – a bar in our new office and a Tiki bar in our garden. I’m enjoying weekends with power tools and bits of wood.
Tell us, please, about your future projects.
We launched our Greek website with Denny and Eleni more than three years ago. Since then we’ve launched local Difford’s Guide websites in Brazil, Mexico, Netherlands and Australia. In the future I hope we can add to these, perhaps even in Ukraine.
Photo credits – Difford’s Guide