Talking Shop (and Cocktail Knowledge) with Philip Duff

Philip Duff
Philip Duff has been at the forefront of the spirits industry for years, and shares his passion with his peers through education.

If you've learned something new in the past few years at Tales of the Cocktail, you very likely have Philip Duff to thank. The bartender, educator and consultant also acts as Tales' own Director of Education, heading up the seminar selection process and doing a whole lot of behind-the-scenes legwork to ensure that Tales constantly offers new ways for bartenders to connect and learn about the industry. (You can learn a little more about that process over here.)

But outside of his work with Tales, Duff is also no stranger to the Spirited Awards, having made the top ten in categories like Best Drinks Ambassador (for his work with Bols in 2008), Best Cocktail Writer (2013) and Best Bar Mentor (2015). In 2012, Duff received the Golden Spirit Award, given to the presenter who receives the highest evaluation scores from seminar attendees. We asked Duff to share his thoughts on how the industry has shifted since then.

How did things change for you and your career after winning a Spirited Award?

Because the Spirited Awards are the most important in the world of mixology and bars, they lead to intense publicity and conversation. After winning one, being part of that conversation gave me an opportunity to talk about how important Tales of the Cocktail, and the larger mixology community, is, often to people and media outlets who would never normally cover mixology.

Looking back on the last decade, what have been some of the biggest professional or creative challenges you’ve faced since the year you won?

The more you are asked to speak, and consult, and appear, the less time you have to read, and research, and digest, and create, so the curse of success is real! It is also a blessing; the opportunity to travel to every corner of the world and meet the most diverse, engaging and passionate bartenders in the world is a privilege I hope I will never take for granted.

What are some of the biggest differences between the industry in the year you won, and the industry today?

With every passing year, it became less about knowledge — which is now largely free, and universally, instantly, available online — and more about explaining the context of those facts, and what they mean.

What are some of the positive changes that have happened in the industry when you won, and some of the negatives?

A positive is that everyone, everywhere, knows the "what" about most things; a negative is that fewer and fewer people, anywhere, know the "how" or (more importantly) the "why".

What about some of the biggest surprises?

The continued wild success of #SEDTalks (at Tales of the Cocktail) is very pleasing, as no-one, myself included, saw that coming; I'm also delighted that the market for pleasant, low-key, quiet bars serving excellent drinks to well-behaved people continues to expand.

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