In conversation with Andre Duncan
Andre is the 2018 Global Jameson Barrelmen’s Homecoming Winner. He has been bartending for over 12 years at various levels and now works as a consultant, creating custom events and education programs.
Since winning the JBH 2018 competition Andre has worked with Jameson on delivering the ‘Grow Your Own Cocktail’ collaborative movement promoting the best of what local communities have to offer. It encourages bartenders to collaborate with their neighbours, source locally and grow organic ingredients in their bars that they can mix in their cocktail. Together Jameson and Andre have delivered the ‘Grow Your Own Cocktail’ module in Canada, Dubai and Israel. He is now a very special member of our family.
Discover his interviews, the serious one… and the other.
Who are you? Tell us about your career. Are you from Quebec?
I was born and raised in Quebec, the French speaking part of Canada. I come from Sherbrooke, a small city between Montreal and Quebec City.
I started bartending nearly 15 years ago, but really got interested in cocktails around 10 years ago. I worked in Australia and in a few countries in Southeast Asia in exchange for a bed and some food.
At the moment, I don't work in bars. My phone keeps ringing and people keep asking me if I do this or do that... and I keep saying yes. I give seminars, do a bit of consultancy, work for companies.
In September, I'll start teaching bartending classes in my hometown for the Ministère de l'Éducation du Québec.
What sort of ingredients can we find in Quebec?
Of course, Quebec is famous for maple products, but we have access to so many delicious things. We have four distinct seasons and they all have their possibilities. Winters are cold, so you have to be creative to preserve ingredients for the cold months. The agricultural scene is very important, so expect beautiful fruits and vegetables. We also have access to wild products that grow naturally, that were used by the native tribes who occupied the land a few centuries ago. Quebec is a huge territory and different regions produce different things. I suggest you get in a car and drive. Be curious.
Tell us about why and how you started to work with local ingredients?
Back in 2017, I qualified for my first National Finals, that was taking place in Toronto. I decided to make a cocktail using ingredients from my childhood. I went to Le Gros Pierre, an orchard where my parents used to take me and my brother very fall. I sat down with Gaetan, the owner, and I told him I wanted to find the right kind of apple to bring my cocktail to its full potential. We tested around 15 kinds of apples. Then we tested 20 different glass. To this day, I still work with Le Gros Pierre every month. That experience opened my mind and now I'm always on the hunt for the best ingredients. I have this policy of always shaking the hand that produces the ingredients I use.
Tell about your experience with Jameson Barrelmen’s Homecoming 2018?
I guess life changing would be appropriate. I always dreamed of being a world champion and it's hard to describe the feeling when your dream becomes your reality. You realize you can achieve anything you set your mind to if you are willing to work for it. If I am being totally honest, the best part of my Jameson is really not the trophy. In the last year, I've been to Ireland 3 times and I've met so many people that I now love like family, I now have brothers and sisters all over the world. These beautiful people I'm still in touch with, they are worth more than any award.
Tell us about the Grow your Own Cocktail project? What have you learnt/discovered?
The project made me fall in love with bartending all over again, to a whole new level. It's crazy when you realize that the ingredients are much more than just things we eat and drink, that they really can tell the story of a country, a culture and the people who use them. It changed my way of traveling, but also the way I see the world, even the place I call home. I learned new techniques and new approaches. I even started to grow vegetables, plants and herbs at home. Not only is it easy, but it feels good to care about something and see it grow.
Watch Andre growing cocktail in Dubai
What local producer should we go visit in Quebec?
Gaspésie holds a very special place in my heart. I went there last year for the first time and I really had the feeling of traveling in my own country. From my home, it's 12-hour drive, but it is worth every second. The best brewers are there, and the beer is amazing. You can find micro distilleries that produce unique spirits, there are people who still forage wild herbs and mushroom by hands, even seaweeds. It really is a gorgeous and overwhelming place. Just talking about it makes me want to jump in my car and go back.
What good bar should we visit in Quebec?
People only seem to care about bars in Montreal and Quebec City, but my favourite bar in the world is in Sherbrooke: The King Hall. It's got everything to please everybody. It's not unusual to see a student enjoying a micro-brewery beer sitting next to a retired judge sipping on a rare whisk(e)y or cognac. The backbar is 2 stories high so there's a sliding ladder for the staff to climb to the top shelves and it holds an impressive spirit collection, of the most impressive in Canada. There are 30 beers on draught and recently, a beer cellar was built to hold an impressive collection of rare and unique bottles. They have a kombucha on tap that changes every week so you can even go there to enjoy non-alcoholic drinks.
Max Pothier, the owner since 2015, really brought this 30-year-old pub to a new level. So yeah, if you come to Quebec, make sure the King Hall is on your bucket list.