‘Everyone has a black belt in bitching about New York but it’s an amazing city’

Wild Geese: Philip Duff is a drinks educator and consultant from Skerries

Philip Duff: ‘My brand, Old Duff Genever, got off to a good start’

Philip Duff: ‘My brand, Old Duff Genever, got off to a good start’

 

Inspired by the 1987 Tom Cruise movie Cocktail, Philip Duff has travelled the world making drinks. Along the way, he has become an influential figure in the global drinks industry. An expert on distilled products as well as a speaker, consultant and educator, he has also created his own drinks brand.

“I always wanted to work in the industry. I worked in bars during my time studying international marketing and French in Dundalk and, subsequently, DIT [Dublin Institute of Technology] in the late 1980s.”

Duff, who is from Skerries, moved to London in the early 1990s, where he wanted to be part of the burgeoning nightlife scene, and got a job bartending at TGI Fridays. “This was before the cocktail revolution began and classic drinks like screwdrivers and piña coladas were the popular choice.”

“I worked around London, avoiding the rave clubs, while becoming part of a new drinks movement, which involved bespoke bars and roof terraces and slick new cocktails. ”

Duff got a job in PJs bar in Kensington near Harrods, where guests included Princess Diana and other celebrities.

London was busy and opportunities were plentiful but, just like with Tom Cruise, the Caribbean called and he answered. “I moved to the Cayman Islands in 1994 to work in a bar. It was a great time, but even paradise can have its downsides, with monsoons and the somewhat claustrophobic smallness of the island I was living on, but it was an amazing experience.”

Upon returning to Europe, Duff moved to Rotterdam in the Netherlands. “I founded Liquid Solutions Bar & Beverage consulting for the global bar and beverage industry. I offer marketing consultancy and repositioning for some of the world’s top alcohol brands.”

He also managed numerous bars in the Hague and Rotterdam before co-founding Door 74 in Amsterdam in 1999. “It was Holland’s first-ever speakeasy-style cocktail bar, which went on to become internationally famous and the first Dutch bar to feature in the World’s 50 Best Bars list.

“Back then, cocktail books were nonexistent, so you had to learn on the job. As a result, I became really cocktail focused, creating new drinks.”

Old gin recipe

His expertise led to global ambassador roles and presenter roles as a mixology expert. Duff won the Spirited Awards Golden Spirit award for world’s best presenter in New Orleans in 2012 and recreated the oldest known recipe for gin from a 1495 Dutch-language book in the British Library.

After meeting an American woman, the opportunity to move again beckoned. “When she moved home to New York, I decided to go with her. Initially, I spent three weeks on and three weeks off there, while my Dutch business partner was running the day-to-day of Door 24, but he eventually bought me out and I moved over full time.”

Duff has lived on the Upper East Side since 2009, but travels the world regularly as a drinks educator and consultant, often visiting more than 40 countries in a year.

In 2017 he founded his own genever brand. “While I was living in Holland, I got into genever, which I took with me on my travels. After helping create a genever brand for Bols – one of my clients – I decided to make my own brand.

“Genever is not like gin, which can be distilled from any raw material; rather it is always made from grains like rye, malted barley and corn.”

Genever first appeared in the Netherlands some time during the 15th and 16th centuries, starting its life with a whiskey flavour, before more juniper was added.

“My brand, Old Duff Genever, got off to a good start as its very first order was from the three-Michelin-starred Eleven Madison Park [one of the world’s top restaurants at the time] and it won double gold at the San Francisco World Spirits competition. Just four years later Old Duff Genever is now available in the US, Britain, the EU and the Far East.”

Pandemic

Duff says the spirits industry has been doing well for several decades now and blossomed during the pandemic as people around the world started collecting whiskeys and gins.

Life was quiet in New York during the pandemic and many businesses closed, but Duff says the city is enjoying a renaissance. “People are going out. It’s New York after all and it bounces back from anything. The city missed tourists and business travellers with corporate credit cards for sure. But there are incredible bars opening here in New York and great places to go. Eating out here can be so cheap; the idea that people use the oven for storage is absolutely true.”

But for many things, especially housing and rent, New York is also famously pricy. A two-bed apartment is about €3,000 and a one-bed about €1,800.

“That’s the going rate, and sadly and it’s difficult to pay for that kind of money alone, especially if you’re an artist, writer or freelancer trying to make it in New York on erratic wages. A lot of people need subsidies from family or partners.”

Property is at such a premium in New York that even billionaires have to compromise on space, he adds. “Everyone has a black belt in bitching about New York. The subway, for example, is the quickest way to get around so you just have to use it, and some people don’t like that. But, there’s only one New York. It’s an amazing city.

“This city has everything. The public schools are amazingly good, the art, the nightlife. Even though I travel a lot, when I see the New York skyline as my plane lands, I’m always happy to come home.”

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