The Blends of the Virtual World launches Words with Will
If you had told Will Meredith a few years ago that in 2020 he would be a podcast host by day, Head Bartender by night, he would have thought you were joking.
But after working behind the stick at two of the World’s Best Bars, including Dandelyan in London (no1 in the World’s 50 Best Bars 2018) and working his way up to Head Bartender at Lyaness in London (no 39 in the World’s 50 Best Bars 2019), he’s mastered the art of pouring and talking. And let’s face it, anything can happen amidst a pandemic.
Words With Will is a conversational-style podcast with several of the World’s Best Bartenders, Operators and Brand Legends. It brings to life the conversations that would naturally happen over a bar - hilarious hiccups and good banter - in a time when face-to-face conversation is limited, and explores how each guest carved out their individual path in this industry.
LISTEN TO WORDS WITH WILL NOW!
YOU PREVIOUSLY COLLABORATED WITH THE BLEND TEAM DURING THE BLENDS OF THE WORLD AND DANDELYAN TOUR (2018). EXPLAIN YOUR NEXT ADVENTURE WITH THE BLEND IN 2020.
I did indeed. It feels like a lifetime ago now when James Wheeler and I went to Australia for a few weeks to share the stories, history and thought process behind Dandelyan, from drink creation to atmosphere, financials, back of house and so much more. That was followed up with a few evenings of showcasing the ‘Lyan style’ by workshopping several drinks in collaboration with the venues we were working with.
My collaboration with The Blend in 2020 is something new entirely. We have been working on a podcast series called ‘Words with Will’ that will be hosted on The Blend’s online platform, The Blends of the Virtual World. In the series, I am joined by inspirational bartenders, operators and brand legends. The series aims to capture the lost moments over the bar or in a bar where we essentially talk “pub bollocks”: life growing up, their route into the industry and a few golden stories that may or may not be embarrassing. The series is there to give anyone listening that feel-good factor; something to enjoy on the way to work or while hanging out at home. We do cover some real talk, as well as answer questions about our industry’s future.
HOW DID THIS COLLABORATION COME ABOUT?
Hayley and the crew from The Blend reached out at the start of lockdown. I was told that an online platform was in the making, and I could be a part of it. They essentially said: “What would you like to do with us?” It was an open brief, which was fantastic. After that, we did some back and forth, talking about what to do. Eventually, we settled on the idea of a podcast, and the name Words with Will followed pretty instantaneously!
WHY SHOULD BARTENDERS LISTEN TO WORDS WITH WILL?
I think people could use a little fun these days. At the same time, I always found that my favourite part of working in bars was the relationships and learning about each other, and the podcast is all about that. With everything that surrounds the industry, it is easy to forget that there are people behind the ideas we see and read about, and each has a really interesting story to tell. This platform is a great way to hear a few of those stories.
HAVE YOU EVER HOSTED A PODCAST BEFORE, AND WHAT WAS THE EXPERIENCE LIKE?
No, this is my first time. Whether you are surprised now or not, you certainly will be once you hear my attempts!
It was a really fun experience, with a lot of people helping out along the way. There was a podcasting guru who helped to show me the ropes and several technicians who taught me the fundamentals of recording. From there, it was just a case of finding some willing participants to chat to. The Blend team were phenomenal from the get-go. Overall, it was a chance to learn something new, get to know people better and hopefully end up with something that others will enjoy hearing.
WHICH GUESTS HAVE YOU INVITED ONTO YOUR PODCAST SERIES AND WHY?
They are guests from around the world that I have worked with, in some way, shape or form during my career.
They are all people I have friendships with, but people I wanted to get to know better. I worked with Nicole Sykes at Lyaness in London. She now runs Satan’s Whiskers in East London, and we have a great rapport. Ollie Margan owns and operates Maybe Mae in Adelaide, where he hosted us during the Dandelyan tour. Matt Stirling is co-owner of Fancy Free in Melbourne, and we worked together a couple of times when he threw epic parties in Dandelyan and Lyaness. Maura Milia manages Connaught Bar, and while we have hung out a few times, I wanted to learn more about her and her role in the bar. Joe Worthington is an independent consultant and such an outrageous character and friend whose brain just needs to be deciphered somehow. Rory Shepherd runs food and drink development for the BonHomie Group, and I’ve bumped into him enough times that I’ve lost count, but we never got the chance to properly catch up and hang out, so this was the perfect chance. A-K Hada is a stalwart of the New York bar community and Tales of the Cocktail legend. Again, she is someone I’ve spent fractions of time with before but never had the chance to get to know her story. Finally, Amanda Humphrey is a transatlantic whisky specialist who moved to Kentucky to further her work with Maker’s Mark, which is fascinating in its own right.
WHAT WAS THE HIGHLIGHT FROM SOME OF YOUR GUESTS THAT YOU CAN SHARE WITH THE BARFLY AUDIENCE?
I don’t want to give too much away, but the great thing was that each guest brought their own thing to the table, giving each episode its own flow and subject matter.
Joe was just chaos, whereas A-K and Ollie were funny and madly insightful. Rory was super well-spoken and shared some beautiful stories. Maura has some suspect interests while Amanda has taken on American-ness in her stride! Matt was an absolute gentleman and dreamboat, while Nicole was her ever-charming self.
I can’t give one or two highlights, as I feel like each guest has their highlight, so you’re just going to have to listen to all of them!
WHAT CAN LISTENERS EXPECT TO LEARN FROM THE SERIES?
Each guest has their own insight into various parts of this industry, covering things such as wellbeing, festivals, work/life balance, operations, drinks and travel. In that sense, I think there is something for everyone in this podcast.
The podcast series isn’t necessarily a teaching podcast, but depending on what you find interesting, you’ll learn some life lessons from people who have been through it and worked their way to the top. Everyone had their own path, some of which were so different, but they all shared the same traits: hardworking, charming, decent and respectful, and that’s the best lesson to take away from this.
YOU ARE HEAD BARTENDER AT LYANESS. WHAT HAS COVID-19 BEEN LIKE FOR YOU IN LONDON WITH LOCKDOWN AND VENUES CLOSED?
It was a tricky few months, to say the least. When the lockdown and closures were announced, we had to freeze as much stuff as possible and hope it would taste as good once defrosted. It was weird because London came to a standstill with the click of a finger. The first few weeks were quite nice in that we all had some time to switch off, slow down and recharge. It was good to run and cycle about the empty city and see landmarks with nobody around. It was an eerie yet strangely beautiful experience. We are back up and running now, fortunately, albeit with limited service days and hours, which is at least a step in the right direction.
HOW DID THE TEAM STAY UNITED DURING COVID-19?
We maintained regular communication with the team throughout. At the start, we were simply feeding new information as it came. Once we got used to the set-up, we continued to arrange regular meetings every couple of weeks where we did the typical pub-quiz stuff, with prizes and alternate quiz masters. We tried to work on a couple of creative projects, but it’s always tricky when you can’t be in the same room as someone to taste and discuss. Once measures began to ease, most of the team met for small dinners or lunches, getting used to chatting and seeing faces again. After a few months filled with numbers and statistics, being able to sit and have a good chinwag with friends was such a relief.
WHAT POSITIVE EXPERIENCES, LEARNINGS OR SELF-DEVELOPMENT HAS OCCURRED FOR YOU DURING LOCKDOWN AND COVID-19?
That’s a great question, and I don’t feel that I stand alone when I say that I had a lot of time to reevaluate things such as work/life balance, lifestyle choices, habits and interests. I tried out a bunch of things such as making mead and bread, generally cooking every single day, plenty of running around trying to get fit, and more recently I have begun coaching under 13s football! All of these experiences have been rewarding, and I’ve enjoyed them all. I’ll be sure to keep up with them as we ease back into work.
WHAT HAS IT BEEN LIKE AT LYANESS SINCE REOPENING?
We have tried to keep as many things as possible, as similar to before we closed. However, there is a new normal, and the hotel has been very active in making sure that we adhere to hygiene and social distancing measures to keep ourselves and our guests safe. It’s important that we make people feel comfortable in the space while delivering the Lyan hospitality. We wear masks, we have reduced capacity, and we have a lovely selection of different sanitisers for different surfaces - all exciting stuff!
We’ve also had to trim down our menu a fair bit to prep everything, so it’s a streamlined offering of our pre-existing drinks. What’s important now that we are open is not to shout about us, but to offer a safe place for people to relax, enjoy themselves and have a little drink, with all the same Lyan Love as usual. That is essentially our objective.
IF YOU HAD TWO MINUTES AS A GUEST ON WORDS WITH WILL, WHAT WOULD YOU SHARE WITH THE TRADE?
Ooft, that’s a tricky one. It’s never easy when the shoe is on the other foot! If I had two minutes to talk, uninterrupted, I would probably touch on what I mentioned before. This is an exciting opportunity to learn more about yourself and what you enjoy doing. If you love making drinks, there’s so much information out there as to how to refine that. If you want to get fit, grab a pair of trainers and go! If you are considering other avenues, explore them and read about them. We have so much time that we aren’t used to having and you will yield so many great results by using just a fraction of that time to be productive.
I also genuinely believe that just a little bit of exercise makes such a difference. You don’t need to be able to run a marathon; running for 30 minutes a couple of times a week clears the head and refreshes you instantly. When this started, I thought that it was time to move mountains. But in reality, minuscule tweaks and additions to your schedule quickly snowball into bigger change. This podcast was a great example of that.