By Shawn Goldberg

Matt Jones’ career in whisky began at a tender age. “Teething,” he says smiling from cheek to cheek. “My parents would put whisky on my gums to calm me down.” The Tom Cruise 80s film “Cocktail” also played a role in the development of his ambition. While recovering from an injury one summer, Jones taught himself how to sling drinks and toss bottles like the oh-so-cool bartenders glamourized by the popular film. At 18, Jones moved to Belize where he lived for four years, while working at a beachside bar. Upon returning to Toronto, he opened up a bartending school that led to world travels while teaching the arts of tending bar and mixology to students across the globe.

Matt Jones is head spirit wrangler at RC Show 2018! Today, Matt Jones is known as The Whisky Chef. The brand ambassador for Beam Suntory Bourbon— Jones travels across Canada preaching the gospel of whisky. His enthusiasm around curating speakers and topics for the show was infectious. Tips, trends, sustainability and how to be more efficient behind the bar is what Matt refers to as “spirit- driven education”.

WHAT DOES HE WANT YOU TO LEARN AT RC SHOW 2018?

Jones wants to help folks build a cocktail menu. He wants to take away the mystery surrounding spirits, and to help you work with spirits in ways that align with what’s happening in the industry. Jones is all about exploring cocktail culture by focusing on trends that are happening in bigger cities; then bringing those trends to smaller towns and communities in Canada. “There has to be an understanding of technique, of recipe and of the execution,” he explains. He uses a classic drink, the Old Fashioned, as an example. The Old Fashioned is arguably one of the most popular cocktails in the world (perhaps some thanks to Don Draper is in order).

An archetypal cocktail, the Old Fashioned is a deceptively simple cocktail, yet, perhaps the most complex to execute and create success with on a cocktail menu. “Making sure [you] have the proper tools, and to do it in a way that’s profitable, that’s consistent… my advice is to start small, with maybe four cocktails on the menu.” From big city centres to the smaller markets, Jones finds himself in a different province every week. Talking about the cocktail cultures that exist in different regions, Jones gives an affectionate shoutout to St. John’s, Newfoundland, where he’s watched both the mixology and whisky culture blossom over the last five years. Where bourbon sales alone are growing at a rate of 40 per cent.

Elsewhere, he has witnessed sustained growth in smaller markets like Winnipeg, Saskatoon, and Regina, all of which are experiencing a cocktail culture boom. Jones refers to folks in these places as seeing past typical drinks and looking for more sophisticated sipping experiences.

What does the future hold? Jones says that simpler is better; cocktails are getting back to basics with three or four ingredient recipes. “If you can nail those cocktails, then you’re ready for more intricate drinks. But ultimately, simpler is always better.” All hail the Whisky Chef.