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The Yorkshire Bartender Behind Mobile Cocktail Bar and Popular Distillery Opens Brand New Venue

barman making cocktails
August 2022
Reading time 3 Minutes

The Yorkshire Bartender owns a thriving mobile cocktail bar and popular gin distillery

After becoming interested in mixology as a student, Callum Houston has delved into the drinks industry, launching his own mobile bar, distillery and a brand new eco-friendly bar and kitchen in the heart of York. We catch up with Callum to find out more.

During his time studying business management and marketing at York St John University, Callum started working in bars but found pulling pints and serving gins uninspiring – until he joined the Living Room as a bartender concocting cocktails. ‘I realised there was a massive market for bespoke cocktails and the potential to experiment with different flavours, so that’s when my adventure began, albeit as a hobby at first,’ he says. 

After university, Callum joined the corporate world as a marketing manager for an IT firm but realised he missed the excitement and unpredictability of hospitality. At the same time, he was in preparation for his own wedding and needed a way to pay for his fiancée’s wedding dress. ‘I spotted a gap in the market for a premium mobile bar,’ he explains, ‘and took a leap of faith and launched the Yorkshire Bartender in 2016.’ Over the next two years the Yorkshire Bartender grew by word of mouth and soon Callum had 400 events to cater for, meaning he could leave his job in marketing and focus on the business full time. 

‘The ethos behind the Yorkshire Bartender is about delivering fine drinking experiences to shake up private parties and events, and I’d like to be recognised as a trailblazer when it comes to innovation,’ says Callum. And that’s certainly the case when it comes to his cocktails. ‘They’re not just about great taste but they have to smell amazing and look exceptional too.’

cocktail being poured over dry ice

During the pandemic the events industry inevitably took a hit, but that didn’t stop Callum. ‘Back in August 2020 I had invested in a gin still and began trialling gin production on a small scale. Now, Yorkshire Explorer Distillery has a team of foragers, innovators and experienced gin distillers who expertly craft and combine a selection of botanicals, sourced from across Yorkshire, to create our range of 10 gins and one rum.’  

For most, owning a thriving mobile bar and a popular distillery would be enough to keep them busy, but not Callum, who at the end of last year launched his latest venture, Forage Bar & Kitchen. Forage began as a pop-up, but with such positive responses, the bar and kitchen became a permanent fixture in York. ‘It’s a place to enjoy theatrical cocktails and unique drinks, but also somewhere that serves impressive food – think fine dining in a relaxed setting, and an adult hangout with sustainability and eco-consciousness at its heart’. 

‘I’ve been a lover of the great outdoors and nature for as long as I can remember and I’ve always been conscious about food consumption, having experienced first-hand the extortionate waste in the hospitality sector’

An eco-friendly approach was an important element for Callum going into Forage Bar & Kitchen. ‘I’ve been a lover of the great outdoors and nature for as long as I can remember and I’ve always been conscious about food consumption, having experienced first-hand the extortionate waste in the hospitality sector,’ Callum explains. For that reason he uses ingredients which most of us believe to be food waste and turns them into syrups, cordials, ferments and shrubs which provide the foundations of his seasonal cocktails. ‘For example, discarded banana skins are transformed into a banana oil and feature in our infamous Dolce + Banana drink – we also champion the use of foraged ingredients so we incorporate the likes of lavender, sloes and blackberries from hedgerows,’ he continues. 

Callum views creating new cocktails as being like developing a new perfume. ‘It’s all about understanding, balancing, and experimenting with ingredients which complement each other. I’ve actually built an encyclopaedia of over 300 different flavours that I play around with,’ says Callum. ‘My current favourites include blackberry leaf, eucalyptus, tonka beans, pink peppercorn and bergamot.’

Read More: The Best Alternative Coffee Cocktail For Summer

At Forage Bar & Kitchen, Callum and his team offer a wide range of theatrical and delicious cocktails using innovative techniques, and their flaming, smoking, bubbling and popping cocktails have become a hit not only with locals but also those on social media. ‘We’re also thrilled to welcome head chef Kieran Duffy, who has previously worked at acclaimed restaurants such as Roots and Le Cochon Aveugle in York. He’s carefully curated an exceptional menu featuring locally-sourced game and fish, much of which is cooked on an open flame,’ Callum says. 

After working hard over the last few years to develop his plethora of businesses, Callum’s current focus is ensuring his team feel part of the journey with him. ‘I want to create an environment for my employees to craft a career in bartending and I’m proud of the team we have grown, so my focus for now is supporting their development.’ 

Quick Fire Questions

Favourite ingredient to use in a cocktail? 
Tonka beans and white chocolate – I use them in everything. Blackberry leaf too as it gives an earthy autumnal flavour and is a great base.

Most popular cocktail on the menu? 
The pornstar martini is a staple, but the rhubarb sour is a close second.

Local recommendations for food and drink? 
The food scene in York is incredible – Skosh, Roots and Le Cochon Aveugle are all worth a visit.

Your favourite thing about Yorkshire? 
Yorkshire folk – you won’t find anyone more friendly.

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