A Culinary Chat with Porter & Rye’s Wild Turkey Winner Andy O’Neill
Slap bang in the nerve centre of one of Glasgow’s trendiest culinary districts, Porter & Rye has quickly become a pioneer of gastronomic excellence since opening its doors at the tail end of 2014. With a Gold Medal for Steak at The Scottish Food Awards already under its belt, this fine establishment has tickled the taste buds of Glaswegians and served up wild food and quality dry-aged meats for the masses with relentless and untempered passion.
It’s no surprise then that Porter & Rye bartender Andy O’Neill has just landed a place on the Wild Turkey Behind the Barrel programme, the nation’s ultimate bourbon bartending challenge. His handcrafted fur, feather and game four-course tasting menu of traditional game dishes and cocktail serves including the Campfire Cure, the Kentucky coffeetree as well as the ‘Trail Blazer’ whiskey flight featuring Wild Turkey Rare Breed and Venison and Peppercorn Salami, were the creations that won him a spot on this prestigious programme. Come September, we’ll see Andy jet off to Lawrenceburg distillery in Kentucky and embark on a five-day whiskey-making experience with Master Distillers Eddie and Jimmy Russell. But before then, we thought we’d catch up with him to discuss this fantastic achievement, his passion for food and whisky, and the recent transformation of Glasgow’s foodie scene.
First of all, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what lead to you working with Porter & Rye?
I have been working in the bar trade for five years and working with Porter & Rye seemed like a natural progression, I was brought on board to develop their drinks offering.
You’ve just won a place on the Wild Turkey Behind the Barrel programme – congratulations! How does it feel to have your culinary and cocktail creations recognised?
It’s a fantastic feeling to see all the hard work put in over the last five years recognised, it will be great to learn more about where Wild Turkey has come from and how it’s created from the masters at the distillery.
How did you come up with the idea for the Fur, Feather and Game four-course tasting menu and whisky flights?
The game dinner is a bespoke menu we developed to pair our food offering with Wild Turkey as part of our monthly seasonal menu programme. We work as a team with the kitchen, our food and drink offerings do not operate as separate entities. It was also really important to us that we developed something we know we personally would enjoy a food and drink perspective as well.
You’ll be travelling to Kentucky, what are you most looking forward to at this whiskey making experience with Master Distillers Eddie and Jimmy Russell?
The thing I am most looking forward to is meeting Jimmy and Eddie in person, they have about 100 years of whiskey-making between them! It will be great to find out more about their process and where their passion and love for the art of whiskey-making comes from.
Why did you choose to enter the competition in the first place?
Beyond my work as a bartender, Wild Turkey is a brand I have always felt very close to and admired. The product and the marketing behind it backs up what they say – they are transparent about their origins and process and it’s easy for me to get behind them for that reason.
What was it that first ignited your passion for food and whiskey?
Music was what first inspired me to work with food and whiskey. I was performing in bands for about 10 years and we spent a lot of time hanging out in bars. At that time I became really interested in the science of food and alcohol working together. Then this moved towards working with American whiskey and I made sure to try as much of it as I could.
Why do you think high-quality meat and wild food is an important component of Glasgow’s culinary scene?
Glasgow’s gone through a real transformation over the last five or six years and the consumer has become more discerning and they know what they want. What they want is something extraordinary, so we try and push boundaries and tailor what we do to make a sure the food and drink offerings complement one another.
Aside from the fantastic win at this prestigious competition, what have you been most proud of in your career so far?
I have done a lot of work with American whiskey, it’s overwhelming to have the chance to visit an American whiskey distillery in person so I would definitely say this is the high point of my career in the last few years!
And finally, what advice would you give to someone else looking to pursue a similar career path in the food and drink industry?
Gain as much experience as you can and work in as many places as possible. The whole industry is based on knowledge, understanding and process. The more places you work, the more you can fine-tune your expertise.