Individually Blended- Creative Control with Rhys Budd
To us, the statement ‘Individually Blended’ is more than just a proposition or a mantra.. It’s a celebration of the many differences - in outlook, in skill level or specialisation, and in approach - that exist within our Feels Botanical creative family… From our very own Steve & Blake who, hailing from totally different backgrounds, came together and joined forces to create Feels by blending Eau De Vie with botanicals; to our work with unique venues, bartenders and chefs to create sensorial experiences, craft cocktail concoctions and build emotive stories.
Feels Botanical is about championing that which makes each of us unique, and empowering our people to contribute to the development of this brand in a meaningful and lasting way, every day.
Creativity, as we know, is boundless. What we create is limited only by the boundaries of our imagination. There are a number of Australian bartenders that possess a unique ability to blend experience, creativity and imagination with a deep understanding of application. These are not your typical “bartenders” – these are true Creators, testing the boundaries of liquid creation and producing outcomes that are stunning in complexity or astounding in their delicate simplicity.
Utilizing the versatility of feels Eau de vie, the “Creative Control” series serves to showcase some of Australia’s most sought-after cocktail creators, capturing their process and approach towards liquid creation, whilst also providing us all with some much needed inspo for our own, at home cocktail-creation game.
Which Feels Botanical products do you range:
At this stage, the whole lot of ‘em!
How did you start out in your industry & how long have you been in it?
My first gig was just after my 13th bday; I took a summer job scrubbing pots in a kitchen at the local horse showground and a weekend job doing even grubbier jobs for angry chefs at a country pub - from then I have always been in hospitality in some capacity.
At 18 I took a dive and moved in with some friends in a tiny apartment in the east-end of London with the goal of getting my foot in the door at one of the big city restaurants. A few failed attempts at that and a very very short stint as a butler (I know), I ended up bar-backing at a huge Americana style bar/nightclub where I caught the bug and began to work my way up the bar ladder. So, 14 years technically - jeez.
What are some of the venues you have worked in throughout your career?
In the UK - various (now defunct) bars across London & part of the opening team @ etch. by Steven Edwards in Brighton.
My time in Australia I have spent the majority of time across Merivale venues; the most of which was spent at Will’s bar on Coogee Middle Floor.
What did you feel in a emotive sense when you first came into contact with the Feels Botanical brand and product range?
I stumbled across some Feels samples sometime at the beginning of last year when it first started popping up. In perfect honesty, I found them difficult to wrap my head around. EDV is already a lightly treadded category for bartenders and these spirits had levels of complexity on top of that. That was probably the catalyst for me going back and tasting them again and again until I understood the potential of each expression and how they could and should be incorporated into drinks.
What were the synergies with the Feels brand and your venue?
Feels, and more specifically Blake, were one of our real backbone supporters when we were starting out. Having raced to the finish line to open and have lockdown 2.0 fired straight back on us was tough. But Blake continued to check in to see how he could help throughout that entire period and that has transcended into us really wanting to incorporate the product into the core of our drinks program.
That, and the real glow and enthusiasm you see when he sees the product brought to life speaks levels to me on how I want to work with suppliers as a bartender.
How and why did you want to utilise Feels as a product offering to your clientele?
We like stories behind our menu. Each drink has a background story, each dish some history or form of nostalgia attached to them. Feels for us, reflects this. There is a sense of locality, and a story to tell about each expression, so that when a guest asks ‘What’s EDV?’ you can tell them the literal definition, but moreover the story as to why we use that one in particular. (we obviously namedrop Blake in the process).
Tell us about the place you tap into when you work on bringing to life a drink within your venue?
The initial idea for a drink for me usually comes at the weirdest times, I'll wake up in the middle of the night and put an idea down. Sometimes it will come from a scene in a film, sometimes from a flash of nostalgia or memory, sometimes after eating some form of weird offal snack in Chinatown. We have a set structure of x styles of drinks and a season plan to back it up or we would never get anywhere haha.
During your creative process, what role does feeling and logic play? Is one more important than the other?
A little bit of logic and a lot of madness is pretty much the formula. I will usually start with flavours before booze, then begin to structure around a classic. ‘Ok this is an aperol spritz, but we’re gonna make it from Coffee, Melon and Rum’ is how my brain works. The madness is definitely the key - or we would all still be pushing out passion fruit mojitos. The logic is making the process financially viable.
How has working on this project inspired, challenged and pushed your approach to your work?
One of the biggest questions I’ve always had is - I wonder what will be the next ‘spirit’ that will work its way into the well as standard, and will it ever happen. Having pushed ourselves to now be at the stage where half of our menu is built around unique EDV is quite rewarding. In a way that makes ‘feels’ the Pandora’s box ingredient at our bar. We don’t have access to rotovaps or any crazy expensive bar gear so access to products like this help in the creative process when we reach a block.
We are now at a stage where our ‘signatures’ are just our versions of the most requested classics. This is how we do them as we don’t have the space to do them all the ‘classic’ way. We use the products we want to use to do x drink, and for the most part, people are convinced.
Is there a person or artist(s) that first inspired you?
I loved Ramsay and Marco growing up. I had always wanted to be a chef but couldn't hack the heat haha. Moreover from the straight perfection they achieved, was the no bullshit taken attitude to get to that point. White Heat and Boiling Point are my go to’s when I’m having an existential crisis.
I have also been incredibly lucky to have been surrounded by a few mentors on my way who bleed this industry, and do so very well. I owe a lot to those individuals who gave me a chance when I asked for it.
When do you feel most creative…
Headphones in, usually walking through some area of greenery. I’m a real plant nerd so being able to walk through a park and spot something that is edible and full of flavour really gets me ticking over. It’s not really like that in the UK, you might get some roadside blackberries for 2 weeks in autumn but it's hardly inspirational so we are very lucky to have that here.
Where do you look for inspiration…(this can be industries or specific references)
I'm a real fan of cook books, there's a lot more out there to pull from than the drinks world. I was gifted Tony Conigliaro’s ‘Drinks’ by one of my mentors and it is my go to as a reference point. I have a few artists and photographers I love that sometimes spark some inspo.
When I’m feeling burnt out, I wind down and reset by…
A massage and a hot bath. I’m lanky and I work at a bar so naturally my back is f*&%!.
My favourite way to drink Feels (insert product you like) is…
I’ll jump on the bandwagon and say Vivify in a Tommy's. A splash of Mezcal in the mix is a guaranteed good time.
When I’m drinking an Americano, I set the mood with this song:
The person (dead or alive) I’d most like to drink it with…
David Mitchell. Or Stephen Merchant. I’m a Peep Show & UK Office fanatic.
What you may not know about me…
I should never ever be allowed through the doors of a tattoo studio ever again.
Advice to those wanting to get into your field:
Ask questions. Go to your favourite spot, shake hands and tell them you want to work there.
Try every job once. Be willing to graft and bide your time, it takes time to climb the ladder and don’t be afraid to start at the very bottom; it’s where you’ll learn the most.
Hospitality is a very serendipitous industry and opportunities will always present themselves at the right time.