Find the full interview here: https://www.drinkstrust.org.uk/the-drinks-trust-stories/hannah-lanfear
Hi Hannah, we are so pleased that you agreed to be interviewed for The Drinks Trust newsletter. Could you please tell us a bit about yourself and your current role for those who might not know you?
Hello! I am chuffed to be asked, thank you!
So, I am the founding director of The Mixing Class, the leading independent supplier of WSET Spirits education, and also education partner for Equal Measures UK. Equal Measures is a platform founded by the lovely Deano Moncreiffe (founder of Hacha Dalston, Brixton, and creator of the Mirror Margarita), that aims to tackle the inequality of opportunity within the cocktail and spirits industry. We fundraise to provide education, training, and mentorship for those who are underrepresented or who have felt marginalized by the trade.
Can you tell us a bit about your background, when you joined the industry, and why?
Sure thing. I am from a little fishing village in Cornwall that is very pretty but if you want to stay you have limited possibilities. I used to pick strawberries in the early hours, work in a gift shop in the day, and the moment I turned seventeen was working in one of the pubs in the village. I’d been having a tough time as a kid and I got thrown out of college for not going, not handing in coursework. I didn’t know it then, but I know now that I had undiagnosed Attention Deficit Disorder – it’s very common for ADDers to not finish education. I moved out of home and followed my brother to London but I was having a hard time finding my way – every job required education or experience I didn’t have. I felt really lucky to finally find a job at a Davy’s Wine Bar, and it became the start of a career in hospitality that, though there have been ups and downs, has been incredible. I’ve worked in some of the world’s best cocktail bars, written cocktail menus I’m very proud of, trained dozens of bartenders. I spent nearly fifteen years behind bars before taking a job in Bermondsey Distillery, handling the international exports as well as being the International Ambassador for Jensen’s Gin. I got to travel the world and meet a wealth of folk in the industry that I call friends.
In founding The Mixing Class, I wanted to share the one thing that truly elevated my career – my love of learning about cocktails and spirits. Though I completely failed at formal education I think if you can develop an interest and a passion for something there’s no stopping you, so I hope as The Mixing Class we can inspire those starting out in the industry to develop a lifelong love of learning.
Last year, The Drinks Trust presented the partnership with Equal Measures, whose overall aim is to deliver greater equity in the drinks industry. Can you tell us more about Equal Measures and how you got involved with The Mixing Class?
From the outset I wanted The Mixing Class to have at the heart of it a mission to use education as a tool to lift people up. I had a hard start in life – I grew up in a violent household, life has always been a real battle due to undiagnosed ADD. I grew up in the ‘80s and ‘90s under Section 28, a law that created institutional homophobia that was a part of your everyday life. I internalised it – it took me until I was 30 to finally accept I was gay. It was a seismic change to allow my brain to be true to myself. My own experiences with neurodivergence and queerness mean I’m sensitive to unfair situations and it’s clear that our industry is not equitable. The narrow demographic of people who drink in cocktail bars doesn’t represent the cities that the industry inhabits.
It was at the end of my last job for Bermondsey Distillery (which is located on the wonderful Maltby Street Market) I was looking around at the high-rise flats and thinking, it’s just not fair. This market is a bustling, noisy, vibrant environment, but if you can’t afford a £4 brownie, or a £9 lunch then even though it’s on your actual doorstep, you’re totally excluded. The cocktail industry greatly contributes to gentrification without necessarily reaching into local communities to offer work, we aren’t integrating, and I just thought, ‘it’s not right – what has to be done to make this better?’. THAT was the lightning bolt moment I decided I needed to start my own business. You have to really, really believe in what you’re doing to take that mad leap of faith, but I knew I just had to. From then it was just one foot in front of the other.
What I wanted for The Mixing Class was to extend a hand to help others have a wonderful career in hospitality, and to help them smash down any doors that appear closed. In our first three of years, I had been trying to get a DEI project off the ground, applying for various funds to try and get a space for a training site for young Londoners, but totally failing because the paradox of finding funding is that they only really seem to want to give it to a project that is already up and running! When I heard about Deano’s Equal Measures, we met up to see if we could provide an education programme for the platform – it was clear in that first meeting that we both had the same passion for taking some positive action. It seemed like a fantastic opportunity to join forces to not only contest the lack of diversity in the industry, but also actively work on improving the situation.
We’ve really built something I think we’re both proud of – we have committed to funding 120 participants every year through our training and mentorship programme but really, we’ve only just begun. We’ve got an outreach programme that we are hoping to launch later this year to help young people discover what makes this industry so incredible special and give them the tools they need to make a successful start.
What would you like to achieve through Equal Measures?
The ultimate goal is that cocktail spaces learn to provide hospitality that is truly inclusive. We all benefit from the strength that comes from a diversity of ideas so it’s something that our industry really needs as we have glaring blind spots. Winning that greater strength starts with advocating for more socially responsible hiring practices, and then backing that up with exceptional training programmes that provide great prospects for those who enter hospitality.
It’s not something you can fix overnight, but it’s so important that everyone feels welcome in our bars, whether they hope to work there or want to come in for a cocktail, and when there is a lack of representation it sends a signal that we don’t welcome you or we don’t know how to. Deano and myself have said from the outset that Equal Measures will run until it doesn’t need to exist so I guess the ultimate achievement would be to feel that we can call it a day!
What are your plans for the foreseeable future?
The Level 3 Spirits course we teach at The Mixing Class is phenomenally challenging for students. It’s really quite academic but we are a vocational industry, so I have been putting a lot of time into building an app to help gamify some of the heavy lifting of learning. I’m halfway through and the response from our students has been awesome which keeps me going, cause it’s a lot of work but I’m hoping to finish that this month! We take a select number of stats about our students, and we don’t have a fair gender split, especially when at Level 3 so it’s my mission this year to ensure we work on improving the equity of access to these elite levels of education. I’ve got ambitions of creating a course which I’ll keep under wraps until I’ve got it ready to go!
Aside from that, the pandemic/news cycle has absolutely battered our collective mental health – I’m setting myself a very late new year’s resolution to spend more time outdoors with nature. More gardening, more walks.
More personal question: book, food and drink of choice to take to a desert island?
I always take a massive classic novel when I go on holiday so I can get good mileage out of it! I could probably re-read Thomas Hardy, he’s an all-time fave, though I must say that the only book to have moved with me since I left home is the collected works of Sylvia Plath. Her turn of words is very special.
I’ve probably eaten more pho in my life than anything else so let’s stick with that – I love food from South East Asia, they absolutely smash the balance of salty, sour, savoury, spicy, sweet. And to drink? Assuming I don’t need water… Craigellachie 19yo is the last thing I can remember wishing I had more of, but sadly it hasn’t been available for ages!