Recently we were lucky enough to be introduced to Hannah Sharman-Cox, founder and MD of DrinkUp.London; the definitive list of the best bars and events in London, and the online home of London Cocktail Week, London Wine Week and London Beer Week. We connected with a good friend of Hannah's via the #IAmAnEssexGirl campaign, and when we chatted about our plans (and passion for a good cocktail), she was really keen for us to meet Hannah - a born and bred Essex girl herself... and now we know why! Hannah is achieving awesome things in the drinks industry and smashing stereotypes in so many ways. Read on for a healthy dose of career (and cocktail!) inspiration.
Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do?
I am the MD and founder of DrinkUp.London – a curated list of the very best bars and events in London and the online home of our three award-wining festivals - London Cocktail Week, London Wine Week and London Beer Week. We write an online magazine, send weekly newsletters and have just this week launched an app - all to promote having a great time in the capital.
Now DrinkUp.London is established - we also help other people promote their events to our audience of dedicated booze-hounds.
The biggest event we produce as a team is London Cocktail Week – which is now in year 8 and last year welcomed over 25,000 festival goers with people flying in from all over the world to celebrate our city’s brilliant cocktail culture.
I live in West London in a monochrome house with the one true love of my life and a taxidermy crow.
How did London Cocktail Week come about?
I started in hospitality back in 2002 at the award-winning members club Milk & Honey, where cocktails were king and we were lucky enough to be schooled by the very best mixologists in the world. It was just at the time that cocktails were having a renaissance in London. As staff were invited to everything, flown all over the place and I met so many fantastic lunatics along the way. It was honestly such a blast.
After five good years there I switched jobs and went to work for a drinks writer named Simon Difford, though I actually ended up running a small PR agency as a complementary sideline to his business.
My boss was forever convinced I could be busier (because - you know - globally launching spirits brands and promoting best-selling cocktail books was… easy!?) and suggested that I start a cocktail festival to fill a quiet-ish month before the Christmas rush set in. What I assumed was going to be a trade event for a bunch of industry mates ended up selling out in about three days and in year one I welcomed 5,000 guests to the inaugural event.
It wasn’t brilliant but everyone - sponsors, bars and guests - could see it had potential. A week before the year two festival, Siobhan Payne joined me to help - and over the years we’ve just worked and worked to make the whole thing bigger and better and more fun for our guests.
Three years ago my old boss decided to step away from the business – so we found new partners, moved offices, grew the team, added more events and spend all day working damn hard to be badasses.
On the Drink Up London site you also cover London Wine Week and London Beer Week…it’s fantastic to see a woman at the helm of events celebrating drinks that have until recently been advertised almost exclusively to men. In what ways do you think the drinks industry has changed to better represent and cater for women?
At the start, there weren’t many girls working in the spirits industry but I would say now it’s actually a pretty even split. All the girls I used to knock about with are now in really senior positions on major global drinks brands and they have paved the way, which is awesome for all the young women coming through ranks.
Wine has definitely also made the shift and the people making the most noise in the press are currently almost exclusively women. They’re talking confidently about a product, which has always been thought of as complicated. It’s wine – it’s delicious… Not difficult!
Beer – now then… we are getting there. We’ve been working to take the beard out of beer for three years now and we’re definitely chipping away at the stereotype.
I’m proud to say my team is exclusively women, I would hire a dude, but so far… the girls have had the best skill set for the job we do.
Could you share some thoughts on your experiences of working (and thriving!!) in what is generally considered to be a male industry?
I’ve never really felt like I work within a ‘male industry’. The few times in meetings when people have been perhaps a bit patronising, I’m secretly delighted because I know it then gives me the chance to prove them wrong. Ha! Bring it on!
What has been the highlight of your career?
Any time we do something ‘big’ I feel quietly proud. Whether that’s taking over Old Spitalfields Market and building a giant cocktail village or getting the front cover of a magazine or making plans with people from the Mayor’s office… That all makes it feel real! Which is cool.
What has been the biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge for me is being patient – I’m ready for everything to be amazing immediately, but I’ve learnt that Year Five is really when things shift and you just gotta get there before people really, really trust your brand. London Wine Week has just reached Year Four and we can all feel the change on the horizon… It’s exciting.
London Wine Week is run by another awesome Essex Girl, Emma Murphy, who I’ve known since we were teenagers…
What’s the best piece of advice you have ever received?
We have a few team mottos – “Work smart not hard” is a firm favourite and one we try and stick to.
However my 2017 mantra that I read every day is…
We really appreciate your support for the #IamAnEssexGirl campaign. Having grown up in Essex yourself, why do you think it's so important to shake off the negative stereotype?
I was lucky enough to go to grammar school - Westcliff High for Girls - where everyone was mega bright and went on to do brilliant stuff. That stupid stereotype really makes me cross! I’m always delighted to tell people I’m an Essex girl… though people don’t usually guess with me as I don’t really have much of the accent - except when I’m very cross and then – well you can immediately tell…
Of course we have to ask, what is your all time favourite cocktail and the best place to enjoy it in London?
Don’t make me pick one!
I do enjoy a Sweet Manhattan (bourbon, sweet vermouth, dash of cherry liqueur) once it gets dark and late, but my drink of choice is normally either a gin and tonic or a large glass of very cold, crisp white wine. Immediate satisfaction.
Favourite bar in London – depends on the occasion, but being made to feeling instantly welcome is really the key. Our website and app only lists bars we’ve personally visited and enjoyed so it’s basically like having the team on speed dial when you’re planning a night out and need a suggestion!
London Wine Week (05-11 June) is the capital’s biggest wine tasting opportunity where over 125 bars throw open their doors and serve £5 wine flights or bespoke Sip + Snack offers to those wearing a festival pass. These are available to buy for just £10 from DrinkUp.London