If there is someone whose life is more wrapped up in the food, beverage and hospitality industry than Oisin Davis then we have yet to meet them. In the past 20 years, Oisin has metamorphosed from bouncer and bartender into brand owner and businessman (among other things that keep him occupied, he is head honcho of Great Irish Beverages). Factor in a passion for popular culture and fundamental respect for mixing as much fun as business sense into a venture and you have a guy that tends to know which way the wind is blowing before he looks out the window each morning. This said, not even Oisin (much like the rest of us) could have predicted how 2020 was going to pan out.
“By January of 2020, planning was already underway for nationwide campaigns and festivals with my clients, and I had also developed a new seminar I was going to roll out at various international bar shows. When everything got shut down, I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was really tough to try and reinvent how we could promote the brands I work with. Eventually, however, we all figured it out and online whiskey launches, cocktail demos, beer and food pairings and gin and tonic tastings soon became the norm for me. I felt grateful that I could still earn a living and was collaborating with some creative and fun-filled people.”
Of course, he hopes that will continue into 2022, but knows it would be unwise to nail down anything in case a storm comes along and rips it apart. “The only thing I can comment on are the learnings from the last two years,” he says, before dispensing extremely diplomatic advice. “If you own a bar or restaurant and haven’t already developed alternate means of income, such as take away or off licence trading, it would be a good idea to start figuring something out.”
Originally from New Jersey (Oisin’s father is American, his mother is Irish), a background in arts and music management paved his way into the business. His first venture into the fusion of music and arts and whatever-you’re-having-yourself was the Dublin-based venue The Sugar Club (with which he held the role of General Manager for 12 years). Looking back to his early days, what directed him towards the food and hospitality business?
Call it a blessing or a curse, Oisin imparts, but he has never been able to work on anything he doesn’t love. “What we do for a living absorbs so much of our time,” he advises, “so it doesn’t seem to make any sense to allow what precious hours we have doing something you don’t enjoy. When I first had that realisation many moons ago, I knew I could only ever work in entertainment, food and beverage. By my late teens, I had already worked in bars and restaurants, booked bands and had been a DJ at raves. It was a huge thrill bringing people together and watching them all have a great time, so there was just no way I could contemplate doing anything else.”
And so a life in hospitality was born. You might say that Oisin is, essentially, an ideas-driven person but he also thrives on the collaborative approach. “Taking an idea, whether it’s for a brand new company or just a promo in a bar, takes a lot of nurturing. When others bring their energy and input? That’s something I always get a huge kick out of. Whether it has been something that I had the initial concept for myself, like Poacher’s Irish Mixers, or whether it’s a client who has come up with something they need help on, it’s the collaboration element that I love.”
In short, Oisin is the go-to F&B matchmaker, from neat conceptual collaborative works to something as intriguing as pairing food with beer. What are the ingredients in making what some might consider to be disparate elements blend so well? He says he has been fortunate to learn more about the brewing process by working with Dublin City Brewing Co and their head brewer, Fergal Murray.
“Fergal and I have a shared passion that revolves around trying to get Irish people to drink more Irish drinks. A huge part of our thinking is directly showing people how well his beers pair with so many of the foods we all enjoy. Over the last year, through the Dublin City Brewing Tasting Club, we’ve paired the beers with everything from Chinese food cooked by Kwanghi Chan and an Irish cheese pairing conducted by Kevin Sheridan. Whether they were online or in ‘the real world’, as it were, we were able to demonstrate how certain flavours – like citrus in the Pale Ale – complement spicy or earthy dishes, or how stouts with their abundant notes of coffee and chocolate work so well when served alongside a dessert.”
You can sense the passion seeping through the words. There’s an important bottom line here, implies Oisin, and it is that he (and whoever he works/collaborates with) want to dispel the absurd notion that only wines should be served with food. He is correct when he says that Ireland will never have a truly dynamic native food and drink culture that will be embraced by locals and tourists alike until all native beers, ciders, whiskeys and spirits are integrated into restaurants and homes. “Beers are a great place to start from,” he enthuses, “but by working with Bewley’s in developing the Bewley’s Coffee Cocktail Club, I want to show how well Irish spirits mixed into coffee cocktails gel so beautifully with well-made desserts. For nearly a decade now, whether at home or abroad, promoting, publicising, producing and writing about Irish-made drinks is solely how I’ve made my living. And pairing food with them all is crucial.”
Pairing, collaborating, coming up with ideas and knowing instinctively how to make them work – it’s obvious that Oisin Davis works almost 24/7 for the benefit of other people and his own enjoyment. He scopes out their interests and requirements and then makes the results well and truly fit for purpose – and in doing so makes a career out of it. But what about his likes and dislikes? What are his very favourite tipples, and what would absolutely not pass his lips?
The greatest cocktail known to humankind, says Oisin, “is the Frozen Irish Coffee made in the Erin Rose Bar in New Orleans. I have a cousin in Pennsylvania named Erin Rose Davis. One of these days, I intend to meet her in New Orleans and take her to the bar that carries her name to spend the day throwing back Frozen Irish Coffees.” The single greatest liquid to have ever passed the man’s lips, however, is Redbreast 27 Year Old. It has, he says as if kneeling and praying to the good Lord above, “an unrivalled majesty, a truly sublime Irish whiskey.”
And what about the no-no? “Being a bit of a hyperactive maniac, the one type of beverage I always avoid is energy drinks. One small can and I’ll be up all night watching Star Trek until daybreak.”
For further details about Oisin Davis, visit http://www.greatirishbeverages.com/
WRITTEN BY TONY CLAYTON-LEA
Journeys in Taste Interviews are Sponsored by Lexus Ireland