Olly Smith Interviews Sandrae Lawrence

Olly Smith is the wine columnist for YOU in The Mail on Sunday, appears regularly on BBC1’s Saturday Kitchen and hosts his own drinks podcast ‘A Glass With’ featuring a dazzling array of celebrity guests from P!NK, and Sting, to Sir Michael Parkinson and Kylie Minogue. He is also a Patron of The Drinks Trust and will raising money for the charity on Celebrity Mastermind later this year. 

Sandrae Lawrence is a former lifestyle journalist covering everything from fashion and beauty for The Daily Telegraph to restaurant and theatre reviews for Where London Magazine. She is also one half of The Cocktail Lovers, the eponymous magazine, website, events, and consumer workshops company she runs with her husband Gary Sharpen. 

Noted for knowing who’s moving and shaking in the cocktail world, The Cocktail Lovers Magazine was voted Best Spirits & Cocktail Publications in the Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards 2016 and Sandrae and Gary have been listed on the London Evening Standard The Progress 1000 – London’s Most Influential People in 2015 and 2017. Sandrae is a co-chair on the Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards judging panel and was voted no. 63 on the Bar World Top 100 people in the drinks industry list, 2021. 

How did The Cocktail Lovers come about? 

My husband Gary and I started The Cocktail Lovers as a blog in 2008. Originally, it was something we did in our spare time (I was editing a magazine called Where London and Gary was a Creative Director in an advertising agency), but this was our place where we wrote about the bars we visited and enjoyed – sharing the cocktail love if you will. We quit our jobs and decided to launch the magazine in 2011. It’s been non-stop ever since. 

Can you tell us a bit more about The Togetherness Issue? 

We devise a theme for each of our issues. While our previous two issues have addressed the pandemic and its affects on the industry head on (‘Change’ and ‘Faith, Hope & Charity’), we decided to tackle this one with more of a positive spin – hence togetherness. It looks at togetherness from couples working together, and a family building communities, to more abstract ideas like pairing spirits and mixers to vessels for serving the ultimate sharing drink, Punch. 

“Like everyone, the stress and uncertainty of the pandemic has had an effect on my wellbeing, but I’ve tried to keep it in check.”

How have you met the challenges of working during the pandemic and how has it affected the business? 

It’s been tough but we’re getting there. We postponed two issues – one last April and the other in January, purely because it didn’t feel right. We always try to be upbeat and positive, but those two periods were so uncertain for everyone, including us.

To what extent would you say your wellbeing was hit too? 

Like everyone, the stress and uncertainty of the pandemic has had an effect on my wellbeing, but I’ve tried to keep it in check. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for my calorie consumption! I’m a comfort eater so that’s where my stress manifests however, I’ve taken to yoga and meditating every day – two things I never thought I had the will or patience to do. Connecting with nature has helped too – daily walks have been essential. And I also made time for at-home workouts. Working with your partner is brilliant in so many ways but with both of us working on our own business, the pressure hit even harder. 

Looking forward to your new podcast, what’s the gist?  

We’ve had a lot of fun with the podcast – it’s been good for the brain to learn a new medium. That said, it’s bloody hard work putting it together… 

The Cocktail Lovers podcast is aimed at spirited consumers – people like us who like a cocktail but want to know more about the drinks, the places, and the people behind them. In each episode we mix a cocktail (natch) and review two bottles, a book we think every cocktail lover should have in their library and a bar that we’ve been to. We also interview someone from the drinks industry to share their expertise on a given subject – there’s also someone sharing a cocktail hack. We’ve had the team from the Connaught Bar talking us through everything you need to know about making the perfect Martini and Jim Meehan, founder of PDT in New York is on this week’s episode sharing essential tips on making a Punch. We also have an episode dedicated to non-alcoholic tipples and JJ Goodman giving tips on kitchen cocktails.  

What change would you like to see across the drinks industry? 

Customers being more respectful of the people working in bars and restaurants. Having been deprived of hospitality for over a year, hopefully people will appreciate (and applaud) the hard work, craft, and essential role they play in our lives. 

“It’s tough out there for everyone so we’re reaching out to see how we can work with bars, brands, and bartenders to best communicate their messages.”

What kind of people do you look for to work and collaborate with in your business? 

Nice ones! Inspiring ones, people with passion for their craft and great stories to share – packaged together they make my work so easy. 

How are you furthering relationships with partners and business contacts? 

It’s tough out there for everyone so we’re reaching out to see how we can work with bars, brands, and bartenders to best communicate their messages. Obviously, we’re also looking for paid partnerships (like everyone, we’ve felt the impact of the pandemic on our business) but we also want to support those who need a voice – particularly independents and new companies. 

We’re both judges for the Fortnum & Mason Food & Drink Awards, how did you find the process? 

Brilliant because it was so well organised and such a wonderful to have an opportunity to read and listen to all of the brilliant content out there but tough because it was such a difficult choice. I loved meeting up with the fellow judges and listening to their views (and the constant F&M hamper deliveries weren’t too shabby either!).

What’s your favourite drink right now? 

The Walter Gibson in either the Library, Atrium or Side Hustle Bars at the NoMad London. It’s beautiful, elegant, and utter joy, just like the setting. 

And for a line up of the ideal foursome at a bar, it’s you… and which three dream drinkers would you invite? 

My husband and fellow cocktail lover, Gary Sharpen for starters. We’d be dressed up in our finest cocktail attire and joined by William Powell and Myrna Loy (aka Nick and Nora Charles, the fictional couple in the 1930s The Thin Man series) and we’d be drinking plenty of Dry Martinis, cracking dry jokes and solving crimes! 

The most memorable place you’ve ever had a drink? 

I couldn’t possibly say – they are always memorable for different reasons. It might be the company, the occasion, or the setting, and quite often, all three but I’m fortunate enough to have had so many special moments shared with amazing people across the world.  

Post-pandemic, what is your fervent wish? 

To travel and see all of our favourite bars and people around the world. It’s been too long.