Deano Moncrieffe on driving diversity in the industryBy Owen Bellwood
Bartender Deano Moncrieffe runs Hacha, London’s acclaimed agave spirits bar, home to the famed Mirror Margarita. But rather than resting on his laurels, he is determined to increase the industry’s diversity.
From bar backing in Paris to being a global Tequila ambassador for Diageo, Deano Moncrieffe has worked in almost every aspect of the hospitality industry. Now, the owner of London agave spirits‐focused bar Hacha is setting out to increase diversity in the industry through his latest venture, Equal Measures.
“Equal Measures is a project that I have been wanting to do for a few years, but I never had the headspace or the time to be able to do it,” says Moncrieffe.
Launched in 2020, Equal Measures was created to raise awareness of diversity and inclusion in the drinks industry. Moncrieffe hopes to emphasise the importance of having an industry that reflects the society it serves.
He says: “I’ve never felt that the industry was 100% reflective. In some bars, restaurants and five‐star hotels the representation of people of colour is very, very low and sometimes non‐existent. That’s a real shame because that just doesn’t reflect London at all and it doesn’t reflect our society at all.”
Through his travels as a bartender and brand ambassador, Moncrieffe found the same is true in many other countries. In response, he plans to use his voice and influence in the industry to bring about change that could result in a more diverse bartending community.
One way the initiative hopes to do this is through its collaboration with UK‐based spirits educator The Mixing Class to create a training programme for people from under‐represented communities. Through the collaboration, The Mixing Class and Equal Measures will offer 30 candidates training through an education and mentorship project.
Participants from ethnic minority backgrounds will be enrolled on a skills programme, which includes a place on the Wine & Spirit Education Trust’s (WSET) Level 2 Award in Spirits course. The programme will then select 10 candidates from each group for further mentorship sessions and a place on the WSET Level 3 Award in Spirits course.
“I’m really excited about what we can do together with The Mixing Class,” says Moncrieffe. “That is super exciting, and to have the right mentors in place could help people progress and fulfil their potential.”
Equal Measures was launched at the height of the Covid‐19 pandemic, but Moncrieffe hopes that as restrictions begin lifting, he will be able to meet with the next generation of bartending talent. Through workshops at youth centres and similar venues, he hopes to showcase the opportunities a career behind the stick can bring.
“I’m from Birmingham and if you had said to me ‘there’s a potential for you to go into hospitality’ when I was 17, I would have been like ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s nothing I can do there’,” he says. “That is one thing that I want to do, get out to any areas where I feel like people may not be aware of how brilliant the industry is, and spread the word. Even if the success rate is 5%, that’s still 5% more than at the moment.”
INCREASE THE REACH
Applications for the mentorship scheme with The Mixing Class opened in January and Moncrieffe hopes to be able to connect with people through the project later this year, before increasing the reach of the initiative as much as possible.
He says: “I would love to be in a position in a few years’ time where Equal Measures is the main thing that I’m doing; that is my ultimate goal. Yes, we’ll have Hacha, but I would love to be in a position where there is enough interest around it and enough people that want to do more around diversity and inclusion that that’s my full‐time thing. That would be an absolute result for me.”
Until such a time, Moncrieffe can be found at Hacha in east London, slinging drinks and engaging imbibers in the UK capital with everything the world of agave spirits has to offer. Hacha opened in May 2019, in Kingsland Road, where it serves an ever‐changing menu of 25 Tequilas, mezcals and lesser‐known agave‐based spirits.
The bar was named after the axe used to cut agave piñas, and offers its spirits in tasting flights that can be paired with flavour enhancers. Previous pairings have seen bottlings matched with non‐alcoholic ‘spirit’ Seedlip Garden, Monster Munch crisps and M&Ms.
“The thing that brought me the most pleasure has been the flights that we do,” says Moncrieffe. “On a Saturday night, the biggest smile I have will be if I see flights going out of Tequila, mezcal and sotol with anything from wasabi nuts to Milkybar Buttons to help people understand the flavours. People get it and they love it.”
For Moncrieffe, making agave spirits fun and accessible was a major aim of Hacha. The popularity of Tequila may be rocketing, but knowledge of the sector remains less widespread than that of gin or whisky. So he was keen to ensure his offering didn’t overwhelm drinkers, and provided touch points of familiarity on the drinks list.
As such, Moncrieffe says he wanted the innovative cocktails he created for the bar to remain recognisable to drinkers. He explains: “For the first menu there was a Piña Colada that used añejo Tequila with tepache, pineapple and horchata, there was a Spritz on there, and a White Negroni made with Tequila. All of the names were really familiar, and that was to make sure that people didn’t feel too threatened. It had to be accessible so people could understand it.”
Nowhere is this accessible creativity more evident than in the bar’s signature Mirror Margarita, which Moncrieffe describes as looking like a glass of water but tasting like the best Margarita you’ve ever had. The serve has remained on the menu since opening night, and has gone on to gain recognition, awards and notoriety of its own.
“There are people that have heard of the Mirror Margarita before they have heard of Hacha,” says Moncrieffe. “It’s hard to talk about it in this way because I don’t want to seem egotistical, but I am proud. Sometimes in one night when we are really busy, we can serve over 100 Mirror Margaritas. I’ve worked in about 30 venues and in that time I’ve never seen a cocktail that I’ve served more than 100 of in one night.”
Due to its popularity, the drink has helped the bar weather the storm of 2020. Hacha now offers home‐delivery of bottled Mirror Margaritas, including a mezcal‐based variant, a clementine and cinnamon version, and an alcohol‐free interpretation of the serve. “There was one point in one of the months we were locked down when we actually sold more Mirror Margaritas by bottle than we did when we were open,” says Moncrieffe.
It may come as no surprise, then, that Moncrieffe expects the cocktail will play a huge part in the year to come. He says the team at Hacha plans to seize “lots of opportunities around building the Mirror Margarita even more as a standalone brand”.
With that in mind and ambitions to develop diversity in the drinks industry, 2021 looks set to be a busy year for Moncrieffe.