An Interview with Hayden “Woody” Wood: On Tour with Guy Fieri

At Generation Flair, we focus primarily on the competitive side of flair bartending. After all, our main goal is to help attract a mainstream network, like ESPN, to this growing sport. However, a new concept has started to emerge that works well for increasing exposure for flair bartending in the U.S. After scoring some free tickets (thanks Jason!) to the Guy Fieri Roadshow at the Midland Theatre, we had the opportunity to sit down with Hayden Wood (a.k.a. “Woody”) after the show to better understand what his flair skills were all about.

What is the Guy Fieri Roadshow?
The Guy Fieri Roadshow recipe is simple. Take an Australian flair bartender, known for his mixology and wine books, add Celebrity Chef Guy Fieri, mix in a DJ with some badass rock and roll vinyl skills and blend. Take this mixture, and bring several thousand people to a boil for an hour and 45 minutes, add a dash of crazy stories, a few tour buses and you’re set up with a 30-day, 22 city cooking tour that’s sweeping the country. Guy Fieri, the star behind “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives,” bills this as “Food, rock n’ roll, and everything they won’t let me do on TV!”

November was the kick-off month for this very alternative idea in cooking demonstrations, backed by the Food Network and all its glory. Woody is the opening act for Fieri and gives the audience a simple and unique flair bartending show while creating several cocktails for a few lucky audience members to enjoy. We watched as he performed simple, but crowd pleasing flair moves such as waterfall pours, behind-the-back flips to a stall and a bottle-tin routine…all while running frantically back and forth across the stage attending to his VIP tables (who were on stage for a pricier ticket than we were allowed). Although this wasn’t our favorite type of flair, it did have a large appeal to those who attended, leaving most with a smile and likely a hangover the next morning.

This is where Woody’s Liquid Kitchen is making enormous headway for flair bartending. By connecting with the masses, he’s effectively giving a great show (albeit not the competitive side) to a wide variety of consumers who may or may not ever go to a bar or a flair bartending competition. He’s out there, promoting flair bartending in a way that a large group of people can connect with. For that, we are truly inspired and grateful for his contribution.

Hayden Woody WoodWho is Hayden Wood?
He insisted we call him Woody, as “Hayden” was only something he was called when in trouble. Our first impression of Woody was someone who was “on” all the time. He was constantly smiling, cracking jokes and interacting with his fans as he signed books and jumped in front of the camera for a photo…a natural entertainer.

Woody is the youngest of three boys and mixed his first drink when he was eight years old…at a New Year’s Eve party on his parents’ Australian farm. That was his first attempt at mixology. Although it was a negative experience to his taste buds, he continued to experiment with the fermentation process and flavors from foods like pumpkin, rice, potatoes, split peas, rhubarb and orange peels. We were interested in what spurred this curiosity at such a young age, and his response was his farm upbringing.

“You know, if you’re raised on a farm, you’re taught to do everything for yourself,” he said. “I read books, I practiced and eventually a 50-gallon drum and a cheese cloth produced a fairly decent 190 proof alcohol that could be mixed with gin, Southern Comfort and Orange Soda Stream.”

By the time he was 15, this concoction became known as his own private label called the “Eagle Rock Experience,” which he sold at parties for a nice profit. Shortly thereafter, New Zealand’s king of cocktail parties was born.

Finding Flair
About 20 years ago, Woody met Beagle Rogers, head bartender & manager of Rumors in London, the sister club to Studio 54. Rogers moved to Australia in the late ‘80s to recover from a “certain” addiction and opened a place called the Iron Pot Cafe. Woody told us he was inspired by Rogers’ flair skills, and constantly asked him for a job so he could learn. With Woody only being 16, Rogers brushed him off several times.

“I was inspired by him, after all he was an amazing flair bartender,” he said. “It was mostly one bottle, but it was tongs, ice, bouncing things off the walls, you know…this was like ’89. And he was taught by the Greeks to do entertainment bartending. He had true heritage sort of flair. Without a doubt, I thought it was an exciting thought to become someone like that.”

Woody was persistent in his quest to get closer to Rogers.

“I bought him cheese, and biscuits, and all kinds of things for about six months trying to gain his approval,” Woody said. “I guess he got sick of me asking, because finally he gave me an ultimatum: ‘If you can find three things wrong behind this bar you can have a job…’ I found four things wrong,” Woody said. Rogers responded with, “Alright smart ass, see ya later!” 

Rogers promptly walked out of the bar at that moment, and left the naive 16 year-old to run a high end cocktail bar for the night. Woody told us it wasn’t much fun. He had no idea how to make anything people were requesting. After all, the place had been written about in Time magazine only six months before so they weren’t your normal Jack & Coke requests.

“That first night was awful, but he kept me on for another 3-4 months, without pay,” Woody said. “I learned a lot.”

Bartending to Travel
A few years later, Woody left Australia for Europe to gain experience in any bar that would hire him. His first stop was the UK to work in the London/Manchester area. Then he landed a job in Turkey and continued working there for awhile.

“I taught a lot of the flair to myself, but after Europe and middle east, I met up with a guy in Manchester,” he said. “I lived in a 13-room flat with a bar downstairs and we all lived upstairs. You never left the building. It was absolute chaos, but that’s where I learned American style flair bartending.”

One day he found himself on a refugee boat from Odessa to Israel. He then decided to work in Israel for a year to save some money. Since that wasn’t enough traveling for Woody’s tastes, he quickly found himself using his engineering background to build hot houses in Egypt and all the way to Sudan.

“There’s only so much city you can take before you realize you need a complete contrast,” he said. “I wanted to know how the rest of the world lived.”

Woody continued to fascinate us as we talked through the rest of the evening. We asked him if it was really hard to be on tour since he’s away from his wife and 2-year old son. He responded quite passionately with a statement we think all of us should take to heart.

“Of course I miss my family, but being on tour is easy. On tour, you’re treated like a demigod. There is nothing hard about this. You lie down in a bus and you go to sleep, or you watch a movie, or you eat food or you drink water. If you’re in this capacity you’re one of the top 1% wealthy people in the world. If you are in a slum, and you do not have any money and you can’t find food…you have something to complain about. So I find people who complain about things particularly hard to deal with,” he said.

We asked Woody what his goal was for Liquid Kitchen and the Guy Fieri Roadshow. He responded, “You go on this kind of journey for a number of reasons…for some people, it’s for the money, but mostly it’s for the exposure.”

We couldn’t agree more. This tour will be able to give Woody the exposure in the U.S. he’s been desiring. From a business standpoint, he’ll be able to create a passive income stream that will hopefully continue long after his tour has ended.

Most bartenders have to go to work in order to earn money. Woody can earn money in his sleep by selling books and tickets online. It’s all about diversification. Guy Fieri is no different – most chefs start and own a restaurant or two. But with this business model, Fieri is creating a branded empire of book sales, a TV series on the Food Network, ticket sales and his new, custom-designed kitchen utensils. The list is endless, but it all centers around his passion for cooking and food.

“The popular chefs now are coming into our homes on these TV shows…I’m trying to do the same in the bartender role,” Woody said.

“It’s a means to project a form of entertainment for something I’m particularly passionate about. It’s the same message as Guy has…we both agree that in America, people have lost their sense of cooking…the function of the kitchen. When convenience food came around, along with the microwave, cooking became boring and unnatural.”

Woody’s World Today
Although he’s a household name in Australia, known for his mixology books and teaching people how to mix their own drinks and distill their own liqueur, Woody has a unique situation. “I’ve alienated myself from the traditional bar scene. I’m more passionate about teaching people to mix drinks in their own kitchen…that’s more rewarding for me,” he said.

And he’s true to his passion, with eight books available for sale, Woody continues to polish his skills as an author, mixology educator and overall entertainer. His hard work is starting to pay off. One of his books claims to be the largest selling mixed drinks/wine book in Australia with eight reprints to its name. But Woody is still humble about his growing success.

“We’re just under 100,000 units, and it’s great…but that’s six years of printing books and working to sell them, while Guy Fieri did 400,000 on his first print,” he said. “But it’s my personal achievement and I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished so far.”

If you’re in need of a good holiday or birthday gift, you can’t go wrong with one of these beautiful books. They’re functional with recipes and how-to’s, but they’re beautifully designed as well, so they work great as coffee table books. Woody says he has his wife, Esmeralda Wood, to thank for that. She’s the photographer and graphic designer behind his brand.

“Behind Three Feet of Bar”
“Woody’s Liquid Kitchen”
“Good Wine, Bad Language, Great Vineyards: Wine Characters of Australia”
“Good Wine, Bad Language, Great Vineyards: Wine Characters of New Zealand”
“The Liquid Kitchen: Groovy Drinks”
“The Liquid Kitchen: Party Drinks”
“Beer Nuts: Beer Characters of Australia”
“Cafe Republic of Australia: Sights, Stories and Flavours of Cafe Culture”

What’s Next?
After the July sale of his 12-year old consulting company, Mondo Bartenders, Woody has a new outlook on his career. And, true to his entertainer personality, he mentioned he’ll begin filming a new series (only available in Australia) this February.

“We have a TV series starting to film in February called “Put Me Behind Bars,” the beverage version of ‘Hell’s Kitchen’…covering coffee, tea, wine, beer, cocktails, front of house service, bar design, etc. It’s all fairly intense and planning to be a fun show. I’ll be the Nazi at the end, calling the shots for bar owners,” he said.

We wish Woody good luck, and look forward to seeing more of this up and coming flair bartender, author and all around nice guy.


3 Responses

  1. Awesome piece GenF on illustrating how flair bartending has branched out to the big stage! Theatrics is yet another way, in addition to competitions and our favorite flair bars, to spread knowledge of this sport to the masses. So glad you were able to witness it first hand and interview Woody.. His overlapping of mixology, ingredients knowledge and basic flair traits is a great way to expose even more fans from diverse backgrounds. Do you think transitions like this help seasoned flair bartenders or mixologists the most? Or all of the above??

    • All good points, Melanie and thanks! We think any flair bartender who can create this new way of branding (or passive income) is a good thing…not just for flair, but for those in the industry looking to branch out a bit.

  2. […] realized flair began taking new avenues to grow in 2009. After our latest blog post and interview with Hayden “Woody” Wood, we saw an even larger potential flair bartending has for generating fans young and […]

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