Jesse Hubbard is the bar manager at the Great Southern Whiskey Bar at the Westin Columbus in Columbus, OH.
Where are you from originally?
I’m originally from the land of Springsteen and Sinatra, better known as New Jersey! I’ve also lived in Louisville, KY, and Eugene, OR, and have now made Columbus, OH, my home.
What was your first bartending job?
My first time ever behind the bar was at this absolutely wonderful historic restaurant called The Emmitt House [in Waverly, OO]. I only did a few shifts here and there and was unbelievably green, but it made me realize that this was something I wanted to pursue.
What is your favorite spirit to work with at the moment?
What’s really excited me lately has been infusing spirits and creating my own shrubs and cordials. I just love the challenge that each new infusion or fat washing brings. Most recently I’ve done a smoked-cheddar-washed gin and a roasted-sweet-corn cordial.
You’ve been competing in a lot of cocktail contests this year? Any advice you can share on preparing?
I’d say don’t submit a cocktail to a competition just for the sake of submitting a cocktail. Keep working on your recipe over and over until you feel that it’s the absolute best it can be.
Practice your presentation to the point of feeling overprepared. If you work hard and are proud of your creation, then win or lose you’re going to walk away from the experience a better bartender than you were before you started.
The Westin’s watering hole recently transitioned from Thurber’s Bar to the Great Southern Whiskey Bar; was it seeing greater interest in whiskey?
It was honestly just time for a fresh look and feel for the bar. We wanted to evolve while staying true to the history of the building and the idea to become a whiskey bar felt like a natural and logical step to take.
Being a hotel bar, many of our guests are coming in from out of town. They always love to browse our selection to find a new favorite, and one of the best parts of my job is talking whiskey and turning someone on to something they’ve never had before.
We heard the hotel had a ghost. Ever seen it?
There have been quite a few strange occurrences at the hotel over the years. The Westin is the oldest hotel in Columbus, and the building was built in 1897 so you have to imagine there’s an energy there. I’ve often wondered if I’ve ever had a ghost at the bar and didn’t even know it. On a busy Saturday night when the bar is packed a ghost could blend right in and we’d never even know!
What’s your current go-to cocktail or beverage?
Boulevardiers for days!
What’s the most popular drink on the list at the moment?
Right now I have a cocktail on the menu called “On My Way Downtown,” which uses the smoked-cheddar-washed gin, but everybody just calls it the cheese drink. It’s really fun to see our guests surprised reactions after tasting it, and despite it being such a weird concept, everyone has been loving it!
On My Way Downtown
1 ¼ oz. Smoked-cheddar-washed, bourbon-barrel-aged gin
¾ oz. Apple brandy
¾ oz. Brown-sugar/pear cordial
Dash smoked-cinnamon bitters
House-made cheddar crisp as garnish
Combine ingredients and stir. Strain into coupe glass and garnish with cheddar crisp.