So, when Angelo Gobbi – the whisky sommelier at Mayfair hotel the Athenaeum – was told by his colleagues that Forbes had voted him as having one of the best hotel jobs anywhere, he presumed they were just kidding around with him.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he told me, laughing and holding his hands spread in a typically, Italian conversational way.
“To me, it’s the coolest job I could ever have. I will never forget when I was told about it. I just thought: ‘But a whisky sommelier doesn’t exist!’ ”
Angelo previously worked just down the road from the boutique Athenaeum hotel, as the bars manager of the larger Four Seasons hotel.
“We were quite lucky there because we had 45 to 50 whiskies in the bar,” he said.
Now, Angelo manages a “portfolio” of over 270 whiskies at the Athenaeum, consisting of drams from around the world and across the last century. His job as whisky sommelier is much like that of a wine sommelier: to speak with guests further about their choices for the evening and to help them map out what their taste buds might be after.
Angelo took on the role in 2010, but he says it took just over a year to really get the bar re-established in terms of its whisky offerings.
“There wasn’t anyone looking after the bar specifically. And, in a way, this place has always been renowned as a whisky bar, but there wasn’t someone also looking after the guests,” he explained.
Now, people know him as the go-to person to question and quiz about whisky when they’re visiting the bar or staying at the hotel itself.
“I have a few regulars who come in once a week to have whisky. What often happens is if I talk to someone at one table, people nearby hear and then ask if they can talk with me too,” he said, adding he never brings just one whisky to a table but always offers a choice of three or four so guests feel they can make the final decision themselves.
The hotel now hosts continuously sold-out Whisky Socials (one of which I wrote about here), featuring guests from the world of whisky talking about drams in a relaxed environment and pairing the whiskies with food. While these took a while to get going, Angelo says he is now having to turn down people as bookings are too busy.
“I want to keep them small,” he said. “I wouldn’t be able to give the attention to everyone otherwise.”
As such, he expects the next set of whisky socials (due to begin later this year) will become more frequent to satisfy demand.
The only difficulty he finds in the bar is getting quality stock that won’t cost a fortune to replace old bottlings, in order to keep costs down for customers.
“Prices have started to go over the moon. And I don’t want people to think that because whisky is suddenly popular, we are just taking the piss with costs on the menu,” he said. “As a whisky lover, I feel upset when I see dust on a bottle. I’d prefer to have a wider selection with prices between £10-£20 which people can afford.”
So, with having one of the coolest hotel jobs, what is Angelo’s favourite part?
“There is nothing that makes me more happy than to have someone say, ‘I don’t like whisky’, and then for me to try to convince them to have a try. That’s my goal,” he added, smiling jollily.
If anyone was to inhabit this role, I couldn’t imagine a better candidate than Angelo. Effortlessly gracious, full to the brim about knowledge of every whisky and absolutely passionate about encouraging people to give it a try. The perfect candidate, indeed.
For more information about the whisky events such as the whisky social or whisky and cheese pairings at the Athenaeum Hotel, head here.