Dan is the Docker bakery supervisor and also a baker. We caught up with him for a chat about what makes him tick.
P: So you are a big fan of Jack Daniels – how did that come about?
I got a bottle of Jack Daniel’s for Christmas when I was about 18 – and I didn’t realise at the time that it was a limited edition bottle. I just thought, “Cool, Jack Daniel’s – I’m 18, I’m gonna drink this over Christmas” – and I necked the whole bottle over a few days. It wasn’t until some time later that I realised it was a limited edition bottle!
So, I started looking into it and discovered Jack Daniel’s released special edition and limited edition bottles at Christmas, in September when his birthday would’ve been, anniversary’s etc. and it just kind of piqued my interest.
P: What is the difference between Scotch and American whisky in terms of taste and process?
Jack Daniel’s is technically a Tennessee Whiskey as opposed to a Bourbon. This means that the whiskey is charcoal mellowed – not in a barrel, but passes through about 10 metres of charcoal to filter it and then it gets barrelled. This filtering process, along with charring the inside of the barrels helps give the whiskey that smokey flavour.
P: How long does it sit in the barrels?
A minimum of 4 years.
P: And the special editions?
Special editions kind of vary. Jack Daniel’s do bottle a whiskey colloquially known as ‘Green Label’, which isn’t in the barrel for as long and it also sits down low in the barrel house when it’s ageing. The climate changes at the lower levels of the barrel house are less extreme and so the end result is a lighter colour and less percentage.
P: What kind of percentage?
37% so only a little less.
P: What’s the standard?
The standard is 40% but they do go higher too. ‘Single Barrel’ and a few others are 50% and they now release ‘Barrel Strength’ and that’s around the 65% mark.
P: Have you ever been to Tennessee?
No, but it’s on my bucket list! It’s only distilled in one place in the world and that’s Lynchburg, Tennessee.
P: If you do go there, make sure you also go to Dollywood!
Oh definitely, that’s totally on the list!
When I met my wife, Kate, we were talking about stuff we wanted to do in life and she said, “I really want to go to New Orleans and drive around the Deep South”. That’s obviously where the distillery is and we thought that that’d be perfect for both of us!
P: So going on from that; you can see from your Instagram, @oldsourmash that you love cooking. What kind of things do you enjoy cooking? And how did you get into it?
I kind of got into it because I really like eating out in restaurants and enjoying good food and discovering new tastes, but I’ve never really had the money to do it all the time; so I just thought, I’m gonna make it myself! And that’s how it began.
P: And sometimes as well, in the past, there haven’t been that many great restaurants offering different cuisines.
And being able to cook gives you the chance to try new things – literally anything you want, from any part of the world. I guess it was a confidence thing too. When I first left home I lived in a house share, and one of the first things I made myself was penne pasta and plum tomatoes – just on top, not chopped up or anything! It was a very sad affair. I decided from then on to start cooking properly.
P: Whose recipes do you like?
I don’t know if there’s anyone specifically – I really like cooking South East Asian food, so I’ve got a lot of recipe books on that and a few celebrity chef books that cover food from that part of the world too.
W: So how many cookbooks have you got?
I’ve got about 180 cookbooks, which is super fun when you‘re moving house!
W: That’s called a library!
P: That’s amazing.
The alcoves in our sitting room are full of cookbooks!
P: So there must be a couple of books that you could say are your favourites, the “go-to” ones that you could say are the best?
Well, the Hairy Bikers have an Asian Adventure road trip book so I‘ve got a few recipes from there – Chicken Laksa, Thai Green Curry and Massaman curry are my favourites from that one, Madeleine Shaw would be another “go-to” book. Some great healthy, feel good recipes in there. I make her Chicken Tagine quite often.
To be honest I don’t really make British food that often. I’ve got a lot of Jamie Olivers – so I should probably start!
P: He does a lot of Italian too, doesn’t he?
Yes, he does. I mean, I think I’ve probably got books that cover most countries. The food I‘d really like to get into is Mexican.
P: I think that’s one that’s really underrepresented, because Mexican food we get here is nothing like traditional Mexican food, which offers so much more.
P So, going on from there, how did you find out about the job at Docker and why did you decide to go for it?
I’d been in my previous job at Maidstone Hospital for most of my working life, and I’d got as far as I could without retraining again and as far as I wanted to as well. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do.
People said I should be a chef, but I never really wanted to do that. I’ve always been really interested in food – I baked a lot of bread at home (I don’t do that anymore!)
W: Tell us about the special bread you made for one of your work colleagues.
Oh, yeah! I worked in Endoscopy, mainly focussing on the bowel. One of the nurses was moving from there to be a specialist bowel nurse, so everyone was bringing in food for her last day. I baked some bread in the shape of a large bowel complete with appendix, caecum and polyps; it went down a treat! The Doctors were saying things like “I want to try the caecum!”
W: Is that on your Instagram account?
Oh yeah, it’s on there!
So yes I wanted to do something else. Actually it was Kate that saw the Docker post on Facebook, and she tagged me in it not really thinking much about it because you wanted someone with experience…but I knew I’d missed out on jobs previously because I didn’t think I had the relevant experience. So I thought you know what, I’m just gonna go for it.
I gave you guys my Instagram account, and said I’d never worked in the food industry before, but I really love anything and everything related to food so have a look at my posts and see what you think.
P: And how was that experience of starting, having never worked in a commercial kitchen; was it hardcore?
I did the trial day with you guys and got a feel for what a normal working day would consist of. I liked the fact that it was a small operation. I was taught very well – starting from scratch literally learning everything.
P: What about the sort of processes of making bread on a day to day level – you are now turning out these huge quantities of loaves etc. Do you find the processes meditative? Or is it about talking to the others, a community thing.
It’s great Docker is doing really well and it’s wonderful to be a part of that. And people go mad for the bread! Yes, I suppose it is quite meditative. Like you say, we’re making huge quantities these days and you can really get in the zone for a good few hours and shape solidly.
P: It’s a real tangible product – it’s warm, people can hold it in their hand and smell freshly baked bread.
People love the fact that they can come down, buy it from people who have just baked it, have a chat about it, learn each other’s names – it really does have a sense of community.
You can go to the supermarket and buy some cheap, mass produced bread or you can come down to the bakehouse and get it from source and baked by people who’ve got a real passion for it.
P: Do you guys like working on The Harbour Arm? It’s obviously good in the summer!
It‘s fine in the winter as well! I’m forever running out and taking pictures of the sunrise – it’s awesome. In my last job I worked in a room that had no windows, so to be able to see the sea every day – it doesn’t matter if it’s cold or miserable outside – I love it!
P: Although, have you heard that we’re blocking up the windows?
That’s ok, I’ll bore a hole in the back – it’s fine!
P: Going forward, where would you like to see things heading in the future?
Well, I love that I’ve progressed as far as I have so far – and I’m well up for that continuing – wherever it may lead.
W: Maybe we should talk about your new babies!
P: So you’ve recently had twin girls – these are your first children.
Yeah, I’m loving it! They’re doing really well. They used to keep me up for quite a bit of the night but on account of me baking first thing in the morning it didn’t really matter.
One night, the girls woke me up because they were hungry, it was 2am, and without thinking I got up and dressed thinking it was time for work! I wasn’t used to being up in the night for any other reason other than to bake bread!
P: And what was it once; 37 hours awake?!
Yeah, that was in the early days; I felt like I’d gone into the future! I was really sleep deprived around that time – I tried to get soap out of the hand dryer!