A Drink With: Vineyard Café and Arrow Factory Restaurateur Will Yorke, Who Reveals His Boozy Escapades

While many of us thankfully can’t recall our worst nights out, Will Yorke remembers one such awful occasion all too vividly. In fact, it was the first time ever that the would-be restaurateur behind such Beijing mainstays as Vineyard Café, Stuff’d, and Arrow Factory Brewing got sloshed back in his native Britain, an incident that still haunts him to this day.

“I remember the first time I got drunk very, very vividly,” he says of the first time he tried to buy alcohol while hanging out at a sailing club near his home on the south coast of England, where his mother would drop him off as a 14-year-old to get him out of the house. “They’d have these parties on the “beach,” which was more like an estuary or mudflat. You’d hang around the shop, wait until an adult came by, and ask them to buy you some booze.”

Rather than doing the somewhat responsible thing of asking for a six pack of beer, or another somewhat manageable option for a first timer, Yorke instead went all in with a bottle of hefty vermouth. “I didn’t know anything about it. I thought ‘I’ve heard of this drink called martini.’ Probably from James Bond. And I saw this green bottle and I thought I’d order that, and be smooth like 007. I drank the entire bottle. And then vomited vermouth for about two days.”

He has certainly come a long way since then – becoming a wine connoisseur and much admired cook and restaurateur. He opened Vineyard Café over a decade ago, only to see it become a groundbreaking homestyle Western restaurant on Wudaoying Hutong.

He went on to sling craft sausages at Stuff’d and make Arrow craft beer with his pal and fellow brewer Thomas Gaestadius, parlaying that into a beloved Liangma River brewery. And though he’s been driven to drink by many challenges over the years – not least of which was the sudden closure of his original Vineyard Café in April and the potential closing of Stuff'd as a result of the rampant restructuring of the hutongs – he also has plenty of reasons to raise a glass in celebration, including the opening of his new Chaowai Soho Vineyard Café takeout kitchen. Below, the seasoned F&B vet tells us more about his boozy escapades that led him to where he is today.
What are some of your favorite food and booze pairings?
There’s this fantastic Spanish wine called Albarino. It’s from the North Atlantic Coast, which means the air blowing in gives the wine a salty quality that goes really well with seafood, especially shellfish.

Do you have a go-to drink to help you unwind at home after a long day at work?
Well there’s two kinds of “getting home” times for me. There’s when I’ve already been to the brewery, already drunk, getting home and having one more, which is normally like a nail in the coffin. But let’s not talk about that one.

Then there’s me patiently waiting for the clock to strike 6pm, because that’s the rule of course, and that when I like to grab a lovely chilled, Arrow Factory bottled Guanxi Pale ale, which is in shops now [chuckles ruefully]. It’s crisp, refreshing, and comes with a nice label. Joking and shameless plugging aside, it is the perfect beer for a relaxed summer evening or a day of barbecuing.

So, beer is usually your go-to booze?
Well I always start with a beer. What happens after that is anyone’s guess. But a beer takes the sand out of the throat after a long desert journey. Which is really what it is sometimes like in Beijing when you travel by bike.

And if I had to pick something I actually don’t make [laughs again], I’ll take whatever’s in lager form in April Gourmet, below RMB 8. Which is not Heineken or Carlsberg, because they’re undrinkable.

What’s a better alternative?
I’m quite partial to Warsteiner, the German pilsner. I think they sell it cheaper at April Gourmet to get rid of it, and I successfully drank them out of Warsteiner. It only took me about two years.

And what if there’s not a drop of beer in sight?
A gin and tonic is always a good idea. One of the great things about China is that gin made in London is actually cheaper here than if you buy it there. It’s RMB 80 per bottle or something here, whereas in London it costs you about RMB 150.

Any varieties in particular?
Beefeater can do the job. I want a nice dry gin, without anything too fancy. Yesterday I had a Bombay Sapphire with tonic and I have to say, I don’t like it. It’s too botanical. Same goes for a martini. Again, never Bombay; it’s like someone sprayed perfume in your martini. What you want is a good dry, crisp gin. So for me, it’s Beefeater. Purists will say “eww,” but it works for me.

Lastly, we began this interview talking about your disastrous early bingeing on vermouth. I’m wondering if you got into any trouble for that.
No, not really. It wasn’t long after that that my mom taught me how to fake my birth certificate so I could go in pubs. She’d give me correction fluid, tell me to write in a different year on my birth certificate, and then photocopy that and bring it in with me. So, really, in terms of behaving myself, I never had a chance. 

This article first appeared in the July/August issue of the Beijinger.

Images: Uni You, imgarcade.com