Brand ambassadors are much more than elite representatives attempting to charm you into supporting their portfolios. Yes, they want their products to be featured heavily on your menus. And yes, they want your guests’ eyes to be drawn to their bottles with ideal back bar placement. But your relationship with them isn’t a one-way street.
Many an ambassador left a lucrative bartending career to take a role with a spirit brand. Some owned bars but were recruited by brands to become ambassadors. They’re not just salespeople for brands—they’re passionate about this industry. They’re zealous about learning and passing their knowledge on to others.
Sure, sometimes they’re the woman or man who comes into your establishment and rearranges your back bar. It happens. But they’re also the people who are excited about coming into your bar to teach your staff about new techniques, hot cocktail and flavor trends, and amazing drink recipes. They also want to hear from you and your staff, learning about what’s going on in your bar, restaurant or nightclub so they can serve your business better.
So, when you have the chance to speak with and learn from several brand ambassadors at once, you leap at the chance. I had that opportunity last week at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans. You can bet I accepted that invitation without hesitation.
Over a dozen Bacardí portfolio ambassadors gathered in a pop-up café to answer questions and share their knowledge. Brand ambassadors ranged from global to regional to market-specific (Chicago, NYC, Los Angeles and other cities), and they represented Bacardí as a whole, along with Dewar’s, Banks Rum, Cazadores and Grey Goose.
The following is what I learned from my time with those on the frontlines of bar business and beverage trends.
Blanco & Bar Skills
Manny Hinojosa, global ambassador for Cazadores, believes that more guests are showing an interest in enjoying blanco tequilas neat. Hinojosa also stated that bartenders coming up in the business now have many more resources than the bartenders who came before them.
Of course, these resources can be a double-edged sword. Bartenders can learn new techniques, discover new ingredients and see what’s hot in the world of bars and bartending across the globe with the push of a button.
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But they can also easily get ahead of themselves, failing to give enough time and attention to bartending and hospitality basics, said Chris Hopkins, Bacardí national account portfolio ambassador. Some in this industry are too eager to become Insta-famous or rush into a brand ambassador role. They can tell you all about obscure spirits and ingredients, but they lack the skills to “layer a B-52.”
Highballs & Vermouth
Other trends in spirits the brand ambassadors identified include the explosion in popularity of highballs. While the standards are doing well—Scotch & Soda, Gin & Tonic, Cuba Libre—bartenders are getting creative and putting their spins on things. Clarified milk punch is also experiencing a moment.
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Jennifer Contraveos, central senior portfolio ambassador for Bacardí, is excited about increased interest in Bacardí Banana and increased consumer interest in vermouth. Of the former, Contraveos recommends a shot of coffee and the flavored rum. Of the latter, she says the trend is to drink it as-is. The Martini & Rossi Riserva line of vermouths—Riserva Speciale Ambrato and Riserva Speciale Rubino, both vermouths di Torino—offer your guests premium vermouth experiences from a brand name they know. The bottles are elegant and look great on a back bar, to boot. While it can be a challenge to move Americans out of their cocktail comfort zones, Contraveos and others are enticing more people to enjoy vermouth on its own.
A number of the brand ambassadors identified simplification—without sacrificing quality, excitement or drinkability—as a consumer trend moving forward. Put bluntly, classic and simple will drive the next wave of consumer demand for cocktails. The craft market, according to some, is getting exhausted.
Consumers are becoming exhausted. Bartenders, in an attempt to constantly be at the forefront of what’s new and next, are exhausted. The elegance and refinement of the three-ingredient cocktail are appealing to a growing number of guests who just want to sip something simple but high quality. Think Negronis, Martinis and aperitivos for your happy hour menu.
Yep, They’re Back
Taylor Hansen, Chicago portfolio ambassador, and Duane Fernandez, Jr., Houston portfolio ambassador, pointed to two cocktails that every bar needs to have on the menu. They may not be what you’d expect but they’re back, and not ironically: the Cosmo and the Espresso Martini. In particular, Hansen and Fernandez mentioned the Grey Goose Cosmo.
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Of course, Grey Goose is in the Bacardí portfolio, so it stands to reason they’d want to push a version that calls for Grey Goose. However, Jaymee Mandeville, senior portfolio manager, and Christina Cabrera, Grey Goose brand ambassador in NYC, confirmed that the Grey Goose Cosmo and Espresso Martini are on fire in NYC. In fact, Grey Goose as a brand has become a favorite among NYC bartenders. Love this fact or hate it, NYC tends to operate on the bleeding edge of trends. If the bartenders there are making money with Cosmos and Espresso Martinis made with Grey Goose, you should take note.
As Cabrera said, “Everyone has to have an espresso Martini, and it's now about Grey Goose, coffee liqueur, single estate high-quality coffee and sugar free.” She did say simple syrup is acceptable for Espresso Martinis.
Spirit of Kings
One of the most beloved brand ambassadors and biggest personalities in the business, Colin Asare-Appiah, trade director of culture and lifestyle and east senior portfolio ambassador at Bacardí, said simply, “It's time to explore Cognac.” It’s the spirits category experiencing the largest growth, and it’s one of the original spirits of kings. During our conversation, Asare-Appiah pointed out that there’s just something about enjoying a Cognac that makes you feel regal, elegant and refined. It’s an elevated experience, even when used in a cocktail.
When one brand ambassador talks about industry and consumer trends, you listen. When a dozen or more share their knowledge in the same room, you grab a chair, take notes, and publish them.