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A drink with… Shervene Shahbazkhani, Bacardi

Bacardi’s Northern Europe brand ambassador talks to us about career progression, competitions and spirits category predictions.

Shervene Shahbazkhani, Bacardi’s northern Europe brand ambassador

What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned from your time in the drinks industry?

Professionalism. If you think of the industry, it’s large and expansive: pubs, clubs, restaurants, bars… I guess what stands out to me is that those who have taken it seriously, taken it as a career, and learned about craft and cocktails, they’re the ones that have gone really far.

What made you decide to jump from the on-trade to brand ambassador?

I loved the training and education side. I’m not shy and I quite like to stand up and present to a group. But I also love the strategic, creative and marketing sides of the role. I’ve always been a geek and bookworm; I love putting plans in place and seeing them come to fruition. And I still get to do the creative drinks part, too.

Do you think this step is becoming something of an established career move for bartenders?

I don’t think it’s necessarily seen as a promotion; it’s just approaching the industry from a completely different angle. I know some people think this is the easy way out, but it’s just as hard work and as creative as working in a bar. Other jobs are equally established. If you look at operations manager roles there’s so much travel, so much creativity. I guess it’s just a kind of step up, but it’s not the only step if you want to build your career. There are so many options.

How do you think the industry is changing?

What I’ve really noticed in the last two to three years is bartender awareness of social media. Everyone’s become their own PR agent, very digitally savvy. And because you know what’s happening all around the world, people have become more conscious of how they present their bar and cocktail menus. This greater presence online isn’t just from big hotel groups with a PR team – it’s smaller bars as well. And bartenders themselves know what they need to do to improve their careers. It’s become a much more competitive environment.

What trends have you identified for 2016?

There’s a lot going on around sustainability – take [Hoxton cocktail bar] White Lyan for example: no ice, no perishables. More bars are doing that – minimising their footprint and waste. I also think there’s a revolt back to making things simple. I was in Australia recently and they were using a lot of juicers, and I kind of hope that comes over here.

You’re very involved with Bacardi Legacy. Tell us about the competition and how it’s different from other events…

I’ve been involved with Legacy from near the beginning. It was a competition born in the UK and then it went global. I’ve seen it grow over the last seven years. It’s not just about creating a drink on the evening, crowning a winner, then moving on. It’s about finding a cocktail that has the potential to become a classic, then giving the bartender the budget to market it and see which stands the test of time. It really gives the drink a lifespan and a legacy, which is what that name’s about. It gives a platform for bartenders to really boost their careers.

Why should bartenders take part in cocktail competitions?

I can’t stress enough how valuable cocktail competitions can be. They are certainly something that built my career. I wouldn’t have got my job at Bacardi without entering competitions. When you’re not living in a main city you’re not always front-of-mind, so you have to make the extra effort to stand out. Cocktail competitions help you do so. Yes, it does take up time, but in that time you’re learning to be a better presenter, you’re learning about the industry, you’re learning about the brand… I benefitted from taking the time before to study and learn so you become faster, more confident and a better bartender in general.

How can the industry keep consumers excited about the rum category in general?

If you look at the UK and category-specific bars, the rum ones tend to [do well] because rum is so versatile and approachable. I think rum and consumers are going to go the distance. There’s still a job to be done. Sometimes when you say ‘rum’ to the public, they think it’s really strong and not their cup of tea. There are white rums, spiced rums, aged rums, gold rums. But we’re getting there. We need to bring it more to the off-trade. It’s hard to know what rums to pick for which occasion. We do it well with wines, but not with rum. Making purchasing easier is key to the future.

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