SB meets… Dickie Cullimore, Bacardi

24th October, 2017 by Michael J Ritchie

Bacardi’s global brand ambassador, Dickie Cullimore, on his top tips for Legacy success, cocktail trends and why the industry is witnessing a global rum renaissance.

New Zealander Dickie Cullimore has been Bacardi brand ambassador since 2015.

Can you tell me about the history of Legacy and how it came to be?

The story starts in 2008 with the UK brand team which Enrique Comas was part of. Bacardi was looking for a way to share its great heritage and stories and one of Bacardi’s biggest legacies is the exceptional cocktails we had. If you go back into any great cocktail book, especially 1920s and 1930s in the Caribbean, one of the lead spirits is rum, specifically Bacardi. Cocktail books from Cuba were telling these great stories about the Daiquiri, the Mojito, the Mary Pickford, the Daisy de Santiago and the Hotel Nacional. So we were looking for a way that we could tell these stories whilst creating our own. Legacy was not the first idea for a cocktail competition that Bacardi had ever had. From as early as the 1930s we were involved in sponsoring cocktail competitions in Cuba. The idea of creating a cocktail competition wasn’t new, but the angle and the reasons were.

We wanted to give bartenders the opportunity to create cocktails that could stand the test of time and sit alongside the likes of the Daiquiri, Pina Colada, the Old Cuban and so on. We wanted them to have their drinks and names in cocktail books for decades or even centuries to come. So the idea was to create and promote great cocktails because without promotion and without that drink leaving your bar, it’s just a delicious drink in your bar. But when the drink travels and has the ability to take seed in your city or country or even globally, it is truly remarkable. Over the last ten years, we’ve seen that happen. The Pan Am, created by Barney Toy in New Zealand, is a great example; it’s now on the cocktail list of every Be At One bar in the UK. Conor Myers who competed in the global final this year for Ireland has had his drink picked up by music festivals, because that was where he got his inspiration from. So his legacy is that his drink has gone through Europe and now even all the way to South America. These are cocktails that will hang around for a long time, so it’s really fulfilling that 10-year opportunity of Legacy.

How has the competition evolved over the last 10 years?

When it started, the competition was about Bacardi Carta Blanca, known back then as Bacardi Superior. Over the years, we have introduced new rums into the mix. Carta Oro was included in the global finals in Sydney 2015 and last year we included Bacardi 8, or if you’re a bartender: Ocho. The reason we did that was really simple: the bartenders were asking for it. When bartenders have that much ownership over a competition like Legacy or over a rum, it liberates you to be able to do what they want to do.

The second interesting evolution was one that we never expected. It is a concept called ‘Le Grand Familiar Bacardi’ – the Grand Family of Bacardi. If you ever go to events such as London Cocktail Week or Bar Convent Berlin, you always find that the Legacy bartenders gravitate together. They work together, play together and network together. The idea of family has become an important part of a cocktail competition, which isn’t surprising if you think of Bacardi as a company; it’s family-owned and holds on to family values.

The third development is that each year we see certain flavours, ingredients or techniques come through on the Legacy stage. I’m not suggesting that these things start at a cocktail competition. But these evolutions in bartending are witnessed by hundreds of thousands of people. So watching a competition like Legacy, gives you an insight as to what is important in terms of ingredients, balance, drinks styles and techniques.

Finally, another huge evolution is the way people have started watching the competition. When we first started, it was a competition for bartenders watched by bartenders. Over the last two years, we have seen an incredible change in that audience and that is the consumer. I think social media in combination with accessibility to information has contributed to that. At the last global semi-final in Berlin we did a count of how many people were watching online and in one instant over 300,000 people were watching live, which is utterly incredible. And over the course of the entire event, China had over 3.7 million live views. So consumers are watching something real: authentic bartenders making drinks. I think that is partly due to the fact that rum is such an exciting category at the moment. We all talk about the premiumisation of rum and this cocktail competition is real life proof of it.

Do you have anything particularly special planned for the 10th anniversary in Mexico?

Yes, we absolutely do. I’m not going to tell you too much about it because it’s going to be a big reveal over the next couple of months. Watch this space!

What will the judges be looking for in this year’s competition? How does judging and scoring work?

Legacy is divided into two parts: the cocktail judging and the promotion judging. The promotional judging is worth one-third of the total mark in the semi-finals. When it gets to the grand final, you will solely be judged on your cocktail. By then you’ve shown us that your cocktail is underway to establishing itself into a Legacy cocktail.

We have broken the drink judging criteria into three parts. The first part is the drink itself, which is divided into the visual appeal: is it an appealing drink with well-chosen glassware and the appropriate garnish? Next is the aroma: is it pleasant and inviting? The third part is taste, mouth-feel and finish. These things happen instantaneously so we group those together. Those parts are worth 70 marks out of a total of 140.

The next part is the legacy. That includes the name: Is it an appropriate name? Is it appealing? Is it original? Does it work in different languages? The inspiration for your drink and the story behind it are really important. That story is often on the menu, which plays a part in why we choose to drink a certain drink. Originality and replicability are two parts very hard to score highly on, but all the great drinks do.

The promotional campaign is judged on four areas. We want you to show us that this drink is on the way to becoming the next Daiquiri or Mojito. The first criteria is visibility, i.e. how are you promoting the drink inside your bar or in other bars. How are you getting your customers to order this drink? Next is awareness, which happens outside the bar: has your drink featured on radio or TV? Have you had the opportunity to share your recipe through traditional media? We also look at the social media side of it, so did you have a campaign where people were interacting with you via social channels? A great example is a competitor from Russia who did a campaign with Uber about not drinking and driving. Everyone who purchased his cocktail, received a free Uber voucher. So social causes are another way to create awareness around your drink.

Trial is also an element judges look for. How many drinks were sold or sampled? This could be at industry events such as trade shows or parties for example. Trial might also include training in bar schools where you might teach bartenders how to make certain cocktails as well as their own Bacardi Legacy creation.

The final area that the promotional judges are looking at is creativity. Another good example from last year was a bartender who worked with a doughnut company to produce a doughnut that complemented his cocktail. It was a really clever way of promoting his drink.

Ran Van Ongevalle, Bacardi Legacy 2017 winner

Can you share a couple of your top tips for Legacy success?

Take time to think about your inspiration – the stories I enjoy most are the ones that are personal passions. This year’s Legacy winner, Ran Van Ongevalle, is a great example. He likes to use ingredients that inspire him, like cacao, as he is Belgian so chocolate is a big part of his culture. Conor Myers’s passion is music and he found himself as a bartender working in Ireland where he learned everything about what bartending is about and how music can be brought into that.

Be yourself – don’t put on an act or try and be someone you’re not.

What do you think is causing the British rum renaissance at the moment? Are consumers being recruited from other categories?

The first thing is that it’s not just a British renaissance, but a global one. We are seeing a real lead from the cocktail makers of the world, so the UK, then you look at places like New York, San Francisco, and Miami. Throughout Asia, in places like Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Tokyo we’re seeing growth in rums and consumers are demanding premium.

The most Googled rum cocktail in Europe is the Mojito. Consumers are becoming more aware and savvy and are making these drinks at home. It’s a drink that transitions you from evening drinking to night-time drinking. That’s where rum is in my heart. It’s a fun drink and not steeped in pretension. The way we drink rum has changed over the years. We are generally drinking less, but drinking better. We’re seeing rum being taken really seriously, but also that rum can be serious fun!

The other factor in the popularity of rum is the fact that bartenders just really enjoy working with it. The amount of great rum cocktails in London is huge. My favourite rum cocktails in London now are the Oak Island Old Fashioned at Dandelyan, and the Champagne Colada and Cocoa Collins at Coupette.

Do you think cocktail culture inspires people to seek out new spirits and experiences?

Good question. Consumers are very experience-driven so it’s natural that those who already enjoy certain spirits are likely to be curious about new spirits, particularly those that are trending or doing new and interesting things. Loyalty has changed; in the past people used to stick to their brands, now you probably have a few different go-to’s.

Cocktails are a great form of escapism too. One minute you could be in a rainy London street and the next you could be drinking a fabulous tiki cocktail that is bright and vibrant, conveying the rhythm, the beat and taste of the Caribbean.

What top trend do you think will be big in rum in the future?

You can break trends down into numerous sub-trends. The first trend are ingredients. It’s unsurprising that we see ingredients that are either complementary or contrasting to the base spirit in a competition like Legacy. We’re also at the peak of experimenting with mouth-feel and texture. Ingredients like sugar, salt and fats and the way that they change the way we see a liquid. Fat-washing, saline solutions, using different oils to give those different textures and mouth-feel is certainly a trend we’re seeing.

The way we talk about rum is changing, too. Defining rum is very hard, as it has different rules. Within the rum community there is a lot of talk about how we define what premium is. I certainly think that production process is an important aspect, but we should definitely think about how ageing and age statements are communicated to consumers.

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