It’s a week since you found out that you will be representing the UK in the BACARDÍ Legacy Global Cocktail Competition, has the enormity of your achievement sunk in yet?
It’s sunk in but that’s not to say that the enormity has lessened in any capacity whatsoever! In fact, if anything it’s really dawned on me how big this competition is. The outreach of support has been phenomenal – it took me until the weekend to get back to everyone to thank them for their messages. That’s when I realised that all eyes in the UK are on me now. So yes, the enormity of it has definitely sunk in.
Is it a good pressure?
Definitely, it’s something I really thrive on. If there’s anything that drew me to bartending, it was that notion of showmanship, being on stage and getting out there. I’m really looking forward to having that opportunity and the pressure that goes with it is only going to drive me to go harder.
You told us that you thought Oliver Pluck was going to win, why?
He’s just such a nice guy! I spent the week in Miami with him and Santiago and they are both amazing, but Oli has something special about him which is a testament to why he’s such a legend in this industry. He’s the Lego movie personified and I mean that in a good way – for him everything is awesome and he just goes, goes, goes! He’s brilliant and has such an amazing energy about him so my money was on him because I could see that energy being used to really kick ass in the Global Finals.
So what do you think gave you the edge?
I guess I took the same approach that we have for our business model at Dandelyan and White Lyan: I took the grounding we have in the industry and used it to project out to the consumer market. I did a good amount of industry stuff but my real focus was getting Carta Switchel in front of as many people as possible. The video I did for Metro newspaper clocked up 40,000 views and it’s things like that that worked for me – marketing is a numbers game at the end of the day so I pushed myself to do the consumer stuff that had the right numbers. I was very fortunate to get some great media coverage in big publications The Guardian, Observer and the Metro. Also the Switchel Academy came from a very honest place – I was very happy with how it was executed. It gave back in the way I wanted it to.
Iain and fellow Northern European winners with their trophies
You say the Switchel Academy came from an honest place, can you expand on that?
The Academy was something I wanted to achieve – BACARDÍ Legacy gave me the platform to make it possible. Everyone has been talking about how we need to reinvest over the past few years – talk to any owner/operator and they’ll tell you there’s a major skill shortage in the industry. Yet there are very few programs that have the training in place to continue to further people. There are some excellent exceptions like Bobby Huegel at Anvil – he trains his team from the ground up and that’s the way it should be. We spend a lot of time talking about it but if we don’t start acting on it in the next couple of years we’re going to have no one to blame but ourselves.
And of course, that’s a legacy in itself…
Indeed, it all tied into the story. I started each session by saying a legacy is born in the hands of those who work the hardest, but it was about giving something back and delivering in return and yes, creating a legacy. I created a talking point around the Carta Switchel so the it became second nature. It made it a much easier conversation than continually talking about my drink.
Have you enjoyed the competition?
That’s a very fair question because even I was sceptical going into it. I’m not a big competition person, I used to enter – I even had a few people who have suggested that given what we’ve achieved with the bars, it was unnecessary for me to enter. If nothing else, what I’ve enjoyed about the competition is bringing everything I set out to create to fruition. My bedroom walls are covered with A3 sheets of paper with all the ideas I scribbled down when I first started mind-mapping how I could approach the Switchel Academy. When I looked at it a few days ago it was amazing to see how much of it I’d actually achieved.
What are you proudest of?
Things like who I got to present at the Switchel Academy. I had a dream list and I ended up getting seven of the 12 people I wanted. People like Carina Tsou who I wanted to talk about the culture she’s built behind her bars in Paris and Marc Alvarez – his work ethic puts what Ryan and I do to shame! I consider myself very lucky and extremely fortunate that I even have those people to call on but I was afforded the opportunity to get their stories out there.
In our previous interview we asked if you’d been following the other BACARDÍ Legacy finalists. You hadn’t. Has that changed now?
No, and I really wished I had! It’s not that I don’t care – I learned a long time ago that I achieve a lot more when I march to my own beat. I never spend a long time watching what anybody else is doing, I much prefer to put on the blinkers and then charge in with what I’m doing. In my mind, if you’re too busy following what people are doing it can be wildly distracting and make you second guess yourself – that time spent wishing could be time spent achieving. That’s how we operate on a daily basis – we prefer to get out there and make shit happen. But that said I intend to get myself fully up-to-date on the contestants I’ll be competing against next month!
The past three BACARDÍ Legacy UK winners Tom Walker, Ally Martin and yourself have all worked at Bramble in Edinburgh, coincidence or what?
There are a million and one testaments to just how brilliant that bar is – everyone wants to work there, even for a couple of months or a guest shift. It strikes the perfect balance between fun times and frivolity but at the same time banging out perfect drinks. And Mike and Jayce are brilliant – they’ve led me, Ryan and everyone else who has worked there through so much.
How are you preparing for the big gig in San Francisco?
It’s on my mind every waking hour. More than anything I’m really excited about presenting my marketing report – I really want to drive home the importance of the Switchel Academy. Previously we had to submit our presentations but I’m looking forward to talking about it – I’m much better at talking than writing.
I’m going to fly out to LA a few days earlier then drive down to San Francisco so I arrive there as calm and zen as humanly possible. The work is all done now. It’s all about dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s and six months of work and preparation will come together – I can’t wait.
The BACARDÍ Legacy Global Cocktail Competition takes place in San Francisco from 20th April. Keep up to date @BacardiLegacy