A tale of two tastings

Award-winning rum ambassadors Chesterfield Brown and Stefanie Holt are both top of their game but their tastings couldn’t have been more different.

The Award Winning Stefanie Holt

London is gripped with a fever – the kind of excitement that only rum can cure. The city’s first annual Cocktail Week was rounded off with a weekend-long rum convention, closed with the Golden Rum Barrel Awards at the Hilton.

Chester Brown, brand ambassador for Mount Gay, was named the world’s best ambassador for the spirit; El Dorado’s Stefanie Holt the best in the UK. I was lucky enough to get to rum tastings held by both – but the differences between the two stuck out like cocktail umbrellas in a Old Fashioned.

As anyone who watches Mad Men will tell you, getting a brand message across to someone is an art form. The job is not, as many industry snarks presume, an easy buck – and it’s as creative as cocktail-making.

Stef and Chester had both applied that principle to their events. The where, when and why of a good cocktail is the difference between a kir and a Zombie. Like any bartender, the top brand ambassador asks who their customer is before they start.

First of all, the venue sets the tone

Mount Gay's Chesterfield Brown

Stef’s Eldorado event at the Jub-jub bar got us sitting around a tiny table to rub shoulders with fellow drinks bloggers and drinks geeks. Rum cocktails circulated and the conversation bubbled over.

Chester’s tasting was held in a dimly-lit dining room at Trader Vic’s in the Park Lane Hilton – perfect for the spirits connoisseurs, hotel bar managers and spirits collectors in attendance. But the long dark table kept chat and heckles to a minimum. Our questions were herded into a fifteen-minute slot at the end – although his Powerpoint presentation had answered most of them already.

Secondly, you can’t serve up what you don’t know

Chester had a Powerpoint presentation, perfectly scripted; Stef went from table to table and sat on someone’s knee to tell us about the different blends.

But both ambassadors brought their own background to the brand message. Chester sowed the Mount Gay story through with his own memories of the sugar buzz from stolen cane, and Barbados’ rum shop culture. Stef made a connection with the audience when she admitted that she hadn’t heard of Guyana either before she researched her brand.

Thirdly, your drink has the last word on the subject

For Stef, the tasting was fairly freeform – just a couple of notes on the spirit – but the rum cocktails sold the spirit to the crowd that she’d invited. If you know how to use social media and you have a good PR, it’s really easy to tailor your audience to a certain category (cocktail geeks, rum collectors, 18-35, mortgage-holders, pensioners – I could go on all night). At the Mount Gay event I sat next to a whisky buff who went to pieces, he enjoyed the 1703 so much.

Have you been to any outstanding tasting events recently? What do you think of my tips?