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Give the National Ambassador of Abasolo Whisky and Nixta Licor de Elote, Cesar Sandoval three adjectives, and he will make you an incredible drink. From cooking with his mom and two sisters to becoming a part of the hospitality industry at fifteen, Sandoval has always loved leaving people grateful, happy, and excited for an unforgettable experience. Sandoval, a first-generation Mexican, is no stranger to the power of serving one’s community. As a national ambassador, he continues to bring people a joyous product that thrives from its Mexican heritage and pays homage to its culture in flavor, aesthetic, and production. 

What drew you to the hospitality industry? 

I was born in El Paso, Texas. I am a first-generation Mexican American and currently live in San Diego. Hospitality started with my family. My mom, two sisters and I would be in the kitchen cooking different things together and listening to music. My first job was at a restaurant as a host.  I was fifteen years old, I started there and never looked back; I fell in love, it was addicting. From there, I worked my way up in almost every position in the industry, with the most recent position being bar director for a restaurant group. Hospitality is my passion! I love making cocktails, I love seeing the guests’ instant gratitude. It is beautiful! 

How did you get involved with Abasolo? 

Our Director of Advocacy and dear friend Camille Austin, reached out to me and asked if I was interested in creating a new project that would be revolutionary. We continued to stay in contact and while both of us kept doing our research it became evident that this new brand and myself were a perfect match. When I finally got the opportunity to try Abasolo for the first time, I decided to taste it blindly without looking at any bottle or label design, I sipped it and it instantly put a smile on my face, something I had never tasted in spirit form. The rich corn flavor and complexity was complete nostalgia, it took me back to those days in the kitchen with my mother making atole, tamales and fresh tortillas. It was fantastic!

Abasolo Ancestral Corn Whisky 5 Photo Credit Abasolo Ancestral Corn WhiskyWhat should we know about Abasolo Whisky? 

It’s truly a unique whisky unlike any other. It embodies the true flavor and expression of corn that has never been done before. It uses an ancestral cooking technique Nixtamalization which is how you convert maiz into masa. Without it we would not have beautiful dishes like tortillas, tamales, tlayudas and many more. It adds amazing flavors and aromas that you simply cannot get without it, and no other spirit has ever harnessed this process. We work with local family farmers that have been growing cacahuazintle for over 200 years. This is an ancestral corn that has been protected for thousands of years. We do a long fermentation process, double distil and age outdoors in the beautiful hills of Jilotepec de Abasolo. 

Would you say Nixta and Abasolo go together? What is the difference between Nixta and Abasolo? 

Abasolo is a new world whisky unlike any other, we use ancestral non-GMO cacahuazintle corn that is native to Mexico. We work directly with farmers, use a Mesoamerican cooking process called nixtamalization, we roast the corn after the nixtamalization, and a part of our corn is malted at our distillery. We then do a long 5-day fermentation, we double distilled in small copper pot stills and finally aged outdoors, really encompassing the full circle of our spirits starting and ending in the fields. 

Nixta was born out of our desire to keep innovating around Abasolo. When making Abasolo and whisky in general there is a grace period while waiting for your whisky to age where some distillers would make vodka, our master distiller Ivan Saldana wanted to do something different and completely revolutionary. We started experimenting with our corn mash, with the same cacahuazintle corn but at a younger stage in its life. Instead of using fully mature maiz we used the tender corn which we know as elote, the same corn used for esquites. It is naturally tender and sweet, and we roast half of it and the other half leave as is. We then macerate it with our unaged Abasolo for around 4 months, and then add our unfermented maiz mash that we use to make Abasolo, and the result is fantastic. Finally, we add a natural sugar in its purest form that is essential in Mexico called Piloncillo. The results are one of a kind, making it perfect for any and every cocktail occasion. They are a perfect pair, they go very well together, my favorite is a Jilo Old Fashioned, 2 oz. Abasolo Ancestral Corn Whisky, .5 oz. Nixta Licor de Elote, and a couple dashes of bitters. 

Cesar 2How is Abasolo created? 

It all starts with our farmers; they are the soul and spirit of our whisky and we could not be here without them. Juan Carlos Carmona and his family plant our cacahuazintle corn in late February and harvest towards the end of October. Once harvested, every single cob is inspected and hand cut gathering all our kernels that we eventually use for our spirit. Once the corn is perfectly dried it arrives at Destileria y Bodega Abasolo. We then take the corn and nixtamalize it, after we carefully roast the corn giving it another element of aroma and flavor. We also malt part of that corn making this whisky 100% corn. After that we mill the corn into a fine flour and add hot water and add yeast. This process takes around 5 days and once we have a fully fermented mash, we have a content of 10% – 12% ABV “corn beer” We then distill in our copper pot stills and it comes out at 40%ABV, and it is delicious! In order to get more out of our barrels, we need higher proof, so we do a slower second distillation resulting in a “white dog” of about 62.5% ABV. We then add that into our previously used American oak barrels and some new barrels and aged outdoors in the beautiful hills of Jilotepec. 

How is this process different from other whiskey making? 

We have taken the process of whisky making and have sort of flipped it on its head. Our main focus is on our raw ingredient – we care deeply about our corn, trying not to alternate the raw material, but to expose its unique, delicate flavor. We use nixtamalization, which has never been done before in any spirit or category, a long fermentation that is not normally done in whisky. and we open air age. Most whisky is usually aged in temperature-controlled warehouses or basements to control angels’ share. We age outdoors in the high hills of Jilotepec to give Abasolo a sense of place or what we think of terroir, really following our path of it being “Alma de la Tierra” Soul of the Earth

Screen Shot 2021 06 05 at 11.26.35 AMDo you think that because it is a small distillery, it brings the consistency of the flavor, or do you think that it might have a slight difference? 

We have a road map of where we want to go, and it is very consistent but the beauty in doing a craft spirit with a small production is the beauty that every batch can vary slightly. That is why people love agave spirits because depending on the batch there are slight aromas and flavors that are distinct to that specific lot. The other day, I was tasting a batch and I got a little more chamomile and roasted corn than the previous batch.  

What are your recommendations for drinking Abasolo? How would you drink it for the full experience? 

I personally love Abasolo neat or what I like to call “Abasolo Solo”, but it is such a beautiful, complex, yet wonderfully balanced whisky that can be served with a large cube and is so versatile in cocktails. It can do all the whisky cocktails, like Old Fashioneds and Boulevardiers, but because of it’s delicate flavor and the fact that it’s not over-oaked, it works well in cocktails where you’d normally use rum, agave, cachaca, and more. Lots of bartenders are thinking outside of the box and creating wonderful cocktails that may not necessarily use whisky originally, mixing it with tiki and agave cocktails. 

Is this a product that you can also pair with cigars?

Yes, we have had several cigar lovers tell us how well it pairs with cigars, it complements the cigar, the honey, leather, and earthy tones pair wonderfully with tobacco. 

As a brand ambassador, what is the role you like the most? 

I love education. I get nerdy. Knowledge is power. It sounds cliché, but it is true. I love sharing knowledge, sharing stories, and learning from all the experiences. The more I teach and educate the more I learn from all the wonderful people I get to meet. My goal, as a human being and as a National Ambassador representing Abasolo and Nixta, is to empower and inspire other people that may be interested in this industry to say, “I can do this!” or “I want to work for a Mexican company!” Out of all the things that this role requires, my favorite is hosting and doing pop ups. It is my Mexican hospitality. At the end of the day, I am a bartender. I love doing pops, you get to meet a lot of people across brands and networks. Doing distillery tours or when I take someone to Mexico is so rewarding. I love showing people the vast beauty that my beautiful country has to offer.

What are your other hobbies? 

I’m a musician. They kind of coincide music, food, cocktails, drinks. For me, that is what excites me. That is what I live for!

How do we follow your journey? 

IG: @saysar 

Website: https://www.abasolowhisky.com

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Before becoming a brand ambassador for Amaro Montenegro and Select Aperitivo, Alex Bartfield spent nearly eleven years working for the three biggest distributors in Florida: Southern Wine, Republic National, and Breakthru Beverage. As a brand ambassador, Alex currently maintains a professional relationship with Breakthru Beverage with whom he worked for six years, demonstrating his ability to make meaningful and sustainable connections. Alex is the Brand Ambassador of Florida which means that he is in charge of visiting all the accounts statewide. Alex values servicing his community, meeting new members of the hospitality industry, and being the number one guy to call for all things hospitality in South Florida. 

What is your connection to the hospitality industry? How did your journey begin?

I started in 2009. My previous experience is with a distributor. I worked for all three of the big distributors in Florida. I got a chance to experience the retail side and also the on-premise side. I even worked for a distributor on the west coast in Vegas for about a year. That’s been my experience, so coming onto the supplier’s side after being on the distributor side for ten and a half years was a huge change for me. 

How does your previous role as a distributor differ from your new role as Amaro Montenegro/Select Italian Liquor’s Brand Ambassador?

I went from selling 10,000 different products, and now I’m selling a handful of products-we sell about three or four products. You have to take the supply on your own. When you’re working for a distributor you’re selling cases and cases. You’re not initially building a brand. You’re there to help out, so there’s a huge difference. My connection to hospitality now is that you have to get to know the person and get in touch with them more. You have to be friends with them. You’re not just going in on a sale’s call or taking an order. Now, you’re part of the hospitality crowd. 

What led to your role as a Brand Ambassador for Amaro Montenegro and Select Italian Liquor? What do you enjoy about your brands?

I wanted to get over to the brand side for a while. What really caught my attention for these products is what they are doing in today’s market, it’s versatility. The Amaro Montenegro is traditionally known for being a digestive, an after-dinner drink. It’s low proof and low ABV it works well in various cocktails. It redefines a lot of classic cocktails. It can go into any drink. It’s all about the balance of bitterness and sweetness. It’s becoming very popular. It’s not going anywhere so it drew me in. I love that these products are with my previous distributor, Breakthru Beverage, as well. I grew with that distributor, so it was fun to work with all the same people again. I’m half Greek, and my family always told me that I have to work for a European company because they are the best, they are nice people, they are lovely, they are genuine. That struck me when I began working for this company based out of Bologna. Select Aperitivo is one hundred years old, and it is known for being the original ingredient for the Venetian Spritz. The only difference is that they garnish it with a green olive. The Venetian Spritz is more luxurious, and it elevates the spritz more. This drink is an introduction to someone’s night. It is an aperitivo but the Amaro is a digestivo. Both are versatile in drinks.

What are the key characteristics of being a successful Brand Ambassador?

You have to get in touch with your brand. You have to be yourself. You have to have fun with the brand, get to know it, and also get to know who you will be working with as well. It’s a different world. Now, you’re working on a bartender’s schedule. You’re sitting down with them when they’re starting. You’re asking them questions. You’re engaging with the hospitality people a lot more. You have to be out at night, that’s where people see you. 

We all bring different values and skills to the table. How do you differ from other BAs?

Everyone is different in their way. Like I mentioned before, you have to be you. Everyone has a different personality and a different way of bringing that into their products. I would say that my biggest thing is being out in the market as much as I can. Some brand ambassadors love to do videos on camera and interviews. Even throughout Covid, we’re active. Then we have brand ambassadors who get out in person as much as they can and show their faces. That way everyone knows who you are. That is what I have been doing. I’m a street guy at heart. I like to go out. I had to adapt during Covid with the Zoom meetings and being on camera. I like to let everyone know who I am and what I can offer. 

What are Amaro Montenegro’s values? How do these values intersect with your principles and standards for yourself as well as for the industry? 

Amaro Montenegro, as a company and as a whole, is very familiar oriented. We’re all about liveliness and fun. We do a lot of trips throughout the year.  For example, next year I’ll bring my wife with me when I go to Italy. They’ve been able to give us more downtime. This company has given me a lot of life and a lot of value through that.  

Alex

Image by Blazin Visualz

What is it like to work for Amaro Montenegro and Select Italian Liquor? What do you enjoy the most about your job (education, partnerships, events, etc.)?

You can be you. You can be freer. I like the fact that these brands are versatile, you can work with everybody. That is what I love about this. When I worked for a distributor, I was selling certain goals and certain brands. You really can’t go out of your boundaries as much as you want. I work with the whole state, so I have so many options. I try to work with everyone. That is the most important thing at the end of the day. Being the product that we are, I love the freedom that I have to just go out there and be me. I can bring this product anywhere I want. 

What are some challenges of being a BA for Amaro Montenegro? How has COVID-19 impacted the industry?

With Covid for the last seven months, it has been rough on us because we’re a hospitality brand. We’re not a consumer brand yet. In Italy and Europe, we are. In America, we’re still becoming. With hospitality, at the end of the day, these products cater to people.

What’s a significant goal of yours?

I want to make sure that the whole hospitality industry gets to know me and knows that I’m the guy for them. I am there for them. I am the person to call when you need something. I would love to be the person that everyone calls out and have them say hey, Alex, can you support this promotion I have coming up? Hey, do you want to be a part of my Halloween party, my Christmas party, etc.? I want everyone to know me in my backyard. I want to get out there and meet as many people as I can from the top of Florida to the bottom of Florida. 

How may we follow your journey?

Follow Alex on Instagram @Alex_bart0520 and on Facebook as Alex Bartfield. 

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Camille Austin is known affectionately as “La Loba Alpha”. Her ambassador team created this befitting and memorable nickname to distinguish her and cement her as an invaluable, appreciated member of the pack, and the first Casa Lumbre ambassador stemming from her previous work with Montelobos Mezcal. Austin, the Best International Brand Ambassador Spirited Award recipient at Tales of Cocktail 2020, brings creativity, integrity, and ingenuity to the Casa Lumbre team. Camille shows pride in her Mexican roots and infuses her culture into everything she does for the company. Identity and long lasting relationships are an integral part of Camille’s approach to being a successful brand ambassador. Her strong sense of cultural heritage and willingness to connect with others makes her the perfect example of how to navigate the hospitality industry with purpose, passion, and poise.

What is your connection to the hospitality industry? How did your journey begin?

I grew up in beautiful Cancun, Mexico. I was raised in the Mexican Caribbean, in a tourist town that is not a traditional old city in Mexico. In fact my hometown just recently turned only fifty years old. It is not a part of Mexico that has so many centuries of culture, but it is a town that was born from and thrives off of regional tourism and the hospitality industry. I moved to Miami after Hurricane Wilma hit Cancun pretty badly. It was in Miami where I learned how to be a bartender. I started working in bars and restaurants and spent six exciting years in Miami where I ‘cut my teeth’ in the Magic City’s bars and restaurants. I fell in love with cocktails and hospitality. The hospitality element is something that has always been a part of my character. I’m an innate connector and have always loved to make people feel welcome and to go the extra mile to create unique, memorable experiences. It’s been a natural evolution to get to where I am now and I still use hospitality skills every day even through my work as an ambassador.

What is the “hospitality element”?

If it’s not in your nature, the hospitality element is a skill we can be open to developing and strengthening over time. Inevitably, we deal with different people, different cultures, different perspectives and different customs on a regular basis. The more open we are to being compassionate to those customs and cultures, then the more welcoming the experience we can provide to others.  

What led to your role as a Casa Lumbre Brand Ambassador? 

I have been working with Casa Lumbre brands for nearly eight years. Our founders were my regulars back when I was a bartender in Miami so I am fortunate to have known them for years. It leads back to the foundation of what we do as ambassadors and bartenders, our work is relationship based. I built a friendship over time with our brand owners, Danny Schneeweiss and Moy Guindi. Later, I moved to New York to open a restaurant in the City. It was always a dream of mine to live in New York City and I finally got to experience that. As soon as we were up and running with the restaurant in New York, Danny and Moy, continued to come and visit me during their trips. It was a relationship that was built over a long time and I looked forward to every time they came to visit me. A few years later, they were preparing to launch their new brand of Mezcal called Montelobos. They asked me to be their ambassador and the rest is history. A she-wolf was born.

Camille Headshot Alain 2017How do you differ from other BAs?

I think we all, in some aspect, have the hospitality element in us. What makes us each unique is how we go about using it. The most successful ambassadors lead with their hospitality first. They’re good listeners, observers and compassionate. The more authentic and genuine we can be towards our own passions, the better we can tell our story. One of my deepest passions, since I was a girl, is the arts. Though my career has been professionally coming up in the food and beverage industry, I have always been passionate about theatre, storytelling, music, and visual arts. Taking the experience of moving away, becoming an adult in the U.S., and being away from home, I was connected to Mexico again when I started working deeply with mezcal. I set out to channel those emotions through the story of Montelobos and decided to tell that story by creating a character, who was directly linked to my own self – “La Loba Mezcalera” (the Mezcal She-Wolf). I felt connected to my roots, my Mexican cultural roots. I knew early on that I had a mission to expand on this connection. I wanted to find a genuine way of telling the story of my culture and sharing that passion with others.  

What are Casa Lumbre’s values? How do these values intersect with your principles and standards for yourself as well as for the industry? 

Through Casa Lumbre, I have had this opportunity to grow not only as a professional but as a person as well. Everyone around me on our team understands that we are in a people based business and it’s important to listen to one another’s views. Teamwork is essential as without it, we cannot achieve sustainable growth. When I started working with Montelobos, Casa Lumbre was just being born. It has been an amazing experience to be a part of the dream since its inception. We believe in individual growth and development, but especially in growing together as a team. The foundation of what Casa Lumbre stands for is that we are a Mexican company that seeks to bring the sensorial, biological, and cultural heritage of Mexico to the world through our spirits. Whether that means creating Mezcal brands that are about the union of century-old heritage and innovation, whether it’s about making a Whiskey from heirloom corn from the birthplace of corn that is Mexico, we are true to our roots. We are inspired by our roots, but we are also inspired by the future. That is what makes us tick.

What do you enjoy the most about your job?

As an ambassador, I do a little bit of everything. What I love the most about my job is the opportunity that I have to collaborate with incredibly talented and creative people.  It’s also very rewarding to see my own crazy ideas come to life. I am often thinking of new ways of doing things and our company has always given us the confidence to try things out. If it doesn’t work, we figure out ways to make it better. 

Camille Pared Rosa

What have you learned about liquor that fascinates you? 

There are so many things that I’ve learned about spirits while being on this side of the business. Many different elements go into bringing brands to life. Spirits are agricultural products and that is how we view them at Casa Lumbre. We begin by thinking about the raw material that we are using and how we are sourcing it. Second, we remind ourselves that spirits are a cultural product. We think about how these spirits and beverages are brought to life and where they came from, about their economic importance to a community and culture. Within the category of Mezcal, for example, there are so many rural towns all over Mexico and one of their main sources of income is Mezcal. Spirits create an emotional connection and bring together those who sip them. Aside from the physical effects that they give us, the essence of our job is about coming together, sharing and spending time with those closest to us. Finally, spirits are a marketing product. There are so many layers that go into creating them. The role of the ambassador is to now give them life. A successful ambassador is multifaceted and understands a little bit of all of those perspectives. We are the spirit of the spirit, even when it is necessary to be that voice from the field and to give feedback where needed. 

What are some challenges of being a BA? How has COVID-19 impacted the industry?

We are all living in unprecedented times. Just as the bar and restaurant industry, and so many other industries were not ready for this pandemic, neither were we. There is a responsibility to use our resources, platform and voice to support the entire industry. It has been challenging to try to figure out how best to do that without knowing what is next. It is a very similar challenge that we are all experiencing. I go back to that instinct that we have to be together. We must not be divided, but instead stay together. We must listen, talk and help each other learn, help each other understand, and find solutions together.

EVE09998You just received the Best International Brand Ambassador Spirited Award at Tales of Cocktail. What was it like to receive such recognition? Who has inspired you along the way?

I am very grateful for being recognized with this award but it is not achieved without strong support and mentors who have each inspired me in different ways to continue to grow. I’ve always been inspired by Charlotte Voisey’s diplomacy and elegance. She has such a clear understanding of how to express herself elegantly. She listens to absorb all aspects and is disciplined and consistent. Consistency is something we don’t talk enough about when discussing ambassadors. This is a tough 24/7 job and we are embodiments of our brands and portfolios. We need to be able to tell that story 24/7 and handle ourselves with grace. Adaptability is another important ambassador quality, adaptability to our many different audiences while remaining authentically us. My friend Jaime Salas taught me about owning who we are, owning our culture, and our identity. He is so proud to be Mexican-American and communicates that in everything he does. He also taught me about taking my creative ideas and bringing those ideas to life with meaningful and memorable actions. Iván Saldaña, our master distiller, has helped me grow as a person and as a leader. Ivan helps me realize everyday one of the best qualities to have is to recognize the strengths in others and put them together to make a more powerful entity. 

What other achievements have you had or hope to have in the future?

I would love to have a culture mini-series! That’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I’d love to have some sort of TV show and hopefully through my work with Casa Lumbre, I’ll get to do something like that one day. I would love to dive deep into the food and beverage micro-culture of Mexico and also explore Latin America. 

How may we follow your journey?

You can keep up with Camille Austin’s journey by following her on Instagram @lalobalpha

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Santa Teresa Rum Ambassador Alex Noriega knew he wanted to become a member of the hospitality industry by the age of sixteen. Noriega did not know the word “Brand Ambassador” then, or where exactly he would fit in the industry, but that simple dream situated him for success. When he went out to eat with his family, Noriega would look at liquor bottles at places like Coral Gables’ Houston’s and dream of one day working for a brand. It was because of his hard work, his inability to accept the word “no,” and his natural talent in the industry that ultimately led to the actualization of Noriega’s dream to work for Bacardi. 

How did you get started in the hospitality industry?

I ended up working at Houston’s when I was nineteen years old. My sister worked there and she got me a job. I couldn’t believe it. I truly believe in the power of thinking and in the power of working at something until it comes true. During the first year, I hated working at Houston’s. It was a very militant, hard-core style. But I grew to love it when I got good at my job. I met my mentor Matthew “Matt” Kuscher who is currently the owner of Local and Spillover in Coconut Grove as well as Kush in Wynwood. He left Houston’s and promoted me. Houston’s became Hillstone. Once I got behind the bar, I realized that this was something I was good at. I left Hillstone because I felt like my career was stagnant and I wanted more.

What was your journey as a bartender?

I thought I was a good bartender until I went to South Beach and got into Mixology. I had no idea what Mixology was. I started seeing all these tools, different spirits, cures, and syrups. I realized that I was a tier two, tier three bartender. It was a whole new world. There were so many flavor profiles. I started becoming a tier-one bartender. I learned a lot from the people around me. That’s when I met brand ambassadors. I would never see these guys at Houston’s or Hillstone and now I know why. It’s a corporate restaurant so you wouldn’t see brand ambassadors there. Brand Ambassadors are mostly found in craft bars.  

Where did bartending lead you next?

As a bartender, I started competing locally. I got involved in a chapter called the United States Bartenders Guild (USBG) here in Miami. I would compete in small local competitions for the experience. I won these little competitions and gained some clout. I saw a whole new world where people took bartending seriously. I got really into it. I met more patrons and bartenders. I got offers from part-time ambassadors. Luckily, I had good mentors who told me to stay away from small brands because they weren’t going to pay me or they would offer me the world but only sign me on for six months. That was the reality of the beast. I worked at several bars. I read. I wrote. It wasn’t until 2014 that I started getting more confident in my skills. I started opening a bunch of spots. I was part of the main crew that opened up the bar, Beaker & Gray in Miami. In 2016, I also started working at Thompson Hotel where I met a cocktail mentor. 

In which competitions did you participate and how did your participation influence your career?

My first big competition was the 2015 Hennessey Academy Competition. I crushed it and won first place all around. After the competition, I kept getting offers but ultimately wanted to work on my craft. I kept bartending until I was able to find the right place. The Bacardi Legacy Competition came up and I made it to the regional semi-finals. That was my biggest competition ever. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it to the regional finals. But there the ambassador role started to change. I became an account manager to Rémy Martin which is similar to the brand ambassador role.

How did you get started as a Brand Ambassador for Santa Teresa Rum?

During my three month stint, I got a call from Bacardi.  In January 2017, Bacardi picked up a new rum which was Santa Teresa Rum. They hired me in June. I was a local brand ambassador with them. In the past three years, the brand has grown tremendously. I started locally and then became a state ambassador. I grew the brand tenfold in the first year. I created thirty cocktail menus in thirty different restaurants. I am now the senior brand ambassador. 

What is it like to work for Santa Teresa Rum? What do you enjoy the most about your job (education, partnerships, events, etc.)?

I love this brand. This brand speaks to me because I had a troubled childhood. With this brand, we smile back at adversity. We have a project called Project Alcatraz. My mentor, Ray Raymond, has been with the brand for ten years. He told me about Project Alcatraz when he interviewed me for the job. Project Alcatraz was founded in 2003 and it is a project that rehabilitates gang members. It all began when gang members broke into the hacienda to steal guns. They got caught but the CEO of the company, Alberto Vollmer, believed in second chances. He gave the gang members an ultimatum: work for me for food, water, and a place to stay or go with the police for stealing from me. The gang members took the deal because these were the slums of Venezuela. They loved working for Alberto and had a chance to change their life. Now, we help these guys by combining vocational training, formal education, and psychological assistance. We also play sports; We play rugby. It shows companionship, strength, and togetherness. To this day, we have helped in over twenty prisons in Venezuela. We have rugby youth leagues in the hacienda to keep kids going. We have sustainability projects. Our main focus is on the community. We have another project called Casa Blanca. We rebuild the houses in neighboring villages. A lot of the guys love it so much that they help for free and now it’s safer there. 

What have you learned about Rum that fascinates you? (the flavor, the product, the company, the industry…)

I love that rum is that it’s the rebel of all the spirits.  Think about it: Pirates drink rum. 

How has COVID-19 affected you personally and professionally? 

When the pandemic began, I was on paternity leave. It was a challenging adjustment but we were able to figure it out. For me, I’ve been able to focus more on myself. I read more, work out, and spend time with my wife and kids. I smile back at adversity. 

What’s a significant goal of yours?

My goal is to become a mentor. I believe in paying it forward. I would love to see someone break out and become someone huge in the hospitality industry. I want them to be like “I would like to thank Alex for helping me get this Michelin Star” and for me to tell them “hey, you did it. I just gave you the tools.” That’s my dream: being a mentor to one or several people. I love to teach which is why the role of ambassador fits me. I am an educational role model. You’re never going to make anything on your own. I believe in never stopping learning and helping others. If you are a smart guy, help the younger ones. I don’t know who an ignorant person helps. 

Want to follow Alex’s journey? Follow him on Instagram @albyinthezone. 

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Chris Fierro - Rum_bassador

Rum Brand Ambassador Chris Fierro lives and works with heart, passion, and a strong sense of community. It is largely his personable character, his willingness to grow, and his dedication to his brands that allow him to make a name for himself in the Rum Industry. Fierro travels long distances from West Palm Beach to Miami for work. He communicates with bartenders, restaurants, and mixologists to learn from those around him. He is also professionally and personally present for those in the industry that he considers a part of his family. His personal touch and community-oriented approach not only makes him a beloved member of the community, but also the perfect mentor, friend, and contributor to the South Florida Rum Scene.  Similarly, to his first brand ambassador job at The Real McCoy, Fierro is undoubtedly the real thing.

How did you get started as a Brand Ambassador?

In 2013, I was working as a bookkeeper for The Real McCoy brand. During my second year working for The Real McCoy, I started helping out the brand by seeing what I could do on my end to help promote it. We were a startup. I went into local bars where I had good relationships with the managers and asked them if they could bring in my brand because I would like to drink it at their bar. They said sure and I kept following up every week. After the first month, the manager told me that The Real McCoy rum was at the bar and you can order whenever you want, anytime you come. I did the same thing with my other favorite restaurants and bars. I was persistent. Then, Founder and CEO Bailey Pryor took notice and appreciated the work that I did for The Real McCoy brand. Mr. Bailey Pryor guided me and showed me how to transition from my role as a bookkeeper to a brand ambassador. 

How do you differ from other BAs?

When The Real McCoy left West Palm Beach and went to Connecticut, I picked up a new brand and started on my own in the industry. I said to myself that the only way I’m going to be successful is by working hard, being very passionate about my work and the brand, and making sure that I could make the industry better.  supported everybody in the industry. Succeeding in the market involved supporting the bartenders, bartenders craft, my brand, the bars and restaurants. That was my formula. I brought my passion to every restaurant and showed them who I am and what I’m bringing to the table. I’m not saying that nobody has ever done that but with every account that I had, I show them a great appreciation for their support. I caught people’s attention with my approach and a lot of people told me that I’m different from the brand ambassadors that they’ve seen in the past. I tried not to worry about other brand ambassadors with competitor brands. I focused on my work and what I could do to continue growing.

Who in the industry has inspired you? How has their inspiration impacted you?

I did not come into this industry knowing everything. I followed people that I admire and learned from them. Ambassadors like Gabriel Urrutia, Cesar Diaz,  Freddy Diaz, and Jessica Stafford were rock stars to me. My biggest mentor was Robert Burr. He’s the organizer of the Miami Rum Festival and he gave me a lot of guidance. Forrest Cokely is another amazing person that inspired me. He’s a genius with spirits. He’s like a Guru. These individuals gave me a good reason to be in this industry and to learn what it is all about. They taught me how to give back to my community and how to help the next guy that’s coming into the industry by mentoring them and continuing to give my support. 

After The Real McCoy, what other brand did you represent?

After The Real McCoy, I started working with Richland Rum. To give you a little bit of history about Richland Rum, it is from Georgia, made from molasses, aged up to 2 years in brand new American Oak barrels. It was a new brand to the Florida market when I accepted the brand ambassador/sales role. I knew it was going to be a challenge to sell a bottle at $40.00. Richland Rum was a new product to the Miami market with a premium bottle price. I had to sell it with few tools to impact the market (sell sheets and t-shirts). I knew that the only way to sell this rum was to be active on social media and show my buyers and followers my work and what I was doing with all my accounts. My schedule was working after lunch hour until midnight, sometimes to one o’clock in the morning. Drive back home and wake up early in the morning to research on Facebook. I would look into what bars and restaurants are busy and offering great craft cocktails. Then I would hit the pavement to visit accounts, introduce myself to new potential accounts, and do my follow-ups. With a lot of hard work, I started seeing results in the market with Richland Rum. I even expanded my market from Key West to Jacksonville with the help of my friend Cesar Diaz. My name became known and was easier for me to sell at new accounts. I felt like after I was done with Richland Rum, I truly became a brand ambassador. 

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Image credit by Gato Delix

What have you learned about Rum that fascinates you?

Learning about the brand is helpful to understand the spirit.  At the Miami Rum Festival, I met a lot of distillers and was interested in hearing about their distilling and aging process.  I also learned a lot from brand ambassadors like Stilo Pimentel and Zan Kong. I read a few books about rum too. The Real McCoy brought me into this amazing industry.  It was my loyalty to the spirit that pushed me to learn about other rum brands.  My two favorite rums to drink neat are The Real McCoy Rum and Grander Rum. 

What are some challenges of your job?

Some challenges happened during my start. I worked with small brands that didn’t have a distributor, budget for marketing, sales support or POS. They lacked the necessary tools to stay competitive with bigger brands.  It was also difficult to work around the established brands when I didn’t know anyone and when I didn’t have any relationships in the market.  The Miami market, which is one of my favorite markets to work in, is very competitive.  If you make it in Miami, you can possibly make it in other rum markets. 

What are some rewards?

My rewards in the market have to be meeting a lot of amazing industry people and making new friends. 

How have COVID-19 affected you personally and professionally? How has it influenced the Rum industry?

I’m currently on furlough. It affected me to see my accounts that are closed and thinking about my friends being out of work.  Of course, it is important to prevent the spread of the coronavirus but I know that people are being affected by the virus emotionally and financially. I see everybody in this industry as a family so I’m always thinking about them and what I can do to help. For most bartenders, this industry is their livelihood and it can be upsetting not to work.  I may have a backup plan but they may not. They could be in a worse situation than I am in. I try to support them and travel from West Palm Beach to Miami as much as possible to meet for a drink or a bite at one of my accounts.  It helps sometimes just to talk or get out of the house and share a good conversation.  

How will you celebrate National Rum Day? Do you have a favorite cocktail?

On National Rum Day, my favorite cocktails are the classic Daiquiri and the Jungle Bird. I am going to stay safe at home with my family. I might do a barbecue in my backyard with my family and drink some delicious rum neat and in a cocktail. I might also do virtual cheers with some of my industry friends that are willing to celebrate National Rum Day.

Name three things needed for an awesome National Rum Day.

First, be safe. Second, stay positive. Third, make sure you have your favorite bottle of rum next to you throughout the day.  

What do you do in your free time? Tell us about your hobbies?

I work in my backyard. It was a disaster back there. I had a lot of weeds. I had a lot of holes because my dogs loved digging. I finished installing my fence and I stained it. I started gardening and built wooden planters for my new plants. I kept myself busy to avoid anxiety or depression. I also go on long, three-mile walks with my dog. This helps me get in shape so I can be stronger physically and mentally to be ready when it’s time for me to go back to work. 

I’m also enjoying my free time. I have two amazing daughters that I adore and love. We are bonding more. We watch movies that I used to watch back when I was a teenager. Recently, we  watched Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club and Better off Dead. Valley Girls is the next movie to watch.  We watch 80’s movies that aren’t boring for them. I’m not trying to put on a combat movie and have them be on their phones. It helps to watch movies that they can relate to and enjoy. We also enjoy the evening with some ice cream and pizza.

Are there any businesses that you would like to take a moment to highlight/support?

Some of my favorite restaurants that are still open are Vista, Shokudo, No. 3 Social and The Butcher Shop.  I’m always happy to support local businesses. 

How may we follow your journey?

Instagram:

@rum_bassador

@therumcave

@spirithustler

Facebook: Chris Fierro

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With over 15 years within the hospitality industry, Montserrat’s experience spans a variety of different functions, from a buyer and head sommelier to the supplier side; from boutique wine and spirits suppliers to the largest privately held group in Italy as a Florida State Manager; she developed the Florida market growing the business by 80% in less than two years. She was awarded the T distinctive in Tequila by the Tequila Council (CRT)

Montserrat was instrumental in the launch of a number of products including a new category in spirits that rapidly was adopted by key mixologists in Miami; with over 200 cocktail recipes created and placed at menus in Florida and several experiential activations for consumers.

Montserrat’s local market knowledge, coupled with her dynamic personality and motivation, her ability to communicate in five different languages, love for Mexican distillates and culture gives her the possibility to share the soul of the brand with consumers and trade from the ground to bottle.

How did the Tequila Lady nickname start?

MF: I started #TequilaLady as a hashtag, I believe that in times of social media awareness everyone needs a hashtag to communicate what you do and to be found; Tequila Lady helped me connect with many other tequila and agave lovers around the world and is a tribute to continuing to empower women in the industry.

What do you enjoy the most about being an ambassador?

MF: I enjoy mostly the education part; sharing some knowledge and insights that only brand ambassadors have access to; brand ambassadors live and breathe the DNA of the brand so its great to share experiences, facts and the compelling story of Volcan.  Traveling is a plus, going back to the roots and birthplace of tequila is always refreshing.   

Who’s Monserrat Franco?

MF: I am a passionate individual who just goes deep into the source; for me, origin is important so I will always try to visualize the path and approach the source; I am a yoga and outdoors enthusiast; I love reading and exploring new places, meeting new cultures, tasting new foods and drinks in its original environment.

What are your current hobbies?

MF: I love arts and crafts; I am constantly learning, collecting textiles from all over Mexico and understanding the vast message behind each design; some of these embroideries on the designs came from caves (like in Tenango de Doria) and found inside ceremonial sites in Mayan temples (like in Chiapas) and Zapotec temples in Oaxaca.

If you were a Tequila cocktail which one would you be and why?

MF: If I was Tequila cocktail I will be a Paloma; fresh and cool.  If I was a tequila I will be a Blanco: peppery, citrusy and agave forward because I always like to taste the pure spirit before moving it to the barrel.

We love to see your Social Media so linked to Volcan de mi Tierra brand, we think Instagram is the new Linkedin. how do you feel about it?

MF: Instagram is definitely your best business card; if linked well to all of your sites and branding you just need to focus on one to have them posted everywhere; for me, it became a way to promote what I do and create awareness on the local level; to know the right time and hours of each post is as important as to know that your Instagram is your own canvas, especially your first 6 posts, that’s the first thing others see.
Linkedin will remain your professional site;  I try to share what’s relevant to the Industry and brand achievements as well on my Linkedin

What will be your new destination?

MF: You already know, some new part of Mexico :-)

 

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