From bar back to television star, Bacardi senior portfolio ambassador Colin Asare-Appiah has had his hand in just about every piece of the bartending industry. It’s that life experience – coupled with a rigorous dedication to education – that resulted in Colin’s Best American Brand Ambassador Spirited Award at this year’s Tales of the Cocktail.
We sat down with Colin to talk about how he found himself winning one of the industry’s top awards, and how he finds the drive to keep successful in an increasingly competitive market.
What path did you take to become a brand ambassador?
Well, I actually started out as a bartender working in London. I was lucky at the time – the industry was changing. When I first became involved the industry was focusing a lot more on the craft of bartending and premiumizing the industry. This was around the time that people started approaching bartending as a career, not just a stopgap.
The focus began to shift to making classic cocktails using premium ingredients and fresh fruits. So, I ended up doing that for many years, working in almost every position in the bar. I opened my own place. I had my own TV show with Dimitri Lezinska called Cocktail Kings where we traveled making cocktails. I opened the London Academy of Bartending.
For a long time, there was this reputation that if you became an ambassador it was because you couldn’t hack it behind the bar anymore. It kind of meant that you’d given up and decided you wanted a cushier day job.
That’s not the case anymore. Being an ambassador these days is far from cushy, and more and more brands are looking for their ambassadors to have similar experiences that I’ve had across all aspects of the industry.
What advice do you have for someone looking to represent a brand that they love?
Get involved. Enter cocktail competitions. Get your name out there. Join your local USBG chapters. Specialize in something. Pick a spirit category or a movement that you’re really interested in and learn everything there is to know about it. Then find new and unique ways to approach that subject.
Putting yourself out there is the only way you’re going to get noticed by brands and your peers.
You also need to be incredibly aware of how you appear on social media. Try and stay professional at all times. When something goes off on social media, it lives there forever.
What qualities are key to being an effective brand ambassador?
It’s really important to have worked in as many bartending styles and positions as possible. The more life experiences you’ve had, the more effective you can be as an ambassador. Ambassadors should ensure they're working with brands and teams that they respect, because you need to be fully committed to the cause.
Being an ambassador, people come to you for guidance. Not just for your brand or spirit, but how to run their business as well. A 21-year-old ambassador may not be able to effectively tell a 40-year-old bar owner how his brand is going to help his business, whereas someone who has had some life experience can sit down with a decision maker and really help those decision makers elevate the business. You’re really serving as the link between the brand and the bar community. We speak the language – we’re all bartenders or mixologists. That means bar managers and owners listen to us more than a regular salesman.
For those coming into the industry, you also can’t think of it as a sprint. It’s a marathon. Being an ambassador is a long-term career path.
What are some of the challenges of being an ambassador that you didn't anticipate?
What used to happen, but doesn’t happen as much – young guys would come in and burn themselves out super-fast. You’re given an expense account and you’re working with friends. Sometimes you’re out all night and you end up drinking too much of your own juice.
There’s a lot more responsibility you have as an ambassador, so you have to focus on the business side versus focusing on imbibing.
Another thing that you eventually realize is that your time is not necessarily your own. You’ve got to look after your health. You end up traveling a lot and planes, trains and automobiles take a toll on your body. Join a gym. Watch what you eat. Watch what you drink.
There are also those of us in the industry with kids, I always try to find time where I just completely shut off and my time is my own. I set it aside for me, for my family and my friends.
I also always advise – find something to do outside of the industry. Take up something that gets your mind off of things. Take up writing. Posting relevant things on social media.
It will keep you sane, but it also gives you another layer to your character.
How do you work to keep improving the necessary job skills?
I read a lot. I read a lot of websites, and I have a lot of publications that I subscribe to. I also try to talk to lots of other bartenders and bar owners as often as possible. The key is to actually listen. Always listen. That’s how you stay relevant and stay top of mind. Be a part of the fabric of your bar community. USBG is really important for those looking to get into being an ambassador.
Do the job because you love it. Don’t do the job for the accolades. At the end of the day, it’s great that I won the award at Tales. But even if I hadn’t won the award, I’d still be doing the job, because it’s what I love.
Finally – go toTales of the Cocktail. You HAVE to go to Tales. Either as an ambassador or as a bartender.
Tales offers a platform unlike any other platform in the world. It’s a great social and learning platform and Ann’s done amazingly well with a balance between social and education pieces.
A lot of brands get really excited about Tales and it truly reflects the industry on a global scale.