In light of BACARDÍ Legacy Australia’s announcement of the Three Most Promising for 2018, Drinks World sat down with each bartender to discuss their motivation behind entering, how they’ll be promoting their drinks and what they’re bringing to the competition.
Up first is the extraordinarily humble, James Irvine. Although he modestly refers to himself as simply a ‘cocktail dude’, his work with the Swillhouse crew as their group beverage director has firmly cemented him as one of the best bartenders on the Sydney scene.
Drinks World: There are so many cocktail competitions out there these days, what made you decide to enter BACARDÍ Legacy?
James Irvine: BACARDÍ Legacy is, for me, one of those competitions you look at on a global scale. There is that prestige to it and there is that element of exposure. Also, from a personal front, I only really do activations or competitions with brands that enjoy using and drinking. In that respect, BACARDÍ Legacy makes sense.
DW: I know you’re busy and you look after a lot of venues, how has your venue reacted to you being a part of the competition?
JI: The Swillhouse Group is a great support network. I kind of see them as four dysfunctional families that I’m a part of. We’re really tight and I’ve received nothing but support from the home front.
DW: How many hours per week are you focusing on the competition, do you think?
JI: (Laughs) It’s not like clocking in and out but, for me, this is more an opportunity than a competition. There’s a lot at stake. And, to be honest, especially after doing the marketing strategy summit today, I’m really inspired to keep going and keep contributing to BACARDÍ Legacy. Whether it’s the marketing strategy, activations, or just generally getting the word out about my drink. That’s my primary focus right now.
DW: What was involved with the marketing strategy summit today?
JI: Mainly implementing different techniques and using them as part of your strategy. We spoke to a couple of PR companies that went through social media strategies, which is something I’m pretty confident in – I’m a big fan of the ‘gram! It’s applying it to a personal brand, or yourself as a brand figure now, which is what we are for the next three months. I think that’s really important.
DW: So how are you going to to be framing yourself and your drink during the ‘Most Promising’ period?
JI: ‘Bocado’, my drink, translates roughly to ‘delicacy’, so essentially I’m focusing on that. Mouthfeel, for me, is an important aspect of drinks, so I’ve been playing around with body and texture. I wanted to pay homage to everyone who contributes effective venue production – from bartenders to graphic designers, to consumers. Essentially just combining everyone’s everyday job and making a legacy out of it, so it’s a living legacy of past, present and future. Hence, I’m actually getting other people to tell their stories as well. So there’s actually no specific legacy, it’s kind of combining everyone’s drive and passion for their craft.
DW: When you’re promoting your drink, is there a key medium you should utilise?
JI: At the session today they definitely outlined Instagram as the primary source of social media, and Facebook as the second. Mainly because, as a platform for advertising, Instagram is a primary market and Facebook is more for getting people to attend events, buy products, or provide details. What I’m going for is genuine content, not clickbait and not spam.
DW: When you’re doing your social media, are you targeting the consumer or trade?
JI: Ideally, it’s all walks of life – all types of consumer. There is an industry aspect to it, but I’d love to see it trickle its way down to a consumer. However, it’s less niche and a broader market once it gets to consumers and my social network means it my content will probably resonate more with industry.
DW: So in terms of your two competitors in Australia, what is your point of difference?
JI: I guess the drink would be the main difference. Bocado is a stirred down, served over rocks cocktail with a lot of body, mouthfeel and texture. Whereas the other competitors have gone for a more acid style drink, one being piña colada-esque and the other being a more sour structure, with some quirky ingredients like wasabi and fresh pressed ginger. Bocado is a Spanish influenced drink, obviously with the spirit, BACARDÍ being a Spanish style rum.
In regards to myself, personally, I think I’m the old guy (laughs). I think everyone brings something different to these things and I’m not a competitive dude, I just like being creative and this is a way to explore that.
DW: So what do you want your legacy to be?
JI: To be honest, if people enjoy it, if people get behind it, that’s always something really special to see.
DW: Do you consider yourself a bartender or a mixologist?
JI: At the end of the day, I have all the respect in the world for the word mixologist. I know a lot of people in my industry tend to bag it. They think there’s a hierarchy involved with it, that mixologists are people that define themselves as something better than the humble bartender. To be completely honest, the term mixologist was that elevation in craft. So when the word was first used, it referred to those that used homemade ingredients. Back then, they were reinventing the wheel. I have the utmost respect for the words ‘mixology’ and ‘mixologist’ but, to be honest just call me a cocktail dude (laughs). I just really like what I do.
DW: What’s your greatest memory on a night out whilst enjoying BACARDÍ?
JI: Tales of the Cocktail 2016, The BACARDÍ Block Party. Jillionaire from Major Lazer was playing and they overtook this whole corner square in New Orleans. There was like 300 people there, but it was definitely BACARDÍ rum that brought the party.