Rum connoisseur interview of the week:
Rum aficionado, representative and passionate promoter.
1) Who is Alison Bartrop?
Australian by birth, almost Scottish by citizenship (with some stops along the way in Asia, the US and beyond).
Edinburgh based, I got into the industry by working in an old man’s pub. The most glamorous bottle we had was Balvenie Double Wood and it fascinated me, how flavor could be influenced by the use of another barrel. I started playing with liquids and thought it was the best experiment in the world. Each shift I got to be a bit of a mad scientist.
I moved into the food side of things for a while, then managed night clubs, bars, went back to what I know best which is marketing, then fell into a role as CEO of R. St Barth Agricole Rhum. I spent the best part of nearly 6 years bringing that to market globally.
Aside from that, I’m a dancer, surfer, and inquisitive adventurer.
2) What made you fall in love with rum and when did it happen?
Edinburgh used to be a rum town and at the time there were a lot of awesome people in one place (there still are). From the group, at that time they’ve all gone on to do amazing things.
I was managing a club that had a bar upstairs that closed earlier. Jamie MacDonald was working there. I was closing up at about 4 am downstairs and he had finished hours ago. He was sitting, staring, glued to a computer screen waiting for an eBay auction to finish. I asked him what he was doing, reminded him it’s healthy to blink – he said he was waiting for an auction to end for a book on rum he had bid on. I shrugged it off as this was perfectly rational Jamie behavior, and then the next day wondered what was so interesting about this book and rum.
I began googling and really checking out what was so fascinating…. I think somewhere between the diversity and the history it got me. I’d never really had a sweet tooth, though, and I’d always had an inclination toward cachaca but I’d drank it not knowing much about it though really enjoying it – suddenly a lot of my flavor palate made sense, the histories and stories were layers and layers deep. I was hooked. Now I’m collecting those books too.
3) The biggest achievement you personally feel you have accomplished for the rum industry.
Being CEO of a start-up Agricole company and bringing it to market globally. In doing so, I’ve met some amazing people who have certainly been the highlight of the journey so far.
4) What is that thing that makes you want to continue in the rum industry?
The diversity of the category itself. Every day is a school day and I’m constantly still craving information and histories the same way I was when I first started exploring. The ability to innovate and create is really exciting.
I’ve taken a little hiatus of late, but by far the people in the rum industry are the reason to want to continue. I’ve worked with a lot of different categories but I find the camaraderie, maybe the madness, refreshing to be around. I’ve always felt really supported by my peers in rum.
I love that there is space for connoisseurs, enthusiasts, tiki, historians, anthropological and pure enjoyment in the same category.
5) Favorite Drink + Recipe
Hemingway Daiquiri (with a twist)
A few years back at The Gale during Rum Renaissance, they were serving a Hemingway with a Campari foam – I was addicted. I don’t have a sweet tooth so being super dry made me fall in love with Hemingway’s all over again. I don’t want to be that person asking for foam, so a bar spoon or two of Campari is ideal.
2 oz white rum (daiquiri rum – either Plantation 3*, Banks 5, or the new Seawolf Rum from Scotland – it has an Agricole nose but a short daiquiri finish)
- 3/4 oz fresh lime juice
- 1/2 oz fresh grapefruit juice
- 1/2 oz maraschino liqueur
- A bar spoon of Campari
- Garnish with a bourbon soaked cherry
6) Where do you see the rum industry today and in the next 5 years?
The unregulated category is a blessing for innovation and creative minds. Coming from an Agricole standpoint, I can see the positive and negatives with rules surrounding tradition, provenance or production methods. However, I feel it’s important to not be boxed in by these rules, otherwise, how will the category evolve? Agricole rules began being laid out in the 1970s and took almost 30 years to be decided upon. But there are gaps. Coming from a non-AOC producing island, the company was able to think a little more creatively about new projects and products.
There is always the question of whether the creative bubble will burst. I see the rum category really responding to feedback from consumers and those innovative projects are a lot more in tune now with what is being asked of a producer, compared to where they were 5 years ago.
It’s definitely been an aim to create a product that appeals to a drinker from another category by having stellar finishes or using particular barrels or production methods, but the quality of those liquids are positioned less as experimental now and a lot of that has come from producers being more aware of other category trends and listening to feedback from consumers and focusing on finessing the craft, rather than creating something outlandish.
Additionally with political changes and trade agreements up in the air in both Europe and the US, it’s inevitably going to have a knock-on effect on imports, exports, and economy. We will all have to roll with the punches, no one knows the outcome yet, but I’ve found that creativity and innovation come from restricted environments or changes in policy. Scandinavia and Portland are great examples of markets with import restrictions but we can all attest to the locally grown innovation coming from those markets and the financial advantages of creating locally produced products. While the current climate is not what I would choose to have happened (as an alien in the UK I’m not allowed to vote), it just means find another way, so I have to be optimistic that good things come from change.
5 years? I don’t think I’ve hung up my rum hat yet.
7) Share some (2-3) of your mentors and how they have helped you.
Paul McFadyen – a friend and fellow advantaged by ADD, Paul has been a sound board, a drinking buddy, a debating partner who has always been there to help spur me on. Even when I maybe didn’t deserve it! We don’t sugar coat things, we laugh a lot, I’d love to walk a day in his shoes.
Nick Rodgers – Nick has been a guiding light. He has always listened, advised and taken the time to put me on the right path. He’s a walking encyclopedia of alcohol and market history and I’ve always learned something after all of our conversations. He is also one of the only people that trust me with a staple gun, he tells me when to stop talking and start doing.
Alessandro Marchesan – he is in the wine game, but Alessandro is a true friend and I admire him a lot. He is the person who does what they say they are going to do – and then does it. He’s always offered invaluable support, recommendations, and pushed me to see a bigger picture.
All three are straight shooters and I love that.
8) What 3-5 things do you have on your bucket list for the next 12 month?
I’ve always marched to beat of my own drum so bucket lists have been a way of life for me! In Scotland, we are so spoiled living in close proximity to Europe. 1-2 hour flights and you’re in Spain, France, Germany or Scandinavia. So loads of weekend trips planned but more time with friends is a must. It’s more difficult to be a consumer than behind a bar or at a trade show than I’d imagined, so it’s a great time to get creative energies and ideas flowing and see things from another angle. I’m able to catch up with people I’ve met over the years through rum and enjoy a drink, I don’t have to be in ‘work’ mode all the time.
- Iceland – Northern Lights and climb a volcano
2. Costa Rica – I’m a surfer
3. Scotland – it’s a different country in every season and there aren’t enough days for all of the distilleries
4. Vegas – its been far too long
5. I’d like to learn more about wine
9) Any final thoughts?
Advice to anyone wanting to go into a start-up: Don’t! Ha – no, do but have thick skin.
When I first took on the rhum, I didn’t know what to expect. A wise man once told me, learn how to drink, learn how to smoke a cigar and learn how to play golf. He wasn’t wrong. I’ve never placed any importance on being the loudest person in the room – I’ve been insulted, assaulted, asked when my boss is arriving, seen the look of disappointment when it’s realised I was the decision maker, asked if I’m the promo girl – but that’s the world we are in. It’s not a reflection on those people, that’s the experiences that they’ve had too. You have to build your character to see that and be adaptable. But you can also move the golf course to other environments where you have a level playing field.
When you’re starting something from nothing, the small sprinkling of days when you have wins are precious and also character building. Learning to see a silver lining and have a plan D, E, F and G in that environment is crucial. There is also a strategic power in saying no. Most things come with strings attached.
You wear 15 hats per day not out of choice, and you have to be willing to do that. So much of the advice I was given was from friends working with larger organizations that were telling me I should do this, do that . . . but those models (and budgets) don’t apply. In a dream scenario, of course, you try to build toward it, but you often have to be the CEO, Brand Ambassador, sales rep, marketing strategist, researcher and accountant in one meeting. This isn’t ideal but there aren’t a lot of options. Being in that position, you have the ability to challenge the business model and often that’s when you strike gold. It doesn’t translate (especially to those friends) who have been in a larger organization, so you have to be willing to be uncomfortable sometimes and have faith and belief in what you are doing every day.
10) How can people learn more about you? Website? Social Media Page?
I’m a simple creature! Email, text, call or Instagram @allebee. I barely do Facebook but it is a necessary evil. I am not a ‘selfies’ person. But find me, I know things and people and I love rum/rhum.