We had a little chat with the Havana Club Germany Brand Ambassador to find out more about him and what makes him good at what he does.
We tend to see brand ambassadors as men or women who visit bars and invite people for a drink. But anyone can do that and yet few persons can become great brand ambassadors. Christian Balke, Havana Club Germany Brand Ambassador, has been doing great work for the last five years and has been rewarded with a nomination as one of the top 4 persons in his job at the 2014 Mixology Awards in Germany. We had a little chat with him to find out more about him and what makes him good at what he does.
“You can’t be a good brand ambassador without a good network. You need to know everyone, visit every bar, know the market”, begins Christian. Although it may seems like it, it’s not an easy life. But making a difference is not so much about the network, it’s about what you do with it. And for Christian, it’s all about education. “I’ve worked in bars and with rum, but I was never a star bartender. Actually, I studied sport science as I wanted to work for a football club, but when I saw it wasn’t going to work, I took an apprenticeship at Mercedes Benz. It was part of my education and I thought it would help for future projects. Whether you work for a company or in a bar, you need education.”
The thing is that, while he was working in bars, Christian had to learn on his own. In a country where vocational training is so important, it probably did give him an idea that things could be done differently. No surprise then that, in 2009, after two years at Pernod-Ricard, he and his boss talked about, you guessed it, education, which led him to become the very first Havana Club Germany Brand Ambassador. “It was a challenge. We asked ourselves what can we do? What do bartenders need? So we set up education programs for pros and customers.”
In his programs, Christian always tries to mix the old and the new. “To understand Havana Club, you need to understand Cuban history, Cuban culture, Cuban cocktails. It’s not just about the quality of the rum. There are so many stories to tell”. Of course, bartenders are also interested in the latest trends, so that’s something Christian keeps in mind. “For example, for top bartenders, we have a program where I could be talking about sous-vide infusion. The challenge is to help them improve. But in a mainstream bar I won’t talk about homemade bitters, I will focus on helping them make better cocktails. Obviously, we also organize tasting for consumers.”
Thanks in part to his hard work, Havana Club is a market leader in Germany, one of the leading mixology countries, with top bars across the nation, even in less fashionable cities. “Education is very important for German bartenders, they have their network, their community in each city and they meet every month to talk about the latest things, doing tastings, etc.” The place where the whole community meets every year is Bar Convent Berlin, the biggest trade show in Europe and one of the most important in the world. This year, for Christian, the focus will be on Havana Club Seleccion de Maestros as part of the Pernod-Ricard Prestige Selection booth. “In the main bar, I’ll be serving two great drinks but we will also have a second bar where Naren Young will come and talk about his bartending style and introduce a few drinks he makes with Havana Club”. Another important moment will undoubtedly be the official launch of the ‘Essence of Cuba’ line with The Bitter Truth (watch this space!).
Although Christian is obviously focused on Germany and German bartenders, he is also quick to point out the importance of visiting Cuba. “It changes everything! It’s the best way to understand the passion around Havana Club. At the closing party of the 2012 Grand Prix, I was with Klaus St. Rainer and the German competitor Steffen Goubeaud, drinking rum and talking about life in general, when it dawned on them, looking at the Havana skyline from across the bay, that this moment had completely changed their relation to Havana Club. Once you see Havana, there’s no going back”. Words to the wise, Christian. But while we wait for the next trip, there’s plenty of Cuba to be found in a great Havana Club cocktail. If you’re in Berlin this week, you know where to get one.