Sumaiyah Connolly – Beefeater Gin
Brand Ambassador is one of those mystic job titles. ‘What?’ people ask, slightly slack jawed. ‘You get to fly around the world drinking Gin?’ It is, you could comfortably argue, the best job in the world. It’s also bloody hard work. We had a catch up with Beefeater’s Global BA, Sumaiyah Connolly, to find out the ins an outs of everything, from a day in the life, to where on earth Gin is headed next…
GF: Global Brand Ambassador for one of the world’s best known gins has to be right up there with the industry’s dream jobs. What’s it been like for you and how did you land such a role?
Sumaiyah Connolly: It most definitely is! I finished high school and went straight into bartending. I was still studying and trying to figure out where my future was going when I fell in love with the world of spirits.
I worked in a few bars across Cape Town, South Africa, trained bartenders in Mauritius, and took courses to better appreciate and understand the world of liquor and cocktails. Around six years ago, I made the move from behind the bar and took a role at Pernod Ricard South Africa as the Bartender Community Manager, looking after bartender advocacy and education.
Since then, I’ve been the brand ambassador for Beefeater Gin, Havana Club Rum, Altos Tequila and, for a short period, Royal Salute, Martell Cognac and Irish Pure Pot stills. About two years ago, my predecessor put me forward for the global role (which I’m eternally grateful for) and the rest is history!
There’s a difference between being a sales rep and a Brand Ambassador that’s often misunderstood; what’s your role within the Beefeater team?
You’re exactly right, there! The main difference is that my job is to build brand love through brand advocacy, whereas sales reps have specific targets related to distribution, listings, sales and more.
Each brand ambassador role can differ, but in my role I spend a lot of time running Gin Colleges with our wonderful Master Distiller Desmond Payne, heading up masterclasses, developing drinks strategies – all the fun stuff. I speak with customers and consumers all around the globe and spread the story of Beefeater far and wide.
What’s 2018 been like for you – what have you been up to and what are some of the highlights so far?
2018 has been quite the year! It kicked off with a bang with the Global Final of Beefeater’s international cocktail competition, MIXLDN. We saw 32 bartenders battle it out for the title of Global Champion and the talent out there in the world of bartending is incredible. For months I was flying all over judging national finals so to see it all come together so brilliantly was truly humbling.
And if that wasn’t keeping us busy enough, we had the launch of Beefeater Pink which has been very exciting. We know we have a great product but the response has been amazing. It’s actually surpassed our expectations, although we shouldn’t be surprised – if Desmond Payne is behind the liquid, you know it’s going to be good!
I’m working on a few other exciting projects which I can’t disclose too much about just yet, but keep your eyes peeled as we’re looking to finish 2018 on a high!
You spend a lot of time hosting bar competitions and educating trade around the world about Beefeater. What’s the best part of the role for you personally?
The people. Yes, it might sound like a cliché but it’s true! I have the privilege of meeting some of the most talented people in the world who absolutely love what they do.
From industry leaders in booming markets to those who are mentoring the talent of tomorrow in less developed cocktail markets, I learn something from each and every one of them every day.
Of course, I can’t complain about getting to travel the world and taste some of the finest cocktail creations – it’s pretty fantastic.
While all that travel and hosting might sound entirely glamorous, there’s a lot to deal with too. Burn out is a real risk – how do you manage your time?
I love visiting new countries and discovering the cocktail scene. But yes, if one doesn’t look after themselves it can affect one’s physical health. It’s a reality. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you work, it can affect anybody.
We work in the wonderful world of hospitality and many people have bravely come out to discuss how this may have affected their health. I was quite unwell this year but like anything there’s a way to manage it and balance it.
It’s extremely important for us all to be aware of our health and take the relevant steps that suit them to ensure they are healthy and strong, something which I’m really passionate about.
I believe in a balanced way of life. I love a great cocktail or two and treating myself to dinner out, but I also make sure I’m training a least five times a week.
This way I can enjoy the best of the bartending industry whilst knowing that my health is still kept in check. Everyone has their personal taste when it comes to exercise but for me, I go for a combination of HIIT (high intensity interval training) and yoga.
If I’m ever travelling for work, I’ve always got my gym gear in my suitcase so I can squeeze a session in, even if it’s just 30 minutes – running is a great way to see the beauty of a new city. It may sound tough, but an established routine that you can stick to wherever you are in the world can help you maintain a healthy, balanced life.
Can you share any insider tips (must packs, dos and don’ts) for others looking to make their traveling a little easier?
I could be here for hours! I’m very particular when it comes to travelling, however here are some things I always do when I’m on the move.
• Stay hydrated
• Flying socks are not fashionable but save my life
• I always put an antiseptic gel on my nose when flying, you don’t know what germs will be floating around
• Keep your luggage to a minimum, you don’t want to be lugging around two weeks’ worth of clothes for two days.
• There’s always enough space for a bikini.
• I’ve saved the most important until last. Always check the legal allowance of spirits and wine that you can bring into a country. I have made that mistake before and have been very sad to see some great items confiscated!
Is there such a thing as a “day to day” day or is it always on the go?
I’m always on the go, but I love that and wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ll confess, I get bored pretty easily so it’s exciting having such different days. Sometimes I’ll be in the office all day, other days I’ll be on an airplane, and when I’m not doing that, I’ll be training bartenders on Beefeater Gin – every day is a good day.
Indeed, you spend so much time on the front line, so to speak, that you must have a great idea of the global interest in Gin. What are the hot up-and-coming markets for the spirit at the moment?
A lot of markets are taking off but I’m really excited to see what Brazil, Mexico, South Africa, and Australia have in store this year. The cocktail scene is changing massively in these markets and we’re seeing some really strong growth coming from a relatively low base, which means more people are experimenting with gin.
And have you seen a thirst for Beefeater grow in the past couple of years from somewhere totally unexpected?
We’re seeing more people buying Beefeater across the globe and a couple of markets are catching my eye. The first would have to be Mexico, which has such a heavy Tequila heritage, but also the Far East – which was home to our latest MIXLDN Global Champion, Maxim Schulte. A lot of this is driven by the changes we’re seeing in the cocktail culture there.
With a global perspective, you see more about how gin is considered, served and talked about than most. Do you feel like we’ve reached peak gin in the UK yet?
Absolutely not! The world of bartending is growing and we’re seeing the skill level get higher and higher. I personally think that the bartending industry is in its prime right now. Gin is so versatile, it’s an obvious go-to as the base for the amazing creations we’re seeing pop up from the bartending world.
There’s a difference between drinks industry scenes and general drinkers who have a thirst for going out. What are the really vibrant cities when it comes to an active bar scene? One that has top end bartenders, creative drinks and patrons who love drinking them?
This is a tough one! There are so many great places offering something unique. If you’re going classic, it has to be London, New York, Tokyo or Paris. You can expect a lot of talent and some really creative drinks.
But if you’re feeling a bit more adventurous and want something different, there are some really vibrant cities like Lebanon or Athens, which have some phenomenal talent coming through.
What’s wonderful is that even though bartending is a global industry, localisation is playing a huge part in the stamp that markets are putting on their drinks and cocktail culture in general.
What’s the best city break for gin lovers who love a cocktail or two?
Well, Spain is the biggest gin market so you’re certain for a good experience over there. But I’m partial to a cheeky trip over to Athens. It’s got great bars. Failing that, become a brand ambassador and then you can get a taste of gin all over the world!
More locally, Pink was the BIG arrival of the year for you guys. What’s the reception been like for it?
Pink was a big highlight for us all at Beefeater this year. It’s done so well and we’re really excited to see how the gin industry and consumers have responded.
It’s got a wonderful flavour but Desmond stayed true to that distinctive juniper character that everyone looks for in a gin. If you’ve not given it a try yet, I’d definitely recommend it.
And finally, what’s the big challenge facing Beefeater in 2019? What are you working towards?
The biggest challenge isn’t a brand specific one. It’s a responsibility for every gin in the industry to stay true to its roots. What makes our industry so special is that there are so many different and unique styles available, and that’s what attracts people to try gin.
For us, it’s going to be a focus to make sure that we stay in the heart of bartenders all around the world.
For me specifically, I’m going to be spreading the word far and wide and getting our gin into the hands of bartenders and consumers all over the globe.
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