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THE HOYOS FILE: New distillery owner focuses on quality


THE HOYOS FILE: New distillery owner focuses on quality

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THE NEW OWNER of The West Indies Rum Distillery Ltd. in Barbados says he wants to unleash the creativity of the team to develop new home-grown brands of quality rum, while continuing to serve the distillery’s clients, including the makers of Malibu and Cockspur rums.

Goddard Enterprises Ltd. sold its 92 per cent stake to Alexandre Gabriel’s Compagnie de Bonbonnet for close to $27 million in early March. The new majority owner is now acquiring all the remaining shares. Gabriel made his reputation in France for revitalising the Maison Ferrand brand of cognac over the past two decades, and in more recent times, for creating Plantation Rum.

Gabriel was in Barbados in mid-April for a meeting of the West Indies Rum & Spirits Producers Association, and in an exclusive interview, he spoke about plans for the distillery.

Could you tell us why you wanted to purchase the distillery and what are some of your immediate plans for it?

We made this purchase because we believe in Barbados and in Bajan rum and we believe in the team at West Indies Rum Distillery Ltd. – it’s an incredible team. Also, West Indies is a very venerable distillery – it’s been here for many, many years.

I chaired the 116th shareholders’ meetings – the first one was in 1901 – and as you know, it was there even before that. The world has been through a lot during all these years and West Indies was here [operating] every year.

Now to your question, what we want to do with West Indies? Of course, we will respect the customers who’ve trusted this distillery all these years. And also what we want do is – as you know, we are the owners of the brand Plantation Rum – we’ve been buying rum from the distillery to make Plantation Rum and we’re going to continue making rum for Plantation at West Indies.

So the goal is to go more and more into branded business, and it has to be seamless and done very progressively, and we’re going to do that respecting both the team and the customers.

Are you going to develop new brands of rum here or are you going to concentrate on your new Plantation Rum brand?

We’re going to do both. We are going to continue doing Plantation with the double aging – Plantation rums are very specific in the way they are produced. The ones that we do from Barbados are distilled here first, and aged in American barrels, like everybody does, but then we bring them to Cognac and we finish them in Cognac barrels. And that’s that double aging – it’s makes very delicious, smooth rum, and we’ve won many medals for this.

Now what we also want to do here is a rum that is distilled and aged here. We have consumers who are very educated and they love to drink great rum, great cognac and so on. So it’s just adding another chapter to the book.

How does your company fit into the spirits industry, which is dominated by very large conglomerates? 

We are not a mass producer. We produce cognac and now we’re producing rum for the lovers of good things. So we are a niche producer, there’s no doubt. We’re very focussed on what we do, we are laser sharp. The idea here is not quantity, it’s quality. That’s what my team [at Maison Ferrand] and I have dedicated our working life to, so that’s what we want to do here, also with West Indies Rum Distillery.

We are available actually in 68 countries, we have distribution in 68 countries, so we are present in quite a lot of markets if you look, you know, but we are not necessarily trying to sell to everybody, we trying to sell to anybody who wants to drink a good product, a great rum or a great cognac. We love the lovers of these things and we want to cater to these people. That’s my job, that’s my life mission.

Do you plan to split your time between Barbados and France?

Absolutely. I bought a house in Barbados. I told the team that it was a very emotional time when we signed and Goddard [Enterprises Ltd.] handed this distillery to us. So I’m going to be coming at least a week every month. But don’t forget, there’s an incredible team here and I want to leave them some breathing space.

Also, what I want to say, and it’s very important for me say, there’s something you should really be proud of here in Barbados, and it’s the Goddard or GEL, Group. This is a company with a lot of integrity. They could have sold this company (the distillery) to a lot of people, but to them – of course, money mattered, they’re business people – but I can tell you, looking at you straight in the eyes, that they were trying to find the best partner for this distillery so it could live on and get even better.

It’s not often that you see people in business that also care with whom they do business. I was very impressed with how this company has behaved, trying to make sure that everything was right about who was going to take this distillery on to make sure it’s going to live on for hopefully another 100 years.

How would you describe the type of experience you want rum enthusiasts to have when they drink your rums?

You know, great rum is like a great dinner. I’m trained as a master blender and a master blender’s job is to make sure that the product is incredible when you drink it. Not by yourself – you get good friends, you get together, open that bottle, share that great moment together. And that’s what we work for – these shared moments of enjoying an incredible rum. So that’s what we are going to do and there’s a lot of room for creation – remember, creation is infinite, you know.

For me, the purchase of this distillery was, yes, for the distillery itself, but also the team, because they are very skilful men and women.

The team is under the leadership of Andrew Hassell – he is an incredible leader and I’ve known him for many years. This is a distillery that I know, and I know what it is capable of doing, not only the distillery, but more importantly, the team. They’re great technicians, and you should be proud to have people of that level here in Barbados.