Interview with Benoit Bail (Jack of all trades)

Like many others before, Benoit agreed to do a small interview with us. From our side, there’s no real need to introduce the man and what he does, just read on to find out!

Hey Benoit, thanks for taking your time to answer our questions! Before we start, would you like to introduce yourself!?

Thank you for this interview… My name’s Benoit Bail, I’m a 33 year old rum ambassador coming from Luxembourg, but living in Berlin.

Why Berlin?

Well, while living in Luxembourg, I was looking for some change and I actually fell in love into the city of Berlin during a visit to the German Rum Festival. So I simply decided to move there… 6 months later, I actually did.

Following you, you seem to be involved with all kind of projects related to the spirits business. Where did it all start and how did you get into it?

I actually never planned to get into this business. I used to wok in the music industry but became a rum enthusiast and also started creating some home made flavored rums. My family and friends liked them so much that they convinced me to create a brand, back in 2013, which I did. It was called « Zwazo, liqueurs des iles » and was pretty successful back then, for the small Luxembourgish market. That’s also how I got involved to take part at the Paris Rumfest in 2014 to showcase my products.
At the same time, I also created a French speaking Facebook group called « La Confrérie du Rhum ». This was actually the main point where everything started I’d say. This group became kinda big very quickly and I ended up being invited to events or jurys because of it. One thing into another, making new contacts and meeting new people every time, I got new propositions and took part to new projects. I guess that’s the short version of how everything started…

The Facebook group now counts more than 40.000 members…

That’s right… And to be honest, that wasn’t the plan. Before that, I was part of the only existing Facebook group back then, which was the Ministry of Rum, but I quickly noticed that my French-speaking friends were not very active on it, probably because it was all in English. So I first created the « Ministère du Rhum », which was the French speaking sister group of it, but the admins from the Ministry of Rum didn’t like that move and kicked me out of the group. So I decided to change the groups name after all and made it « La Confrérie du Rhum ». But I never expected it to become that famous.

Perhaps more interestingly, you’re also bottling Rhum under that label and try to convince the distilleries to do something they haven’t done before. How challenging is that?

Well, that’s not exactly how it works. Actually, we never contacted any distillery in the first place. The 2 first bottling were some rums I bought in bulk at Heinz Eggert and I bottled myself, in very small limited editions, because I wasn’t really convinced that this would work.
Once it did, we received A LOT of propositions from brands and distilleries which wanted to create some bottling for us. So the request came from them… We all agreed on the fact that it would be cool to do something together but only if it has some real value to the group and its members, like doing something that’s not already in the brands portfolio. It could also be a great occasion for brands to try something new on consumers and get their feedback. The group served as a laboratory and got brands the occasion to test new concepts which didn’t exist, specially in the agricole rum world, like « parcellaire », single casks or cask strength rum. In the meantime, we all saw what happened and a lot of those products hit the market since.
Nowadays, we try not to exceed 2 bottling a year, because the requests are still there and we really try to work more closely with the brands on a bigger amount of time. For example, back in 2015, when we released the very first parcellaire rum from Longueteau, we also kept some rum in the cellars to release later, without telling anyone. Now, this rum is 6 years old and the same rum is hitting the market as an XO by the end of this year. I think this is really cool and we see it as our babies when we do that. And I’m still amazed how much the people like the products we create and chose with the brands we work with. It’s a very cool occasion for us.

What was the most difficult one, i.e. who was the hardest partner to convince?

As said before, we never tried to convince anyone, since they came to us. But I must say, working with the producers we worked with has never been difficult. They’re all as patinante as we are, so it’s basically just fun to work with them.
Sometimes though, we had to say no to some brands because we weren’t satisfied about the quality of the product. Since we’ve our name on it, we think that it’s important to only release products if we personally like them.

Which of your bottlings are you especially proud of and why?

Oh wow. It’s like asking after my preferred child… I think there’re some I prefer in taste than others, on a very personal level of course, like the La Favorite 1995 or the first version of the HSE Cask Strength. And then again, I really liked the white Longueteau too… It is difficult. But, some other bottlings are planned over the next couple of years and even more exciting things are yet to come.

An then you started the Agricole World tour…

Yes, a hell of an adventure. This is actually when I decided to quit my previous job and also stop the flavored rum brand, just to work on this project.
This project actually came up after a discussion with Ian Burrel in Martinique, back in 2015, during the 250th anniversary from Saint James, for which I used to be export ambassador too back then. Some brands from Martinique were looking for more global exposure and Ian said that we could represent them on a stand at the next UK Rumfest in London, which we did. After that, we thought that it would be cool if we could do the same thing at several other festivals around the globe, which we already were in contact with anyway. So we talked about it to some brands and explained them that it would give them exposure while splitting the costs of travelling around individually and booking stands on festivals. They agreed and over the next years a lot more brands came on board. At some point, we represented 12 different brands from Martinique and Guadeloupe on the same stand, on 14 different festivals in the same year. I hope to think that a lot of people learned about agricole rum since we do this and we hope, after this sanitary situation, that we can hit the road again soon to spread the agricole gospel.

Together with Jerry, and Laurent & Laurent, you’ve also started the “The Single Cast” podcast. Was this an attempt to make use of a medium that the rum scene has more or less neglected entirely so far?

Exactly… To be honest, I’ve neglected it too for a long time and never really got into podcasts, but my fiancee is completely into it and she decided to show me some stuff about podcast. I quickly realized the potential behind it and after a couple of days I decided the create a group of people to talk about rum in a podcast. That’s how the Single Cast started. It reminds me my years on the radio from 2006 to 2012, back in Luxembourg.
Now, we’re starting our second season on September 13th and we managed to get a 5th member on board which will bring much more to the show, but I can’t reveal who it is until the season starts.

You are also promoting the Rum Tasting Notes app, which our buddy Oliver is developing together with Vincent. How happy are you with the project so far and do you think the app will eventually become THE rum-related platform we are hoping for it to be?

It was begin of 2019, when Oliver contacted me for the very first time to talk to me about it and it took me about 6 months to get on board. I had the idea to create a Vivino version of the app back in 2016 and also was in touch with the people from Vivino in California, but they weren’t interested and I didn’t have the technical knowledge to create an app myself.
So we decided to team up with Oliver and I thought I could bring the industry input to the project while he does the technical part. Vincent joined us quickly after when we decided to create an Android version of the app, which we have released about a month ago.
Now, the app has grown and is still growing. We’re working on a lot of new ideas we have for it and try to get producers, retailers and brands involved to fit the industry needs as good as possible.
I really hope that Rum Tasting Notes will not only become the most famous and used rum related platform, but also that its functions become kind of the new norm for the rum industry. At least we’re working on it and some crazy stuff is about to come very soon.

Your latest project seems to be Le Comité du Bourbon. Was “only” Rum not enough for you anymore?

Hahaha… Alright… This bourbon group and blog is actually just for fun to me. I always liked bourbon but noticed that nothing really exists on the French-speaking side (a bit like in 2013 before the Confrérie du Rhum, I have to admit). But I don’t expect something out of it, the same way I never expected anything from the rest, it just happened…
Anyway, rum is fun, but I’m a very curious person and also like other stuff and bourbon is one of them. That’s why I founded that during the quarantine, while I had no real occupation and had more time to spend on side-stuff. But, I already noticed that a lot of my rum-friends tend to drink more bourbon now or at least give it a shot. It’s true that sometimes it can be very close taste wise, to rum and fortunately it’s still available at reasonable prices for most of it. So why not?

Any last words?

Sure… during the quarantine period I accidentally deleted my instagram account and lost all my followers, so if you’re interested of all of the stuff I talked about in this interview, feel free to follow me. I promise I’ll try not to delete it this time.

Thanks for taking your time, Benoit!

If you became curious, here is a list with links of the stuff we have been talking about.