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Mixing Madre White Negroni with Ryan Fleming

Photo for: Mixing Madre White Negroni with Ryan Fleming

03/02/2022 The Brand Ambassador of Madre Mezcal, Rayan Fleming on Agave Learning Institute, and what makes Mezcal one of the last natural spirits.

Rayan Jefferson Fleming is the Brand Ambassador for Madre Mezcal, an artisanal mezcal handcrafted in the rolling hills of Oaxacan Sierra. Graduated with a major in Public Relations, Fleming has worked in the service, retail, motorsports, and alcohol industry with specialization in brand management, sales, marketing, and public relations. With over a decade of experience in the bar and spirits industry, currently, he is the brand ambassador of one of the best-selling artisanal mezcal available in the market. In this interview, Fleming discusses the different strategies and collaboration techniques that he uses to promote his brand. And the best part is he will teach you how to make a Madre White Negroni. 

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Can you tell us a little about yourself and your role as a Brand Ambassador at Madre Mezcal? How did you end up in this role?

I have been in the bar industry for a decade starting as a barman for the Houston Hospitality Company, I worked for several establishments, ran bar programs, consulted on menus and I worked for Stillhouse Whiskey, Consulted for Wolf Spirits, and now I am with Madre Mezcal. The role of a brand ambassador to me is to represent the ethos of the brand, spread the values of the brand, and educate people on the category and spirits you represent. When it comes to Madre I am more of a Market Manager, I cover three states in the South West, I help with pricing and promotional sales, I have sales quotas and I also deal with on and off-premise while most brand ambassadors will usually just focus on one or the other, usually on-premise. I happened to get involved with Madre because a close friend of mine that I worked with within the retail sector had started the brand with three other partners. I was actually consulting for free as a friend and then they asked me to join them in Oaxaca and if I didn’t love the brand I could just get a free trip. When I came back from the trip, my current brand had laid off the whole team and I had already secured a new position, the stars aligned for me. 

How do you think the present market for Mezcal is growing in the US? What’s your take on Artisanal Mezcal?

I would like to see the category grow, I believe Mezcal is a beautiful spirit that needs to be shared and enjoyed. It can bring together people from all walks of life and is a celebration of nature’s great gifts. It is one of the last natural spirits in the sense that it is handmade without so much as a spark of electricity needed, but it can also fall prey to the same path as Tequila. The modernization of distillation has left Tequila with just a trace of what it used to be, it is now a completely automated process that can use additives and chemicals to make the end product. Artisanal and Ancestral are the only two categories of Mezcal I am concerned with, anything less is usually a cheaper product and I do not concern myself with it. 

My biggest fear with growth is that we will lose the connection to the small families that bring mezcal to life, switch to large production houses, and eradicate wild varietals that should be cherished and treasured and not just a paycheck. Sustainability both environmentally and economically is the best way to a long-lasting category, especially when it comes to keeping all of the Agave varietals alive and flourishing. 

How do you increase Madre's visibility and promote awareness amongst the consumers and trade?

Madre has always relied on grassroots marketing campaigns and word of mouth as our biggest drivers. We have curated and sponsored local events, art openings and reached out to social media influencers that have been big supporters. We also make sure we are involved with the bar industry as well, working with the USBG, and doing activations across the Southern CA territory and into Arizona and Nevada.

Rayan Fleming

Source: Instagram / Rayan Fleming

What are the three things you focus on while pitching your brand to buyers? Can you tell us your 1-minute pitch to restaurants, bars, and pubs?

When selling to Bars and Restaurants we always rely on the liquid to lips. There are some really good brands and mezcal on the market, I am a collector as well, but a lot of the mezcal I have had in our price range are overly smoked and a bit harsh on the pallet. Madre is an approachable mezcal, still independent, economically and environmentally sustainable as well as a beautiful bottle. It catches your eyes and then doesn’t disappoint on the palette, those together have led to a lot of markets opening up to us.

What are some of the best collaborations you have worked on with Hotels, Restaurants, and Bars? How have they benefited the brand? Can you share a few examples?

We have worked with some great independent hotel chains as well as some of the larger guys as well. We have worked with the Ace, Proper, and Pali hotels to name a few. We just recently supported the Pali Hotel launch in DTLA over the New Year, it was a beautiful event with music curated for the event as well as a flask and bandana for everyone attending. 

Restaurants and Bars are my bread and butter. Some of my favorite collaborations have been with Good Housekeeping and the Gold Line in Highland Park. They have such a talented staff that I get to concentrate on the business side and let their creatives come up with cocktail menus. We always have a beautiful display, wonderful cocktails and we do a special Candle menu for our events that has become our signature. 

What strategies do you use to gain distribution, increase volumes and gain cocktail placements? Can you share an example of an account you recently cracked?

We have been fortunate to have good distributors in most of the states we work in, and gaining cocktail placement can be hard. Sometimes it just comes down to price for some accounts, while others want to showcase smaller brands and highlight the beauty in the category. I recently was able to gain some menu placement based on the relationships I have built. We are not the brand to make false promises so if we say we will support your future endeavors, we do. We will support everything from Harley night to an industry Monday, as long as our ethos and values align. Through my support with past events, we got a year-long feature running at Gold Diggers in Los Angeles, a hub for music!

What are some of the things you focus on in your training and masterclasses? Could you take us through your training module?

Training can vary greatly from account to account, it comes down to the base knowledge on the category. Since a lot of people are new to the category, we created the Agave Learning Institute online that allows people to learn at their own pace and also be able to follow up for information. This means that I can focus on connecting with the employees on my training and leave them a bit of knowledge behind for them to follow up on whenever they have time. The agave learning institute not only is a training on everything Madre, but also an overview of the category as a whole.

Source: Forbes

Maintaining relationships with your clients is a big part of your role; what are a few yet effective ways to keep that going?

This is a relationship-based industry, and just like any relationship in your personal life, they need to be nurtured and supported. It doesn’t mean going in and getting blitzed every chance you get, it's about reaching out and asking how you can support their establishment, sponsoring some local events, and always checking in every now and then just to see how things are going. I have gotten some good orders and placements just based on being there at the right time, sometimes just showing up is half the battle.

What are some of the changes you have noticed in the drinks industry in the US since the Pandemic? How has this affected your brand?

Canned cocktails have made strides in the off-premise, bars have started canning their own cocktails to go as well. I have also noticed a more educated consumer, people learned how to bartend at home, and a lot of people started reading about cocktail culture. I am excited to see a shift to a more educated consumer, especially with a beautiful brand like Madre. We have so much to share and encourage people to get together and learn with us. 

How has digital marketing proved to be an effective tool for you? Can you tell us about your digital marketing strategy?

This is out of my wheelhouse, but internally our team is on top of it. I don’t know how they do it but just paying attention to our social media response, they are doing it quite well! We have also teamed up with other brands and even categories to get exposure. I know that last year I was watching SNL and I saw a bottle of Madre in the opening scene, how it got there we do not know but we will take the free placement!

How has working in the hospitality industry and as a bartender helped you grow in this role? What are some of the biggest challenges you face? Can you share a piece of advice for future brand representatives?

I don’t understand how people get into this role without the background, I have seen people rise and fall by trying to fake the funk. Bartenders are quick, witty, and intelligent people, they will see right thru your bullshit if you throw it at them. Hospitality workers are part of a club, a group of people that know how to take a terrible situation and smile through it. I truly do love my hospitality family and background, I also think it makes people more human after working in the industry. You will never snap at a waiter again!

Source: Instagram / Madre Mezcal

Finally, which is your favorite Madre Mezcal cocktail, and how to make it?

Hands Down my favorite cocktail consistently is a Madre White Negroni. You can come up with some great names but you sub the Gin for Madre Mezcal Ensemble and it's amazing. The specs for me are heavier on the Mezcal to let the mezcal shine through. 

1.5 oz Madre Ensemble

.75 - Suze

.75 - Lillet Blanc

Stirred and served over a large rock with a grapefruit twist. It’s easy, sophisticated, and a nice twist on a classic. One of our founders and I like to argue over which recipe is the best, but he is Italian and I will never convince him that it's better without Campari. 

Interviewed By Tushar Anand, Junior Writer, Beverage Trade Network

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