The distributor backed by Berkmann Wines recently won the 2019 IWSC award for best spirits distributor. We caught up with David Hood to talk the award, his journey, the team and embarrassing moments.

Okay, for those who don’t know you. Let’s start with your role at Spirit Cartel and your background…

“I am the General Manager at Spirit Cartel but focus on sales, brand recruitment/management and working with our team at Berkmann Wine Cellars.

I have been in the drinks industry for over 20 years. I got my start in Wine. Managed 10 years at Matthew Clark before a couple with a brewer. Eventually moving into Spirits with Proximo and finally four years ago I had the opportunity to lead the team at Spirit Cartel. To be honest I jumped at the chance given the brand portfolio and Berkmann structure.”

Your clever branding portrays you as the bad guys of the industry. Are any of you as dangerous as you seem?

“Haha, of course we are, just wait for us to make you an offer you can’t refuse…”

Tell me more about the team behind Spirit Cartel?

“We really are an eclectic group that have come together with a shared vision. For example, Chantal Serrano our Prestige Manager for London was a Sommelier in some swanky London restaurants and then a wine educator before joining us, her French and Mexican heritage means she doesn’t mess around but has a relaxed style, this blended with a very curious (verging on nosey) approach to brands has meant that Chantal really sells from the heart.

She’s built a great relationship with the best bars and bartenders in London. Benji Emare-Purslow is a bar consultant and was initially our UK Four Roses Brand Ambassador, he now carries that title and has his own account base. We always rely on Benji for drink creation and his ability to keep it real.

The final wheel in our cart really was Jane Bulankina joining us to drive our marketing and manage our brands. Jane has created great momentum for us with creative activations like the secret Bourbon tasting we did for Four Roses (although that’s all I can tell you about that event, it was a real secret) as well as getting us up to speed with Social Media.”

How do you decide which drink brands to work with?

“Haha! The million dollar question. Well we only work with brands we believe in. They have to sit with the best in class currently available in their category and we need to share a vision for growth.

So really it’s a balance of authenticity/ provenance and the brand investing behind us to ensure we can activate their products in market.

We never charge for representation and ask brand owners to put all support into customers and not us. If we have a gap in our portfolio and all the above works out then we will look at a partnership.”

I’ve heard you’re able to do a lot more to help venues than people actually know about?

“We can obviously provide the usual financial support that bars require. We believe it’s our flexibility in offering personalised activations that shows our strengths best, we utilise the experience and skill levels within the team to support venues with events such as Hip Hop Karaoke or Perfume blending sessions, which are designed to match the specific Spirit we are driving.

Our ability to lead venues with insights into growth categories also creates some interesting discussions and I believe this consultative approach to support really allows us to demonstrate to customer that we can do the commercials but offer relevant and high value support others don’t.

I think the perception of small/medium sized agencies is that we don’t have the same level of support as the big companies, we challenge that by demonstrating that we have a depth that they aspire to and often copy. We also do everything ourselves, no external agencies, just our team of specialists.”

Cartels are known for their expansive distribution networks. How does yours compare?

“Our (not so underground) network is very strong, we benefit from utilising the Berkmann Wine Cellars distribution network, this means we utilise LCB for bonded stock, have stocked depots in London and York, 7 cross-dock depots around the country and 30 delivery vans on the road every single day.Which gives us the ability to deliver small drops to every part of the UK every week. I don’t think any other agency can match our ability to deliver stock to individual outlets where required.

This is supported by a customer care team that manage all orders for us very efficiently and rapidly. This is managed by our dedicated holesale Manager Ernie Lee-Smith.

For our brands that’s a really strong incentive and removes some of the classic distribution blocks for route to market.”

The IWSC Trophy. Who did you have to hold to ransom for that!? Seriously though congratulations. Why do you think you won?

“Unusually for us we didn’t have to make any “offers” for this award, thanks for the congratulations.

The recent changes we have made have seen us getting greater support from our direct customers, the more they talk about us the more understanding the market has about us. This seemed to be very important with this award where we were able to demonstrate growth based on working through our complete portfolio and not just from one or two key brands, the judges could see we had brought in new brands that have seeded well into the market and that we have activated these partnerships into our customers to create a virtuous relationship for all parties.

That and we have a safe full of compromising photos …obviously.”

I heard from an informant that you once owned a pub yourself. Is my source reliable?

“I did, The Staunton Arms near Nottingham, I had it for 4 years. A couple of friends and I bought an old pub that hadn’t been open for 18 months in a village with 14 houses and then sat back waiting for the masses to find us. Thankfully they did and kept coming. I love the pub and the experience was very positive all round, it’s as scary as everyone tells you and really helped me understand owners when talking to them on a deeper level.”

Do you have any fun facts that our readers might find interesting?

“My Dad’s name is Robin Hood, so my youth was sound tracked by kids singing “Robin Hood, Robin Hood riding through the glen…” as I rode around, my two boys however love that Grandad is Robin Hood and think it’s pretty cool.

I also had a pet pig once (I can’t tell you her name, as it wasn’t very PC) and the most embarrassing moment in my life was asking Cricket legend Chris Broad “Do you play any sport?” when I first met him, only made worse by replying “oh, you are that Chris…”.

Lastly I’d just like to say that there is a family of elves living in Adam’s amazing beard.”