The sweet spot

David Cordoba travelled the world as Bacardi brand ambassador. he talks rum – and Bolton – with Hamish Smith


FOR SIX YEARS David Cordoba was the international face of Bacardi, but he didn’t always live a high-profile, glamorous life. He once lived in Bolton, a northern English city, famous for thick accents, a plucky football team and not eating garlic bread (Youtube: Peter Kay). It’s about the last place you’d expect to find the sophisticated Argentinian spending a day, let alone 10 months.

Cordoba recalls Bolton vividly – as if a reminder that fulfilling his ambitions didn’t come easy. “Every time I walked the streets of Bolton, if people weren’t pointing they were staring at me. If someone spoke to me it was about the Hand of God, or the Falkland Islands War.”

Bolton must have been quite different from Tucumán, the northerly province of Argentina where Cordoba grew up eating his grandfather’s kumquats, pomelos and mangos and harvesting the sugarcane that would establish his cursed sweet tooth.

When Cordoba was aged 11 his family moved to Buenos Aires where he met his then wife, an English flight attendant. Cordoba was not long out of university where he’d studied graphic design and advertising. He was a dedicated student by day, dedicated bartender by night. The Spot, where he plied his nocturnal trade, was the place in Buenos Aires – a sort of Latin speakeasy, furnished with mahogany, leather and whisky.

Cordoba knew he had to improve his English and make a success of himself. He had a family to support – over the years, his sister’s chronic disability would weigh heavy on his parents. Edinburgh was an easy-enough landing but in 2001 the barscape was not what it is today. There was Tonic and a few other bars making a fist of cocktails, including El Barrio, a Latin bar. Cordoba made rapid progress at El Barrio but before long his then wife wanted to return to her hometown, Bolton. Cordoba agreed and took a job with tapas chain La Tasca, which was about as exotic as Bolton got. He worked hard at his job and the local culture. “I tried to embrace it but it wasn’t for me. We moved back to Scotland. I never want to go to Bolton again.”

Back in Edinburgh, Cordoba’s star grew. He was competing in as many competitions as he could (mostly finishing second) and working with some of the modern-era pioneers. At Halo and Dragonfly he worked with Stuart McCluskey, at Harvey Nichols Sam Kershaw and, after a short stint in Germany by invitation of Lewis Jaffrey, he ended up with Jason Day and Mike Aikman at Bramble. “They saw my potential. I became the first bar manager at Bramble. It was a great time.”

Cordoba wanted to take the next step but didn’t have the backers to open his own bar.

A brand ambassador role made sense. Bacardi made him wait almost a year before making him its global BA, by which point he’d lined up a job with Herradura. “I thought about which spirit I could drink every day. It

He wouldn’t regret it. Over the next six-and-a-half years, Cordoba became the face of Bacardi rum, instrumental in its revival behind the bar. “It was a brand no one wanted to touch,” Cordoba says. “To convince others, you need to be convinced yourself. It became very personal. I felt the brand was mine.”

Cordoba travelled the world in the pursuit of making Bacardi great again. He was based in London though, as Alex Kratena would say: “He was the best flatmate – he was almost never there.”

As the group began restructuring in 2015, Cordoba decided to leave on a high. Singapore, one of many cities where he might hang his hat, came calling and he took up a post with Paul Gabie at bar and distribution firm Proof & Co. “I learned how small brands work without global budgets. We’re talking £2,000 for six months, not £1m.” That experience, albeit for just two years, would fill the void in his skill set and prepare him for his own project.

Cordoba has assembled a crack team to create a new brand. The details will follow in the next few weeks, but at a guess it’ll be a spirit that’s in his DNA.