Like many industry professionals, Allison Dedianko (Ali) started working in bars by accident, to earn a little money while studying.
She is a Baltimore native who moved to New York in 2003 to attend New York University. After graduation, Ali discovered that desk jobs aren’t really that much fun and decided to keep to bartending instead. She spent many years behind the stick in New York working at places like Madam Geneva, The Back Room, and the beloved Lower East Side dive, Welcome to the Johnsons.
In 2011, Dedianko joined the Moet-Hennessy group as Global Brand Ambassador for Belvedere Vodka, having beaten thousands of contestants in the “Bartender’s Dream Job Search” competition in 2010.
We caught up with Ali to find out more about her profession, and the world’s first luxury vodka.
LM: What are the key skills to be a mixologist?
AD: I prefer the term ‘bartender’, and to be honest, I think most serious people in our industry do! There is no longer a stigma attached to this word, in fact, it garners much more respect than ‘mixologist.’ A good bartender should be, above all else, a good host; the rest can be taught. Charisma is also important. You can’t teach someone to have a good personality!
LM: As a Global Brand Ambassador, which destinations do you travel to the most?
AD: I cover them all! Well, all of the places that sell Belvedere anyway… I spend the majority of my time in Europe, where the cocktail culture is very developed, but I also spend a month in Asia and Australia once a year every spring. Now that we have a dedicated Ambassador for the USA, I only have to visit two or three times a year officially, but often I end up spending more time there due to various cocktail weeks and trade summits, plus our head office is in New York. Other than those big regions, I tend to visit growing markets, like Morocco, UAE, Israel, and indeed South Africa, once every other year, depending on time and demand. It’s a pretty big territory to cover!
LM: What made you stand out from the crowd in the “Bartender’s Dream Job Search” competition?
AD: I suppose I had a different approach than some of the other competitors, and even though I wasn’t necessarily the most experienced bartender of the bunch, I had other qualities that the brand was looking for in an ambassador. After all, the competition wasn’t strictly a bartending one, it was much more; the cocktail component only made up a very small portion of the final. Don’t get me wrong, I made a delicious drink, but I think my presentation was what ultimately got me the job.
LM: What are the qualities that you admire in Belvedere Vodka?
AD: Belvedere is 100% all-natural, sugar-free and additive-free. It’s made in Poland in the tradition of 600+ years of Polish vodka-making history and heritage and is the world’s first luxury vodka brand. The spirit itself is full of character and flavour, due to the fact that it is distilled from 100% Dankowskie Gold Rye, but it is still naturally smooth – the way a good vodka should be.
LM: Are you always looking to conjure up new and novel recipes?
AD: Honestly no, not really! I haven’t worked behind a bar in nearly five years now, and while creating new cocktail recipes is a part of my job, this usually only happens once a year when we decide the drinks strategy for the following year, or we bring out a new maceration. I’m most excited to taste new drinks created by the talented bartenders I meet while I’m busy travelling the world. These creative girls and boys are the ones who work with the product every day in a bar setting and are setting new trends and techniques that brands like ours look to for inspiration.
LM: Is there any mixologist in particular that is your ‘idol’, or that you look up to?
AD: Tristan Stephenson, aka ‘The Curious Bartender,’ is definitely someone I admire. He’s a friend and does a lot of work with us over at Belvedere, but also manages to find time to write cocktails books (he’s published three or four in the space of two years!), and run a beachfront bar and restaurant, called Surfside, down in Cornwall, where he lives with his family. He’s got the work-life balance thing pretty well figured out, or at least he seems to from the outside!
LM: In your spare time, what is ultimate luxury, and do you have any preferred five-star hotels?
AD: Actually, the last time I was in South Africa, in July, I had the great pleasure of staying at The Oyster Box in Durban, which was incredible. It was my first time visiting the city, and staying at such a historic and beautiful hotel right on the beach was a real treat. But, when I’m not travelling, the ultimate luxury for me is just staying at home, on the couch, with my husband and a good movie. Sometimes it’s just really nice to do nothing in the comfort of your own home!
LM: Do you have any favourite bars from your extensive experience in the industry?
AD: There are far too many to name! I frequent a lot of nightclubs and hotel bars when I’m out for work, so in my down time I like to visit a bar that is more on the casual side but still has a great offering. In my opinion, no one does it better than the team at the downstairs bar at Hawksmoor Spitalfields, London. The atmosphere is relaxed and friendly, but the cocktails and spirit selection are top notch. Plus, they have a great food menu so you don’t even have to leave if you get hungry!
LM: What’s next for you?
AD: We are a small team at Belvedere Vodka, especially in the education department. And while I have been in my job a long time, the role is constantly changing and developing. As the brand grows, we continue to add more countries to our educational road shows and create new and exciting ways of teaching people about the product. While I don’t anticipate travelling the world as Global Ambassador forever, I do expect to continue working in an educational role for Belvedere for the foreseeable future. I love the brand and the industry, and honestly, there is nowhere I would rather be.
“The key to creating any great cocktail is to always remember to keep it simple. If you are using fresh ingredients and being creative, a good cocktail is not far off.”
For more information on Belvedere Vodka, visit www.belvederevodka.com.