It happens, sometimes, that you discover that you have a passion in the workplace. As in the case of Luigi De Michele who, once he started working in the world of spirits, understood how much culture there was behind the preparation of a 'simple' cocktail. In recent years he has made numerous friendships with bartenders - whom he visits periodically also on ad hoc organized bar tours - and has also managed to translate his passion onto Instagram and Facebook, with the launch of three projects which focus on cocktails and his other favorite hobby: photography.
Hi Luigi, what are your origins and training?
I am from Naples, the city in which I studied Business Economics, before moving to Romania for a study experience abroad and then, nine years ago, to Milan to attend the specialization in Marketing and Global Markets. My first job was in the German multinational Bayer, where I was in charge of marketing, branding and advertising in the agro-pharmacy division. In 2016 I moved into the world of spirits, as Brand Manager of ILLVA Saronno SPA, the company producing Disaronno, Artic Vodka and Tia Maria. I then spent a year in Belgium, where in the role of Trade Marketing Manager I was responsible for managing the company business for the national and Luxembourg markets. I worked within the offices of Coca-Cola European Partners, at the time the distributor of ILLVA products. Meanwhile, in Italy Coca-Cola HBC was about to make its entry into this sector: it would certainly have been a great opportunity for me to take part in this ambitious project, and I succeeded in my goal. Since mid-2018 I have been responsible for marketing and trade marketing activities for the brand spirits distributed (in partnership with the producers Edrington, Lucano, Silvio Carta and La Martiniquaise), and for the Royal Bliss range of Premium Mixers. Since January 2021, I have been developing and monitoring marketing plans for carbonated drinks, specifically Fanta and the Kinley branded tonic and mixer range.
Has your work allowed you to learn more about the world of mixing and its protagonists? What relationship did you have with the bartenders?
I approached the world of mixing for the first time with my experience in ILLVA, about five years ago, when I started to meet some bartenders, brand ambassadors and producers. The interest soon became a real passion, and starting about a year and a half ago I decided to frequent cocktail bars even in my free time (previously I mostly did it for work, ed.). During this period I made countless friends in the sector: the guys from 1930, a place that I have near my home and where I often go, the team at Nik's & Co in Milan, the teams of the Roman places that I carry in my heart as Drink Kong or Freni e Frizioni, or the Campania teams of Dry Martini in Sorrento or L'Antiquario in Naples, up to the teams of some of the most important bars in London and many others. One of the things I love most about hospitality is the chance to meet exceptional people around the world.
Can you tell us an anecdote with one of them?
I remember a time when during a guest shift at the Octavius Bar, Christian Silenzi (bartender at the Savoy in London) made me try his reinterpretation of the Trinidad Sour. There was so much Angostura bitter in that drink that Christian began by saying "With all the vitamin C in this drink you won't get the flu again for a whole year"... So, every time I meet Christian I ask him his reinterpretation of the Trinidad Sour, with equal parts of Angostura, Orgeat and Lemon Juice avoiding the cut of rye whisky. It's a drink that I also order every now and then during my tours.
What is the first cocktail you remember drinking? And the ones that left the most impression on you?
I don't remember what my first cocktail was, but I remember that it wasn't a good cocktail. It was the 90s and at the time I didn't go to cocktail bars, but to nightclubs, where at that time drinks like Vodka Lemon, Sex On the Beach and Cuba Libre were prepared. I think it was a Negroni, but I'm sure that the desire to document it didn't arise in me, which instead was born during one of the stages of the "The Mixing Star" competition, organized 5 years ago by ILLVA. Here, at my first masterclass, in the company of personalities of the caliber of Luca Picchi and Stefano Nincevich, I discovered how much culture there was behind the preparation of a drink. There are many cocktails that have left an impression on me: the one prepared by Luca Cinalli during a guest shift at La Mènagere during the Florence Cocktail Week, the Twice Shy by Leonardo Filippini at the Beaufort Bar in London, the Fresh Fruit Martinis Coconut by Lucio D 'Orsi at Dry Martini in Sorrento, the Back To The Pisco at Freni e Frizioni in Rome by Riccardo Rossi and, perhaps most of all, a creation by Maroš Dzurus from Himkok (Oslo) with pepper. Focusing on the classics, I drank the best versions in the following places: the Daiquiri Frozen at the Antiquario in Naples by Alex Frezza, the Martini Dry at the Octavius Bar in Milan by Francesco Cione, the Bloody Mary at Ca.Ri.Co Milan by Domenico Carella, the Ramos Fizz prepared by Santino Calderone at Ceresio 7 and the unbeatable Old Fashioned by Marco Russo at 1930.
Have you ever done a bar tour? If yes, where? Have you ever traveled to find out about spirits?
I started doing actual bar tours to go and say hello to bartender friends, as well as out of passion. When I organize one, I always plan some stops in already known bars and other new ones, where I haven't been yet, which I learned about through newspaper articles or word of mouth, or because I'm invited. Before going I write to the bar managers to arrange visits of at least 2 hours, strictly with a seat at the counter. For now I have managed to do it in Milan, Rome, Florence, Naples, Amsterdam, Berlin and London and this year I was planning to do it in Singapore, Madrid, Barcelona, Paris and London again, but unfortunately it hasn't been possible yet. Among the trips I have made, there are many bars that I carry in my heart: Drink Kong, The Court, Barber Shop and Freni e Frizioni in Rome, Locale in Florence, Nightjar, Oriole, Bar Termini, Kwānt, Lyaness, Beaufort Bar and Savoy in London and some bars in Amsterdam like the Flying Dutchman. However, I happened to travel to learn about the production of a spirit only for work - except Beefeater in London - because I unfortunately had to cancel the trip I had planned to visit Scottish whiskey distilleries in 2020. I visited the Silvio Carta distillery in Sardinia, and that of Rum Barcelò in the Dominican Republic, where the company also owns the sugar cane plantations.
What are you looking for in a cocktail bar?
During my visits I am always very analytical and critical. One of the first things I pay attention to is the attention to detail, the music, the glasses used, as well as the environment itself, what can be defined as the "vibe", the soul of a bar. For me, the research that the bartenders carry out in the construction of the cocktails and the drink list is of fundamental importance, so much so that many bartenders also decide to give me a copy signed by the team at the end of the visit. I have about fifty at home.
You highlight the passion you have on your Instagram account with excellent photos. Do you shoot them all?
I am a photography enthusiast and have always liked taking panoramas and situations taken from real life. For a year now I have decided to continue doing the same in another context - that of mixing - photographing bartenders working and cocktails, an activity that has allowed me to build a database of thousands of photos. I give the photos away for free to cocktail bars and I am very pleased when I am republished and quoted. As for Instagram, I usually publish 4 different types of content on my account: drinks, bartenders, food and photos of me during one of my visits to the bar. All photos are exclusively taken by me, except those of me, of course.
What projects have you decided to start in this regard?
In addition to my Instagram account (@luidemic) and my personal profile on Facebook (Luigi De Michele), I am active on social media with two other projects: Cheers Me Up and Drink with me. The first was born because in mid-2020 I was deleting some photos from my phone and I realized, almost by chance, that I had taken a lot of them with the cocktail in the center of the photo as the protagonist, held with the left hand. Only the background changed, but the style of the image was always the same. So I thought, in July 2020, of opening an Instagram profile and calling it Cheers Me Up (@cheers_me_up), because 'cheers' means “cheers” and “me up” stands for 'cheer up'. In a short time I had excellent feedback and many passionate and professional people tag me, even from places like Australia or South Africa, when they take photos with the same style. Another project is Drink with me (@drink.con.me) born in 2019 from an idea of the founder of Gin Tonic Italy (@gin.tonic.italy) Jacopo Saporito. Jacopo needed to talk about content related to the world of bars that wasn't exclusively gin, and our collaboration was born because I definitely had a lot of photographic content on the subject. Now the project is slow due to Covid-19 but the idea is to resume it consistently.
Do you have any projects planned?
Yes, but I can't say that yet. I can only anticipate that it will not just be an Instagram page, but above all a blog, which has the ambition of creating culture around the world of bars. Me and the other person who will take care of it, with whom we are still defining the guidelines, will discuss stories, products, people and bars. In the future we have no limits.
What's your favorite cocktail?
The Martini cocktail. I'm not a fan of overly sweet flavours, I like particularly dry drinks. Gin is in fact one of the spirits I love. I prefer to drink it as an aperitif or immediately after dinner, strictly chilled. I like that the vermouth is left inside the drink, along with a splash of lemon zest, which is not included in the drink.[:]