Swell de Spirits, a relatively new player in the world of independent bottlling but with already two rums selections (from Barbados and Jamaica) victim of their success – But who is behind these new bottlings? Meet the man and creator of Swell de Spirits: Michaël Barbaria.
Adrien Bonetto : Can you introduce yourself, what is your background?
Michaël Barbaria : I am Michaël Barbaria, originally from a small village called Rieux de Pelleport in Ariège. I lived there until I moved to study aeronautics as a Structural Calculation Engineer in Toulouse. After working a few years in the industry, I realized that it was not the dream job or lifestyle I had envisaged. So, I packed up and booked a flight to Australia with the aim to travel, explore and try new experiences.
That was 12 years ago, since then I have had the opportunity to live and work in a variety of industries across Australia, Asia, Germany, and I am now living in Bordeaux with as an Independent Bottler specializing in Spirits along with my wife and two children.
In my spare time you will find me surfing (an interest born from my time living by the beach in Sydney) or researching, tasting, and developing my passion for Spirits. With any hobby, practice makes perfect and I have found that when you enjoy and are passionate about what you do your ‘job’ becomes so much more than just that.
AB : How did you become an independent bottler?
MB : I am a big believer in continuous learning and pushing myself outside of my comfort zone. To further my career opportunities and expand my skills I completed an Executive MBA in 2018 which ignited a fire inside me that I didn’t realize I had. During this time, I also started to develop a taste and interest for whisky, in particular single malts.
I began to follow similar likeminded enthusiasts on social media, attended whisky events and started learning as much as I could – I even completed a diploma in whisky tasting from Scotland. What at first started out as a hobby, quickly turned into trying more kinds of Spirits and over the years realized that there were many business opportunities and avenues to discover.
The EMBA gave me the tools and confidence to take the leap and start my own business. In 2021 Swell de Spirits was born.
AB: How do you make your selections?
MB : The selections I make are made according to my palate, I don’t make my selections because I think it will appeal to certain markets or based on any hype in the industry.
It is impossible to please everyone especially when you are bottling different types of spirits, and for the moment this approach works.
I look for a high-quality spirit that has a story behind it; the story can be about its origins, the raw materials to the distillation process. This can at times be a laborious process, but I am very particular and being meticulous here allows me to finetune my tasting skills and expand my knowledge. It’s important that I also pay homage to the producers & distillers behind the label; without them I couldn’t do what I do.
AB : Other vintages rum in selection ?
MB : The beginning of this year we will be releasing Rums and Single Malt Scotch Whisky’s across two new exciting series. One of our releases is an old Jamaican rum with 24 years of tropical maturation, this one was a special discovery for me, I was bowled over by the immediate flavors, caramel and ripe fruit and well balanced, very impressed to be honest.
A collaboration project as well as a project will see the light this year (when two Spirits lovers meet…) and I cannot wait to talk about it once all finalized. We are working hard behind the stage to find and release some great Rum. Agricole Rhum is planned as well as older Rum than the ones we already released up to now.
AB : Will you make your own blends?
MB : Yes. I have started to experiment with blending. One of my goals for Rum and Scotch Whisky is to produce our own “homemade” Swell de Spirits blends. It takes time because it does not happen overnight and with quality spirits, the assembly stages are so crucial. It is currently a “work in progress” project.
AB : How do you view the independent bottling industry and what do you think about the multiplication of players?
MB : As a newcomer to this industry I am still learning and observing a lot. My experience so far has been positive and welcoming. I believe there is room for everyone in the market, we all have common goals and to keep our customers satisfied I believe this creates opportunities to build alliances and collaborate. More players only increase the quality of the output, which ultimately benefits the end customers.
AB : What are your favourite rums? Any rum bars that you can recommend?
MB : It is difficult to give my top 3 because I like a lot of distilleries and there are just too many to choose, as it depends on your mood of the day, your entourage, very tough to give any answer. There are too many great choices from the Agricole in Martinique, Guadeloupe and Guyana, also from other countries and molasses Rums.
I recently discovered Bar 1802 (Monte Cristo Hotel) in Paris and I was pleasantly surprised by their rums selections. From the presentation of the menu to their knowledgeable staff behind the bar able to tell all the stories behind the bottles made it a truly welcoming experience.