Ben Ellefsen is sales director at Master of Malt

Ben Ellefsen is sales director at Master of Malt

Today, we're launching a new, quick-fire interview section that focuses on subscribers to just-drinks. First up, we welcome Ben Ellefsen, sales director at UK-based online spirits retailer Master of Malt.
  • How long have you been working in the drinks industry?

Ben Ellefsen: Full-time, for nearly seven years. But, I've been involved peripherally for a decade or so. I’ve been sales director at Master of Malt and ATOM supplies for the past seven years.

  • Who was your mentor when you started? What did they teach you?

BE: Honestly, I think we self-taught. Although Master of Malt had been around for 25 years at that point, the new management team came in as something of an upstart. We're an e-commerce business, so mentors - at least in our own field - were understandably hard to come by.

  • How has the industry changed during your time in it?

BE: On the retail side, everyone’s paying a lot more attention to online now, which can only be a good thing for all of us. On the product side, there’s been a huge spike in ‘interesting sh*t’ - innovation and the craft movement.

  • What do you like most/least about your job?

BE: I love most things about it – the people, the products, the industry as a whole. It's very hard to think of things I don’t enjoy. Boring brand ambassadors. That’s one.

  • What are the main challenges facing the industry today? How would you combat them?

BE: I’d say the big one is probably the lack of relevant innovation from some of the larger players. How to combat it? With more smaller players probably. Democratisation of production is a phrase we’re quite fond of. Risk-aversion understandably grows once companies hit the sort of size where they bring in legal teams.

  • What do you think has been the most exciting innovation in the industry?

BE: I made a Negroni-Cask-Aged gin a few months back! Other than that – I like our sampling programme, 'Drinks by the Dram'. We’ve got about 3,000 separate lines available in 3cl samples at the moment.

  • Which drinks company (apart from the one you are employed by) do you most admire?

BE: I’ve got a lot of time for St. George Spirits in California. They were amongst the first in the craft movement and constantly demonstrate integrity, as well as some properly crazy innovations. That’s a blend that appeals to me hugely on a personal level.

  • Who or what has been the greatest influence on your career in the industry?

BE: I think I’d say my co-directors, Justin Petszaft and Tom McGuinness, and I know that’s painfully like when someone goes dressed as their dad to a superheroes party. Don’t mind me: I’ll be in the corner looking through the CD collection.

  • What's your favourite drink?

BE: Whisky. No, gin. Wine. Nope. Whisky. I don’t know. It’s like when someone asks you what your favourite food is. I love whisky, but I’ve got a lot of time for wine as well (although comparatively little knowledge). Okay, I’ve got it. A Boulevardier made with Balcones True Blue 100, Campari and Martini Gran Lusso. Good enough?

  • And your favourite drink that is not in your company's portfolio?

BE: Probably a really good Glenfarclas from the ‘60s. That stuff takes on a magical quality after over 40 years – a mixture of Rancio, stewed fruit and good weed.

  • What has been the most peculiar situation that your job has put you in?

BE: Travelling at over 100mph whilst secreting a chicken carcass in an editor’s bin while he was being distracted by a chum necking a whole bottle of bitters. That's a memorable highlight… (Editor's note: It was the bin in my cabin on the sleeper train from London to Scotland to visit Balblair's distillery).

  • Where do you see yourself in ten years time?

BE: Master of Malt will still be the number one in online spirits retail, our own brands (Cornelius Ampleforth, Drinks by the Dram, Handmade Cocktail Co, That Boutiquey Whisky Co and more) will be segment volume leaders, and importantly we’ll never have stopped innovating. There will be fledgling brands following in their big brothers’ footsteps. I’ll also have had a holiday since I wrote this.