In The Spotlight: Donnie Wheeler
When I met Donnie for the first time he was doing a rum presentation at Miss Thing’s in downtown Toronto. This is a few years ago, when he was national brand ambassador for Havana Club Canada, a position he held for 4 years. He’s a very well known figure in the Toronto bar scene and has a big passion for rum. I wanted to know more about him and luckily he agreed to answer a few quick questions.
What's your current position?
Premium portfolio ambassador for Corby / Pernod Ricard.
When did you start working in hospitality and why?
I was 19 in 1995 and I needed a job, the bar world seemed fun and paid well, I had no idea it would lead where it has.
You travel a lot for work (I'm jealous), what are some of your favourite memories from work related trips?
Daiquiris in Havana, Scotchin on Orkney, Champagne in Reims. Not the worst of memories.
Where does your passion for rum come from?
Passion comes from the people behind the rums, the history of the rum trade.
How's the current Toronto rum scene different from when you started?
Light years from when I took the HC role in 2014. I ordered daiquiris at bars as a way of introducing myself to the Toronto scene. Bartenders looked at me like I had a second head. “Sorry we don’t have a blender” or “we don’t have strawberries” was a common reaction. I must have had 150 different Daiquiris the first 6 months. Only a handful of bartenders understood the beauty of a classic hand shaken Daiquiri.
What are some of the challenges that need to be overcome for rum to grow in Toronto /Ontario/Canada?
LCBO selection is the biggest challenge. Poorly made, well marketed rums are the other.
There are currently two rum festivals planned in Toronto. What's your role in them and what kind of impact do you think they will have?
I have no current commitment to either, but I am always happy to help with rum education. I think it will provide more rum exposure, which is always a good thing.
What's your all time favourite cocktail?
I love Last Words, a well made Mai Tai always goes down well. The Missionary’s Downfall is my Tiki favourite though. But as we chatted about above nothing beats a Classic Daiquiri for me. It’ll be hard to find someone in Canada that drinks more daiquiris than me.