When Covid hit New Zealand in 2020, Egor Petrov's career in bartending was put on hold — but having time on his hands became a blessing in disguise, as the hospitality guru began developing his own rum brand, distilled using kūmara.
Looking back three years, Petrov reminisces about the upside of lockdown for him as his brand Bayside Rum was launched.
"They are good memories, despite how tough the lockdown was. That's when I had the realisation that I wanted to do this for sure," he told 1News.
"I started learning as much as I could about rum production online and tried to figure out how I could make a rum that would represent New Zealand as much as I could."
Petrov says his wife Anna is the brains behind the brand's quirky design labels, which feature New Zealand landmarks like Auckland's Mission Bay.
He believes it's the only rum in the world fermented using kūmara — launched in December 2021, his Three Moons rum was a huge success. It earned him a silver medal at the New Zealand Spirits Awards in June last year.
He's now aiming for gold in 2023, with the release of a new spiced rum with orange, chocolate and vanilla notes which he hopes will be a winter hit.
He says there are not many rums in New Zealand to compare his to but likens it to the IPA version of commercial beer.
Petrov says he's always wanted his own company and brand and back in 2020, he knew there wasn't a rum in New Zealand that could be internationally represented.
"That's what led me to create Bayside Rum company," he says.
He uses a technique where the fermentation process uses kūmara to "get the yeast colony going".
The base is molasses but takes on the fruity, earthy notes of the sweet potato.
"I am very proud. I am super-proud because I am a massive procrastinator and for me to have an idea and bring it to fruition is a really big deal.
"It means a lot to me."
"I remember when I came back to New Zealand in 2020, I was talking to other bartenders, telling them about it before it was released — and they were like 'oh yeah, you know — he's talking about making stuff.'
"And we met a year later, sitting around a table in a bar and it was there, you know. It had been released and it was really cool," Petrov says.
A bartending background, honed in Dubai
The Russian-born Kiwi moved here with his family when he was 13 and realised soon after school finished he wanted to work in hospitality. Now, 21 years later, it's paying off.
After a few years working in various hospitality spots across Auckland, including opening the first Mexico Restaurant in Britomart, he made the move overseas in 2016.
He spent the next few years in Dubai and spent a year managing the menu at one of the most prestigious fine-dining restaurants and bars in the world — 122 floors up, at the top of the Burj Khalifa skyscraper.
"Luckily I had some friends working in Dubai so they helped me out," he says.
His work caught the eye of Sydney-based celebrity chef Sean Connolly who called him and invited him to open his restaurant in Dubai.
"So, I joined the company that owned the Burj Khalifa, part of a lifestyle division where Sean's restaurant was as well," Petrov says.
Before opening Connolly's restaurant, he spent time helping develop the beverage programme for the Burj Khalifa, which, he says, was inspired by local traditions and spice markets.
He says going to the souks (markets) in the old town of Dubai and discovering what was on offer was "really exciting". Using modern techniques, he guided a new development using "classic cocktail structure" at the bar.
It proved to be a solid foundation for building a brand he hopes will become famous in New Zealand and around the world.
"A bar is always here but a brand I can take anywhere in the world and showcase and represent where we come from, which I think is really important."