Brand ambassadors: How they just seem to swoop in out of the blue, drop the knowledge hammer at festivals, parties and tasting events, and then fly off into the sunset, leaving a social media trail of wittily hashtagged adventures in their wake. Best gig ever, right? But have you ever pondered the origin stories of these wild-mannered spirituous superheroes? We rounded up some William Grant & Sons brand ambassadors to find out exactly how they acquired their superpowers.
Trevor Schneider, Mr. Reyka Vodka
If it looks like Reyka Vodka’s U.S. ambassador is having serious fun spreading the gospel of Icelandic volcanic-rock-filtered spirits, that’s probably because he is. But Schneider’s affable, high-energy manner and confident ease addressing a crowd are not accidental. The former Manhattanite routinely calls upon his previous double life as a bartender and screen actor with late-night talk show host aspirations to build rapport with any audience. Over time, his paths merged: “[Hospitality] became more of a love and became the real passion because the bar became my stage,” he says, and those acting chops have come in handy. “Ninety percent of my job has to do with interaction—the way I dress, the way I carry myself, the way I interact with people, the way I tell the story of Reyka, the way I get behind the bar and make cocktails. Pretty much the last 10 years of my experience is embodied every day in my job.” Still, don’t let Schneider’s poise and polish fool you: he can and often does let his hair down.
Mark Stoddard, Mr. Hendrick’s Gin
Curiosity comes with the job at Hendrick’s Gin. The delightful English cucumber- and Bulgarian rose-forward gin embodies the spirit of exploration, aligning its brand with all that is “unusual,” “peculiar” and “wondrous.” As ambassador to the Western U.S., a tweedy and ginger Stoddard has access to toys such as the Hendrick’s Negroni Machine (with mechanical arms that prepare drinks at the pull of a lever) and hands out tiny cocktail field guides. But Stoddard’s adventurous streak dates back to his days studying international relations, and aspiring to join the State Department, CIA or foreign service. The student and bartender (later, a certified sommelier and bar owner) routinely saw his two worlds collide. “I was studying world history, imperialism and colonialism, but at the same time, I started to dive a little bit deeper into the history of alcohol. And I saw a lot of parallels,” Stoddard says. “Throughout human civilization—doesn’t matter if we’re going back to Egypt or into recent times—humans have had a very deep relationship with alcohol. It could’ve been medicinal, religious, ceremonial or recreational.” A keen observer and storyteller, Stoddard uses his grasp of world history and alcohol history to connect with consumers and industry members. “I think I made the right choice. [The other path] would’ve been a lot more bureaucratic paper pushing, and the parties that we throw as liquor ambassadors are much more fun.”
Sebastien Derbomez, Mr. Monkey Shoulder Blended Malt Scotch Whisky
Scotch is a complex spirit that warrants ample explanation—which can sometimes knock the wind out of a good party. Therefore, repping for the mixable, youthful, social side of blended malt Scotch whisky is Derbomez, a charming and polite Frenchman by way of the U.K., Australia and U.S. with an accent that attests to his travels. Graduating with a degree in mathematics and electrical engineering, the man known as Seb became a schoolteacher and therefore is well equipped to help consumers and bartenders monkey around with his product, named in tribute to history’s maltmen, who turned malting barley by hand with a heavy iron implement. Derbomez is every bit the vivacious party animal, often outfitted head to toe in monkey-logo’d gear (even on the slopes!), but he is still very much a teacher. Albeit a cool one: “Enjoy your whiskey the way you want it—we just want you to have fun. Play with your whiskey. Forget about the stuffy rules.”
For every team of operatives, there must be a leader—the M to James Bond, the Colonel Nick Fury to The Avengers. As director of brand advocacy for William Grant & Sons USA, Voisey represents the entirety of the portfolio, mentoring and managing its 25 ambassadors, and she educates consumers and beverage professionals through live events as well as her online show, The Perfect Pour. But before joining the team in 2006 as the first Hendrick’s Gin ambassador, Voisey was a student of international hospitality management, which took her to London, Spain, Argentina and back, working in restaurant and bar operations. “It’s quite a normal path these days for a bartender to go into brand ambassador work because of the skill sets needed. But I find that I draw upon my bartender experience for a different reason than the most obvious, and that is the idea of multitasking, keeping calm and being everything to everyone,” Voisey says. The subsequent years spent in the ranks of the team she now leads means that Voisey can instantly connect with her colleagues while maintaining a bird’s-eye view of the overall mission. “Mostly it’s advice. They are going through the steps of their career, steps that I already went through. So it might be advice on how to handle certain situations, inspiration about how to break through the clutter and make a name for themselves, or they’ve seen what I’ve done but they’re not quite sure how I got there—also just morale and support. That’s not necessarily what they ask me for, but it’s definitely what I see that they need and, in the perfect situation, could provide for them.”
Ashley Marsh, Ms. Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum
Cars, tattoos, booze—that’s the aesthetic of the Sailor Jerry brand, but also of its San Diego-based ambassador, Ashley Marsh. Degrees in photography and art history couldn’t quite match the excitement and allure of the spirits business, which attracted Marsh early on and quickly led to work in experiential marketing, promo team management and eventually large-scale tours including Comic-Con and auto shows. A chance meeting in a bar is what led Marsh to take up the Sailor Jerry mission; now six years in, her territory stretches from Milwaukee to Hawaii and all the way up to Alaska, and represents some 75 percent of the world’s consumption of the spiced rum. And perhaps no one is more suited to it than Marsh: “I was raised on stock cars, motorcycles, bike weeks and tattoos,” she says. “Living in San Diego, we like fast cars and motorcycles and just doing what we want. Respecting others, but doing what we want—that’s everything that the Sailor Jerry brand stands for.”
Jennifer Wren, Ms. Glenfiddich Single Malt Scotch
Addressing the more serious side of Scotch takes serious presence, which is the only way to describe the arresting charisma of Jennifer Wren, Glenfiddich ambassador for the western third of the U.S. Commanding the room with a potent cocktail of charm and authority, Wren calls upon her background as a trained stage actor to convey knowledge and a personal connection to everyone attending her seminars, tastings or pairing dinners. Initially a spokesmodel by day, Wren handed out samples of first Champagne and later single malt whisky and sparkled in her presentation. She used her personal time to dive deeply inter her new category and took up the Glenfiddich mantle two years ago. “What a lot of people don’t realize [about theater] is, it looks flawless from the audience, but backstage is chaos. Then the lights go up and you have to have a fearlessness,” Wren says. “So for me [this job is] that fine combination of weaving a tale in front of an audience, but fearlessly being able to drop down in any city, bar, convention center or setting, and never be afraid to share that story and be present in that space.”
Vance Henderson, Mr. Drambuie
How do you breath new life into a venerable liqueur brand? You put it in the hands of someone like Henderson. Drambuie’s D.C.-based U.S. ambassador has the kind of unique skillset needed to explain why this heather-honey-kissed Scotch-based liqueur from the late 1800s is still relevant. After graduating with a dual degree in education and radio, TV and film production, and with minors in African studies and theater, Henderson did a complete 180, as bartending swept him into restaurant management, catering and eventually having his own underground supper club. So it’s no wonder that Henderson is able to bridge the gap between the Rat Pack-era Rusty Nail-drinkers and the millennial marketplace. “Each ambassador kind of fits the brand they represent, and the brand kind of fits them,” he says. “Each person has to have their own flair and soul and character that complements and gives life to the brand they represent.” Henderson’s own flair would be for showcasing the soave, modern and social aspects of what he calls a “super classic” and a “living liquid legend,” doing so with a natural swagger and impeccable style. “Literally everything that I’ve done—whether it was the bar, catering company, the supper club—they have all shaped me for this position. It encompasses event planning, training, organization, marketing, acting, working with people, scouting venues… All of those, wrapped into one job, fulfill this need that I have to do many things. I call it the dream job.”