We sat down with Tomos Brooks, brand ambassador for Chivas Regal in Japan over a dram to discuss life, whisky, cocktails and Tokyo.
Tokyo Authority: Tell us a bit about your background prior to becoming a brand ambassador?
Tomos Brooks: Well, it might surprise people, but despite being a brand ambassador for a Scotch Whisky, I don’t directly hail from Scotland, but all the way from sunny South Wales. My family comes from all over, with my mother being Welsh and my Father being English, but further back in the family tree coming from Scotland. My father’s middle name is actually Crawford! I went to University at King’s College London to study History, which partly fuelled my love of Scotch Whisky!
How did you get into whisky?
Funnily enough, The story of how I got into Whisky begins with a different spirit entirely. The time I started university coincided with the craft gin boom. Bars in London went from two gins to twenty! My parents had always loved gin and actually own a gin distillery. So, naturally, I started loving gin too.
Whisky is only a short hop from gin as a spirit lover, and my time spent in London meant getting to experience some incredible Whisky and Cocktail Bars. My first dram was Chivas Regal 12 (if you can believe it) – I remember tasting it and being surprised about how much honey I could taste, as well as these orchard fruit flavours I wasn’t expecting. From there, I started trying everything I could get my hands on!
First up – the question on everyone’s lips: What exactly does a brand ambassador do?
A Brand Ambassador’s job is essentially to be the brand’s representative on the ground. I work with all kinds of people: bartenders, consumers, customers, hotel staff etc – anyone who enjoys a dram of our Whisky. My main job is to host tastings and to educate attendees about Scotch in general, the brand’s history, the different whiskies you can try and how to taste it properly.
Another crucial part of my job is to visit bars, whether they stock our whiskies or not, to discuss how the bar is doing, see if they need any menu advice and simply just a chat. I also host events – such as food and drink pairings for people to enjoy!
It sounds like a dream job!
It really is! It’s amazing if you love the products you’re working with and talking to people about them.
How does one get a job as a brand ambassador?
There is no one way to become a Brand Ambassador. I joined a University Graduate Programme created by Chivas Brothers. I went through the various assessments and was eventually offered the role in Japan. Other times, the job is available to apply for through normal means. My suggestion is to follow brand’s that you love on social media and search for Brand Ambassador jobs through job sites.
What’s your favourite thing about your position?
Honestly, just talking to people about whisky. I love organising events where I can talk to people about what they like to drink, how they got into whisky and how they want to drink it. I also love whisky festivals, as they let you talk to thousands of people interested in your whisky and chat to them about what else they tried. Also, as a person who loves cocktails, I love visiting bars to discuss bartending as well!
What parts of your day are the toughest? What are the most challenging parts of your job?
It is always the event cleanup – specifically whisky shows. As Chivas Regal Brand Ambassador, there isn’t any special treatment. You help set up, and you help pack away to send back the booth and the surplus whisky to the warehouse after each event. This can take quite a while, but as you always have a team with you, you all go out for drinks and dinner after so it works out in the end!
Tell us about the different types of Scotch whisky – and how Scotch whisky differs from other whiskies from around the world.
Well, we categorise Scotch Whisky in two different ways: its style and its region:
For the style, the categories are Single Malt Whisky, Single Grain Whisky, Blended Malt Whisky, Blended Grain Whisky and of course Blended Scotch Whisky. A Malt Whisky has only three ingredients – Malted Barley, Yeast and Water. Grain whisky will have some malted barley in it, but it’s primarily a mix of different types of grain. Single means that it comes from a single distillery, and Blended means it comes from multiple distilleries. A Blended Scotch Whisky is a blend of both Malt and Grain. The most common kinds of whisky in Scotland are Blended Scotch Whiskies like Chivas Regal and Single Malt Whiskies such as The Glenlivet.
There are five primary Scotch producing regions – Speyside, Highland, Lowland, Islay and Campbelltown. I won’t get into too much detail, but each region is known for a specific style. For example, Islay Whiskies are often intensely smoky and peated. Chivas Regal is a Speyside-led blend, which means it is more light, floral and fruity.
Scotch is pretty interesting – it wasn’t the first form of whisky we knew about (that honour falls to the Irish), but it has an incredible amount of variety. Japanese Whisky and Scotch bear a lot of similarities as Japanese whisky was based on Scotch; the founder of Nikka Whisky, Masataka Taketsuru, famously trained in Scotland in one of our distilleries – Longmorn!
Tell us about Chivas Regal brand – what makes it special and unique?
Chivas Regal is a special whisky for many people, but what I think makes it so interesting is how its creation is tied into the history of Blended Scotch itself. So the company I work for is Chivas Brothers, and this was created by the work of two local Aberdeen gentlemen, James and John Chivas.
The number no. 1801 which is on every bottle of Chivas regal refers to the opening of an emporium that they would eventually own. They sold and imported various goods, including Scotch Whisky. Now the Whisky you would get in the 1800s was . . . not quite to the same standard as we are used to now. It was often unaged, and many people at the time found it much too harsh to taste. A few people, including James and John, began experimenting with ageing and blending their whiskies in stock. Others doing the same included George Ballentine, for example.
This really helped kickstart whisky around the world. Chivas Regal the brand began in 1907 with the launch of Chivas Regal 25 Years Old – as we like to say – the world’s first luxury Scotch Whisky.
What also makes Chivas so unique is its willingness to try and experiment. Many people will know about Chivas Regal Mizunara, which was the first Blended Scotch Whisky to be selectively finished in Japanese Mizunara Oak Barrels. Recently, in the United States and Mexico, we launched a Tequila Cask Finish!
What is your favourite of the Chivas Regal offerings?
Either of our Mizunara whiskies. Chivas Regal 12 Mizunara and the recently released Chivas Regal 18 Mizunara Cask Finish. Mizunara Oak has some unique properties – it tends to give the whiskies this wonderful aromatic spice, with notes like cinnamon and ginger.
Mizunara 12 is a staple for me, and is exclusive to Japan. It has these wonderful fresh fruit flavours like oranges, apples and this string note of honey. Great both neat and in a highball!
Mizunara 18 is an incredible dram – deep rich dried fruits, nutmeg, rich caramel and hints of ginger. It’s become my favourite dram recently!
Tough question – but what are your three favourite non-Chivas whiskies?
I’m a sucker for a great Single Malt. Something from Speyside is also my main go-to. My three favourites would be Glenlivet, Aberlour and specifically the Blended Grain Snow Polo Royal Salute.
Glenlivet exemplifies a Speyside Whisky – delicate, notes of tropical fruits like pineapple and this honeyed finish. Specifically, I love The Glenlivet 15, finished in Limousin oak to give it a nutty finish.
Aberlour 16 is super-rich indulgent whisky. Its double cask matured, so it’s a mix of a fully matured American Oak and a fully mature Sherried Whisky – giving it notes of dried orchard fruits, cherries, blackberries and a spicy finish.
Blended grain whisky sold on the market is exceptionally rare, which makes the 21 Year Old Royal Salute Snow Polo such a unique dram. Grain Whisky is usually lighter and sweeter than Malt. So the snow polo has this incredible Banana Creme Brulee-esque flavour. It’s also great served on a proper Japanese ice block!
Is Japanese Whisky overhyped?
Absolutely not! Japanese Whisky is extremely high quality, and while it has much less of history than Scotch, it is incredible how much craftsmanship and variety exist. As I said earlier, Japanese Whisky and Scotch are quite similar, in both their ingredients and their texture. You are of course more likely to get rare Japanese oak in whisky made here, however, which often gives it a unique edge.
Unfortunately, due to the lack of stock, the major whisky companies have had to massively increase cost, which is a shame. However, it has given plenty of room for a lot of smaller whisky distilleries to pop up. It’s this smaller independent boom that makes Japanese Whisky so cool right now, and well worth investing in
What’s your favourite Japanese whisky?
Ichiro’s Malt Mizunara Wood Reserve, no question. I remember trying it for the first time in a small bar in Osaka when I first arrived in Japan. I had it neat with a drop of water in it. MWR has a super fruity nose, but the palate is fascinating. It has this rich body with these unique peppery notes that I love. It finishes very mellow and soft with a hint of oak. It was my first experience of pure Mizunara Oak, and one I am never going to forget. In fact, I would say anything from the Chichibu distillery is in my Japanese favourites.
What’s your favourite whisky cocktail?
You couldn’t have asked me a tougher question. It really depends on how I’m feeling and what I want to drink. My two main go-tos are a Classic Japanese Highball and a Boulevardier. There is something so perfect about a Japanese highball, and Chivas Regal 12 and Chivas Regal 12 Mizunara both make wonderful highballs. Anything with a hint of Mizunara Oak extends very well, and the effervescence of the bubbles brings out the orchard fruits and beautiful floral notes.
But if I am looking for something stronger, I always go for a Boulevardier. A Boulevardier is essentially a Whisky Negroni, equal parts Scotch Whisky (I tend to go for Chivas Regal 18 years old), Italian Bitters like Campari and dry Vermouth. It’s rich with notes of dry fruit, and a wonderfully bitter finish.
What have been your biggest challenges in Japan so far?
The language! The Japanese people I have met out here have been wonderful and so kind, especially the bartenders, and I haven’t experienced any culture shock. I will say, I knew little Japanese before I came here. Japanese is a hard language to learn for Europeans, so that has definitely been a challenge. It’s a challenge I have enjoyed a lot, and I have received so much support from consumers, bartenders and people at work.
Are there any trends in the spirits industry – even beyond the Scotch Whisky industry – that we’ll be seeing in the next few years?
It’s hard to answer this question and not talk about the potential impact of COVID-19. The biggest change I can see is a move towards easier access to whiskies through services like Uber Eats – which you can use in the UK to order drinks much easier than in Japan.
Also, there has been a massive trend in the last few towards pre-batching cocktails. So, essentially, making an old fashioned or a negroni in bulk which can be used to make a lot of cocktails with ease, even barrel-ageing it. With the current crisis, you are going to see several bars start offering pre-batched cocktails in Japan for consumption at home, like you often see in the US or UK.
On a slightly different note, with the relaxing of the Scotch Whisky Associations rules, you are going to see even more innovation when it comes to cask maturation. At Chivas we have of course just launched the tequila cask internationally! So, many scotch whisky companies will be able to significantly expand their flavour profiles.
What’s next for Chivas Regal, can you tell us a little bit about future plans, activities or new offerings…?
I have already mentioned a few projects such as the cask finishes, which are not confirmed to hit the Japanese market just yet. Just recently, in January we launched Chivas Regal 18 Mizunara Cask Finish. So for now, I cannot divulge any other projects. Though do check both my personal and our brand social media pages for info on any upcoming moves!
What are your short and long term plans?
My short term plans are of course a little bit quiet right now with COVID going on. I am taking this time to connect with bartenders and consumers, as well as work on projects for next year.
My long term goal is to stay in Japan for as long as I can! I really do love it, and I love my role as a Chivas Regal Brand Ambassador out here as well. It’s fun and rewarding, so I see a strong future staying here with Chivas!
Tomos Brooks, thank you very much for talking to Tokyo Authority.