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Thursday, October 28, 2010

What Makes a Bartender Become a 'Brand Ambassador'?

Posted By on Thu, Oct 28, 2010 at 2:54 PM

click to enlarge Jackie Patterson, formerly of Heaven's Dog, now brand ambassador for Lillet and Solerno. - TZUTZANU/FLICKR
  • tzutzanu/Flickr
  • Jackie Patterson, formerly of Heaven's Dog, now brand ambassador for Lillet and Solerno.

What motivates a bartender to walk away from nightly appearances behind the stick to take a position as "brand ambassador" for a large spirits company? In the first part of this story, we described the ambassador's role as translating a liquor company's marketing jargon into information tailored for working bartenders from one of their peers. They travel, teach, and plan events.

San Francisco recently lost three major talents to the lure of ambassadorship. To find out why they made the switch, SFoodie caught up with Neyah White (Suntory Japanese whisky) formerly of Nopa, Erick Castro (Plymouth and Beefeater gins) formerly of Rickhouse, and Jackie Patterson (Lillet and Solerno) formerly of Heaven's Dog.

Patterson says the transition to brand ambassador was a logical progression from what she was doing as a bartender. "My job as a bartender was to provide people with the best and most knowledgeable hospitality," Patterson says. "I began to see people come into my bar as representatives for a certain brand of spirit. I thought to myself that this is really something I could excel at." Patterson says she really likes the travel and event-planning work of her current gig, especially, she says, since she really believes in the two brands she's paid to promote.

click to enlarge Ex-Rickhouse bartender Erick Castro. - RICK CARMARGO
  • Rick Carmargo
  • Ex-Rickhouse bartender Erick Castro.

For Erick Castro, it was an opportunity to have an impact on the cocktail scene beyond what he could do at one bar and in one city. Through travel to promote his gin brands, Castro says he has access to a wide variety of bars and bartenders, something he thinks can help him improve the quality of drinking and spread the influence of the cocktail culture. "There are so many bars out there that don't know how to make a proper martini, margarita, or South Side," he says.

Neyah White says the shift wasn't quite so straightforward for him. "There was definitely a time there a few years ago when I looked at it as sort of selling out," White acknowledges. But like Castro, he was drawn to the job as an opportunity for a kind of outreach. "I see the job as a chance to teach and share on a broader stage than I have had, and that is pretty exciting."

Of course, you can take the bartender out of the bar, but you can't take the bar out of the bartender ― forever. It's safe to say we can expect to see these three behind the stick again, at least in guest appearances. "There is a 1,000 percent chance I will be tending bar in some capacity or another for the rest of my life," White says. "I kind of doubt that it will be full time again, but I certainly wouldn't feel bad about going back."

"We will see what's in the cards," says Castro, "but yes, to stay ahead of the curve and to keep from being rusty you will see me working behind the bar."

"I'm not sure if full-time bartending again is in my future," says Patterson, "but the great thing about this ambassador position is that I will be guest bartending and working large trade events not only here in San Francisco, but throughout my territory of the West and South."

San Francisco's most prominent bar defectors say they're grateful and excited for new opportunities to shape the profession of bartending. Then again, Erick Castro observed at a recent bartenders' conference, "We're just bartending ― we're not saving the world."

Lou Bustamante tweets at @thevillagedrunk. Follow SFoodie at @sfoodie.

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