Name: Megan Breier
Location: San Francisco
Portfolio/Brand Represented: Beam Suntory
Living in cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Miami and New York is certainly exciting. There’s always something happening, and locals are spoiled for choice when it comes to bar, nightlife and restaurant events every day of the week. Of course, the downside is that the danger of becoming jaded is forever looming.
When we met Megan at a Bourbon is my Boyfriend event in Vegas we realized that she’s the antidote for disenchantment. Anyone who comes near this self-proclaimed bourbon geek cannot help but naturally want to match her enthusiasm. Imagine what this bubbly brand ambassador’s passion for bourbon and knowledge of the business can do for you, your team and your guests!
Megan represents Beam Suntory, specifically their American whiskey portfolio. Obviously she’s who want to talk to for Jim Beam, but she’s also you go-to woman for everything Maker’s Mark, Knob Creek, Baker’s, Booker’s and Basil Hayden’s.
How did you first enter the bar and nightlife industry?
My first true bar gig was at Bar Louie in Newport, KY. I thought serving and cocktailing would be a blast – especially at a martini bar! I definitely got bitten by the hospitality bug. I worked at Bar Louie on just about every summer and winter break from college for extra money. After school, I dabbled in PR and theatre for a while, but my heart was always in event planning. It wasn’t until a few years later that I discovered my passion for bourbon!
How did you become a brand ambassador representing one of the most iconic portfolios in the world, Beam Suntory?
I got lucky! I moved to Louisville back in 2009 and was quickly immersed in the bourbon world. I was running the event department at a boutique hotel and we had brand ambassadors come in to teach the team about their products – often bourbon. I can remember the moment when I became fascinated by bourbon: it was tasting through the small batch portfolio from Beam, and specifically tasting and learning about Basil Hayden’s. From there, my excitement and eagerness to learn (and taste) more grew.
I started planning events called “Bourbon and the Girls” that were geared to teach women more about whiskey and partner with the local distilleries. Eventually, I moved on and ran a bar and restaurant that had a little over 35 bourbons on the bar (not a lot for Louisville standards), and continued hosting unique events and learning about the abundance of options available. One day I noticed that there was a job posting for a “Kentucky Bourbon Ambassador” for Jim Beam and I thought why not?! I applied, and the process was grueling. Three months, 7 interviews (including with our current Master Distiller Fred Noe), and I finally was offered the job. The rest is history….
Everyone takes different paths to their career and building their resume in the industry, but what is your best advice to anyone interested in becoming a brand ambassador?
You need to immerse yourself in the spirit world. We are so lucky that educational opportunities are becoming more and more readily available – go! Learn about the spirits you are interested in, as well as the ones you might not necessarily be overly enthusiastic about. Introduce yourself to brand ambassadors, brand sales folks and distributors. Work hard – whether behind the bar, as a manager or in events. There is no defined path to achieving this position.
It would seem that specific types of personalities work best in a brand ambassador role. Would you say that’s true?
Charismatic, adaptable, organized and self-motivated come to mind immediately. We become the representation of the brand – so we need to not only understand it, but often embody it. We are also on the road 75-80% of the time, so you must be able to work anywhere and stay motivated. Often we have conference calls all morning and trainings or events for the afternoons and evenings. You need to keep up with pace and do it with a smile. An eagerness to learn is very important, as is a desire to teach.
What’s one thing you wish you would have known before you began your career as a brand ambassador?
Honestly, this is a dream job. I have to remind myself often that I am at work! With that being said, the travel can be grueling. Being away from your home three weeks a month can be hard and exhausting. I guess if I have to choose something that I wish someone would have told (and still could tell) me it would be how to comfortably sleep on a plane. Still haven’t figured that out yet!
One of the greatest things about working in bars, nightclubs and restaurants is the various perks. What are some of the perks of being a brand ambassador?
I have seen so many cities that I never would have had the chance to visit. In my personal life, I love to eat and drink, and now I get to visit some of the top bars and restaurants and do just that – for work! I have friends in cities across the country, which is an amazing feeling when you are constantly travelling. The bourbon geek in me loves working with our brand and innovation teams and having input on future products.
What are some experiences you’ve had being a brand ambassador that stand out?
I worked in KY and very closely with Fred Noe for a few years. Being able to learn from him firsthand and spend time at his house with his family will always be very special. Having the opportunity to spend time and learn about distillation from plant manager Tom Crume who trained under Booker Noe was invaluable.
Hosting educational seminars for bartenders who get just as excited and geeky as me is always inspiring and incredible. Mainly, I love bringing the excitement I have for bourbon to as many folks as I can.
What are brand ambassadors prepared to do for operators in their territories?
We are willing to work with the operator and team to ensure the team is not only comfortable with our brands, but that they feel passionate about what we offer. I have done everything from team trainings, tastings, events (both for their customers or for their team), cocktail creation, assisted with menu design, etc. That, of course, is not an all-inclusive list. I specifically like to work to create events and ideas that are relevant to the identity and brand the operator is trying to convey.
Let’s say I’m an operator about to open my doors. How do I get in touch with brand ambassadors so I can start things off right?
Reach out to your distributor partner to find out which suppliers have ambassadors. Ask the distributor for the local supplier contact, if you do not already have it, and then find out when the ambassador might be in your area next or if they are willing to schedule a trip to visit! We are happy to discuss ideas and work to come into your market.
Point-blank: What should a great brand ambassador be prepared to do for an operator?
Listen to the needs and challenges of the operator. Assist with team trainings and education. Create unique and relevant events. Find a way to be authentic to the operator’s brand while featuring the brand(s) of the ambassador.
You host an amazing event called Bourbon is My Boyfriend. How did this event come together? Tell our readers a little about Bourbon is My Boyfriend and why operators should have this event hosted at their venues.
This is an event I just launched in 2017. I have found that many folks are afraid to speak up when you talk about flavor profile of bourbon or whiskey in general. There is a fear that you might be “wrong” if you name a note someone else might not pick up in the flavor. One of my favorite things about working for Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark is that we are not pretentious people. We believe bourbon should be fun. It should be enjoyed “any damn way you please,” a quote we hear very often from Fred Noe.
So, I decided to create a tasting that breaks down some of the barriers of a traditional style tasting. Instead of describing the flavors in the glass, you describe the person in the glass – meaning you use human characteristics to describe your bourbon. With four bourbons in our portfolio that have the names of past male master distiller’s it seemed only fitting to not only feature these fine men that always give me a nice long KY hug, but to name the event Bourbon is my Boyfriend. The event includes a tasting mat with pictures of famous men and we taste neat pours of Basil Hayden’s, Baker’s and Booker’s. I ask the guests if their bourbon is elegant or a little country? Big and bold or the boy next door? The answers I hear are often ornery, but truthful at the same time.
The event is fun and flirty, with just the right amount of education.
Do you have any tips for operators when it comes to truly maximizing their relationship with a brand ambassador?
Ask questions. Create a partnership. We genuinely want to help you and your team – let us know how we can. The relationship should be mutually beneficial and we should both come to the table with ideas that will help with brand education for both teammates and their guests.
Is the relationship between a brand ambassador and a venue limited to operators and bartenders?
Absolutely not! I have relationships with whiskey societies around the country, with USBG members that don’t work behind the bar, with anyone who is passionate about bourbon! I also love working with chefs. I’m a big fan of unique food pairings. Any time I can sit down with a chef and play with bourbon alongside my food I am a fan.
Can you share anything with our readers about exciting new products they’re going to want to get their hands on?
There are! Coming out in just a couple months, we will be releasing a Basil Hayden’s Rye Whiskey. This is the first ever innovation under the Basil Hayden name. It will be limited, and trust me it is worth it. It’s nice and spicy, still approachable at 80 proof, and has an interesting depth seeing as it is a blend of KY straight rye blended with rye re-barreled in new charred oak quarter casks.
We’ve pointed out before that brand ambassadors are often exposed to and educated about trends before they really take hold. What are your predictions for what we’ll see and what will be hot in 2017?
I think rye will continue to grow. I also expect to see some really unique grain blends coming to market that will appeal to bourbon drinkers, but might be more whiskey forward.