As you probably have already heard, Matthew Fergusson-Stewart, Regional Glenfiddich Brand Ambassador for Asia Pacific, is Whisky Magazine’s Icons of Whisky (Rest of World) Scotch Whisky Brand Ambassador of the year – quite an honour for someone based in our little red dot, which traditionally, isn’t one of the traditional hotbeds of whisky. But it only goes to show how much his work has spoken for him.
I think you can pretty much write this off as an op-ed, and I can think of a few who may call it pandering. [Spoiler alert: if you feel strongly about these things, click back on your browser right now. Like now.]
But it’s only because I’ve had the unique pleasure of meeting and knowing this fellow before he started his career as an ambassador, back when he was still a bar manager at the Auld Alliance, that I feel comfortabe and confident enough to break out of the norm to speak at some length about this (after the break).
But of course, even as friends I did not make life straightforward for him when I posed him these — I tried to bait him but obviously he’s grown too wily for my liking. You’re no fun at all mate.
A huge award for a relatively short career so far — early beyond your expectations or too late for your liking?
As a Brand Ambassador, I have always set out to simply be the best I can possibly be, not to be an ‘award winning’ Brand Ambassador. I honestly never really expected to win any big awards like this, but I won’t lie, it really is very nice to have received it.
I have my own take on why you won it (more than deservedly I might add) but what do you think you did well?
Man these are tough questions! Look it’s no secret that I am exceptionally passionate about single malt whisky in general and Glenfiddich in particular, which is something I think shines through. You can’t be a good Brand Ambassador if you don’t love your products. I have also had the opportunity to work with some truly great people in the industry who have helped me build a deep knowledge of whisky, people like Andrew Derbidge, Emmanuel Dron, and Ian Millar. Finally, I focus on continuous improvement. I don’t particularly look to any one person in the industry and think “I want to be like them some day”, I look back on myself from yesterday and say, “Okay, how can I be a little bit better today?”. I’m keen to hear your take though, bung in an “editor’s note”.
What’s next after this award? Most awarded brand ambassador working for most awarded single malt whisky brand?
Well, that would be lovely, but I’m just going to keep working on being a little bit better than yesterday. If that brings in more awards I’ll happily take them, but if it doesn’t, I’ll be happy knowing that I do my best for an exceptional brand.
Everyone talks about what to do to get this award. What are things NOT to do, and how close have you ever come to breaking those ‘rules’?
There are two things that are a very big part of a Brand Ambassador job that really don’t mix very well – alcohol and social media. Posting very negative things while intoxicated has led to the complete and partial downfall of a few Brand Ambassadors, but it’s something I have managed to avoid. I’ve come close I think, but moments of clarity have always prevailed.
A serious question for a change (no, seriously): how do you think this award will affect your ambassadorial role? Do you think it will help open the proverbial door for future projects?
It’s a good question, but I don’t really know the answer. I was already promoted to APAC Ambassador in April this year so I’ve already had great opportunities in terms of career progression prior to the award. I’m hoping I can get support for some cool projects I’m looking at, but I do have to make sure they align with the objectives of the brand and the company. Another mistake a Brand Ambassador can make is to think that they are bigger than the brand, but the brand must always be first in their mind.
Let’s do a tale of the tape. How many:
- Glenfiddich 12s have you drunk to date
- times have people asked you for Snow Phoenix
Quite a lot! One that was particularly memorable was a whisky lover who spent 10 minutes telling me how he hated the trend of NAS whiskies, and the next five minutes begging me to help him find some Snow Phoenix. It’s a great dram.
- times have you told the ‘I like big butts and I cannot lie’ joke (be honest)
Hehe, I used to do it quite a lot, but in much of my market where guests are speaking English as a second language, the joke doesn’t really get noticed. Singaporeans seem to like it though. (ed: Yeah, butt why?)
- times have people misspelt
In this interview? Just once.
Stupidinterviews have you done since winning (including this lameone)
This is the second. And you guys are far from stupid or lame, you do great things for the entire spirits industry in Singapore and probably deserve a few awards yourselves.
With such huge award, usually, comes a huge celebration. No celebrations planned?
You know, when I heard that I had won, my first thought was to have a celebration with my fellow whisky lovers – they are the ones who inspire me to do this job and are a big reason for me getting the award in the first place. Unfortunately with my extensive travel throughout the region and a few big events recently, I haven’t had time to organise it just yet. But it will happen before the end of the year and Spirited Singapore will most definitely be invited.
Anything special happening at the Glenfiddich and Balvenie booths at Whisky Live? And anything special for people who come up to congratulate you there?
I may have something special in my pocket. You won’t know unless you say hello, and it may be best to get in early. (ed: you heard it from him, so hound him please. Am assuming it’s whisky and not assuming any liability…)
There are many fine whisky brand ambassadors — WGS seems to have a good eye for these people, for some reason — all with their own unique personality and style. More power to them.
What I feel makes this fella a worthy winner, above all, is this: dignity and professionalism that is rarer than the rare Snow Pheonix that they never seem to run out of (kidding). You see, the Matt that I know is knowledgeable, passionate, and opinionated. It’s not difficult to see why sometimes that may get him into his fair share of verbal scraps when discussing a topic like whisky.
But he truly understands that there is a time and place for everything. In his professional capacity, there will be times where he comes close, especially when dealing with difficult people. But what’s important is he puts the brand above his ego. At times, it seems like I’m watching an actor who never breaks character even when the cameras are not on him.
Even when clock at work stops, there’s always Dram Full (a very well-established whisky interest group in the region, of which he is a co-founder) activities to tend to; the work of spreading the gospel of whisky never stops. He never seeks to plug his wares, but neither will he shirk away from defending his brand within reason.
I can safely say that it is an award well-deserved. I cannot think of any more that a well-meaning brand ambassador — or an ambassador for whisky at that — can do. So (belated) congratulations, good sir, and please continue your work in bringing our region into prominence. Slàinte mhath.