WHISKEY has always had a certain air about it - at least in our part of the world. It is often associated with prestige, class, maturity, sophistication and money.
But for Irish whiskey brand Jameson, it is more than just a drink. It represents a culture, way of life and a living Irish heritage - one that they’ve now entrusted to young people like Kieran Crowe to keep its 237-year-old heritage relevant to a whole new generation of trendsetters and taste-testers.
“People think I drink whiskey all day,” begins Crowe, a Jameson brand ambassador since 2013. “If that was really the case, I’d be dead by now!” he says, chuckling. If anything, Crowe’s job is all about living the life - he introduces Ireland’s bestselling tipple to whiskey aficionados in Asia, zipping across the region to speakeasies, meeting and mingling with different crowds while immersing in new cultures. “I never imagined I’d be here, doing this for a living,” he remarks with a wide smile.
The Irishman has just flown in to KL from Manila where he is now based, a place he refers to as “slightly hotter than Ireland.” The mid-morning flight may have taken a toll on him, but it certainly didn’t kill his wry wit.
Today, Crowe is all geared up to share the joys of Jameson with Malaysians, from showcasing the whiskey’s colourful heritage to revealing the secrets of how it’s made.
For any 27-year-old, this is a job of a lifetime. For Crowe, however, getting it had a lot to do with a series of coincidences and of course, with luck of the Irish.
IRISH EYES ARE SMILING
We are in Junglebird, a tropical rainforest-themed bar nestled in Plaza Damansara. It’s a quiet, cosy, low-key bar minus the airs or formalities, very much like the masterclass Crowe is giving today. The emerald walls match the green floral prints on Crowe’s shirt. This is a colour Crowe dons every time he conducts a Jameson Masterclass event - a symbolic nod to his home country.
“Slainte!” he says in true Irish tradition, lifting his glass to mine then tapping it on the table before taking a sip.
“I was planning to join my girlfriend in Madrid and to teach English after graduating,” recalls Crowe, a Trinity College graduate with a degree in European Studies and Civilisation. “Then I got the call!” The call he’s referring to came from Trinity’s Italian Department, a language Crowe majored in while studying in Ireland’s oldest university. “I was preparing for my final exams when they informed me that Jameson was looking for Italian speakers to join its graduate programme.”
The offer, he shares was too good to pass up. The Jameson Graduate Programme, already in its 26th year was offering a chance of a lifetime: An international placement to market the brand creatively, past conventional shelves of the bar.
Two interviews and a video application later, Crowe was on his way to his five-week intensive training as brand ambassador. He then jetted off to Milan for a year to promote Jameson whiskey in a predominantly Italian wine market. “It’s almost accidental that the job came my way,” he says with a laugh. But nothing, as Crowe would learn later, is accidental.
Like whiskey, Crowe’s first steps were taken in Scotland. “My parents who were living there decided they didn’t want their child to grow up speaking like Mrs Doubtfire, so they returned to Ireland,” he shares, tongue-in-cheek.
He grew up in Gorey, Dublin but it was his first trip outside the Emerald Isles which opened his eyes to a different world. At 16, Crowe and his family visited Tuscany for a holiday. “I fell in love with everything - the culture, language, people, weather. I knew that I wanted to return to Italy someday.”
Four years after this fated trip to the Mediterranean gem and before enrolling at Trinity College, Crowe studied in an Italian university with the EU’s Erasmus Programme. He may not have realised it then but the time away from home and meeting with students from various backgrounds prepared him for something he was destined for.
“There was a lot to get used to,” Crowe says about Vietnam, the first country he was transferred to as a Jameson Ambassador. “It’s quite a challenge understanding business in this part of the world so you’ve got to be creative,” he confesses with a laugh. Describing his international postings as “beautiful countries with great food, pretty women and terrible driving,” Crowe has already managed to see so much of the world in a short time.
He’s chalked up many unforgettable experiences: Swimming with whales in the Philippines, making a road trip down the Mekong Delta in Vietnam, exploring Korea’s massive food markets and even coming across a corpse rolled up in a carpet in Delhi’s seedy back alleys!
Picking up a bottle of Jameson, Crowe points to the label which reads “Sine Metu” - Latin for “Without Fear” or ‘Fear A Bit Less, Live A Bit More’. “It’s our motto,” he says proudly before going on explain that this motto originated from the Jameson family who hailed from a Scottish clan famed for battling pirates while defending their land. “Personally, I fear forgetting my passport. I even have nightmares about it,” he remarks with a cheeky grin. “That explains me being three hours early for my flight today.”
SHOT OF GOODNESS
Taking a sip of whiskey, Crowe stands up and adjusts his shirt before running through the list of ingredients that’s prepared before him - a few bottles of barley, rye and corn - all of which are used to produce the quintessential Irish whiskey.
He has quite a tale to tell, complete with a deck of images which he displays while regaling the crowd with the Irish whiskey’s favourite stories, punctuated with jokes and jabs at the English. We learn about Jameson’s humble beginnings, the oft bumpy journey spanning over two centuries and even how this drink is distilled.
His ginger goatee is a stark contrast to the portrait hailing from the 1700s of a clean-shaven John Jameson, the brand’s founder. Nevertheless, 237 years after the first drop of Jameson whiskey was distilled, 27-year-old Crowe stands before a rapt audience, the perfect quintessence of the Jameson brand - laid back, creative, witty, smooth and really, really Irish.