Spector has worked as a bartender in some of the biggest venues in the world, and his whisky knowledge is second to none. Now he’s back in New Zealand, we decided to pick his brain over a drink or two.
Starting easy, on the rocks or neat?
Ah, it actually depends. I don’t think there should be a strict rule on how to appreciate your whisky. Things like time, place and mood can all have an affect. For example, quite often I find myself enjoying a whisky neat, however, depending on the whisky and how I’m feeling, I may add a few drops of water. It’s actually pretty amazing to sit with a whisky and see how the flavours change and unfold after a small touch of water. I don’t see a right or wrong way to drink whisky; neat, over ice or with water, the best way is really how you enjoy it.
And if we’re talking Monkey Shoulder, it’s a great chance to have fun with your whisky. Why not try mixing it up with either a long drink or a cocktail? With an amazing range of flavours, Monkey Shoulder is ideal for mixing, whether you’re a purist or not.
You’ve served at some world class bars, do you have any bar recommendations for people travelling overseas?
Of course! I’ve got a pretty long list but to just tick off some absolute favourites; for anyone who finds themselves in Sydney, Shady Pine Saloon in Darlinghurst and Continental Deli in Newtown. Amazing venues with killer staff and great vibes. However, Bulletin Place down in Circular Quay has a pretty special place in my heart so I couldn’t recommend it enough. It was where I worked while living in Sydney and it was my first introduction into what it took to be in a World’s Best bar.
For those in New York – Attaboy and Death & Co.
For those in London – Three Sheets, Scoüt, The Sun Tavern.
And for anyone off the beaten path in Oslo, Norway – HIMKOK – one of my absolute favourites anywhere in the world. Where I tried Brunost for the first time and fell in love.
How did you end up there and what brought you home?
With a lot of luck and some pretty great role models. I started digging into bartending while working in Ponsonby at Bedford Soda & Liquor. There I met Jason and Venetia Clark, who both massively shaped my view on hospitality and helped me grow with loads of advice and encouragement.
Yet it wasn’t until I was fortunate enough to represent NZ at a Global Bartending Final in South Africa that I got some international exposure. There I was judged by Tim Philips, who later hired me at his venue in Sydney, Bulletin Place. And after time in Australia, I made my way to London to work with Matt Whiley at Scöut, one of the current bars that is responsible for pushing the boundaries of modern beverages.
I’m very thankful for the time spent at both venues and the people I’ve been able to work with.
But eventually I thought it was time to come home and put experience into practice (as well as get married), and look to open my own venue. We aren’t there yet but will be looking to make some noise in the near future.
These days you’re a brand ambassador for a pretty stellar lineup, what does a normal day look like you? All I’m imagining is you tasting a 14 yr and saying ‘yep, still delicious’.
Yup, the lineup is pretty spectacular, and I’m very lucky to be representing such incredible brands. With my role I look to educate consumers on whisky as a category as a whole, as well as take them through the flavours and characteristics specific to our distilleries. Along with discussing the liquid, I look to tell the stories around the very special people who make our whisky. We are blessed to have members of the team giving 50+ years of their lives to their craft, so it’s important for us to champion these men and women.
Along with talking directly to our consumers, I spend a lot of time working with bars and restaurants, hosting trainings and tastings with staff. And you’re right, it’s important to keep our whisky fresh in mind, and it’s definitely still delicious.
For the uninitiated, could you tell us a little about Monkey Shoulder?
Well, the most common question I get asked is – “why is it called Monkey Shoulder?”
It’s actually a nod to an old work injury malt men would develop after long days of shoveling barley during the malting process. The repetitive strain injury would cause one arm to hang lower than the other like a monkey’s – thus Monkey Shoulder.
So in 2005, Monkey Shoulder was first launched in the UK. It was a brand that really shook-up the Scotch category, and in 2005, Scotch could be seen as relatively stuffy.
Monkey Shoulder embodies this amazing attitude and approach, asking consumers to have fun with their whisky, which can be very hard in this category. But it does this by not having the perceptions associated with single malts, yet being unique compared to familiar blends.
The liquid is always a blend of three Speyside single malts – referenced by the three monkeys on the bottle. Aged in Bourbon barrels, the result is rich and smooth, with flavours of vanilla, orange, ginger and cinnamon. This full-flavoured character comes from only using single malts in the blend, making sure the profile of the whisky can stand out in any way you want to mix it.
It’s one that always comes up and is really difficult to answer! Time and place really plays a part, but a simple long drink with citrus and soda is always a winner. For instance, Monkey Shoulder with fresh lemon juice, honey and ginger for some sweetness, shaken up and topped with a splash of soda water is perfect for Summer days.
Although if I’m feeling lazy, it’s hard to pass by an Old Fashioned – spirit, sugar and bitters, stirred down over some ice. And the best thing is, you can put a bottle together in a couple minutes and have it waiting in the fridge ready for whenever you have mates over or just need an after work sipper. Just mix a bottle of Monkey Shoulder with a little bit of sugar and Angostura bitters and put everything back into the bottle of whisky (meaning you may need to share a dram or two with some friends first to make some space in the bottle). Get it nice and cold in the fridge and it’s good to go whenever you need!
I actually got a chance to say hello to Ross Blainey, have you guys ever crossed paths? Shared a dram?
I have indeed! I had an amazing time hosting Ross here in NZ last October. We had a chance to talk to Auckland bartenders about the incredible whisky from The Balvenie distillery, as well as host a whisky and desserts paired evening held at Paris Butter.
After Auckland, we made our way down to Waikato Stud, a world-renowned Thoroughbred nursery, where we got a behind the scenes view on the operation. Between horses and jet boating, we still made sure there was plenty of drams along the way!
We finished up in Christchurch with a huge banquet-style tasting of select bottles from The Balvenie range, including a brand new release not yet available in NZ.
So safe to say we shared a few whiskies over that week and he also introduced me to Piña Coladas made with The Balvenie 14 Caribbean Cask. Delicious.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
I’ve been given some great advice over the years, but something that’s been really relevant in my current role is – “Play to your strengths – find what you love doing and apply that to what you do.”
It may sound super simple, but it’s helped me think about how to approach being a brand ambassador. I feel it can be easily overlooked or forgotten as a great piece of advice.
When you first take on a new role, it may feel comfortable to just follow the path that may have been set before you, but quite often it’s not really until you make something your own or true to you that you can really succeed.