The Tasting Panel magazine

JULY 2012

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after pushing past his first disastrous foray in a bartending competition to eventual success ("I absolutely bombed the first one and was literally crying in the snow all the way home," he admits), Jim found himself at his first Tales of the Cocktail in 2008, where he ran into Charlotte Voisey, then the Brand Ambassador for Hendrick's Gin and currently Portfolio Ambassador for William Grant and Sons. In Houston, Jim Ryan leads a Bartender Brunch education series. With so much time on the road, Jim stays in tip-top shape as a non-professional yogi. "Every time I land, the first thing I do is check out where I can do yoga. I was in 50 yoga studios last year!" It's four o'clock on a Sunday after- noon when Jim Ryan and I hop on the phone for an interview, and he's just returned to his Brooklyn apartment from a late breakfast. I ask if it's normal for him to have his first meal closer to the sunset, rather than the sunrise, side of the day, and he laughs before admit- ting that it might be fairly common. But who can blame him for enjoying late-in-the-day pancakes? Jim wakes up in a different time zone every other day, spends his mornings batching cocktails for hundreds of joyful imbib- ers and probably spends more time per week in an airport security line than at home relaxing on the couch. When I speak to Mark Stoddard a few days later, he's in a Boulder hotel room, in the middle of a week of travel that goes as follows: Houston to San Francisco to Boulder to New York to Dallas. As we've corresponded via email, working to find a free hour in his busy schedule, his emails land in my inbox signed cheekily, "Sent via hot air balloon." For these two Hendrick's Gin Brand Ambassadors, channeling their inner Jules Verne is just part of the job, and the pair have logged enough air-miles to likely make it Around the World in Eighty Days—hot air balloon or not. "This summer, I'll actually be using a hot air balloon as a form of travel," says Mark, an admitted thrill-seeker. "I'll be arriving to cocktail events in a hot air balloon, and am going to try to hold a 78 / the tasting panel / july 2012 Cocktail Academy there, maybe even attempt a Guinness World Record up there for making the most cocktails at a certain elevation. That's the Hendrick's attitude, really: The sky's the limit." Whether they're traveling by hot air balloon or a more traditional method, working with Hendrick's is a dream job for both men. Kansas City–born Jim, who originally moved to New York to study acting, recounts his path to the unusual world of Hendrick's. After working in a handful of New York's top bars and restaurants, and "I was wearing a seersucker suit, and I had a handlebar mustache all waxed out, and she just looked at me and said, 'Are you trying to take my job?' I literally saw a light bulb go off in her head." When he was officially given the job offer, Jim, who was good enough friends with Voisey to know that this Hendrick's job offer might as well come with a suitcase, gave it thorough consideration. "I thought about it long and hard," he admits. "I asked myself if this was a brand I could get behind and push, asked myself if I could travel extensively, spend all that time in airports and cabs, and the answer was yes. I asked myself if there were any other brands I could do this for, and I said no. This was the one. Two weeks later, I was on a plane to Scotland. I still pinch myself every day." Four years later, at this month's Tales, Jim is a finalist for the title of Best American Brand Ambassador, thanks to his unique talent at welcom- ing trade and consumers alike into what he calls the "rich and obscure Ever the academic, Mark Stoddard merges his passion for learning and cocktails on a regular basis, but when he can also incorporate his love of physical activity, it's a triple-win. "I'm always Hendricksing in some way shape or form," he says with a laugh. "I love getting outdoors, and when I'm out in a mountain meadow, I try to indentify the botanicals. I guess I think I'm an amateur botanist!"

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