At the time of this interview Macallan Nicolas was the national brand ambassador. As some of you may have heard he was promoted to the Prestige and Brand Education Manager for Macallan. This interview is a small snippet into who Nicolas Villalon really is. He is not your average brand ambassador. The passion and sheer knowledge this man possesses made this one of our favorite interviews. It was great to geek out on all the intricate things that make Macallan the every day household name. So without further ado we bring you Macallan Nicolas.
Tell us Nicolas, how you actually got into becoming the ambassador for Macallan?
N: Once I developed the passion for the alcohol beverage world, it was really all over. I had as much interest for beer as well as wine, and spirits. And then when I started traveling, my best trips would be the ones in Scotland, the ones I got to visit the distillery. On my first trip I visited 20-25 distilleries and on my second trip about 15. And that’s what struck me about the whisky, the refinement and the constraint of time that was so unlike any other places that I’ve ever been. There’s just so much history there.
This was 13 years ago, so you have to remember Scotch single malt was not the most popular thing back then. And one day at my job I had a couple of gentlemen sit down and say wow you know a lot about whisky, and they were involved in the liquor world. And this is where I got the notion in my mind, maybe I should look for that kind of job. At first I got hired as a sales representative for Beam Global, and just so happens they were the distributors for the Edrington brand, including Macallan. So from there I went on from my day to day job and worked my way up to the National Brand Ambassador.
What does it mean to be an ambassador on the day to day basis for you?
N: For me it has to do a lot with media and consumer facing events and those large scale events. It’s not so much of the day to day of going to liquor stores and training the staff, which is what I used to do, before I did this. It’s a lot larger scale and its more about brand education. To get the brand identity out there and what makes it truly special. The brand ambassadors that stand out are the ambassadors that are in love with their brand, at the very core. There is a very intangible side to being a brand ambassador, something that you need to have from the get go, it’s not something that can be taught.
Macallan has such a long rich history and brand name, did you find yourself intimidated when you first got into this position or was it more along the lines of “yeah” this is what I was born to do?
N: It’s still intimidating to this day, because it takes close to 200 years to build such a legendary brand and it could take someone completely seconds to destroy all of that in the end. And every day that you go out, you have to be confident in yourself, remember that you are the embodiment of the brand. It didn’t happen for me overnight to become the ambassador for the brand. It’s that perfect balance of having respect for the brand, and doing my due diligence in order to convey that message that represents it perfectly.
Do you prefer to speak more to the whisky novice, who is still getting his bearings in their whisky adventure, or the whisky aficionado who knows exactly what they like?
N: Absolutely no preference at that level. What made me enjoy being the brand ambassador for so long is that I enjoy every single one of those conversations. For me this range is what actually keeps my passion alive. And for me that’s the challenge, that’s the beauty about it. It’s being challenged to convey that message to someone so that when they walk away, there are 2, 3 or 4 things they remember, not just about Macallan, but about whisky and single malt scotch as the whole.
The big whisky festivals, for instance whisky fest or whisky live, pardon my French but they are sh*t shows. People pay a high price for the ticket and they are trying to drink so much booze that they feel they got their money’s worth. And then there’s the event that Eric aka Scotchandtime had, which was a bit more intimate or Matthew Lurin with the Water of Life events, are closer knit. Do you think the older version of these big whisky festivals are a dying breed and that these new type of small intimate events is the way to go?
N: I think there will always be a place for the larger whisky fest type of events. There is a huge potential there for educating people who do not know about whisky yet but have this interest, or at least curious about it. This event is for someone who does not know about whisky will hear about it, about the event that has the resources to put their name out there. But I do believe that the marketplace for events is changing. The smaller tailored events, not to call them hyper targeted events, are going to take more and more space, because the whole feel of how you can market a business is changing with the aspect of social media today. So using that, and reaching into your influencer network, this is how people like Eric can put the Scotch and time Series event together, and reach out to a fantastic audience.
Yes right now its targeted towards a smaller group of influencers and collectors, but very quickly he’s going to get demands just from the regular public who are following those fantastic Instagram accounts, who are following those fantastic Facebook pages. So I do believe that we are going to start seeing more of those, each of them having their own business plan, their own personality and their own approach. And I am super excited about this. This is how we are starting to see communities grow.
Is the Macallan line specifically sherry cask?
N: Most of our line is 100% sherry. Whether its American Oak Sherry cask or European Oak sherry cask, there’s another one in our line called the final series, that does the two the ex sherry cask as well as the ex bourbon cask.
What is the best part about your job, and the worst?
N: Oh that’s easy. The best part is the whisky. I mean we’re sipping on some fantastic Macallan 25 year old, one of the most iconic single malt in the world, on a Monday at 6pm, it’s really not that bad at all. The worst part is doing expenses. Its the administrative heavy side of the business. It’s such a high energy type of feel when you’re out there and you’re interacting with the whisky aficionados or just the regular consumers out there. And then you have to go back to the office and sit in front of the screen. It’s such a big gap between those two realities, but it’s something that needs to get done.
I feel that Social Media is a double edged sword. It’s great for an event like Scotch and Time when all these influencers come and provide coverage for the brands and get to taste some of the more rare expressions available, which in turn makes those expressions increase in value. But at the same time, the same influencers probably do not care as much about the standard line of expressions, the 10 maybe the 15. Influencers gravitate more towards age. Do you feel that Social Media is skewing more towards the age of the spirits rather than the quality of some of their younger counterparts?
N: That’s definitely an interesting point of view. If we take my Instagram account Macallan, some of the best response I get is with some of the NAS stuff. My best picture ever had no age statement whisky on it. Even working with the influencer crowd and the bloggers for instance I am going to be as comfortable presenting to you the 3 12 year old expressions that we have to talking about our 50 year old whisky. With Macallan, the reality is we are able to put out our fantastic aged whisky. But at the Scotch and Time event, the Reflexion was definitely one of the stand out whiskies. The exceptional Single Cask 04, that’s a 12 year old whisky.
What is your approach to push more whisky to the female demographic?
N: I think that the answer is, that we’re not pushing it towards women just as much as were not pushing it to men. We’re just putting whisky out there. Women are able to get into the single malt business by themselves. For us, it’s just not geared for a conversation that’s geared towards men. Macallan is an inclusive brand. It’s all subtext. If you take that subtext away, then you’ll see something that I’ve seen over my 8 year career, my first whisky tasting was 100% men, 65 year old an above. And now at tastings we have 43% women average to 57% men, and age range from 21 to 65 year old and above.
Do you see any trend in this industry, even beyond the whisky industry that we will be seeing in the next couple of years?
N: Absolutely. Let me answer this whisky specifically first. The higher proof is taking a little bit of momentum. Now that we’re selling more brown liquor in the United States it’s showing that the general palate of the consumer is evolving and they are enjoying whisky more than ever now. Their palate evolved and they are able to take on slightly more higher proof. I see the trend where the transparency, where people are more knowledgeable about the brand, is becoming increasingly popular and a fantastic thing. That means that there’s more information out there.