Stephen Wilson - Crown Royal National Brand Ambassador

- interview by Sara Gorelick

Earlier this Fall, Crown Royal introduced Crown Royal Vanilla at the London Hotel in New York City along with the face of the new Crown Royal Vanilla commercials, comedian, actor and director JB Smoove. The event was hosted by Stephen Wilson, the Crown Royal National Brand Ambassador who has worked with Diageo whiskies for the last ten years.

BN: You have been involved with whisky for quite some time, what is the biggest takeaway you have to tell readers?

SW: The world of whisky can be a bit overwhelming. There are so many different styles and personalities. Be adventurous. Attend whisky festivals where you can sample a variety of whiskies (responsibly of course!) and talk to industry experts. Don't be afraid to ask questions. And remember, whisky should be enjoyed the way you'd like to enjoy it. That's always most important.

BN: What first surprised you about the industry?

SW: The first whiskies I discovered were Bourbon and American whiskies. I was intrigued by the mystique but I had I had no idea I was just scratching the surface. I still remember the first time I enjoyed Crown Royal and how it opened my eyes to yet another style of whisky. The same goes for my first Single Malt, Blend and Irish Whiskey. In other words, there were many surprises that let me to changing career paths over 10 years ago.

BN: What initially turned you on to food and beverage?

SW: Hospitality. Being a small part of something bigger. Creating an experience where folks could relax and enjoy the finer things in life. When I was tending bar, I valued the time I spent with my guests. Perhaps they were on the way to see a show or visiting New York for the first time. It was a pleasure to share part of their evening with them.

BN: How often are you on the road?

SW: It all depends on the month and week. For example, in the past three weeks, I've been on the road 17 out of 21 days.

BN: We read that you are a runner. What do you like to run to?

SW: Running changed my life two and half years ago. It's something I look forward to every day, no matter where my travels take me. I get to see the places I visit in ways I would have never experienced before. Some days, I love to go out for run with no plan or expectations and see where the road takes me.

BN: What else do you do in your free time?

SW: I have an eclectic background that has led to many interests. Living in New York, I love going to the theatre and there is always something interesting and entertaining to catch, whether it's on Broadway or way off Broadway. In addition, I value the time I get to spend at home with my wife, Noelle. Some weeks it's only one night for dinner or a quick afternoon lunch, so making the most of those moments is a priority.

BN: What makes Crown Royal special?

SW: That's a long list! For me, our people are at the heart of our brand. The men and women who make our whisky day in and day out, from our distillery team in Gimli to our blenders at LaSalle. They are tasked with carrying on a tradition that dates back to 1939 and the pride they embody is second to none.

BN: How was it working with JB Smoove?

SW: I loved working with JB! He has an energy and love of life that is contagious from the moment you meet him. He's smart, insightful, stylish and he knows how to have a great time. And did I mention funny? The man is a comedic genius.

BN: What is the best and worst part of your job?

SW: I have a passion for knowledge and my job affords me the opportunity to continue learning. There is always something new to learn about whisky. I'm lucky; because then I get to share that passion and knowledge with the folks I meet, whether it's a private tasting or a huge whisky extravaganza. What the worst part of my job? There isn't one. I work with an amazing team on one of the best whiskies in the world. Need I say more!

BN: Who inspires you in the industry?

SW: The industry itself continues to inspire me. From meeting bartenders who are pushing the envelope to seeing new whisky brands on the market. From the opportunity to engage in conversations with the legends in our business to meeting and working with the next generation of distillers and blenders. We all learn from each other. And hopefully, at the same time, all inspire one another.

BN: Do you prefer whiskey education for the whiskey novice or talking spirits with a knowledgeable peer and why?

SW: A mix of the two! Introducing someone to whisky is a rewarding experience and education is front and center for a brand ambassador. I enjoy seeing a whisky novice have the same "light bulb" moment that I had many many years ago. To teach someone and share knowledge with them gives them the tools and confidence to learn more. Along the same lines, I continue to learn. And the best way is by engaging in conversation with a trusted peer or industry expert. Most days, I get to do both!

BN: What's next?

SW: Our Crown Royal team is always working hard, experimenting and pursuing what's next. Perhaps we'll see different mash bills down the road or different barrel types for finishing our blends. Time will reveal all, and I'm excited for the possibilities.