Alejandro Millán Ponce De León
The Chivas Masters did two things very differently for its global final this year. Firstly, it took the competition away from New York and chose to shine a light on the bar scene in Shanghai instead. A bold and very brilliant move – it’s the first time a major drinks company has ever done so. But that wasn’t all. The second major difference was the way the competition was structured. Three individual finalists were announced after two tough days of challenges but that wasn’t the end of the competition. Oh no. For the first time in the three years its been running, the Chivas Masters finalists then had to assemble a team from the remaining twelve competitors. Their last mission? To devise an overall theme, then create a bar and three signature drinks to serve in it.
Alejandro Millán Ponce De León (Mexico) and his hand-picked team made up of Ben Rojo (USA), Tomas Melzer (Czech Republic), Stanislaw Domin (Poland) and Santiago Ortizjácome (Spain) aka The Beach Brothers were crowned the Chivas Masters Collective; their prize, a money-can’t-buy trip to Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans and the opportunity to recreate their bar at the 10th Spirited Awards.
We spoke to them about their experience.
This was your prize for being crowned the first Chivas Masters Collective, how did you feel when you knew you would be going to New Orleans?
ALEX: When it was announced that we were winners of the first Chivas Masters Collective, I was really delighted, knowing that would be my first experience in Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans. I was excited by the idea of getting to meet new people and making friends from all around the world, besides having the opportunity to witness the trends and what is currently being done elsewhere.
BEN: I was thrilled! After a marathon twenty-four hours together at the Chivas Masters Global Finals in Shanghai, it was so gratifying to learn that what we did had resonated.
STANISLAW: I was very excited! This was my first time in USA, and to be able to do it in such a great company was even more thrilling. It was a great pleasure to work with The Beach Brothers in Shanghai, and knowing that we would be working on one more gig was amazing news.
TOMAS: When we were stood on the stage in Shanghai and Max announced Mexico and The Beach Brothers as winners of the Chivas Masters competition it was indescribable feeling. Later when I got back home and started preparing for our next adventure at Tales of the Cocktail I have to say that my dream had come true. I’d always hoped that I go there some time and I was super happy that I would be doing so with my new brothers.
Party time with Ben and Stanislaw
Please describe your first Tales of the Cocktail experience.
ALEX: The best thing about the Tales of the Cocktail experience was introducing ourselves as The Beach Brothers at the Spirited Awards dinner; it was even better that the guests loved our cocktails. On the other hand it was great to see the Chivas family with some of my new friends receiving awards during the ceremony.
BEN: This was my tenth time in New Orleans, but my first at Tales. It was incredible to feel the electricity of the city overrun with bar folk, and inspiring to meet so many who love what it is that we do. I was happy to be able to share some of my favourite haunts with my Beach Brothers, and I had even more fun discovering places new to all of us. Breaking bread with Laurence Mainaud (Global Brand Manager, Chivas Regal), Leo Liu (Production Manager, DRiNK Magazine/Thirsty Work Productions), and Max Warner (Global Brand Ambassador, Chivas Regal) had to be the best part of the trip.
STANISLAW: The biggest thing about Tales of the Cocktail for me was meeting so many industry legends in one place. These people influenced me as a bartender, I learned my basics by following their lessons. In Poland cocktail culture is still a fairly new thing, so shaking hands with my personal idols was a very big deal.
TOMAS: Tales was an absolutely amazing bartenders event. New Orleans is a great city with such a huge cocktail tradition and famous bars – it’s where classic cocktails like the Sazerac, Vieux Carre, Ramos Gin Fizz were born. To have so many great bartenders, cocktail lovers and bar celebrities in one place and us being there as the Beach Brothers was just incredible.
Alex, Tomas and Ben on a Swamp Tour
How did you bond with your fellow Beach Brothers during the course of the week?
ALEX: What can I say, the truth is that we form a formidable team, not just working behind the bar. We’re a real brotherhood and we care about each other. And when we are partying together, wow, we have such a good time!!!
BEN: I watched the sun rise each night I was in New Orleans, and I got to do so with some of my Beach Brothers each time. It was great to spend some unstructured time with Tom, Stas, and Alex after the gruelling schedule of the Chivas Masters competition. We had a chance to digest and discuss what we’d done in Shanghai with the clarity afforded by a bit of time passed, and we shared our hopes and dreams for our future. And if there was a shortage of Chivas 12yo in New Orleans last week, you’ve got your culprits!
STANISLAW: We got to spend some quality time together, both as a group and individually. Exploring NOLA nightlife – it’s hidden bars and the landmarks, discovering food and culture – this is the way to enjoy a week off with great friends. The trip was a great oportunity to learn something about each other, not only as bartending professionals but also wonderful people.
TOMAS: It was one big party and a wonderful team building experience. New Orleans was the best place for it I think. The only sad thing was that Santi couldn’t be there with us.
The Beach Brothers bar at the Spirited Awards
How did it feel to bring The Beach Brothers bar to the Spirited Awards?
ALEX: It was a great experience to have the opportunity to present the cocktails that led us to win the Chivas Masters Collective and share the history of our signature cocktail, Five Brothers Punch with the audience.
BEN: Being able to share our bar at the Spirited Awards was a true moment of pride. The ‘Booze Oscars’ attract some of the most impassioned people in our industry each year, and to have their attention on us was invigorating. In terms of putting the bar together, it was an elucidating lesson in how business is done in New Orleans. Sourcing ingredients and materials for our pop-up in NOLA was distinct from our time in Shanghai, but the challenges proved familiar. Making it happen in two vastly different markets with two vastly different supply chains birthed a confidence that we could do this anywhere.
STANISLAW: Personaly for me, getting The Beach Brothers together was the highlight of the trip. After seeing some amazing bartenders at work during the TOTC it felt right to put the Beach Brothers outfit on once again and play our part. It brought back great Shanghai memories to me, and it was an absolute pleasure to share part of it with the best in the business by serving them our signature cocktails.
TOMAS: Our pop-up bar at the Spirited Awards was really good fun. We really enjoyed the experience and we had great feedback which was fantastic.
The team on tour, a night in New Orleans: Stanislaw, Laurence, Max. Alex, Tomas and Ben
Max Warner was awarded Best International Brand Ambassador during the awards, how has he inspired you during your time together and how has being part of the Chivas Masters Collective helped you in your career?
ALEX: It is a great honor to work closely with Max. He is a great leader and I’m so happy that he was awarded Best International Brand Ambassador. I now have time to learn from him and find out more about his philosophy. I’m waiting anxiously for my next step in the Chivas Masters journey.
BEN: Max has been an inspiration to me since the day we met at my local Chivas Masters final. He told me then that I belonged on this stage, and it was then that I began to believe it. To see the hand he’s had personally in so many markets, judging nearly every local Masters final, and affording us the chance to work collaboratively in the global final only confirms his insight and dedication to brotherhood. The way he takes ownership over the brand values he’s internalised should serve as an ideal for aspiring ambassadors, and the way his Chivas graduates have impacted their markets should serve as ample proof of that. He’s answered every question I’ve ever posed him thoughtfully, and beyond the visibility that the Chivas Masters lends me, my experiences with Max have galvanized my belief in myself, and for that I am indebted.
STANISLAW: Max inspired me, but I’m sure I can say the same for my fellow Brothers, how important generosity and the bond of brotherhood can be. I had a time of my life with these guys in Shanghai, sharing that with others in NOLA was even better. And the whole experience has made me realise that believing in other people and knowing that they’ll deliver is a make or break factor for any good team to stand out. Not to mention some really great drinks we came up with, that have a special place in my bar menu back home.
TOMAS: Max is a great man and personality. I am truly honored that I met him and I got a chance to spend time with him. Him winning the award was like a cherry on top.
Five Brothers Punch as served at the Spirited Awards
Will we be seeing any Beach Brothers projects in the future?
ALEX: Currently we have no plans, but it would be great to see us get together more often and to collaborate in some future projects. Or maybe, make a guest bartending together in one of the best bars in our respective countries – oh, that would be amazing!!
BEN: We’ve been talking, but I won’t be the one to let the cat out of the bag. Tom and I may do a Prague and New York exchange program in the not so distant future.
STANISLAW: I sure hope we’ll put something together again. We started thinking about it even before leaving USA and if we are able to overcome 15,000 km distance between some of us, we’ll try to make it happen. Getting the team back together would be great. These guys are not only some of the best pros I’ve ever met but they’re all great people – I’m sure we’ll stay friends for life.
TOMAZ: How it helps me in my career, who knows but what is important to me is that I met so many great persons in Shanghai and have many new friends around the world. And new brothers! I really don’t know if we will get together as The Beach Brothers but I believe that our team will meet again. Why? Because we are like brothers and family should stay together!
Photographs by Leo Liu – DRiNK Magazine Asia/Thirsty Work Productions