Tullamore D.E.W is named after a man called Daniel Williams who believed true craft could only come from true character. A strong statement that embodies the global brand ambassador, John Quinn. John is on his second trip to Kenya, travelling to educate and inspire whiskey drinkers around the world to explore the unique Tullamore D.E.W experience.
Seated in the Sankara Lounge, waiting for us to arrive, John Quinn is quick to set everyone at ease. Having met him for the first time with little knowledge about what he does, we ease into a steady conversation that is more humorous than anything else.
This being his second visit, my first question is his opinion on the whiskey culture in Kenya. “I would be arrogant to assume I can talk about the whiskey culture in Nairobi from only two visits” is his response. He follows up with: “But what I can tell you is that Kenyans are curious. In my day, we didn’t ask questions, we didn’t want to know the story or the why, but in Kenya, as is in many other countries, people want to know the story behind what they’re drinking.”
This is the same observation with the bartenders and mixologists he met the previous morning: “They were impressive. Some of them really knew their stuff and clearly had thought it worthwhile to listen to an old man drone on and on.”
John is not new to the world of interviews, having travelled almost all over the world, he has spoken to many people. In one of these interviews, he spoke about the past saying:
“Whiskey is more than just numbers. It’s looking at the past and seeing the future”.
In a follow up to that sentence, I ask John what he meant.
“Whatever you’re drinking has been distilled several years ago. It’s been sleeping, breathing and changing. Whiskey is a living thing.” He says.
“We’re drinking something that was inspired by men who are dead and we’re tasked with keeping that inspiration going. In a way, we’re drinking a legacy. But we also have a responsibility to the future with what we give.”
He ends his speech with a laugh saying “You say things like that when you’re old.”
The conversation then moves to the people who inspired him to be the man he is today. As with most people, John mentions his father first: “He was a man who loved his whiskey but always had a whiskey and a beer together”. He shakes his head, smiling as he speaks. “I drink whiskey and beer now. Even though I used to think it was mad. I’ve even seen one of my sons do it.”
He also mentions being inspired by Reggie O’reilly who he worked for as an understudy, John Ryan who was a descendant of the Powers family and the man who Tullamore D.E.W is named after, Daniel Williams. Finishing off his list, John pauses and mentions his wife. “She does inspire me, She often makes me think that I’m not a clear thinker. She would see the wood through the trees.”
Being in the whiskey game for so long, John has been a witness to the changing industry, “In my day, I was unique because I was drinking whiskey. It was an old man’s drink. We also didn’t ask questions. We drank whatever brand name came first in our head. The inquiring minds right now make all the difference.”
In line with being too curious for our own good, the conversation turns to what Tullamore D.E.W means to him: “Being a brand ambassador is like a forever attachment to a brand. It’s part of my identity. Of course, I love the brand, I love the whiskey but now after so long, it’s a part of me.” And that was that.
As I finish this article, I feel the need to mention my favourite part of the interview. Michelle Slater, our general manager at Yummy, told me about a toast that John gave during the Tullamore dinner the night before. When I mention this to John, his face lights up with humour, “Which one?” he asks. I settled to ask for the best one. He didn’t disappoint.
“There’s one for the 4 Irish traits: Here’s to cheating, stealing, fighting and drinking.”
He continues, “Everyone gets upset with that one and then I explain: If you cheat, may you cheat death. If you steal, may you steal a heart. If you fight, may you fight for a brother and if you drink, may you drink with me.”
I think that’s the best way to sum up Tullamore D.E.W and their global ambassador: A blend of more than you expect.