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IF you happen to be a big fan of cocktail and lifestyle events in the city, chances are you’ve already ran, or will soon run, into Hamish Houliston.
Who could better educate discerning Filipino drinkers on the subject of Scotch whiskey than the Chivas Brothers brand ambassador to the Philippines—a true Scot who exudes an overflowing passion for the world-famous liquor?
Houliston is always in his element when conducting learning sessions with whiskey enthusiasts, just like what he did at the third edition of Whiskey Live Manila—the biggest international whiskey event in the country held toward the end of 2018. There, he facilitated two master classes: a Chivas Regal Blending Session and one for Speyside Selection Malts and Blends.
Moreover, this author found the expat, who has been staying in the country for more than one-and-a-half years, is easy to warm up to. He exudes an easygoing demeanor, a killer smile and a knack for cracking jokes occasionally.
A marketing background obtained from his native Scotland and an English-language teaching career in Ecuador have given Houliston a definitive edge in his role as a brand ambassador. As such, he is able to combine the two disciplines of masterfully presenting a product and educating people; only this time, the subject matter is far more interesting and fun: that of one of the best-selling Scotch whiskies of all time.
In between spirited toasts and subsequent talks, we got to know more about the Chivas whiskey whiz in this interview.
So far, what have you come to learn about our local liquor industry?
It is a really an exciting time to be involved in the Philippines’s liquor industry. There is so much opportunity here, with lots of local and international players investing (a whole lot) to help grow categories.
I believe the growing discernment of consumers and the industry’s efforts drive much potential in the Philippines. Those elements, combined with a thriving nightlife scene, with premier bars pushing each other in terms of competition and innovation, make an ideal environment to enjoy Chivas.
What do you find fun and rewarding about your job?
Being able to talk about (the different kinds of) whiskies that are made just a few miles away from my home in Scotland, on the other side of the world, has to be one of the greatest perks about my job. Pairing this with meeting new and interesting people who have a passion for the whiskies I represent and (those who) want to know more about them is really a whole lot of fun.
Likewise, it is also really rewarding to see people learn something in a tasting session or in a learning event, and then go on spreading the word themselves…. It’s even more rewarding when you have helped change a person’s preconception about the brand.
What are the challenges in your line of work, and how do you plan to overcome them?
They revolve around preconceived notions about the brand. Chivas is very well-known in terms of provenance and quality. Often, people can be intimidated by this reputation, and not actually believe that they are very much established in their career or their time in life to partake such a whiskey.
Part of my job is to help educate people (with the fact) that the brand is to be enjoyed by those who wish to enjoy it, and is best shared among friends. Nowadays for Chivas, whiskey drinkers just need to spend a little bit more, and they could enjoy a whole lot more.
While doing such, I also wish to endeavor for our potential market to see the merits of the product, as well as (its suitability) for people across the board.
Tell us about your decision in making the Philippines your new home.
I like to tell people that I chose to live here, but the reality is that this is where I was assigned for my whiskey-preaching mission.
However, I can honestly say that I am incredibly glad that this is where I was sent out into the world. Of course, the beaches and islands are amazing, but as a destination for this job, it is simply fantastic. The people are incredibly friendly. They enjoy drinking and want to learn a little bit more about what is in their glasses.
What was your impression of the Philippines prior to your arrival? Was it accurate after you’ve settled in?
Before coming here, I heard some scary stories from a Filipino guy I knew back in Scotland. He told me to be constantly on my guard and look out for inevitable trouble coming my way. So when I landed and was assigned in a hotel around (a mall chain in Makati City), I was embarrassingly cautious.
That didn’t last long though, and I have never really felt unsafe during my time here. I am now the one who puts my friends at ease when they arrive here.
What have you grown to love about the Philippines?
I have inadvertently been eating rice during my time here. Starting out, I struggled to see the local necessity to have the carbs with every possible meal.
Now, I catch myself hankering for a portion of “Filipino power” to keep me going with as many sauces chunked on as possible. I have no qualms with dosing it up with soy sauce, vinegar and the like.
In terms of Filipino food, topping the list has to be tortang talong—(it’s quite) a beautiful culinary innovation.
What do you think we Filipinos know about your country? And what do you want us to know about Scotland?
When it comes to Scotland, quite often, the first thing Filipinos know is Scotch whiskey, which is handy for the job. Other than that, people often shout, “Freedom!” in my face, giving credence to the work of the great Scotsman Mel Gibson in the hit movie Braveheart.
People here are almost often keen to know if I wear the “skirt,” to which I reply, “Yes, I wear the kilt. I have it here with me in Manila.”
About my country, I want Filipinos to know that when they visit Scotland, there is much more to (my) country than just Edinburgh. It is a wonderful city, but please do venture further afield. If they have time, they have to head up to the Scottish highlands and the islands. Go to Speyside and visit some distilleries. (The place) really showcases Scotland’s best.
What common elements do our countries share?
Believe it or not, one similarity between the Philippines and Scotland are golden sand beaches—although in Scotland, the weather makes sunbathing and swimming more for the foolhardy.
Probably, the other most common similarity would be the passion for Scotch whiskey. I still do find it amazing to have people on the other side of the world so enamored and knowledgeable about our national drink, for our humble nation of 5 million.
If you were a whiskey, what kind would you be?
It would have to be the signature blend in our lineup…
You might have been expecting me to choose our most expensive whiskey, but I would rather be the Chivas 12, because I believe we have the same qualities: approachable, well-balanced and quietly confident.