Gravy Thomas: we catch up with Sailor Jerry’s global ambassador

Gravy Thomas.

When it comes to ambassador roles, the pinnacle of those roles is nabbing a global gig — travel all over the world, meeting bartenders from all schools of thought, drinking in the world’s best bars?

Sign us up.

That’s precisely the role that Gravy Thomas, the global ambassador for Sailor Jerry, gets to do every day. Here he tells us about what’s in store for the brand and how he got into the BA life.

Why do you do what you do?
My role is most definitely a natural extension of my ‘all in’ lifestyle, Rock and Roll passion points, and undeniable love to interact with creative people all around the globe who are sharing their talents for us to enjoy. At the end of the day it’s my goal to provide memorable hospitality to all I interact with. I learned this at an early age from my parents who in my view were the king and queen of the epic and very responsible house parties in the 80s and 90s who had the raddest home basement bar that entertained some of the most celebrated stars of music and art in those eras. I saw this first hand and it relates every day in my current role. I always start my presentations identifying the perfect ‘house party’. We have all been to some great gatherings and some terrible gatherings hosted at a friend’s house. I take this intimate experience and relate it to every touch point of the current drinks industry because we can’t forget where it comes from before all the bells and whistles, and big budgets. Before the ambassador trend, I’ve always done some form of ambassadorship. Whether for my own community-driven efforts centred around art, poetry and youth empowerment, my own punk band promotion, music tour management I was hired for, or specific brand work, it’s a part of my makeup for sure. I’ve been on the road my whole life. I always say I need to start a section of tattoos just of public transportation symbols on my body.

What is it exactly that your role entails?
My role in short is to enhance, educate, and entertain those I come in contact with to the legacy of Norman “Sailor Jerry” Collins considered the father of the old-school tattoo and our Spiced Rum that bears his name. I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved in the original think tank of creatives who first reintroduced the iconic artwork of Norman Collins through the Sailor Jerry Clothing line (www.sailorjerryclothing.com) in Philadelphia, USA back in 1999. Before the rum there was this grassroots movement via clothing that celebrates the bold artwork of Norman Collins to our core audience of free thinkers and like-minded do-it-yourselfers. I later joined William Grant & Sons as a National US Brand Ambassador and from 2013 to 2018 I worked East, Central, and Southern USA spreading the rum love with our Spiced Rum that was introduced to the market in 2000. In 2018 I was promoted to Global Brand Ambassador and immediately requested that we never refer to me as a brand ambassador but as the Sailor Jerry Rum Rude Boy. Respectfully I wanted to communicate to the bartenders, tattooers, musicians, visual artists, industry executives, and consumers I embrace that I am not coming to them in a high and mighty capacity, yet a vessel who comes from a mindset where I were I want to also be educated, entertained, and enhanced by them. The Rum Rude Boy moniker has allowed for this and taps into my unapologetic way of doing my job. I don’t come from the traditional mixologist background at all.  I come from a music, lifestyle and hospitality background that always found me on the stage working with large scale venues and tours that soon learned Gravy can bring a brand to life! Now I want to bring your market to life and in return I want you to give me life! Help me help you. I’ve since been able to celebrate bartenders and give them my non-judgmental opinion that has allowed for great experiences with some of the world’s most elite drink makers and they respect me because of my point of view. Norman “Sailor Jerry” Collins was never satisfied with his work and always was improving his craft. Norman stated “I’m always willing to listen to somebody else’s ideas… because we can always learn more.”  I feel the same.

What are some of the more inventive things that you’ve seen bartenders doing with Sailor Jerry?
I want to praise all the barkeeps and purveyors who treat our Spiced Rum as a very mixable brown spirit rather than just pouring our rum in Tiki or Tropical drinks offerings (which I love)but when our rum is blended by the highly acclaimed craftsmen and women at William Grant & Sons who bring you Hendrick’s Gin, Balvenie, Glenfiddich, Monkey Shoulder Whisky to name a few, I enjoy seeing the classic cocktail riffs made with our rum. I enjoy a Sailor Jerry Old Fashioned for sure. Recently I’ve found myself in awe of creations made at our Sailor Jerry ‘Roll with the Punches’ bartender competitions I’ve hosted around the world. This unpretentious competition – where the audience members are the judges – gives the bartender the no frills and no stuffy rules opportunity to create, and most importantly present a Sailor Jerry Rum Punch for the room that thematically celebrates the legacy of Sailor Jerry. Through this competition I’ve tasted an amazing pho soup broth cocktail with Sailor Jerry as the ‘at sea’ era of Norman “Sailor Jerry” Collins was celebrated and related to the South Seas where he traveled serving in the US navy.

Riot Bar in Dublin Ireland (www.riotdublin.com ) does a fulfilling Sailor Jerry Shave and A Haircut beer cocktail that involves stout beer, cola, and Sailor Jerry. This bar also features a talented young Australian bartender Alec Hingston who makes a tasty lychee, violette, pineapple, and lime cocktail with Sailor Jerry. To keep it local I know the Sandstone Point Hotel in Queensland does a Sailor Jerry Pina Koala cocktail that I hear so much about that I can’t wait to try when I arrive.

Gravy Thomas.

What in your mind makes a best practice dive bar?
Sailor Jerry most definitely tips our hat to the dive bars globally we wouldn’t be here without them. The best dive bars are those who go against the trends and simply offer up a Sailor Jerry serve that comes to you quick, with a smile, good vibes, a sticky floor, and killer music blasting loud. I go to dive bars for a neat Sailor Jerry, cold beer, and good conversation. I must admit dive bars are taking more pride in their mixers and just not serving heavily influenced drinks. I do see a trend in dive bars making an effort to carry syrups, especially making their own ginger syrup that taste great in a Sailor Jerry Ginger Daiquiri.

We hear you’re coming to Australia for a big launch — what can you tell us about that?
I can’t wait to get involved in the down under and get fully underneath this vibrant Sailor Jerry culture that I know exists. Australians I’ve met have a fun loving attitude towards life and nights out. I’m well versed on the killer music scene and I hope to get the top line experience but I will make it my mission to embrace the underbelly of Australia – as that is my goal wherever I touch down. My main mission is to celebrate and enhance the Australia specific Sailor Jerry innovation that the local team has been working tirelessly on. This innovation is the biggest that Australia has launched for Sailor Jerry. A Sailor Jerry product that Australia has been waiting for and will be perfect fit for our Aussie BBQs, house parties, festivals etc. With this innovation we are looking to recruit a new generation of drinkers and it will broaden our offer for diverse drinking occasions. I’ll meet and greet and work with the who’s who in the drinks industry while hosting parties, press, and key buyers of Sailor Jerry alongside engaging the trade and whatever else Australia has to offer.  I hope to work with local artists and musicians who live the ethos of our never settle Sailor Jerry Iifestyle. I will definitely need some crowd participation and there are tricks up my tattooed sleeves that I will reveal when I touch down. You won’t want to miss this Sailor Jerry Rum Rude Boy takeover for sure!

How does Sailor Jerry fit into this?
We have a rum that celebrates a transcendent icon that even years after his passing in 1973 people still identify with, that true and honest heritage story mixed with our William Grant and Son’s portfolio allows for bartenders to want to embrace our brand in a new way. They might have drank Sailor Jerry at an earlier time that reminds them of great memories now they want to pour a welcoming cocktail to their friends all the while telling them how they got introduced to Sailor Jerry and why it should be their choice call.

What can you tell us about Savage Apple?
Bottled at 35% ABV, Sailor Jerry Savage Apple marks the first line extension from the brand since it launched 19 years ago. There are bright apple and warm cinnamon notes underpinned by deep rum character taste. Savage Apple is has a rich, deep apple intensity followed by a lingering spicy rum finish. The taste will welcome in a new audience to Sailor Jerry while the “trashy cool” brand world will carry on our fun in rum approach. Savage Apple has launched in the US this summer and could hit Australia as soon as next year as there is an undeniable similarity in preferred taste between the US and Australia. Like the desire to seek out a Sailor Jerry tattoo across the seas the desire for Australians to see out the Savage Apple Sailor Jerry should be the main reason we should see Savage Apple in your market next year. Just add ice… but first I can’t wait to add some Gravy to Australia! 

See you all soon. Till then, I invite you to follow me @gravyontherocks on IG and hop aboard the Gravy train! I’ll tell you the funny story behind my nickname when we meet in person Australia.  

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