Monkey Shoulder, to the uninitiated, is by William Grant & Sons, the same family-owned distiller responsible for Hendrick’s Gin, Sailor Jerry Rum, and core brand Glenfiddich, just to name a few. The blended malt whisky thrives to set itself apart from traditional stereotypes — that it can only be enjoyed neat or on the rocks because whisky cocktails are blasphemous! — and much like the fun-spirit which it embodies, its ambassador also follows suit. Zachary Connor de Git, or Zach for short (sometimes going by the surname Chua Jing Lu to the confusion of many), took up bartending at the age of 17 as a part-time gig while he was enrolled in an IT course. He soon realised he had a career behind the bar as opposed to the computer desk, and didn’t look back since. Of course, what not with the man having had been christened with the title of ‘Bartender of The Year’ in 2010 and many other titles to validate his badass bartending skills in the years after. We mentioned that Zach’s all about fun — like Monkey Shoulder — so for our interview, he decided it’d be fun to put our nonexistent multitasking skills to the test by making us play a round of speed Jenga while we questioned him about the next possible bar trend to hit our shores, his best drink-related joke, and if there were a correct way to drink whisky. There is, with Jenga.
How did you get involved with being an ambassador?
Alcohol has always been a passion of mine — [although] the biggest thing has not always been alcohol, but flavours and mixing them together to find them complementary [with one another]. To create a drink with mixes that pair well with Monkey Shoulder has always been extremely fun and a great challenge. I was previously working in Singapore at Tippling Club before I joined Willian Grant and Sons; working for a whisky company is a big dream of mine.
What sort of advantages does one gain when working for an independent distillery?
Working for an Independent family-owned distilling company allows us to have a lot more creative freedom in terms of productions. The family has the best interests in mind and are open to new ideas.
What’s a Regional Portfolio Ambassador’s day like? We’ve seen you guest-bartend a few times now — is that one of the tasks that comes with the job or something you do when you’ve time to kill?
Guest-bartending happens a lot. There is no typical day for brand ambassador. We do have our office hours (Monday to Friday) but we also have to be out working with the trade. Whether that would be guest bartending or just visiting them to say hello and give them support. Covering the region means I get the chance to travel a great deal, and other than that I try to stay healthy by gymming or running.
Let’s get down to some (monkey) business. What’s different about this whisky in comparison to the others?
I like to use Monkey Shoulder as a gateway to introduce people to whiskies. There’s a stigma that surrounds single malt whiskies, and I find it to be quite intimidating for young people because they feel compelled to drink it neat or on the rocks, and the different factor about Monkey Shoulder is that you can have it with anything you like.
Whisky snobs everywhere are crying. Is there no ‘correct’ way of drinking whisky?
I don’t think so. Imagine if you were an 18 year old and somebody offered you a glass of whisky for the first time, and you find it difficult to drink it neat — you’d probably never go back for seconds whereas if you tried it in a delicious cocktail, it could be the beginning of you becoming a full on whisky drinker.
What’s the worst combination of drinks?
Personally, I’ve stayed far away from advocaat — it’s made from egg yolk, brandy, and cream — and when people mix it with other stuff, I find it to be quite disturbing. Other than that I don’t think there’s a really horrible combination.
If there was an influential personality that could represent Monkey Shoulder, who would it be?
Apart from myself? (Laughs) I’d pick Jimmy Fallon. He’s young at heart, quite cheeky, and playful. I absolutely loved watching him perform on Saturday Night Live.
Yas! We love SNL too. Give us your best drinking-related joke, please.
It’s PG. A man walks into a bar and asks the bartender for 15 shots of his finest whisky, and the bartender says, “It’s $15 a shot though,” and he gets the 15 shots puts it down in front of him and the man starts downing it with no breaks in between. The bartender says, “Hey, slow down, you don’t need to drink it all at once,” and the man replies saying, “You’d be drinking as fast as I am if you had what I got.” And the bartender asks, “What’ve you got?” The man replies, “Two dollars,” and he ran out of the bar.
… too PG for our sense of humour. Speaking of ‘fast’, we’ve noticed the trends in Kuala Lumpur’s bar scene are speakeasies and craft cocktails. What do you think the next “it” thing will be?
Dive bars. But it’s hard to recreate a dive bar because the dingy vibe needs to be natural, and it can’t be forced.
Like what’s happening with speakeasies…
I think it’s great when it’s done well and if people don’t try too hard. Sometimes, I just want to go into a place and have a drink instead of climbing through a tunnel, a toilet, or a phone booth that then leads me to a basement six floors under where I was and solve a puzzle in order to get a drink.
That obstacle sounds like it could be an episode of The Amazing Race, or a Jigsaw trap, but we get what you mean. Some of the speakeasies have lovely concepts but their cocktails are subpar.
Yeah, my theory is that as long as the drinks are good, the bar is good. Some bars look crappy on the outside but then you’re served an amazing cocktail, then there are some that look stunning on the outside but the drinks could be mediocre. Service also plays a really important role at determining the bars quality.
What sort of service?
Just a friendly “hello” when a customer walks through the door, followed by a glass of water and a menu. I love chatting with the bartenders but I’m finding it to be a rarity these days. There’s a stigma in Asia where the customer shouldn’t be bothered, but I can see it slowly changing in Singapore and it’s only a matter of time before it changes for other countries in Asia.
You’re 26 years old and have already claimed numerous awards and titles for yourself. Did you think this would happen when you just started?
I made really bad cocktails when I first started out. I still have the books I kept to jot down recipes and I look at some of them and [they] sound absolutely horrible. I’d never drink that now. I’ve always absorbed what I’ve been taught by the people I’ve worked with and the environment that I’m in.
We’re sure you’ve been drunk on the job at least once — what’s your fondest memory of being drunk in front of your customers? Are you a fun drunk?
It depends on how much sleep I’ve had. If I’ve gotten one to four hours worth of sleep, I may be a quiet guy. If anymore than that, I’m really energetic. It’s hard to pick an exact memory but one time I was a little tired as I hadn’t slept much the night before and I had fallen asleep on one of the chairs. Some bartenders were there and eventually one bartender started drawing things on me… I won’t say what but after this first encounter with each other we became best friends, so that one I’m quite fond of.
Something phallic, we wager. What’s your favourite JUICE?
Witty banter and anyone that has a passion for anything gets me excited…
Like beating people at speed Jenga?!
That usually gets me excited but I didn’t win this time, unfortunately. You’re welcome. I let you win.
JUICE won using our newly discovered Jenga skills, and Zach said it was the best round he had.
Monkey Shoulder was officially launched in Malaysia on Friday 21 August ’15 at Slate @ The Row. Retails at RM280 and is available at major hypermarkets and selected cocktail specialty bars such as Omakase + Appreciate, Souled Out, W.I.P, HYDE at 53M, Healy Mac’s Irish Bar & Restaurant, and Splash.