He was the first person to claim the title of Chivas Master, he hails from Japan and he loves Chivas Regal. Who better to tell us about this unique cocktail competition, the destination for the next global final and this very special blended whisky. Ladies and gents, meet Masa Urushido.
Chivas Regal has been in my life for quite some time
I’m originally from Japan and I remember both my grandfather and my father enjoying Chivas. We also had it in the first restaurant I ever worked in, so of course, the brand name was very familiar to me, although I didn’t know about its amazing history back then. Now it has become a very personal whisky to me because of the involvement I’ve been lucky enough to have with the brand since winning the first Chivas Masters Cocktail Competition back in 2014.
My relationship with the liquid keeps evolving
It’s four years since I took part in the competition and I’m still learning. I work at Saxon + Parole, which is a high volume bar in New York City. Our clientele is very diverse and while I enjoy making them classic cocktails with Chivas Regal I like to add something new, like seasonal ingredients for instance. For me, Chivas Regal tastes better and better the more I understand it and the more I work with it.
I have a special connection with this brand
One of the things I really love about Chivas Regal is the people around it, such as Max Warner (Chivas Global Brand Ambassador), the people who make the liquid and Tristan, one of the hosts at the Strathisla distillery – they’re all so passionate about the brand. I enjoy being around these people and I feel proud that I also play a tiny part in the story.
Masa with last year’s finalists in Shanghai
My introduction to the Chivas Masters was the start of my journey
I was working at Saxon + Parole on a super busy Friday night and I was serving hundreds of drinks when this guy asked if he could talk to me for a second. As I said, I was super busy but I said sure. He told me about this new cocktail competition, the Chivas Masters and said he really wanted me to take part. Chivas Regal already meant a lot to me and I loved the liquid, so I was, like, “that sounds great!” I was very lucky that he walked in that night, when there are hundreds of other bars and hundreds of other bartenders.
Without this brand, without Max and the support I get I wouldn’t have got to see other parts of the world.
Winning the Chivas Masters has allowed me to be exposed to other cultures, new people and different food. That then becomes the inspiration for making new drinks.
There’s the internet for research but it not the same as real experience
The Chivas Masters Cocktail Competition brings together an inspiring group of people, not just great bartenders, but all sorts of experts such as chefs and photographers. In Japan we have a word sensei which is like a teacher or a master. For instance, when I competed in the competition Dave Arnold was giving a lecture about carbonation. That was hands-on workshop for me and the other competitors to learn from a master. It’s very unique to get that kind of experience from a competition.
The global final was an extremely special experience
One of the most important things for me was meeting and communicating with the other bartenders. I remember during one round I was watching the other competitors, then I got talking with Ali Reynolds from the UK, who was also competing, and we started exchanging ideas. The challenge was a mystery round where we’d been given a box of ingredients and had to come up with something delicious. Rather than just thinking about the challenge in isolation we started discussing it. We tried each other’s drinks and were giving each other feedback. I really enjoyed sharing ideas and experience with the other bartenders.
Chivas Master, Masa Urushido
This year the Chivas Masters global final will be in Tokyo
Tokyo is unique and a very different part of the world. The competitors will feel it from the moment they get off the plane. I know it will be very inspiring for them. The energy, the people, the food, all of these things will stimulate them in a very positive way. I’m very excited to see how they will get inspired. Hospitality is important too. In Japan you actually don’t notice it because it is everything that goes on behind the scenes. It’s all about making guests feel comfortable.
My tips for the finalists?
Sure you’re making drinks for judges in a competition but that’s what you do every day. Keep things simple and focus on your strengths and what you enjoy doing: the things in your drinks that you feel really strongly about, the style of drink you love. It’s also important to express your personality.
Ultimately it comes back to the customer
The Chivas Masters contributes 100 percent to customer experience. In a sense it comes full circle. There are the customers, our guests, these are the people who enjoy whisky and the drinks that we make for them. It’s because of them that I was able to compete in the global final. Then after competing I brought back what I’d learnt and gave my customers even better experiences.
Visit Masa at Saxon + Parole, New York.