On The Art Of Always Believing With Suntory's Very Own LimBae - SEA Brand Ambassador Andrew Pang
Andrew Pang is Suntory's Southeast Asia Brand Ambassador.
Hi Andrew! Thanks so much for doing this with us! You’re the ambassador for Suntory – probably the biggest Asian force in the global drinks and spirits category, that makes you a sphinx standing between the entire world and all the secrets Suntory holds. You must know some mindblowing things!
In this interview, while we would love to pry out some of that juicy classified information, we’re going to instead focus on getting to know you. You’ve been in the army, a flight attendant to now Suntory’s regional brand ambassador, there’s a whole lot we’ve got to unpack!
Follow Andrew here: Instagram
88B: Your career has taken such a unique path, what guides you to figuring out what’s next?
Andrew Pang (AP): Thank you, firstly, for your kind words about Suntory. I am so excited about all the events happening this year for the House of Suntory’s centennial. More info to come!
The Japanese have a philosophy called kaizen which is to continually improve oneself and even if I don’t have any projects in different countries or in Singapore, I always try to be better than who I was yesterday. I also believe in staying true to who you are and following your passion and balancing that with financial and family responsibilities.
88B: You’re a big rock and roll music fan it seems, if you could choose one song to be the soundtrack to your life, what song would it be and why?
AP: I’m a big fan of music. I love the math in it if that makes sense especially in classical compositions. Rock & Roll for sure, puts a little life in the math.
As for a song about my current outlook in life and my job, Journey’s 1981 Don’t Stop Believin’.
I am a pre-Glee fan of this power ballad. It has a solid intro that lifts the energy in any room and I strive to build that excitement and anticipation at very bartending shift or whisky tasting I do.
It’s a reminder to be humble. Everyone is on a journey (no pun intended) and it doesn't matter if you are from a humble neighbourhood or big city. Everyone is fighting their own battles.
"[On Journey's 1981 hit single Don't Stop Believin'] ...it's really the line "holding on to that feeling" that gets me because there’s an emotional attachment to the instruction to don't stop believing... to have faith even in uncertainty"
The Midnight train to anywhere is the leaving after giving 100% (hence being only able to catch the last train) for the possibility of something better. Yet trains don’t go just anywhere. They follow a track to fixed destinations. In any case, this is my reflection to have faith even in uncertainty. On the topic of giving 100%, the line that goes ‘for a smile they can share the night, it goes on and on and on’ tells me there is always some manner of compromise, grinding, and just working hard. But this may be necessary now even if there is no end in sight. Like we have to work to pay our bills.
And then finally the motivational line “dont stop believing, hold on to that feeling”; it's really the line ‘holding on to that feeling’ that gets me because there’s an emotional attachment to the instruction to don't stop believing. I am reminded to lead by example and where possible, show how things are done and not just say things.
Whisk(y) us away, Mr. Worldwide!
88B :You were a flight attendant before joining Suntory, that gives you full entitlement to call yourself Mr. Worldwide. You’ve travelled more than any of us, as such we’re going to have you give us your thoughts on which countries/places fit these titles:
Most Surprising – AP: Moscow - for some reason i thought it would look like the north pole with St Basil’s Catherdral
Best Food – AP: Japan - Ramen for days!
Best Bar Scene – AP: Singapore! but outside Singapore, Korea is doing so many fantastic things.
Would Go Back Any Day – AP: Milan
Most Overrated – AP: None - I loved every city I visited. There’s always something to learn/do/eat.
I’d be up at 4am (jet lagged), get my gear on, a spare jersey, map from the hotel and go.
88B: Along your travels, you seem to have a real penchant for going on early morning runs (#morningrun). Which country do you find most scenic to run at?
AP: San Francisco. I’d be up at 4am (jet lagged), get my gear on, a spare jersey, map from the hotel and go. I would have no distance or timing in mind, no data/wifi. We stayed in the Theater District and I’d run down the market street to Ferry Building (sometimes turn into Chinatown if I felt like I wanted to run slopes) at the piers and just follow the pier numbers all the way around to Pier 39 at Fisherman’s wharf. I’d keep going along the route, across the Golden Gate bridge and back to Pier 39. That’d would be about 22km. There used to be a Denny’s at the scenic Tram F stop and I’d have breakfast there before tramming back to the hotel.
San Francisco is the best place for a morning run - a heads up from an avid runner.
88B: What’s an incredibly memorable experience for you in-flight? And can you divulge if we really do need to put our phones on airplane mode?
AP: Some of my best airline friends were made on the shortest turnaround flights. But one of my favorite memories is being able to see passengers pleasantly surprised when we are able to anticipate a want or need. There was a time where we would check in with our passengers and even give them places to visit to any city in the world. I wrote a list of some sites and local eats and left my number in case this elderly couple from New Zealand needed any assistance in Singapore. I was very surprised when they wrote a thank you note on a post-it and gave it to me before we landed. It's also nice to be appreciated sometimes. Hahaha.
With regards to putting your phone to airplane mode, there is a risk of interference with some of the plane’s communication and navigation systems because our phones are constantly searching for radio waves.
Punggol, in the northeastern part of Singapore, where even your phone service forgets you're still in Singapore. (Image Source: Ostrich Trails)
88B: Having been all around the world, yet you’ve still chosen to call Singapore home, what about living in this country do you appreciate the most, and where in this Little Red Dot do you find yourself feeling most like a tourist or foreigner?
AP: First and foremost Singapore is where most of my family and friends are. My wife’s career is here and I hope to support her also by being physically by her side. I really do appreciate the transport system and that it we are open 24 hours. I feel most like a tourist at Punggol, even my telco provider changes.
I am very intrigued and amazed how universal emotion is and try to tell that story with the force of the brush stroke more than the colour on canvas.
A well-travelled soul, and yet home is where the heart is for Suntory's SEA Brand Ambassador, Andrew. His home bar (pictured) is a real source of envy!
88B: You’ve mentioned that in your home, you’ve got a place to paint with acrylic, as well as to play the guitar and piano, and a home bar to boot!
It sounds like a dream home for any of us – where does your inspiration come from and what’s your favorite subject to paint and song to belt out in the shower?
AP: It’s all in the same room but I do those activities one at a time haha. I am very intrigued and amazed how universal emotion is and try to tell that story with the force of the brush stroke more than the colour on canvas.
My heater is currently broke and there’s cold water every now and then so I don't shower that long at the moment but Uncle Kracker’s Follow Me is always a fun one. Your Man by Josh Turner as well.
88B: Your home bar (affectionately named Lim Bae – which combines “lim peh” which translates from the Chinese Hokkien dialect as “Your Father”, and “Bae” the millennial term for someone you’re fond of), doubles as a lab of sorts for you to practice your mixology and create new and unique cocktails with incredible stories, could you walk us through that process of creating a new cocktail?
AP: My inspiration comes from Art in its entirety. Could be music, history, geography, paintings, stories. For example, I have a cocktail called “Singer in a Smoky Room” based on Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin' lyrics.
The lyrics go:
“A Singer in a Smoky Room
the smell of wine and cheap perfume
for a smile they can share the night
it goes on and on and on and on”
The cocktail uses my favourite floral Japanese craft gin and elderflower in a sour cocktail structure with a red wine float - the smell of wine and cheap perfume. It is smoked with apple wood chips and served in a bell jar - the smoky room. Because the cocktail is smoked, it has a long finish that goes on and on and… you see where I'm going with this.
88B: Can you tell us the story of how you first got into whisky and cocktails to eventually starting your own dedicated home bar? That’s some commitment right there!
AP: I did my basics in wine with the airlines and when I left in 2014 to do my masters in psychology, I thought I needed a side income to mitigate student life once more. 2015 begins and with my ex-polytechnic mate, we started an online whisky retail selling none other than Suntory whisky. (I’ve come full circle!) We gained enough traction that year to open a whisky bar on the second floor of a boat quay shop house and had no choice but to use the alley entrance for public access.
"...we started an online whisky retail selling none other than Suntory whisky... I've come full circle!"
As it turns out, everyone loves speakeasies. We worked with William Grant and Sons to do whisky training led by the incredibly knowledgeable Matthew Fergusson-Stewart. I learned cocktails when my bartender called in sick and commercial cooking when my chef took a sick day.
My home bar started as my covid home office where I did all the R&D and virtual training. I am also the BA for Suntory and host a lot. I wanted to be as authentic as possible and be able to talk about the brand even at home.
88B: Self-expression seems to be a running theme with your hobbies and work – when it comes to cocktails and creating a story, what do you think makes a good backstory?
AP: 2 things:
1. Intention. Tell me why you made a cocktail in this manner. sharing that journey with me is good enough. There’s no right or wrong. For example, if you make a negroni with 25ml campari and vermouth, stir that down 20 times, add 35ml Roku gin and stir it mix another 12 times and tell me it’s because you didn't want the other two components to overpower the gin, I cannot tell you it’s not a Negroni because you didn’t use equal parts
2. Personal Experience. There’s nothing more authentic than to share something lived. You also don't have to memorize a script.
88B: If you could choose three ingredients and two bar tools to use for the rest of your life, what would they be?
AP: Whisky, bitters, sugar, cobbler shaker, bar spoon.
88B: Also, what’s the ingredient (non-alcoholic) you’ve surprisingly found most useful for cocktails?
88B: What’s a tip you have for us to unlocking the best bar experience? What should we be asking or telling our bartender?
AP: Getting to know the staff and letting them be a part of your evening and vice versa. Some people say the best drinks and the ones you have with friends. Let the experience enhance your drinks.
Ask your bartender why he made that drink that way, why she adds ice cubes one at a time whilst stirring. Ask them to name a time they really enjoyed a drink and what drink was that. Tell them Andrew says hi :)
Getting to know the staff and letting them be a part of your evening and vice versa. Some people say the best drinks and the ones you have with friends. Let the experience enhance your drinks.
88B: You’re a self-identified introvert, yet ironically you’re constantly in roles where you’re expected to be incredibly social.
How do you find yourself in such situations, and more importantly, why do you put yourself in such situations? What do you enjoy most about it?
AP: Being an introvert only means it takes more energy to be vocal. I’d like to be accessible by my industry peers and yes, they can text or call me but being present is always better. For my public speaking engagements like guided whisky pairing dinners, I like to ask questions during any presentation not only to get to know the audience but also to recharge while others are speaking.
I really like the authentic sharing of experiences and stories and being present when someone discovers a new tasting note in a whisky or is pleasantly surprised by a cocktail.
If more energy is what it takes, you can count on Andrew to deliver in spades.
88B: Many of us, like you, are introverts as well. What’s a tip you can give us on how to overcome that self-consciousness to go over and talk to that someone – a potential date, business prospect, customer – and what’s your best argument for why we should “grab our balls” and do it regardless?
AP: 1. Know what you are going to say. This takes practice. Pick 5 topics you are an expert on. the first 3 are Food, Travel, and Culture. These 3 topics are very interchangeable and you can flow in and out of these topics seamlessly and avoid that awkward silence.
Only grab balls if they are ice spheres you are putting into a drink.
2. Ask questions you have a follow up question/answer for. For example ‘would you rather visit Korea or Japan?’ and your follow up would be something like “i’d want to visit Japan because it’s Sakura season now and there are some places most tourists don't know about” that last part promotes curiosity and ensures the conversation continues but please actually know the answer.
3. For business - prepare and practice your elevator pitch. 90 seconds to get the right attention and be prepared to send out more information that same afternoon.
4. Only grab balls if they are ice spheres you are putting into a drink.
A Paris run.
88B: We simply can’t help ourselves from asking you some things about being an ambassador for one of the most prestigious beverage companies in the world.
Since its founding in 1923, this year marks the 100th year anniversary for Suntory’s flagship whisky brand, Yamazaki. Yamazaki was also recently crowned Drinks International’s Most Admired Whisky Brand for 2021.
In your opinion what is the “it” factor for Yamazaki and Suntory’s success? As a brand ambassador for such a prestigious brand, what’s your typical day like? What do you look forward to the most? And how do you strategise in helping to build on that 100-Year brand success story?
AP: The It Factor - Torii ShinJiro, the founder of Suntory was not just an adaptive businessman but also a visionary and trend setter. I think the philosophies he and the founding team had established has shaped the way the whiskies are made, balance and packaged, incorporating the spirit of Japan (no pun intended).
Andrew with Shinji Fukuyo, Suntory's Master Blender.
Typical Day starts with email coordination. The BA is a bridge between brand and bar most of the time. I schedule training, meetings, and guest shifts. I set aside two hours for reading and learning about the brand (there’s always more to learn) and market. If time permits and I have no training or cocktail to develop, I take an afternoon nap before I head out to the bars to check in on our partners.
I look forward to actually sharing about the brand. It’s not the technical stuff which I usually cover during training. It’s more of the lived experiences like my 12 day trip to Japan with Yamazaki, my trips to Penang and Seoul and the cocktail scene and how we managed pairings with the city’s local food.
We will be running various bartender programmes, events and special tastings this year. Once again, you will be one of the first to know when we are ready ;)
In Suntory's library of past expressions.
88B: What are some of the best perks of being an ambassador for Suntory?
AP: Meeting people with similar love for the brand and the spirits. Learning new skills and history of the brand.
As it is Suntory’s 100th Anniversary, the celebrations must be stacked to the brim – are there any plans we should be looking out for or special launches you’re able to divulge to us?
Not at this time but you’ll be one of the first to know once we are ready to share!
Hakushu, the forest distillery, remains underrated.
88B: Suntory has a huge library and history of all sorts of beverages, what’s the most interesting one you’ve tried thus far, and which brand do you think is the most underrated?
AP: Recently, the Hakushu Spanish Oak 2021. Hakushu is also very underrated.
Now, how do we get our shot at trying this unicorn?
88B: Having been all around to so many places, can you share with us a tip on how to best learn about a local culture or place we find ourselves at, if we’ve only got 24 hours there?
AP: Through their food and drinks.
By asking locals (hotel staff and bartenders usually speak English).
Trying to say thank you and then referring to google translate so they see what you are doing and follow.
A sight for sore eyes on a run around Amsterdam.
88B: Thank you Andrew!
It's been quite the walk through your life, for a good minute in your (track) shoes, from flight steward to going full circle and becoming a Brand Ambassador with one of the world's most esteemed spirits brand.
Your tips on unlocking a great time at the bar and even your adventures in your own home bar has got us buzzing to the tune of Journey's Don't Stop Believin'.
Follow Andrew on more of his adventures here: Instagram !
As if we really need to tell you where to find Suntory?
Images courtesy of Andrew Pang.
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