Sailor Jerry Rum might evoke visions of native girls beckoning on Hawaiian beaches and deeply tanned sailors at Fleet Week, but the day I talk spiced rum with Sailor Jerry brand ambassador Daniel “Gravy” Thomas, the view outside my office window, Memphis is frozen under an inch of ice and snow. Yet I gamely whip up a Sailor Jerry Hot Chocolate to sip during our conversation.
Thomas, a Philadelphia native, lives what he likes to refer to as a “360 roll” working for Sailor Jerry. He’s a natural evangelist for the brand — like the spiced rum’s namesake, Norman “Sailor Jerry” Collins, he’s an enthusiast of hard work, good times, tattoo art, music, and the do-it-yourself ethos. This week, he’s celebrating what would’ve been Collins’ 117th birthday; the American icon was born on January 14, 1911.
What exactly does being a brand ambassador entail?
You can find me in the morning at the local distributor, speaking to a sales team and telling them about Sailor Jerry working with Iggy Pop, or explaining what a shave-and-a-haircut pop-up is, or talking about an upcoming motorcycle event.
I’ve brought in a tattoo artist to a conference room, and asked, ‘Does anyone want to volunteer?’ They’re the ones selling the brand, so I want them to understand the ethos of it. Do they know what the brand is up to and where we’re going? Do they know that we hit a million cases last year? I give them the 101 on Sailor Jerry: Why we are a spiced rum, why we’re 92 proof. I break it down so they can be well-equipped when they talk to the bartenders.
Then I might run over to a news station and do a drink segment. Later, I’ll go to the local bartenders’ guild and talk to the bartenders who are movers and shakers in the community. We make sure that waitstaff know what the hell they’re saying. We’re not that pirate, we’re not that sea monster — we’re the O.G. Then I might host a party — maybe something with a band or a DJ. The next morning, I get up and do the admin work — all the recaps and expense reports.
It sounds more like a way of life than a career.
Yes! It’s working with tattoo artists and musicians who love that spirit of “I’m going to live life my way; I’m gonna get all in with what I do.” I come from that generation of hustle, when people were out there street-teaming it. There was no social media back then. I got my start because I was skateboarding down the street and walked into GYRO [Worldwide, a Philly-based advertising agency that became Quaker City Mercantile, the creative team behind Hendrick’s Gin and Narragansett Beer, as well as Sailor Jerry Rum] to visit a friend. Someone said, “Yo, I like your tattoos. What do you do?” Next thing you know, I was doing events.
How did last year’s hurricanes affect your rum production?
Our rums are sourced from Puerto Rico, and we’re good; our supply is steadfast. It’s blended stateside in Edison, New Jersey. We’re very proud to be employing American workers.
What’s your preferred way to drink spiced rum?
I’ve got my low-brow way and my sorta high-brow way. I like a taste that’s a little sweet and a little sour, so I’ll do a shot of Sailor Jerry with a pickleback. I also really enjoy a Sailor Jerry ginger daiquiri that’s garnished with candied ginger. Jerry loves ginger; it’s full of vibrant Caribbean spices that go extremely well with it. It’s not that old-school rum and cola flavor that reminds people of what their parents’ parents drank. This has the tasting notes of a true brown spirit, comparable to a whisky or a scotch.
It’s 25 degrees in Memphis; what about drinking spiced rum in wintertime?
It’s perfect for hot toddies or hot chocolate. Or a Negroni, a Manhattan, or an Old Fashioned. You can use it like any good brown liquor.