Jacob Briars describes himself as “born to teach.”
This makes perfect sense for someone once known as “the vodka professor,” a nickname earned during his long-running gig as brand ambassador for 42Below vodka.
Now, as head of training and education for Bacardi, Briars teaches the teachers, working with individual brand ambassadors and bartenders. He’s also a frequent presenter at cocktail conferences and other venues.
“Jacob has set a new standard for what it means to be knowledgeable in our industry,” says Charlotte Voisey, portfolio ambassador for William Grant & Sons USA. “While Jacob works harder and more conscientiously than anyone I know, he also ensures joviality and humor in every presentation, idea and approach he takes.”
Briars spent his early career in New Zealand, first taking on weekend bartending shifts while working as a lawyer, and later managing restaurants.
“I’ve been lucky enough to do some varied things in my lifetime,” Briars says. But always, he says, the cocktail world “had a much bigger hold on me than anything else.”
Eventually, he left bartending behind to join 42Below, a Bacardi-owned brand.
The 42Below job “took me to every corner of the planet,” he says. “Nobody comes looking for vodka from New Zealand, so if you wanted to sell it, you needed to get out on the road and evangelize.”
Later, Briars moved to San Francisco to work with Leblon Cachaça. He now resides in New York, where he’s an ambassador for the entire Bacardi portfolio.
Residency for Briars is just a technicality, as he spends an estimated 50 percent of his time on the road.
“This is one of the first truly globalized industries, and that’s an exciting thing,” Briars says. “Bartending is one of the few skills where you can jump on a plane in New York and come up in New Zealand or Edinburgh or Denmark and do the job as well as a local can.”
As a world traveler, he’s witnessed the spread of mixology across the globe.
“Now, there are good cocktail bars popping up in Chengdu, Manila, all across Asia,” he says. “Areas deep within the U.S. that haven’t had a decent cocktail bar in 100 years—now they have not just one or two or three. There’s a demand for knowledge. The cocktail world is growing so rapidly, even more than it was five years ago.”
In addition to spreading the cocktail gospel across geographic boundaries, Briars is also passing traditions across time by educating the trendsetters of the future.
“Today’s generation of bartenders will decide how people regard bartenders over the next 20 years,” he says. “Cocktails are something we are lucky to have. We need to work to protect them.”
His enthusiasm for the industry is apparent, and contagious.
For his encyclopedic knowledge about cocktails and the bar industry, and his generosity and eloquence in sharing that knowledge with others, Wine Enthusiast names Jacob Briars as its 2013 Brand Ambassador/Mixologist of the Year.