Born in Malaysia, Samuel Ng recalls his first sip of alcohol being a can of beer his uncle let him try during a family holiday in Lumut, Perak. “I’m fairly sure my mother took it away after I drank half of the can in double quick time, but even then it seemed my passion had been set before me,” he cheekily shares.
As the face of Monkey Shoulder, Samuel Ng is responsible for bringing the brand’s story and mischievous attitude to life across Southeast Asia. Specifically in Malaysia – a mature single malt market where malts are fast growing ahead of blended whiskies, and a younger consumer base continues to drive demand, Samuel Ng plays a pivotal role in cultivating advocacy and spreading Monkey Shoulder’s ‘made for mixing’ ethos among consumers and the bar community to support the brand’s continued growth in the region.
Which he’s so far managed to do through a number of activities, despite the pandemic. Namely hosting a virtual cocktail session, where he shared recipes for a couple of his favourite Monkey Shoulder cocktails – one of which only includes mixing the whisky with A&W rootbeer, leading to a surprisingly refreshing drink. And not forgetting the exciting After-Work Drinks but #MakeItMonkey session, which featured renowned rapper, Harry Mack.
Tell us a bit more about your journey into becoming the ambassador for Monkey Shoulder.
I was originally born in Malaysia, and later lived and grew up in Melbourne, Australia. When I was younger I’d actually always wanted to live life on the edge and be a fighter pilot, but when I got my first pair of glasses at age 10 and learned you needed 20/20 vision to fly fighter jets, my dream quickly dissipated unfortunately!
Then I started my journey in the realm of hospitality as a barista and dishwasher, eventually becoming a fine dining chef for a number of years, before turning to bartending.
I worked at a number of excellent drinking establishments, finally culminating with my time as the GM of the internationally acclaimed Melbourne cocktail bar, The Black Pearl. My time there was a turning point in my career, and together with the team there we achieved an incredible number of awards, both locally and internationally. I later ended up working for a craft Australian spirit, which eventually led to me Singapore a few years back, and I am now very happy to be part of the fantastic Monkey Shoulder global family.
My current role came about after I was contacted by my now predecessor, Jay Gray, for a catch up. Jay explained he was in the process of starting his own project and would soon need a successor for Monkey Shoulder. He was a fantastic steward for the brand and I was well aware of his amazing work across the region. I ended up taking a meeting with some of the Monkey Shoulder team and instantly felt the positive energy, and jumped at the opportunity to work with such a vibrant company.
What are some of the highlights of working with a brand like Monkey Shoulder?
One of my favourite things about being the brand ambassador is having the opportunity to showcase the endless possibilities and array of experiences that can be created around the spirit. I enjoy being able to take people on a journey, breaking them out of their traditional mentalities and intriguing them into exploring something new.
Also as a bartender, I love playing (or should I say monkeying) around and experimenting with new cocktail mixes and unexpected flavour combinations. The brand’s playful persona as well as its commitment to the unconventional has always been something I admire – so you can imagine just how excited I was, and still am, to have been appointed their ambassador for the Southeast Asian region!
Talk us through a typical work day of yours.
During the course of any particular day, I intersperse catching up with bartenders and industry friends about how best to continue navigating the current state of play in the F&B industry, but also what fun things we can do together from a brand perspective and events to be had to surprise and delight consumers.
Pre-COVID, I would have typically been travelling to our various Southeast Asian markets, like Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines and Indonesia to develop fun, engaging programmes for consumers and the bartending community. But, as we continue to navigate our new normal we’ve pivoted to keeping in touch via virtual events instead, but always with a Monkey Shoulder twist of course!
Then in Singapore where I’m based, I go out and enjoy a cocktail or two and get to see our Monkey Shoulder partner bars in full swing and stay social. It’s an extremely interesting life that keeps me on my toes, that’s for sure!
What’s something you discovered about the brand after working with the team?
One of the great things that I’ve discovered is the fantastic global support from the ambassador team at large. It has been extremely encouraging to receive mentoring, guidance and feedback from colleagues around the world, all striving to achieve the same thing at the highest level across many different circumstances. It’s truly a team effort to bring the cheeky and playful Monkey Shoulder brand to life across our different markets!
What are your views on whisky; and how do you normally take it?
Whisky is great! A fascinating, and increasingly ever more fun and engaging category to work in and to enjoy on a personal level!
These days, I drink Monkey Shoulder most often in cocktails; some of which I adapted my recipe from the classics. While my version may not be considered the most traditional, my palette seems to like the twist.
If I’m keeping things simple, a highball always works, but I am also extremely partial to a Monkey Rootbeer, which is fun, easy to make – mix up Monkey and A&W root beer over ice – it tastes great and is a blast from my past. I’m pretty sure I was the first to create the sweet concoction, a fun nod to my childhood in Malaysia, which is where I first became a huge fan of A&W root beer.
What can fans of Monkey Shoulder look forward to this year?
I can’t share much yet, but we do have some interesting initiatives coming up and I hope I’ll be able to travel across the border sometime next year to meet everyone in person (and indulge in some amazing local food).
Meanwhile, we have the After-Work Drinks but #makeitmonkey! campaign. We’re encouraging consumers to amp up the fun factor and ring in the evenings with happy hour, Monkey style.
We’re encouraging the working crowd to mix up happy hour as we know it and unwind post-6pm with our new Monkey Shoulder: After-Work Drinks digital party guide. The pack contains all the essentials for an unmissable get-together, including recipes for nine #MadeforMixing cocktails, tips and tricks on hosting your own games night, card games aplenty, and the Monkey Shoulder Mixcloud playlists with infectious beats to amplify your evening. It’s got everything you need to kick back, relax, and let your hair down.