This is Claire Freel, from Toronto.
Claire is 30 years old and is originally from a very small town called Fenwick in the Niagara region of Ontario. Claire left her small town when she was 16 years old. She moved to Copenhagen for a year for a student exchange program. From there on, travelling has been a very core part of her life and she spent the following decade moving countries and cities and exploring the world. She now lives in Toronto and she’s a portfolio consultant for Corby and represents their Canadian, Irish and Scotch whiskies.
Claire started in hospitality while she was pursuing a career in arts. She did an advanced diploma in theater arts and was acting and travelling around with that for a while. She moved to Tasmania when she was 22 and eventually found herself working at a whiskey distillery. Coming from a wine region, talking about products and telling the stories behind came naturally for her. However, she actually hated the taste of whiskey and thought it was like drinking petrol. Being very determined, she trained herself to learn how to like it, and eventually fell in love with the category. From there on, she knew that she wanted to be a whiskey ambassador one day. But she still had much to experience to gain in the hospitality industry before that.
Claire has worked in every type of bars you can think of: local artisanal breweries, distilleries, rowdy Irish pubs slinging beers and porn star martinis, Michelin star molecular mixology, high volume bartending, small mom and pops, you name it, she tried it. Eventually, she moved back to Toronto to do a post graduate diploma in Advanced Beverage and Wine Business Management. This was a very rich experience that turned out to be an important pivot in her career. Through her program, she won a cocktail competition that drew a lot of media attention to her. It made a lot of introductions for her, she got to meet important people in our industry such as Dave Mitton and Robin Goodfellow, and overall it really launched her career.
Like we said earlier, Claire knew that she wanted to be a whiskey ambassador from her very first days working at a whiskey distillery. She took the time to explore all the facets of hospitality before, and when the time came, she set up a google alert and started the hunt for a brand ambassador role. And that’s how she got the job with Corby and Pernod Ricard. She officially started with them only a few weeks before covid hit, so it’s been quite a challenge to adapt to her new role all the while adapting to the new realities of brand ambassador roles in general during a global pandemic. Needless to say, she did it with brio and is very happy to be part of such a talented team.
Overall, Claire’s journey into hospitality is a fascinating and atypical one. It is punctuated by her many travels and thirst for knowledge and challenge. Doing the interview with her, we felt like we literally could have spent the entire day listening to her many stories and adventures. We hope that learning about her journey will inspire you in turn and must admit that we really look forward to meeting her again, hopefully around a dram or two.
A little bit more about Claire Freel...
Fun fact about her: She has a ruptured taste bud from tasting too much wine in France.
One thing she hasn’t done yet on her life to-do list: Live in Scotland. She has been on this whiskey journey for a while now and someday she would love to move to Scotland and live in the highlands, where it all began.
What she likes most about whiskey: The stories, the romanticism, the unassuming nature of the liquid and the people.
The biggest professional challenge she had to overcome: Learning the acronyms of the corporate world.
Her advice for people that want to become brand ambassadors: If you think you’re ready, you’re not. It’s just one of these jobs that you never really know what you’re gonna do until you get the job. So be ready to be more flexible than you ever thought you needed to be. Bar skills are important, but also pull out those books, read and learn about the history. If you love a category, learn about the production methods and styles, the different regions, the different rules, etc. Having all of that coming in takes all of that extra work out. And go on as many distillery tours as possible.