James Bowers, the national brand ambassador for The Macallan, was introduced to scotch at a very young age and immediately associated the spirit with what it means to be, as he likes to put it, a “classic man.”
A service industry veteran since the age of 15, Bowers has held numerous positions, from dishwasher to busboy to eventually head bartender. Bowers, who hails from Naperville, Illinois (which is about 45 minutes outside of Chicago), moved to Los Angeles some 13 years ago and made his way up the industry ranks, holding positions such as head bartender at Soho House before becoming brand ambassador for Bacardí Rum and Grand Marnier. In July 2018, Bowers became brand ambassador at Edrington—in particular, for The Macallan.
Do you remember your introduction to scotch?
My mom’s boyfriend when I was a little kid—we called him Big Chris—was an ex-hockey player. I thought he was super cool. Big Chris would smoke cigarettes and drink scotch, and would always tell me what he was drinking. At the time, I had no clue that it was scotch, but later in life I realized he was drinking Chivas and Johnnie Walker. Really, my first connection with scotch and the classic man really ingrained something in me.
What drew you to working in the spirits industry?
I’ve worked in the service industry ever since I was 15. I started as a dishwasher and busboy and moved to host and server, but I always had a fascination with the bartenders; especially as a young guy, because they always seemed to get all the girls and they commanded the room. I always had that innate performer in me that wanted to have that command, so I started to study and shadow the bartenders. I would see what kind of cocktails they were making, and I’d learn how to do them. And slowly, I worked my way up to bartending and eventually became the head bartender, running Soho House in West Hollywood.
What’s your take on the terms scotch versus whisky?
For instance, I’ll always call it bourbon and I won’t call it whisky. I always call it rye and not whisky. And I always call it scotch. For me, and the background that I have, it’s easier to call things by those names because whisky is the umbrella that they all fall under. There needs to be a differentiation because they are completely different.
What separates The Macallan from other scotches?
We have some of the smallest copper pot stills in the industry that allows for the maximum interaction between spirit and copper, which gives it a whole different mouthfeel and flavor component. About 20 percent of the flavor comes from that copper. The fact that we spend more time, resources, and money on our cask management system shows our commitment. We’re not here to make the most whisky; we’re here to make the best whisky.
What’s your take on whisky cocktails; in particular, a Macallan cocktail?
With The Macallan 12 Double Cask, I understand from a realistic standpoint that many bars that just don’t have the capability for their price point or target audience to do a Macallan 12 Double Barrel cocktail. But the spirit itself plays amazingly well with cocktails. It stands up and shines and doesn’t overpower the way that certain scotches can in cocktails. It really plays nicely in the sandbox. There are those bars that do have the customer or clientele that can afford a slightly higher-priced cocktail. In those circumstances, Macallan should be as big a player as any other brand.
What’s a great at-home cocktail that you can make with The Macallan?
My favorite scotch cocktail is scotch neat, but what I drink most often is a play on The Boulevardier utilizing Double Cask. I do one-and-a-half Double Cask and three quarters of sweet vermouth and Campari. This way, the scotch shines through.
You’re new at The Macallan, but what are you most looking forward to?
We’re owned by a trust, which allows us so much freedom to give back to the community and not be beholden to a board of stockholders. With Macallan, I really see us continuing on with the track that we’ve been on. We’ve just opened a new distillery, so we’re going to be able to produce more products—more experimental products, more non-age statement products. I think those is where the true artistry of blending scotch will shine.