Behind the Bar: Trevor Schneider, US Reyka Vodka Ambassador

by Alexander Frane on Apr 19, 2017 in Culture

Trevor Schneider, AKA Cocktail Ninja, is the US brand ambassador for Reyka Vodka, an Icelandic vodka made with arctic spring water and filtered through lava rocks. The entire production is powered by geothermal energy, but we’re pretty sure it could easily be powered by Trevor’s boundless energy; years in both the bar industry and entertainment business, plus his own natural gregariousness and enthusiasm have made Trevor the consummate brand ambassador. We sat down to talk with him about what his job entails, what he loves about it, and what it’s like to travel 160,000 miles in a year.

Drink Portland (DP): Hey Trevor, so, tell us, what exactly does a brand ambassador do?
Trevor Schneider (TS): So that’s a good question, right, the first way I’ll respond is that it’s not the same for everybody. But for my responsibilities with the national brand, I look after four major audiences: First off, you: the press and media. I do interviews, televisions appearances, social media, all of that.

The second audience, which is very dear to my heart, is the trade, the bartenders, where my past resides. I work educating them on Iceland, Reyka, and vodka at a spirit category. The third one is the general consumer, the person who makes cocktails at home but who doesn’t work in the industry, who has a normal job—basically everybody else.
The last one is internal: Our distribution, our sales team, the company. I do everything for all four of those audiences, from education to entertainment and general awareness, to being the point person answering questions about Iceland and Reyka, the industry, and vodka.

DP: So, you also an educator on Iceland itself?
TS: By no means am I fully versed, but through my experience with William Grant & Sons I have a fair amount of knowledge of Iceland, the people, and the culture, what with Reyka being an Icelandic brand.

DP: Tell us a bit about how you got started.
TS: Earning this position was me going through the trials and tribulations of the industry in New York City. I was pursuing a career in entertainment when I moved to New York eleven years ago. When you do that, you find a job at night, often hospitality. It’s a relationship based business, and since I worked in many different places—dives and college bars, cocktail lounges and sports bars—I started meeting all sorts of people. I have a “larger than life” personality, and I started getting asked to lead industry events and also to travel. My first travelling events were at Tales of the Cocktail for some brands. Later, I was asked to lead an afterparty for the Cannes Film Festival, and I did that for two years.
Doing that put me in a different category of bartenders. There are great bartenders who work the job like it’s a 9-5 (even when it’s not those hours) and they have other things, like families and passions. Then there are other bartenders who pursue these “hybrid” positions, like representing a brand. I was doing all my ambassador duties before I was even an ambassador; I was educating and entertaining and all that while bartending.
I’d been pursuing making this into a full career for a couple of years, and I was approached by a couple of vodka brands, but I couldn’t dedicate myself to any of them until Reyka and William Grant & Sons, because they offered something different. I had a friend who told me about it, and knew I had been looking for that kind of position. I submitted my resume, went through a vigorous interview position, and landed the job.
DP: What makes you uniquely skilled for this job?
TS: Well, my industry skills, having worked at so many different types of bars. There’s a type of person who goes to a sports bar, or a cocktail bar, and I’m being very general here, but you get used to a loosely specific type of clientele. I worked at all different types, so I got to work with and meet people of all different social classes and backgrounds, which was great practice to be an ambassador in a country with so many different types of people and culture. That filled over a decade of those different environments; it gave me a well versed understanding even before I was an ambassador.
And my entertainment skills: my dad was a freelance DJ and MC, and when I wasn’t entertaining, I was watching him do it. I was working in entertainment, and then I moved behind the bar, which was essentially my stage every night. I walk into a place with a lot of people and I’m comfortable—that’s my home. I love to meet people, I love to learn people’s stories, bring them together, entertain them, make them laugh, and then continue on this path of life.
Oh, and I love to travel. If you don't love to travel it makes this part of the job much harder, it’s an essential part of it. There are more talented people that work in the service industry but that just don’t enjoy travelling.
Then there are those in the industry that… just because you’re a fantastic bartender doesn’t mean you’ll be a fantastic brand ambassador. There’s administration that’s required for everything: budgeting money, monthly reporting, expense reporting, and just being in a corporate environment….there are a lot of people in the ambassador world who just aren’t capable, or interested, in partying to the wee hours of the morning with bartenders, and then waking up the next morning and going to a salesforce meeting, or getting on a conference call.
DP: So what does a usual day in the life of a Reyka brand ambassador look like, exactly?
TS: One of the things I do when I wake up is I try and look after myself. I set my mind for the day, which is going to be sporadic. I have a glass of water, maybe a multivitamin, then I ease into my day with social media. I need to take care of my audience, predominantly facebook and instagram.

Then I think of my calendar: What am I most responsible for today? Do I need to book hotels, flights? I check my email, and respond to recipes requests, advice on accounts, and all that. Then it usually goes into some level of exercise: push ups, sit ups, or I go to the gym. I want to constantly be recharging myself. My job is more mentally challenging than physically challenging. My mind is sporadic, things pop up on the calendar and off the calendar. I realized that keeping my mental positivity up is directly related to exercise and taking care of myself.
Today I’m going down to the OC to visit a lot of bars, maybe eight, and educate them, thank the ones carrying Reyka. Then I’m heading back to LA tonight, might visit some bartenders I know or accounts we have. Normally, I’m getting on a plane and heading to a place to give a training, or lead an event. My days are all very different, which is great for me
DP: You do a lot of traveling. Give us a quick rundown of where you’ve been in the last few months?
TS: Oh wow. I started the year off on a seventeen day tour. It started in Iceland, then went to Phoenix, San Antonio, Tahoe, Sacramento, LA, San Diego, Portland, Chicago... I’ve been to Ft Lauderdale, Tampa, St Pete, and couple other places... Vegas, Atlantic City, Aspen, Denver… there are some other spots.
DP: What’s your favorite part of your job?
TS: That’s a tough one. It changes, but if I had to answer it, I would say simply the interaction with people. It’s a dream job, and there’s a lot to enjoy, but meeting people and sharing their stories is my favorite part.
DP: What is your favorite place to visit?
TS: The one where I don’t have to do a lot of work, and there’s water close to me [laughs]. If I have to say one… I’m currently living in New York, so one with nice weather. Any of the Florida ones. Or California. LA, San Diego, Venice Beach where I’m staying currently and considering moving there. I mean, New York as well, I don’t actually spend much time there.
DP: Where did the name Cocktail Ninja come from?
TS: It was a combination of Tom Cruise from Cocktail and Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai. The name was given to me by my coworkers based on the way that I bartended, like a ninja,
DP: What makes Reyka special, especially among all the other vodkas?
TS: First and foremost, when I was in school, I enjoyed science. Reyka has a lot of science components. Iceland being based where it’s located, how it was created, with arctic water and volcanic filtration and geothermal power. But the other big thing is that it's a family run business, and run very differently than publicly traded companies. They’ve been distilling for 100 years, and they take pride in everything they make. That’s something I value, and that common ground appealed to me. Plus, it’s just a high end-spirit that’s exceptional in so many ways.
DP: And how do you best like to drink it?
TS: One of the ways I really enjoy it is in a martini, a 5 to 1 martini with a dash of orange bitters and an orange peel. Or I just drink it neat.
Follow Trevor Schneider on Instagram at @CocktailNinja.
Photo via Curich Weiss

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