By Johanne McInnis
I have always admired people who work in the spirits industry. For those of us who stand in front of the tables at events it certainly looks glamorous doesn’t it? I mean, after all, here they are jet-setting all over the world, meeting people, discussing and sharing their knowledge, getting free meals and schmoozing with bigwigs! Well, not even close really. Albeit they do get to travel quite a bit, they mostly see the inside of many an airport and hotel room. They are away from their families for extended periods of time and they work long hours that include holidays and weekends. Not sounding so glamorous anymore is it? On average, brand ambassadors don’t last very long in these roles so when you come across someone like Tish Harcus from Beam Suntory you have to tell their story.
Ms. Harcus, or Tish as most of the international spirits community has come to know her, is the pentacle of brand ambassadors. She has been part of the industry in one form or another for almost 30 years and has been witness to many changes. She has championed and turned the Canadian Club Brand Centre in Windsor Ontario into a highly acclaimed whisky destination. It’s been dubbed Canada’s whisky palace. (You really need to get there!) Not only has she played an integral part of the breakthrough program “Women who Whisky” and has helped start chapters coast to coast, she is also one of the few Canadians to ever win the international Whisky Icons award, not once but twice, which to many is like the Oscars of the spirits world. Tish is actually from the Maritimes (another reason I love her personality so much), to be specific Cape Breton. In her youth, her father was transferred to Detroit Michigan for work but thanks to a stubborn mother who refused to move to the US, the family settled across the river in Windsor Ontario. When Tish was in her early twenties she began working for the University of Windsor. She would walk by the Canadian Club Brand Center and say to herself: “One day I’m going towork in that building”. She finally got the courage to walk in, presented her resume and literally was hired on the spot. That was 29 years ago. Over that span of time the spirits market has been quite a roller coaster ride but Tish has always remained passionate about Canadian Club. Canadian whisky is at the height of the largest boom in the 21st century and Tish is busier than ever. In 2016 the American launch of Canadian Club 100% rye skyrocketed the category as one of the best sellers on the market. Its success is attributed to her tenacity and passion.
On my last trip to Windsor, I stopped in unannounced to say a quick hello to Tish. In true maritime hospitality she greeted me with a warm hug. She immediately ushered me into her office, announced it was her birthday and then poured us each a lovely dram of Canadian Club 30 year old. I was dumbfounded but truly grateful as this is a very special and rare dram. As we sat in silence for a moment overlooking the Detroit River on that bright sunny day, I looked over at Tish who was also admiring the view. Leaning back in her big armchair she was beaming and truly looked content. “You know Jo”, she said as though she could read my mind, “To this day I still feel goose bumps when I walk into this beautiful place and I am thrilled to be Canadian Club’s Global Brand Ambassador”. When I asked her what’s next for Tish Harcus, she chuckled and leaned in: “Oh, I’m not ready for retirement just yet because I have something huge that I’m working on for my 30th anniversary here”. I pressed for more information but she kept that secret to herself. As an enthusiast and whisky writer, I’ve met hundreds of brand ambassadors but people like Tish Harcus are few and far between. It is truly why she has one of the best reputations worldwide. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Tish for all she does to advance the Canadian Whisky Category and I can’t wait to see what the Grand Dame has up her sleeve next.