It’s 10:30 in the morning, and it’s just as hot as Scott Ellis said it would be.
We’re zipping around The City in his 2007 Chrysler PT Cruiser sans the air conditioning on an unusually sweltering day where the roads look as if they’re steaming and a Caipirinha cocktail never sounded better.
“What’s the point of me spending 300 bucks to fix my A/C, when it’s just gonna get cold again? That’s the San Francisco way,” Ellis said, lugging both of his totes of booze toward the storefront as they nipped at his heels.
We’re 15 minutes late, but just in time. We’ve arrived at Plumpjack wines in Noe Valley, where Ellis has stepped through the door just as a different liquor rep was putting a cork in his presentation. Ellis has a few new small-brand bottles of bitters, gins, vodkas and Tempus Fugit’s recreation of 19th-century Creme de Noyaux to show the trio of drink connoisseurs working behind the counter.
The workers’ eyes light up at the sound of “Tempus Fugit.”
“I said the magic word, didn’t I,” Ellis said as he poured the bitter almond-and-apricot liqueur into three small tulip glasses.
Their noses reached into the glasses of the bright red liqueur colored by the cochineal insect, a practice Tempus Fugit resurrected from the original recipe. They sipped, chatted and the three workers agreed on taking in most of the product Ellis came to show, as he rushed to place a live order on his relic of a Dell laptop before it ran out of battery.
For Ellis, the love and fascination for spirits began at 12, when he collected bottles of Gran Marnier from his parents and would line them on the windowsill in his bedroom. For most of his adult life, Ellis was a journeyman of a barkeep, moving from Brighton, England, to the U.S., working at anything from sports bars and dive bars to fine-dining restaurants where he’d pour beers and mix Manhattans and vodka martinis for thirsty guests. There was none of the fancy, ornate craft that bartenders are doing today. But since he became the spirits specialist for Wine Warehouse nine months ago, he’s taken on the role of rooting for the little guy and representing the small brands that are producing good juice all across the Bay Area and the country. Ellis has traded in the late nights and sleeping in past noon for early mornings of sending out emails and rushed afternoons of introducing bars to new products.
“People don’t need to be drinking Jack Daniels and Grey Goose anymore, and selling the major brands doesn’t make me want to get out of bed in the morning. There are stories behind these brands — none that you can get through a glossy magazine ad,” Ellis said.
And Ellis isn’t just a salesperson: he’s a believer.
“I’m out there preaching the word, and as crazy as it sounds, I’m trying to make people’s lives better by giving them something better to drink.”
Our second stop is at Save-More liquor store on Divisadero Street, where the Palestinian owner is stocking his whiskey shelves. The Four Roses barrel program is a hot commodity. American whiskey is being consumed at a rate producers can’t keep up with. Supplies of white oak used to char and age bourbon are running low.
Ellis thinks drinkers will shift toward aged rum. But in the meantime, he’s working on allocating barrels of bourbon to storefronts and bars.
“That’ll take the pain from your heart, ay?,” Ellis said as the owner exhaled from the sip of firewater.
“Come back this afternoon, and I’ll tell you which barrel I want,” the owner said.
Ellis turned to me and suggested we get something to eat before we sipped our way through the afternoon. We’re off to Tommy’s in the Richmond for some chili verde, and to see longtime client and tequila guru Julio Bermejo, over a margarita. Ellis wants to settle a concern and to seek some advice on a future product.
Part two of a day in the life of a liquor rep will continue next week.