David Beckham's name is synonymous with many things. Football, or soccer as it is known on this side of the pond, is, of course, one of them. High style, as demonstrated by his frequent ranking as one of the world's best dressed celebrities, is another. And, underwear, as evidenced by his ubiquitous and much commented upon line for H&M, is yet another. But whisky? Not so much. That is until now.
With his career as a professional footballer behind him, Beckham clearly has no intention of fading into the shadows of his vaunted career on the pitch. Hence the reason I found myself at an intimate, private cocktail party last week in West Hollywood where Beckham, along with his longtime business partner Simon Fuller, celebrated the U.S. debut of Haig Club, the new single grain Scotch whisky they developed in partnership with Scotland's House of Haig-- a venerable brand that traces its whisky producing roots back to the seventeenth century. Bold and unexpected though the move may be, the curiosity of his choice to embark on this new journey as a whisky entrepreneur at this point in his career is something that Beckham readily acknowledges.
"I've never been a big drinker in general," Beckham, nattily dressed in a tailored blue suit, offered with a flash of his legendary smile as we sat down for a chat about his latest venture. "Obviously as an athlete and as a kid I was brought up to really be dedicated and to really be focused on what I needed to do to make me a professional player. So I never really drank throughout my career. Obviously I had certain brands come to me and say we'd like you to endorse our product but I never felt it was the right thing to do."
"But when I was coming to the end of my career and Diageo came to me... I was honest. I said 'I've never been a whisky drinker,' and I admitted that I never knew much about whisky before I got involved [with Haig Club]. But the fact that single grain whisky is relatively untouched by the whisky world and that the versatility of it means that it can be enjoyed in numerous ways interested me."
So interested was he in fact that, rather than simply endorsing Haig Club, Beckham decided that he wanted to form a partnership with the brand. With the stakes higher and his interest piqued, the iconic athlete turned spirits entrepreneur threw himself into the process of learning everything about whisky, touring Scotland and sampling the amber-colored elixir for more than two years with a small team of whisky aficionados.
"I am involved in every step. I didn't just say 'go take my name,'" Beckham says firmly to indicate his investment in learning about the category.
From working on the flavor profiles with the Master Distiller to selecting the elegant blue breakout bottle design, a nod to the blue hued whisky nosing glasses blenders use to assess a whisky on its nose and flavor rather than its color, Beckham has been engaged in every phase of the roll out of Haig Club, right down to personally touring the world to launch the brand with the full force of brand Beckham in tow. He even ran the final product by his equally famous and fashionable wife, Victoria Beckham, personally making a range of Haig Club cocktails for her to sample and approve. Though his wife was also not much of a whisky drinker until recently, she is now, according to David, an unabashed fan. So much so that pre-launch she apparently rang him up during his daily school run with the Beckham brood to request several bottles (presumably to share with friends). Converting his wife, who has also never been much of an imbiber of spirits of any kind, validated for Beckham that Haig Club was every bit as "accessible" as his instincts had suggested.
"Like I said, I've only become a real whisky drinker over the last 2 or 2 ½ years," Beckham says clearly amused by the recollection. " And I think that's a great thing because when you get to a certain age you start to value and enjoy things more and you want to learn about things more and I think that's what's been great about me becoming a whisky drinker now. It's the fact that I can really learn about this and really find out what's great and what's not great or what I love and that's what I've enjoyed most about this process."
Given that Haig Club is also an upscale brand, I asked Beckham what defined this new whisky as a luxury item. "I think luxury is the way we've approached Haig Club and the thought that's gone into every step of the process -- from the great liquid to the great packaging to the bottle and the cap," he explained. "It's not just about the liquid but the packaging as well. It's fresh and there's the history of the Haig family inside the bottle and the bottle itself is very striking and that, to me, exudes luxury. People see it and they want to taste it, they want to touch it. That is just the first reaction they have to it. People want to drink it because it's a great bottle and then when they taste the liquid they're sold."
Speaking of being sold, as our conversation came to a close, I couldn't resist cheekily querying the sports star about how he personally liked to enjoy Haig Club in hopes that he would he tell me how to 'order it like Beckham'.
"I personally order it neat," he responded with a laugh. "But the Clubman is something that is very easy to make. It's sparkling apple juice with a few drops of the bitters, a slice of ginger and obviously Haig Club. It's a very simple so if I wasn't drinking Haig Club neat, I'd go into a bar say 'Can I have a Clubman?'
Signature Haig Club cocktails have been created by 2012 "Tales of the Cocktail" Bartender of the Year winner, Joaquín Simó, of New York's Pouring Ribbons, Robert Ferrara of Miami's newest hotspot, The Rum Line at the Loew's Miami Beach Hotel, and Jason Bran of West Hollywood's' popular The Roger Room, among others.
Find out more about Haig Club at www.haigclub.com.
1.5 oz. Haig Club™
1 oz. Sparkling Apple Soda
6 dashes Ginger Bitters
Build over hand-cracked ice in either a highball or tumbler, garnished with a long slice of root ginger.
For more Haig Club recipes, click here.