Tara Soltow represents the energy and ambition of a new generation of liquor marketing.
By Stuart Thornton | Photo by Alexander Rubin Photography
When Tara Soltow sips on a French 75 cocktail, she thinks back to an experience in Jarnac, France.
Soltow is the San Francisco-based field marketing manager for liquor manufacturer Beam Suntory. The cocktail, in its classic form, is composed of cognac, champagne, lemon juice, and sugar; the year was 2015.
Soltow had to have one while in the small French city visiting the production facility for Beam Suntory’s Courvoisier.
Now, when she drinks the classic cocktail, she thinks back to Jarnac’s cobblestone streets, the old mansion she stayed in, and the Courvoisier production facility.
“I had such a personal and magical experience visiting Cognac,” Soltow says, referencing the French area where it’s produced. “There’s a charm in visiting the region.”
Part of the reason that Soltow decided to pursue a career in spirits is because she realized that many of life’s most memorable experiences are tied to moments that include food, drink or both. One element of making Beam Suntory’s products memorable is knowing how they are crafted, including heavyweight brands like Maker’s Mark, Jim Beam and Sauza.
Soltow calls visiting the Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark distilleries an eye-opening experience. “Before joining Beam, I am not sure I knew how products were distilled,” she says.
Soltow’s love of the whiskies deepened as she traveled along the storied path of Kentucky distilleries.
“My first trip to the Bourbon Trail gave me the chance to peek behind the curtain: Watch the yeast bubbling in the fermentation tanks, sip white dog [unaged whiskey] right off the still, roll a barrel off a truck, and pull the whiskey right off the barrel with a thief [a whiskey extraction tool],” she says. “That’s when your understanding of the process really clicks. And those intimate experiences give you a true appreciation for the process: The people, the materials, the environment, and in the case of many spirits, the years that go into the bottle.”
She aims to keep the education going, visiting each of Beam Suntory’s production facilities, which is an ambitious plan, but that keeps with her style.
“My goal is to get to all of them,” Soltow says.
In addition to learning more and passing on that information, she says that a major component of her job is taking national branding initiatives and translating them into something that will resonate locally. This means really knowing the immediate community, which in her case is the Bay Area. “My feeling is that it’s crucial to keep a pulse on what’s happening at a local level—the trends, conversations, consumer demands, competitive activities and local happenings—even down to the neighborhood,” Soltow says. “That could include keeping tabs on how the sports teams are playing or what special events are happening. Keeping a pulse on all of these intricacies allows us to really customize and drive impactful marketing in a relevant way.”
It’s also necessary to introduce the gatekeepers of the spirits industry (i.e. bartenders) to Beam Suntory’s fine liquors whether doing tastings or special events. “Education is the social currency,” Soltow says.
But she notes that there is something wholly more important than the backstory of how liquors are produced. “Tasting is believing,” Soltow says. “Trying the products is so important.”
More at beamsuntory.com.