The IWSC Spirits Communicator of the Year is sponsored by Chivas Brothers.
Cocktail bartender Ryan Chetiyawardana, aka Mr Lyan, has been involved in some of the world’s best bars for over 15 years. Twice crowned International Bartender of the Year at Tales of the Cocktail, his bar Dandelyan was also named World’s Best Bar at the World’s 50 Best Bars awards in 2018.
What first attracted you to the spirits industry?
I was always in awe of the stories and mystique that surrounded spirits. My parents weren't big drinkers, but they would use food and drink as a means of bringing people together, and we would help out in the production and serving of these so my intrigue started young.
By the time I was drinking, I was trying to find methods of using food and drink to bring people together as they had done, and I loved using the stories around these products as a means of exciting people and connecting them to it.
What are the most exciting developments in the spirits world at the moment?
Partly the transparency that is coming through from producers, but the education that is available to people and the interest in learning more is really exciting. Not only is that leading to people drinking better, it is leading to exciting and authentic innovations. It is also casting a light on the great history that exists alongside these innovations, and how important these spirits are to communities and landscapes.
What is the most enjoyable part of your job?
Making people happy! We get to do that on so many levels, but the interest that is around at the moment means the opportunities for education, connection and excitement are so much higher.
2019 is a huge year for you, with new bars opening in London, Amsterdam, and Washington DC. What are you most looking forward to about taking Mr Lyan overseas?
It's a really exciting year, and we've been investing in people to find ways to make it possible which has been the most exciting aspect. It's also given us a chance to connect with new audiences and demographics which is a really wonderful and exciting opportunity.
Your brand focuses on inclusivity and innovation. Why do you think these two things are so important in the spirits industry?
Some of the previous thinking directed – or even restricted – spirits to certain groups, and this was often based on outdated data. I'm excited by showing that better drinking is for everyone, and with this we're all discovering new grounds and new chances to have better connections. This is benefitting all parties and leading to avenues we never imagined. Not only is that important, it's incredibly exciting. We need to evolve – that doesn't mean jettisoning traditions, but without being inclusive, and without innovating, we run the risk of losing the wonderful products that have come from generations of hard work and passion.
Which person in the spirits industry do you most admire?
Dave Broom is a dear friend, and he has done so much to educate and bridge the traditional and cutting-edge worlds. He is a real pioneer in spirits education and we all owe him a huge debt.
What’s your favourite spirit?
I have a major soft spot for Scotch. Many years in Scotland connecting with the people and sense of place behind the spirit really enamoured me to it, but the sheer range of styles and flavours puts it in a different pantheon to other foodstuffs in my opinion.
Follow Ryan on Twitter and Instagram @mrlyan, and like his Facebook page here.
The Spirits Communicator of the Year 2019 will be announced at the IWSC Awards Banquet on 28 November.