Brand Ambassador Ashley Thomas Hits the Road With a Legacy Trailing Behind Her Sailor Jerry Van
Written By: Matthew J. Black
Photography Provided By: Arron Thomas Sailor Jerry Van
There’s a rum with a storied history that’s ventured into a new realm of flavor, and there’s no better way to get the word out than by hitting the road. The way Sailor Jerry chooses to innovate its 92-proof spiced rum is with Savage Apple. Since Sailor Jerry likes to stay with an original, it takes something special to get these distillers excited.
“For our first innovation, we decided on apple because what’s more American than apple pie?” says Ashley Thomas, brand ambassador of Sailor Jerry. “Savage Apple takes the cinnamon and nutmeg from rum and adds juicy apple. Yum!”
Savage Apple is the reason why Thomas is taking to the highway in a decked-out van and spreading the word in a way that would make the original Sailor Jerry proud. “I travel every week for Sailor Jerry,” says Thomas. “Norman Collins, the man who was the tattoo artist known as Sailor Jerry, used to ride trains across the country and tattoo drifters to perfect his art.”
What does a mischievous mule, a navy sailor, an original tattoo artist like none other and rum have in common? Answer: Norman Collins. He was born in 1911 and his father gave him the nickname “Jerry” after a mule that was always getting into trouble. Before he was done with high school, that passion for trouble found him on trains traveling the country until he shaped up and served in the US Navy.
The navy was where Jerry gained his “Sailor” qualifier, and it was also there that he found more willing, rum-drinking participants for tattoos than hobos on trains. Switching from trains to ships found him traveling to China and Japan before leaving the navy and planting roots in Hawaii. Now his legacy continues in a rum brand that embraces his style.
“Do I have any Sailor Jerry tattoos?” Thomas laughs. “Gosh, at least half a dozen, and a portrait of Norman Collins, too.” Thomas feels a deep connection to Collins, so when Sailor Jerry asked her to figure out the best way to promote their first ever flavor innovation, she knew there could only be one solution. “I dreamt up the idea to take a van on the road, and it’s finally come to fruition,” Thomas says.
This year, Thomas will be behind the wheel of a 1977 Chevy G10 van and embrace the #vanlife. Across backcountry routes as well as roads most traveled, 2019 is the year of the Savage Apple. Thomas will be cruising in the van that’s an ode to Sailor Jerry by rocking his art on the outside and gushing with Sailor Jerry Savage Apple on the inside—not to mention a few other things. “[The van is] American-made, just like Sailor Jerry Savage Apple,” Thomas says. “It has a custom interior complete with a bed, table, disco ball and allllll the velvet.”
That’ll do just fine for Thomas, who used to promote Sailor Jerry while saddled in a Harley Davidson, cruising Route 66. Not like she minded that, as Thomas has made a career of taking to the open road and mixing with bikers, sailors, partiers and rum-drinking seekers of fun. Thomas says, “I have taken countless road trips over the years and I am so stoked for the ones coming up this year!”
Thomas will be living her #vanlife in areas as north as Milwaukee to the Pacific Northwest, while also touching base in the Southwest and all the major California coastal destinations, including San Diego.
She’ll be in San Francisco and Los Angeles for fleet week, and she recommends that if you want to try Sailor Jerry Savage Apple, then you should find her in San Pedro on June 22 for Gnarleytown. Beyond that, sticking to a schedule would be a violation of the Sailor Jerry way of life.
Until then, find Savage Apple at a bar near you and be sure to try it as Thomas recommends it “as a great chilled shot, or also good in a Collins, with ginger beer or sparkling cider.”
“‘My work speaks for itself,’ Sailor Jerry used to say,” concludes Thomas. “That always spoke to me.” We believe it, as Thomas takes to the road to keep the legacy alive while keeping all those who come in contact with her imbibed.