February 10, 2014 § 3 Comments
My husband always says to me (in horror & shock) “You haven’t met an ice cream you don’t like!” And on our recent trip to Japan, neither the country’s explosion of wild flavors (think wasabi, cherry blossom, roasted tea, etc.) nor my ravenous search to seek out and try them all – sometimes twice a day- did anything to prove the contrary.
So you can imagine my pure delight when I received an email from Melissa Tavss, founder & CEO of Tipsy Scoop, asking if I’d like to give one of her booze-infused ice creams a try! (Clearly we had never met as anyone in my existing circle of friends wouldn’t have asked and just dropped off a sample instead). But as I skimmed her list of Valentine’s Day flavors, it looked like the offer got even better for there, in black and white, was tipsy whisky ice cream.
I quickly responded and asked specifically if it would be okay to try the “Deep Dark Chocolate Depression & Salted Caramel Whiskey Tears” (did I need to record a Lifetime movie to go along with this!?). Being made & sold in NYC, she delivered my sample in no time at all and it was time to get down to tasting business!
The sample was delivered in the early afternoon packed nicely in a cute Tipsy Scoop cloth insulator bag à la 90′s lunch-bag style, 2 postcards & a very large, flexible ice pack – all of which went directly into my freezer, postcards and all.
On the rare occasion, my husband and I will pull out our at-home ice cream maker and whip up a batch of something fun – learning early on that a couple of tablespoons of hard liquor will keep the desert from fully freezing and thus, making a more elegant, creamy and easy-to-scoop texture. One of our favorite combos has always been grapefruit sorbet with Campari – yum! Knowing that my at-home version yields nice texture and a hint of flavor (and I don’t remember ever feeling the effects of the alcohol), I was curious to see how Tipsy Scoop would balance the non-freezing aspect of the booze with the bigger-then-a-hint of its flavor.
7hrs later after my sample was delivered, I prepped my palate for review & my counter for proper photos and excitedly removed the parcel from my freezer, quickly arranging the items for a photo before opening the lid & starting my “research” …
(Naturally, I poured myself a glass of Brenne – one I thought I’d enjoy soon after writing my tasting notes when I moved on to the pure enjoyment part of ice cream consumption…however)
…upon opening the lid, I had a bit of a problem; it wasn’t frozen at all. :(
I popped the container back into the freezer (this time it went in just on its own, sans bag & ice pack and right next to my ice trays) checking on it again after about an hour. It was better but still needed more time. So I waited until about another 30-45 minutes and we had a texture that was much better:
TASTE: creamy vanilla, a hint of caramel, chocolate … with a kick! Holy moley, it tasted like Frozen Bailey’s (which makes sense; whisky + chocolate + cream … it’s kinda their thing!).
TEXTURE: The soup-debacle aside, the ice cream itself had a nice texture but not as silky as I might have liked. It melted quickly (due to the high alcohol content) causing all of the chocolate bits to fall to the bottom. I prefer having chewable things in my ice cream (chocolate chips, nuts, etc) but it’s key that they are scattered evenly throughout the layers.
WHISKEY: I enjoyed having the whisky folded into the ice cream – Tipsy Scoop was definitely generous with the booze and it makes for a really fun (albeit adult-only) scoop.
Upon further research (okay, more like reading her website while sipping on that glass of Brenne waiting for my sample to firm up), I learned that she has a family heritage of ice cream making & shop ownership in Scotland! And it was this wise, 4th generation ice cream designer who brought the cream+sugar together with the water of life. Not. Too. Shabby.
SUMMARY: I love the idea, love the creative flavor combinations and the cute packaging. I had a problem with the melting which could have been something that happened to my batch only or perhaps I should have removed the sample from the insulated bag & ice pack it was delivered with and just stored it in my freezer by itself. I do think this makes for an awesome Valentine’s Day experience and while $45 for 3 pints of ice cream seems quite high for ice cream – if (for New Yorkers especially) you think that it equals $15/pint which we readily spend on a single cocktail – it may be justifiable for a special occasion.
Wishing you all the happiest of Valentine’s Days .. for those of you not in New York City (and thus unable to get a Tipsy Scoop delivery at this time), perhaps you’ll whip up your own versions for the big day of love? I would think that a little whisky mixed into the ice cream with a little more poured on top at time of consumption (á la affogato style) would be quite dreamy! Share your booze+ice cream combos below!
***And a very big THANK YOU to Melissa of Tipsy Scoop for giving me the delicious sample and trusting me with a review! It was great fun – you’re definitely on to something wonderful here. Congrats!***
January 7, 2014 § 9 Comments
With the record low temperatures we’re having, I thought there no better time then now to share some of my FAVORITE Hot Toddy recipes using Brenne whisky!
The classic Hot Toddy is made with hot water (tea optional), lemon, honey and either whiskey, brandy or rum. I like to kick it up a bit and use a more complex tea that I think would complement the specific aged spirit that I’ll be adding. And there’s definitely a correlation between us whisky geeks and our deep appreciation for fun teas!
Brenne is a much more fruit-forward, floral & creamy Single Malt which lends itself especially well to Toddy’s, particularly if you make them with black teas that hint of orange, vanilla, cinnamon, burnt sugar, lavender … you get the idea! Below are 2 of my favorite recipes but feel free to play around using different teas and reversing the garnishes!
BRENNE CHAI TODDY
- 4oz Brenne French Single Malt Whisky
- ½ cup hot tea made with Chai-spiced black tea
- 1 tbs honey
- 1 thick slice of orange
- Cloves (to stick into the side of the orange wheel, as many as desired)
BRENNE ORANGE TEA TODDY
- 4oz Brenne French Single Malt Whisky
- ½ cup hot tea made with orange pekoe black tea
- 1 tbs honey
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1-3 star anise
- Wide lemon peel (to garnish)
*Also try these two Brenne Toddy’s with opposite garnishes and spices!*
Now that we’ve established the recipes, let’s break down the (VERY EASY) steps! While you’re reading, go ahead and put the kettle on the stove and start bringing the water up to boil … And we’re off!
HOW TO MAKE A HOT TODDY
- Pull together all of your ingredients while the water is heating up.
- In your favorite heat-proof drinking vessel, pour about 1/2 cup of hot water over your desired tea. Let steep for a few minutes while you work on your garnishes (poking cloves into your orange slice, carefully peeling that extra long wide lemon peel, etc)
- Remove the tea and add the honey – stirring to mix
- Pour in the whisky
- Relax and enjoy!
Share your favorite Hot Toddy recipes below or with me on twitter! @whiskygirls
January 3, 2014 § 12 Comments
Let’s have a toast: Welcome 2014, may you be exciting, peaceful, engaging, loud, quiet, and filled with moments so precious they fill our hearts with happiness and … of course, may we safely imbibe with delicious whiskies and great friends.
Not typically one for making grand promises and goals for myself at the top of a new year – I instead try my best to just be a good person to myself and others every day (that’s my personal motto – just be kind. It’s simple but to the point … and many good people forget that that applies to being nice to them selves as well!).
So imagine my surprise when I found myself wide-awake from 1-3am on Jan 2 with a scrolling list of New Years resolutions running a muck in my brain. And at the top of that list was spending a little more time blogging here with you. I’m rather proud that in I can look back at 2013 and say that we didn’t just “survive” our first full year of having Brenne on the market but rather felt like we thrived (in our own humble way – of course). And that’s a very proud feeling – but one that also has my head spinning in a few different directions … constantly.
With all of the many ways to communicate these days i.e. facebook, blogging, twitter -and- twitter, instagram -and- instagram, pinterest, email, texting and the most vintage of the bunch: phone call, I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that I blinked and the 365 days that made up 2013 passed by in less time then it’ll take me to finish this post. What’s even scarier is while I can’t figure out how I might have possibly crammed any thing else into those fleeting days, I still can’t shake the feeling that I could have done more. (And that drives me a little batty).
However – according to my year in blogging (an annual & fun report pulled together by wordpress), you were definitely here and to that, I THANK YOU!!!! Here’s how wordpress put it:
The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 39,000 times in 2013 from people in 142 countries. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 14 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.
Personally- I think that’s pretty cool and I’m honored to have your attention (and hope that at least some of that traffic wasn’t just here to “borrow” some images) ;).
So my goal for 2014 is to slow down a bit, do 1-3 things at a time, not 8-10, and by doing so, hope that I can re-engage with you more here on my blog as it really is something that I deeply love and miss when life forces me (by sheer lack of minutes in a day) to be a bit more disconnected then I’d like (well, here at least – you can always find me SOMEWHERE online!).
- I hope I get smarter & more efficient where social media is concerned.
- I hope I dance more … even if it is done standing at a counter waiting for my next espresso!
- I hope I take more walks outside – in all kinds of weather – and continue to look up and appreciate the effect a setting sun or rolling clouds have on whatever scenery is around me at the time.
- I hope I breath more. Deeply.
- I hope I sleep more. Deeply!
- I hope I keep laughing loudly and sharing more great whiskies with the many wonderful friends I have made and hopefully will make in the comings days and months.
- I really hope Brenne continues to move forward in the most positive of ways!
- I hope 2014 goes by a little slower so I can savor the time we’re blessed to have.
2013 was a strange one for me; professionally with Brenne it was remarkable (moving from 1 to 11 states across the US, being blessed to have had the attention of some pretty prestigious publications – including being mentioned in a few books! ah-hem Fred Minnick’s Whiskey Women(!), winning an Icon of Whisky award, etc). But while I experienced many professional gains, I also suffered a major personal loss when my Grandmother passed away just 2 weeks before her 102nd birthday. She was truly with us till the end and for that, I was extremely thankful (let’s face it, she remembered my schedule better than I did … and I have the “help” of 1000+ apps on my phone!) but she was one of the most inspiring people I have ever met – faced challenges with Grace (as was her name) and loved her family so much you felt it in every letter, phone call and interaction we’d ever had with her. I miss her terribly and was surprised when, months after her passing, just the thought of her could still bring me to tears. I am/was very close with my grandparents and now have only one left on earth – I cherish every moment he and I share. Loss is inevitable but having been freshly reminded of it makes me want to shout daily that we can’t take our loved ones for granted. We only get this precious time together and if 2013 is any indication of just how much faster time is going to go by – well – I hope the quiet and peaceful act of sharing a glass of whisky with those whose company you enjoy can help us all slow down and appreciate each breath.
And with that – I continue to express my deepest thanks for sticking with me – liking, commenting, reading, and sharing my words and engaging with me on all platforms. Mostly, I truly hope that 2014 is a healthy, happy and positive year for us all.
Happy New Year from the Whisky Woman!
Cheers to you and your loved ones ~
THANK YOU FOR BELIEVING IN ME AND IN WHAT I’M TRYING TO DO.
December 9, 2013 § 9 Comments
The holidays wouldn’t be “the holidays” without an annual Holiday Gift Giving post. And this year, I’m forgoing my usual list of bottles & baubles and focusing on BOOKS! (If you want, you can see my former gift posts HERE HERE HERE HERE & HERE)
It was quite a year for the literary set who enjoy indulging in a great dram AND a great read and I’ve pulled together a little mix of books that should make one quite happy this winter. I know I will be curling up fireside with my cozy faux fur blanket (like THIS ONE on sale at Pottery Barn), glass of whisky (Brenne please!) and these books for the long winter months ahead!
In order of the above photo, here’s the quick list. All titles click through to their respective pages on Amazon/Createspace.
- Apothecary Cocktails, Restorative Drinks from Yesterday and Today by Warren Bobrow ~
- Distilling Rob, Manly Lies and Whisky Truths by Robert Gard (& fellow whisky blogger, Whisky Guy Rob!)
- Drinking With Men, A Memoir by Rosie Schaap
- Guide to Urban Moonshining, How to Make and Drink Whiskey by Colin Spoelman & David Haskell (yes, that’s right, these are the awesome duo behind Kings County Distillery)
- Whiskey Woman, The Untold Story of How Women Saved Bourbon, Scotch and Irish Whiskey by Fred Minnick
- Savoring the Shore, Simple to Sophisticated Recipes from Chefts and Home Cooks for NJ Sandy Recovery, by Cheryl Larkin & Kate Kurelji
Beyond the fact that I personally know most of the authors and love supporting wonderful & talented people; I also believe in what each author has accomplished, whether it’s to educate, entertain or give back – read below for my quickfire thoughts on why they made the cut:
Apothecary Cocktails: There’s no question the “Classic Cocktail” movement is upon us – and it’s wonderful! The ever-talented Warren Bobrow takes us back in time with modern upgrades featuring 75 recipes for cocktail libations to soothe the body AND mind! Give this book with a few bottles of bitters for your favorite home mixologist!
Distilling Rob: An engaging story from “one of our own” whisky bloggers as he takes us through his roller-coaster life where at one point, he left his slick LA life to live and work on Islay in Scotland. Using whisky-making and the maturation process as an analogy for how boys mature into men – this is a no-brainer stocking stuffer for anyone!
Drinking With Men: I bought this at a book reading of Rosie’s I attended with a friend and left with 1/2 the eye make-up I went in with due to all of my tears from continuous laughing. This is a wonderfully engaging memoir that will having you wishing to travel through NYC retracing her steps. Sometimes I fall out of habit reading and need a good “hook book” to get back into it again – this is definitely one of those excellent page turners!
Guide To Urban Moonshining: I just got this and can’t WAIT to get started. (The fabric and feel of the book alone will give you instant “great gifter” cred). It’s filled with recipes, distillation techniques, stories, history, and a chapter called “How To Drink Whiskey” in which yours truly, along with Jonathan Wingo and Colin Spoelman, each wrote a couple pages discussing the bottles we’d suggest if we had to build a well rounded whisky bar using only 12 bottles and cover our bases from sipping to cocktails for your novice and experienced drinker. It was super fun and my first experience having any writings of my own published in a book. Yay! Pair this with a bottle of Kings County Bourbon or Moonshine for a great gift set!
Whiskey Women: THE BOOK that ought to be on everyone’s list! For the first time, Fred is sharing the untold stories of the women who have created & saved this most exceptional industry. It’s refreshing to have access to real stories that you haven’t heard before, that are not the same ones we know just told in a new way – no – this is fresh. And fascinating. And will give you a whole new appreciation for many of the whisky women who you may have met today and many of the distilleries whose drams you’ve probably enjoyed for a very long time. A true must read for anyone who enjoys a great book. Pair this with a bottle of Brenne – my own whisky – and support this particular whisky woman’s dream! :)
Savoring The Shore: while not a whisky book per se, there are 3 cocktails inside using Brenne Whisky, 2 of which were created by the author of Apothecary Cocktails, Warren Bobrow! But that’s not why it’s on this list. Instead, it’s because all proceeds benefit Hurricane Sandy relief and that is something that is very near and dear to my heart. I spent my childhood & teenage summers at my grandparents beach cottage on the NJ Shore which was completely wiped out by Sandy (we have yet to rebuild, but will as soon as we’re able) and so I have a personal connection with the Sandy Relief efforts. And what a fun way to give back!? You’ll get a great cook book featuring recipes from long-time local “shore folk” and Master Chefts like Bobby Flay, Tom Colicchio & Mike Jurusz.
**Please note that I do NOT benefit financially from the sale of ANY of these books – regardless of whether or not Brenne Whisky or myself were mentioned or as is the case of Guide To Urban Moonshine where I contributed a couple of pages. Instead, I promote them here because of my love of reading great books & supporting awesome, hard working people!**
October 16, 2013 § 15 Comments
For those of you who follow this blog with any sort of regularity, you know by now that I have been sharing moments this past year of my experience bringing my own whisky to the market.
It’s been exactly 12 months since Brenne first became available to anyone anywhere in the world, and I decided to launch it in my home city of New York. 3 weeks after our launch, Hurricane Sandy hit – but we persevered. We had our lives, we had a roof over our heads (however dark and cold it was!) and we had drive. That famous mach-5 New Yorker drive that inspires and challenges so many – it’s the collective heartbeat of the people of this fine city that, when tapped into, can compels you to greatness (or craziness … or both!).
I had a plan when I launched Brenne – a detailed one and a skeletal one. The detailed one went out the window on day 1. The skeletal one provided the framework & focus but allowed me to be flexible – learning the industry and market as I went along each day. And I’m GLAD I threw out that detailed plan, for the end goal in my first year looked a lot different then the reality, and the reality is AMAZING.
When asked what has surprised me most about this year, I can honestly say EVERYTHING.
When asked how I feel, aside from the obvious (TIRED!) – I am grateful, humble, and much to my surprise – a bit emotionally overwhelmed … I think a good (happy) cry-fest may be in order. :) (or a good long run!).
I have lived, breathed, loved & birthed Brenne from nothing and it’s at times overwhelming when I’ve been greeted with honors, applause, hugs and congrats. I know this is just whisky at the end of the day – but to me it’s a lot more. It’s a dream, a goal, a passion … I feel blessed that I have been able to get this off the ground, to put my money where my mouth is (literally, I invested my entire life savings to do this), quiet all of the doubt and chatter in life to commit myself 100% to a dream.
People must think I’m nuts when I thank them 1000 times for telling me they enjoy my whisky but it’s genuine because without people liking it enough to buy it, well, then I’d have a lot of whisky to consume by myself and not much of a business!
Here’s where I started in October 2012:
NYC with roughly 40 individual accounts primarily in the West Village neighborhood, a small subset of Greenwich Village, in Manhattan to whom I often hand-delivered bottles & cases. … and oh right, I also had a lot of bottles of Brenne to sell!
That’s me making a Brenne delivery (a common sight in NYC this first year!) and are those Brenne bottles peaking out of my purse!? :)
Here’s where I am as of October 2013:
6 States with plans to cover a majority of the US over the next 12 months, 5 (FIVE!) brand ambassadors across the US, an Icon of Whisky award, a feature in Food & Wine Magazine as their ONLY WHISKY for their Best New Spirits picks of ’13… and did I mention? We sold out. :)
Me accepting our Icon’s of Whisky award
I started saying recently that my company is 2 people big: 1 is me, 1/2 is my incredible husband (the brains & support system behind this crazy lady) and the other 1/2 is the #WhiskyFabric family. I owe a massive THANK YOU to so many of you in our blogger community for helping me in this first year. THANK YOU for including Brenne in your whisky discussions, for sharing my posts on your own blogs and around social media, for doing what we do best; spreading the word.
I have only 12 months under my belt but think it’s off to a really strong start. It hasn’t come without a daily dose of challenges, lots of headaches and hundreds of sleepless nights – making it to any degree in this industry is not a blissful adventure by any stretch (regardless of how many smiley faces I put everywhere) ;) but I can’t imagine myself doing anything else. And what’s even crazier is that I haven’t even scratched the surface of my goals. There is so much more to come from me + Brenne that I hope you’ll continue to stay with me and be present in this wild journey.
Welcome to the beginning. Again.
With that, I’m off for a vacation in Japan … where of course I’ll be gathering some great info & stories for this blog! See you when I’m back!
**All of my “Brenne Journey” posts are collected together on THIS PAGE (<click that link) should you wish to read through.**
July 30, 2013 § 17 Comments
The title of this post could go in a few different directions, however, today it encapsulates the reflective feeling I have over these last few years and the birth of Brenne.
Stop and smell the Whisky.
This has been quite a crazy 3+ years of my life. But I could say that about most periods of my life; I’m a very focused, all-in kind of person so there are times (like this “whisky” phase) that feel like I’ve been in it longer then I actually have. 3+ years you say? That’s all? (that’s how I feel when I think about my relatively short time here, I could have sworn I’ve been doing this for at least 7yrs).
Last week I was being interviewed by a talented journalist for a rather impressive piece of press (out this coming Sunday, fingers crossed it’s good!). I’m not a person who gets nervous too often and thus was confused when I struggled though the entire interview to put the words together to properly express myself. And then I realized, he kept asking me “when did it all begin?” and truthfully, there is no actual date on the calendar that I could give anyone as to when “Brenne” started. It “started” many times!
To this day, I can’t remember when & how I was first introduced to my distiller (despite it being probably one of the more important moments of my life!), nor do I even really remember a single moment when I said, “Ok, we’re doing this!” I feel like I woke up one day and was buying glass bottles in 6,000 piece order quantities as if this was a very normal thing to be doing. If you’ve ever heard me tell my story, it probably comes across as me being far focused on this particular outcome then it actually was. That is because there are so many different starting points of Brenne that I have to streamline the story and edit out all of the additional beginnings to spare you a long story full of extraneous tangents (but NOT today!). There are two main narratives here: the story of the whisky itself (where it’s made, what kind of still is used to make it, what barrels are used during the aging, etc) AND THEN there is the story of how I became the captain of this ship (and where the heck did I come from!?). Today I’ll be sharing with you the story of my involvement. If I had to draw it, I think the beginning of Brenne would look like this unraveled piece of rope with lots of “ends” … or in my case, beginnings.
So when I wrote “Stop and Smell the Whisky” – I thought not of smelling an actual glass of whisky (though that would be nice!) but rather because during the course of the interview, I was forced to stop, look at a calendar, and actually take into account certain days/years when this whole thing really began. I feel like I’ve been doing this now for years but the reality set in that I’ve really have only been at this for just a few!
BRENNE BEGINNING(S!); The Very Long Version of How Brenne Came to Be
I was working in an entirely different industry at the time (high-end jewelry) but even when I started there 3.5 years prior, I told my employer that I was going to have my own company one day, probably by the time I was 30 (I was 25 at the time). However, I had no idea what that was going to be, exactly.
Through my time there, I had really fallen in love with selling beautiful jewels to a lot of wonderful women across the US. In that tiny, 3 person company, we moved a LOT of gold and even increased sales 800% while in a recession (true number, it was ridiculous)! But always in the back of my mind was: what was going to be my mark on the world? I want to do this for my own company! … just not with diamonds.
Meanwhile, my husband was traveling the world for work (he is a branding consultant … and yes, this comes in VERY handy later on as we built the framework for Brenne!). While on the road (or rather, the many planes) he was getting himself (and me!) more and more interested in the Japanese whiskies that he was enjoying on frequent trips to Korea. This was just before people in the US started to really talk about Japanese whiskies – and well before Suntory (& eventually Nikka) started expanding their US imports. All the time my husband kept saying, “you should really import this stuff!”
At first I laughed it off – what did I know about importing whisky!? Nothing – actually. But I had started doing international sourcing (of gold & diamonds) in my current job and felt comfortable learning a new industry language after I realized the general framework was similar (except with alcohol, you could tack on about 1000 times more restrictions and legal twists & turns). So there I was, starting to formulate my own ideas on what I enjoyed in a single malt. What, to me, made one more enjoyable over the other? And as soon as I realized that simple question existed, my geek-dome exploded and scientific hunger of finding the answers took over (I blame my family – I was predisposed to being a nerd! Dad is a physicist, Aunts’ a rocket scientist, Uncle’s a nuclear scientist, 2 cousins are chemists,… need I go on?). I was a full blown whisky-geek before my friends even knew I drank whisky.
HELLO WHISKY FREAK!
Things in the company where I was working started to take a turn for the worse (and fast) and soon I realized that my time there had come to an end. Meanwhile, my husband was still a driving force in this whisky import company idea, and for the fun of it, I had started connecting with some of the world whisky distillers and importers out there. At one point we had taken a trip to Asia and scribbled down on a cocktail napkin what eventually morphed into the Local Infusions’ business plan. (In my Lifetime movie, this is where they’d cut to commercial break!) This is definitely one of those rope ends of the true starting points of Brenne! Somewhere in there we were tipped off to the 3rd generation Cognac distiller who was making what has now become Brenne. I never really believed what he was telling me was true (how could someone really be making whisky with no intention to sell it!? That’s so … NOT American!) and thus almost let my disbelief close the door on this forever. But we then started receiving samples from our distiller… and the juice was really promising! What we were trying at that point in time was about 3 & 4+ years old in New French Oak casks. Still – I did nothing with it.
By now, I had quit my job in the jewelry biz and declared a mandatory “2 weeks off” … from what, you ask? Nothing. Because I had no job lined up <-not a typical “Allison” move, but definitely another life-changing moment for from that break, I came out on the other end saying, “Ok, I’m either starting a popcorn company” (yup, no one really knew about that one either) “OR a whisky company!” (also not something my friends & family were expecting). Within a few hours the whisky company idea had won (as if there was ever any real competition!).
FOLLOW YOUR HEART and GUT
It was at that point that we started asking our distiller “friend” if we could try moving this whisky into his ex-Cognac casks. Again, when I tell this story I’m sure I sound very confident in this decision as if this had been our plan all along, but clearly, it hadn’t. And I really don’t know where the idea of ex-Cognac casks came from other than I followed my gut instinct as I was piecing together this crazy story of this near-secret whisky stash in Cognac, France. And it just felt like a really good idea – especially when I thought about how this whisky had been developed right there in Cognac starting with the barley that he grew himself. Funny enough, to this day, he (my distiller) is still far less impressed with how he’s made this then I am. To him, it’s “obvious” that if you want to make a high quality spirit, you must do it from scratch. What other way is there? To him, elegant spirits start with the seeds + the earth. Then you go from there.
While “Brenne” (in quotes because it hadn’t been named at this point) was being moved over into Cognac casks, I spent most of my time in NYC glued to my computer and phone, learning (also from scratch!) how to structurally set up my company within the 1,000′s of complicated layers known as post-prohibition laws. From the Federal level down to all 50 states, there is not one division who makes this easy. You can certainly pay to have a consultant figure this out for you – but if I’m putting my own money into this (let’s be frank: ALL of my own money into this dream), well then you better believe I’m going to put my money where my mouth is and learn everything I can. Otherwise, how else can I properly run this thing once it’s off the ground? It’s like buying a car without knowing how to change a tire or fill a tank of gas. Sure, you can always spend up and have someone else do the work for you, but if you don’t mind getting a little dirty, you can save yourself some big bucks. And at the end of the day, this has to be about the bottom line or else I won’t make it past Day 1.
LOCAL INFUSIONS IS READY
Once I got the import business set up (Local Infusions), then I realized the whisky (Brenne) still wasn’t ready – not to my palate at least (and then also Captin Doubt was still hanging around: did we REALLY want to do this? We could still drop this whole idea and ‘just’ be out some money – but no one would have to know! Me owning and producing a Single Malt Whisky from France still sounded totally foreign to me. Who the heck was I to be doing this?! Why had no one done this before? Because no one thought of it or because they had and realized this was just a terrible idea?). Insomnia and I became very good friends at this point.
In terms of barrel “management” (also known as a glorified taste tester) I spent many Saturday mornings with my nose in about 20 different Glencarin glasses of Brenne (& other assorted Single Malts for comparison) trying to take advantage of that prime-time when your sense of smell is the purest but a bed is nearby should the tasting part get a bit overwhelming pre-coffee! I was all self-taught and completely trusting my senses (as was my husband, Nital Patel, who was the biggest and best supporter behind this little engine!) but I just didn’t think the whisky was “there” yet and couldn’t put my name on something without it being as close to perfect as I could get it. So there I was with a fully set up business and no whisky to bottle (thus, no hope of any income anytime soon!). Cool! So to start somewhere, I now had some really awesome like-minded importer friends around the world who were telling me they were interested in trying some of these new American Craft Whiskies that were getting some buzz. This was early 2011 – Balcones wasn’t even distributed in New York at that point. I told the importers I knew that if they trusted me, I’d find them the best of the best and bring them not only brands who had something good in the bottle, but who were making it themselves and who had aesthetically pleasing packaging.
EXPORTING AMERICAN CRAFT WHISKEY
So began my 1.5 year stint as an American Craft Whiskey exporter. This got to be very expensive for a very little return. Between the cost of translators, international sample shipping costs and travel, I was coming in around $0 balance. But on the plus side, I had made some awesome friends on the American distilling side (finally!) and had launched Balcones in Norway, Sweden & re-lauched them in the UK. I almost got them signed up in France and Japan but at that point, the income didn’t support the work and Brenne was getting ready to be born. Though the funding was slim, at least I had some confidence knowing that I’d had some early wins in this new industry (still ridiculously close-lipped about Brenne).
BRENNE – the brand – COMES TO LIFE
So in January ’12, I shifted gears from exporting to developing the Brenne brand and put on my best creative director hat as I interviewed & eventually worked with designers to bring Brenne to life. After 6+ months of designing, TTB approvals, cork sourcing, bottle making, pallet treating, label material choosing (and of course, one final trip to Cognac before we start bottling …you know, to check on those aging casks!) in June of ’12, I started buying all of the pieces that were needed to pull this dream together so that on September 5, 2012, the first 8 barrels were bottled and Brenne was “born” – officially launching on October 1, 2012 in New York City.
10 months after Brenne’s launch date I sit here totally amused at where life has taken me – from a ballerina to owning a whisky brand (and an import company!). And though I’m not the distiller, I do own 100% of the whisky to come out of that distillery (of which currently only goes into Brenne Estate Cask) and life has truly never been more fun (or scary and demanding…but that much I expected). I definitely don’t choose the easy roads in life, but I follow my heart at each turn.
The rest … well … perhaps we’ll have to save that for another day! Thanks for sticking with me if you made it to the bottom of this post! It’s a lot more wordy than my typical entries but hopefully somewhat entertaining!