A Visit to Vendome – Still Makers

September 30, 2013 § 10 Comments

Last week marks the 2nd private tour I’ve had in my life of a custom still making facility.   The first happened 1.5 years ago in Scotland when I went with my good friend Chip (Chip Tate of Balcones) to tour Forsyths (click HERE to see that post).  The second happened again with Chip but this time in Kentucky, USA when he and I were in Louisville to receive our respective Icons of Whisky awards (personal plug: YAY!!!!!! GO BRENNE!!!!  That was such an exciting moment for me.  I shared the experience in a short blog post on my Brenne site HERE if you’re interested.  Also, HUGE congrats to all of the winners, including Chip who won Icon’s Craft Distiller of the Year for the 2nd time!).

Much to our surprise, after the awards ceremony, everyone – including many of the guys who actually live in Louisville – took off to various cities leaving Chip and I all by ourselves.   …This was not a problem 😉

We piled our things into a taxi and took off to Vendome.  Upon arrival, Gordon Lung, Vendome’s Project Manager, and the Shop Foreman greeted us with smiles and hard hats (ok, there weren’t hardhats this time as we arrived right after they stopped working for the day – but I was ready to suit-up Safety Style like I did at Forsyths!)

AllisonPatel_ChipTate

I can only guess that we looked a bit like a fancy clown car.  Chip – whom I’ve seen for years almost exclusively wearing his carhartts – was nicely dressed in a fitted suit and I in stilettos and a silk dress … just the perfect outfits to tour a massive metal-smith shop!  With our Icons awards and our caravan of cases & bags holding bottles of Balcones & Brenne safely in the shop, we jumped right into geek-heaven, talking about alloys, welding techniques, still shapes & sizes (of which there were MANY!) and all the time comparing the different techniques between the Vendome & Forsyths artists (and artists they are).

1_Vendome_Still

From what I understand, there are only 2 still manufacturers left in the world who create truly customized stills.  And Gordon is the man who takes a distiller’s visions from dreams into fully functioning stills.  He showed us one still that he completely engineered himself based off a single, 2 dimensional drawing with limited information on size & scale – a skill I so deeply admire and find nearly impossible to get my head around.

There are other still-making companies out there who have set sizes and shapes which people can piece together to “design” a still suited for their needs – but to go from the ground up with a unique concept to full completion – there is only Vendome & Forsythe.   Both of these shops are not open to the public, you’re not able to tour them as they are fully working facilities that keep our great distilleries functioning all year round.  However, both were extremely generous to not just take Chip and I around but also let me take a few photos to share with you here on my blog.  So it’s my honor and pleasure to be able to show you a small glimpse inside Vendome, a magical place from which many of our great American whiskies get their start.

*** Please respect the photos on this blog as they are all owned exclusively by Local Infusions.  If you re-blog or share, please reference my photos as “© Local Infusions” and link them back to my blog.  Thank you.***

2_Vendome_Still

3_Coils

4_Still_TopThe stainless steel oval “bubble” on the above still tops right side (left side when looking AT the photo) is a gin ‘basket’ – where you would fill with your botanicals and direct the distillate to run through that area as it came off the still rather than having it go up the main copper neck.

7_Welding_Helmut

I saw this welding helmet out of the corner of my eye and maneuvered through a particularly complicated area (only tricky for a heel-wearing person) to get this photo.  In a sea of black welding helmets, I just thought this mask is so bad a** – so American – so right to see in the middle of a Kentucky still making facility.

The next 3 photos are all related to one another.  This is a small section (<though massive in size) of one of our country’s largest whisky distiller’s column stills.  It’s kind of like looking at a cat-scan of the column, allowing us to see inside a section their rather HUGE stills.

8_JackDaniel_ColumnInside these columns are thousands of cross sections of tiny copper tubs, creating ample opportunity for the distillate to react with the metal.  The sheer size of this blew my mind.  I couldn’t even stand back enough to get a photo of this piece in its entirety and this is only a SMALL SECTION  of just one part of one still(!!!), which alone was bigger then a few of the full-size stills around the shop.

9_JackDaniel_ColumnAbove are the sections of copper tubing that fit together like puzzle pieces inside the column (below) to create horizontal “beds” of copper tubing to react with the distillate as it rises through the column.

10_JackDaniel_ColumnI took the below photo because we were discussing just how tall the columns are on these stills and Gordon said that they couldn’t fit standing upright in Vendome’s space but would have to be laid down (and take up a majority of the room below – crazy!).

5_Vendome_ShopBelow Gordon, Chip and I took turns knocking different areas of this particular piece of cooling copper to hear how the pitches change when the metal is at various temperature (the different colors also indicate the variety of temperatures of the metal).

6_Copper_Cooling

11_Top

12_Still_Handles

13_CopperCLEARLY these pieces are hand-made … I love seeing the hammer marks and “dings” (above) of an artist’s work in progress.  These will get smoothed out in time (below) but it’s quite beautiful to see stills in the making.

14_Vendome_Still

One of the things I love most about “whisky” is the people.  It takes an army to keep this industry moving forward and there is a real brotherhood/sisterhood about it.  Obviously everyone wants (& needs) to make money – but the majority of people who actually make the spirits and the stills are here because they really love it.   It’s a true honor to work in this industry and be able to share some of these inside moments with you here on my blog.  I THANK YOU for your support of my posts which keep me coming back to share and write more & more.

Stop And Smell The Whisky: The Full Story of How Brenne Came to Be

July 30, 2013 § 19 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).

AllisonPatel_Brenne

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.

rope-end_blkgrad

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.

SEED PLANTED

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.

I digress….

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).

(c) Local Infusions

(c) Local Infusions

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!

The Beginning.

🙂

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A Brenne-blue rope necklace!?!?! How could I NOT share this photo? Oh life … you are one giant circle.

Short Stories: Positive Happenings with Me + Brenne

July 17, 2013 § 10 Comments

I hope you all are enjoying your summer! There have been a few of funny and uplifting short stories about me + Brenne that I’ve shared recently with my small community on Facebook. After seeing their overwhelmingly positive responses, I felt that they might be fun to share with all of you here as a tiny collection.

Hope you enjoy them too!  But first, as I sit here in the wee hours of the morning – my favorite time to write and edit posts – let’s play a game of “What’s In My Glass?” … ok, it’s brown, it loves ice, and Jim McEwan has been synonymous with the distillery for the last 10+ years…

drum roll please…

Bruichladdich_Rocks… Bruichladdich Rocks! (With a side of dark chocolate of course.) Perfect for a steamy summer night.

Keep in mind that I live in New York City and for this first little story, it’s helpful to note that “the roof” refers to my building’s super-special rooftop garden oasis! Ahhhh….  it’s where my sanity lives!

  NYC_Sunset

AS OF JULY 17th:

Last Thursday I was on the roof with the lovely Georgie Bell (SMWS Global Ambassador) & my husband, Nital Patel, when our neighbor Jesse came up to join us with his friend. It was Nick Hoult. After a while I said, “I’m sorry, I’m really bad with knowing people I should know… should I know you?” He was adorable & humble and once it came out that he’s playing the Beast in the upcoming X-Men film, he promised to take a photo of himself in his makeup with Brenne 🙂

As for the whisky: We sat up there enjoying the warm company and glowing sunset with Smooth Ambler Old Scout Rye Manhattans (and cheese, plenty of creamy French cheeses, naturally!).

[side note: apparently, the production company owns the rights to photos of the actors in costume thus I won’t be able to post any pictures of Nick with Brenne in costume – but it would be fun for the personal archives if I’m ever able to get a copy! If not – it’s certainly a lovely thought!]

GeorgieBell_AllisonPatelSunset
ALSO AS OF JULY 17th:
This morning (as of 10:30 am on Tuesday, 7/17) I got a call from my buddy Cristiano Andrade (buyer for SeaGrapes Wine & Spirits) asking me to bring some Brenne Whisky down to his store, “within the next 3 minutes.” Well I know a call-to-action when I hear one! Still in my gym clothes I ran down the street with a case of Brenne tucked under one arm. There was Don Johnson buying 1/2 the case to give as gifts … he said they were for his “leading ladies” (to which I assumed he was just some guy with a harem of women) but the more he spoke I realized he might literally mean “Leading Ladies” so I said, “Oh, are you an actor?” He said Yes. I asked if he was more into films or broadway … then he said, “I did a show called Miami Vice … maybe you know it?” He was extremely sincere – we were cracking up because I AM the WORST at knowing people I “should” know … but he asked me to sign the bottles of Brenne and off he went to board his friend’s private plane …

Not a bad week for Brenne!!! Good for me I’m not easily embarrassed! LOL

AS OF JULY 10th:

I was at an ATM the other day and the woman one machine over said, “Excuse me, but is that Brenne Whisky in your bag?” Happily surprised & a little thrown I said, “Yes! Do you know about it?” And she said, “Oh YES! It’s the best whisky I have ever had!! My friends and I drink it all the time!”

Seriously, my mouth hit the floor. I introduced myself (which in turn surprised her), exchanged cards, and told her if she or her friends ever had any questions to give me a call. After a quick show of her dog doing his tricks, I thanked her profusely and walked out of the bank a little bit taller. Still don’t totally believe it happened myself! ‪#‎LittleEngineThatCould‬

Brenne_Bag

POSTED ON JUNE 5th

So yesterday I had a meeting with a restaurant who was very clear that “they didn’t have ANY space behind the bar to take in any new products” but, because I’m a neighbor, they agreed to a meeting.  I told them I’m a “no pressure sales gal” but that they should at least try it. Brenne will soon be out of stock and the next shipment won’t be ready till the Fall – so they should figure out now if they like it to get on a list.

I poured a small sip for both owners and before I knew it, one grabbed the bottle and poured little samples for every one of their regulars sitting at the bar while the other ran down and grabbed his check book. All of their regulars immediately jumped up and came over to shake my hand & tell me what a “winner” I had created, while the other owner wrote me a check on the spot and asked me to run home and grab 2 more bottles – right then and there – and to check back with them in a couple of weeks to make sure they can stock up before the shortage!

Brenne is now available at Tavern on Jane, NYC.

TavernOnJane

And since it’s summer, I’ll leave you with one easy Brenne recipe:

BRENNE WHISKY FIGS

Get some fresh figs (the bigger the better!) and cut into quarters (if they’re fresh enough, you’ll be able to break them apart with your hands).

Throw them under the broiler for just a couple minutes to caramelize their natural sugars and top with a little Brenne whisky.  You can thank me later!

Here’s me with a strainer full of fresh picked figs, right off the tree!

Allison_Patel_figs

Just a few more tales from this whisky woman’s adventures of launching her own whisky brand … who continues to be grateful and happy to learn that others share her vision – and taste! (PHEW!)

Feeling the Love: In the Midst of a 3-State Launch

May 3, 2013 § 7 Comments

To say I enjoy getting to know everyone who makes up the vast & ever-expanding whisky community would be an understatement, I love it.  It keeps me going & it’s often the best part of my day.

As many of you know, I launched my own whisky (Brenne) on October 1, 2012 and sold it exclusively in New York for the first 6 months.  However, on April 1, I did a 3 State roll-out and have been traveling around ever since, meeting a whole new wave of devoted whisky fans.

And it’s been awesome.

Brenne_Expanding

First, I thank everyone who has come out to support me at my events in Boston, MA and Chicago, IL and to all of you who live in Nashville, TN, check out my rockin’ line-up of events next week: CLICK HERE for current schedule!

Despite the long (ok, very long) days and even longer nights, the countless hours at airports and in rental cars, getting to meet wonderful people who share an equal love for all things whisky is truly special.

On my last night in Chicago, IL, the brilliant & easy-going Monique Huston (on twitter at @WhiskySommelier) arranged a private sold-out dinner in which Peter Currie of Duncan Taylor, Chip Tate of Balcones, & I with Brenne presented, discussed, and enjoyed whiskies with about 40 of the midwest’s – and beyond – top Whisky Geeks (for definition, click HERE).  It was a special evening held in the basement of The Peasantry restaurant where we dined, sipped, discussed, debated and shared all things ‘whisky’ for hours with the likes of Mahesh Patel (of Universal Whisky Experience) and Brett Pontoni (of Binny’s).

Bottles

The next morning … we were feeling a little goofy!

Peter & Chip playing around with the netting that protects your hair, er, I mean the bottles. :)

Peter & Chip playing around with the netting that protects your hair, er, I mean the bottles. 🙂

Feel the hair net love

Feel the hair net love

Suffice it to say, it was a fun trip but one that also proved to be very successful.  While we’re still having some red-tape issues with the state of IL and haven’t been able to ship out their first order of Brenne, something awesome did happen during my time there.  After the 2nd night (and a super-rocking sold-out massive Whisky festival at one of Binny’s stores) I got the word that Binny’s, who was originally going to do a 10-store roll out with Brenne, decided to up the ante and do a full, all locations, 29-store roll out!!!  That’s pretty exciting for anyone but especially so for a can’t-get-smaller-than-mine 1-person company!  Thanks Brett & the whole team at Binny’s! Can’t wait to get going there!

Snoopy_Happy_Dance

I can’t describe the feeling when individuals, stores, restaurants & distributors place re-orders for something that you’ve created.  It’s exhilarating, exciting, sometimes in a weird way a tad bit scary, and definitely for me sits somewhere between pride & humility.  There is no greater compliment then when someone buys that second drink, or second bottle, or double’s their order realizing that this is something they want to get behind.  And as I’ve said since the beginning, THANK YOU, and you all keep me very humble and make me want to work even harder.

Just the other day, I got this photo along with an event announcement on twitter from The Bottle Shop at McEwen, a store I’ll be visiting in Nashville, TN.  Talk about a beautiful tower of whisky!!!!!

Brenne Whisky Tower @ the Bottle Shop McEwen in Franklin, TN

Brenne Whisky Tower @ the Bottle Shop McEwen in Franklin, TN

So now I’m gearing up to leave NYC again for another much-anticipated Brenne launch week and I’m feeling excited, blessed, grateful & super-charged!  Next stop, Nashville, TN!!!!

plane

UNITED States of America?

February 20, 2013 § 9 Comments

As a (very) small business in the alcohol industry, when dealing with all of the various states that make up our fine nation, the one thing I can say without question is that each state is “United” on the fact that they get to make lots of money off of alcohol companies.  And the higher the ABV, the deeper their pockets!

To give you a quick summary, in order to produce or import alcohol in the USA, you need to have some permits.  Ok, a LOT of permits.  A variety of which must be issued by various branches of the Federal Government and each of the 50 states (or at least the ones in which you’d like to do business!).  AND NO TWO STATES ARE THE SAME.

This is the source of many frustrating days and nights for little ole’ me.  But I believe with each new state permit, I am becoming  more proficient in the poetic language one must develop to correctly and accurately understand whichever mountain of red tape it is that inevitably lies ahead.

…that is, until I get to this next one…

red_tape_cartoon

Recently, I was deciphering ~20 pages of various applications (all with their own set of fees!!!) to just be able to sell my 1 brand to 1 distributor in 1 particular state.  This is what we all call the “Hurry Up and Wait!” game.  Hurry up, fill out these tedious applications and then wait WEEKS for an agent to comb through, deposit your hard-earned check, and in return, send you a certified permit or two finally allowing you to start paying more taxes.  Er… I mean do business.

I came to a particular form that said, “Note: The annual registration tax for brands of distilled spirits is $250. The initial brand registration tax of $250 on any brand(s) of distilled spirits subsequent to the beginning of the privilege tax year is to be prorated on a monthly basis from the date of registration to the end of that privilege tax year.  The registration tax for distilled spirits for the subsequent first full privilege tax year shall be based on the average monthly number of cases sold at wholesale during the initial partial privilege tax year times twelve (12).  There is no tax due on the initial registration of any brand(s) of wine.”

Oh how nice for wine … why am I doing whisky again?  Right, labor of love. Ok. Next … HUH?  $250/year, got it. Prorated, got it.  But when does their year start and end?  If I’m filling this out in the middle of February, where am I hitting in their cycle? I can’t find this anywhere.  Now I have to call.

Alllllright. Find the phone number for the appropriate division and then hurry up and wait!  The first time I called, I was put on hold for 49 minutes during which time I reconfirmed my hatred of “hold” music.  Why can’t they link it up to a book on tape or something better than the same 5 bars of electronically generated orchestral music!? Finally, at 49 min and 13 sec, someone picked up and hung up.

…Well that was frustrating! And a total waste of an hour.  Try again. Eventually I get someone one the phone.  And here is what happened next:

Me: “Hi, I’m filling out the <insert name of form> for the first time and am just trying to figure out what your state’s annual tax cycle is as it says I need to pay a prorated fee based on the annual registration fee of $250″

Agent: “It’s every 12 months”

Me: “Yes, that much I understood, but I can’t find out what defines your state’s year.  Is it based on the calender year?  A 12 month cycle from the day I file the forms? Or some other date?”

Agent: “Huh? What form are you looking at?”

Me: “<insert name of form>” and wait for this person to find it herself.  After another minute, I continued, “I’m referring to the note at the bottom of the instructions.”

Silence.  I am sensing her frustration in my inability to understand something that is clearly not printed anywhere on these forms but despite it’s lack of black & white presence seems otherwise painfully obvious to herself.

Me: “Basically, Ma’am, you’re going to need to speak to me like I’m a 2nd grader because where things may seem obvious to you, please just assume that they are not to me. I am learning that every state has their own unique set of rules and I want to make sure I understand the specifics of yours.  Now please tell me when the year ends for <insert name of state here>”

Agent: “Oh, May 31st”

!?!?!?!?!??!?!?!??!?!?

Of course it does.  Because THAT makes PERFECT sense. 😛

Bang_Head_Here

You make the difference

January 29, 2013 § 2 Comments

I’m hoping years from now I’ll look back and think, why was I ever scared to launch this? But it’s only natural and let’s face it, one’s level of fear or nervousness in having the public first witness anything by the creative individual – from a new painting to a new collection to a new whisky – can often dictate how high the level of risk you’re taking truly is.

But now that Brenne is off the ground, I feel lighter.  And perhaps you’ve heard me say this before but I think it’s worth saying again: I wake up grateful every. single. day. YOU have embraced what I’m doing, supporting me along the way and continue to spread the word and share Brenne. I truly can’t thank you all enough.

This past Sunday evening, in between loads of laundry,  I received an email from the whisky aficionado Matthew Sheinberg, of the awesome Manhattan-based liquor store McCabes (seriously, he has built one heck of a great whisky collection in that store) … but I digress… In his email, he told me how a woman had come into the store specifically to purchase a bottle of Brenne and explained how she had enjoyed it recently in a cocktail (by the very-creative mixologist Thomas Favorule) at the W Hotel in Union Square NYC.  The email ended with “thought you’d like to know that your baby is making waves.”

Smiles all around.

Water_Drop

Then I started to think about all of the pieces that had to come together for that one single moment to happen.  While knowing that they are able to present their clients to a very new experience and set themselves apart from the competition across the street, when you really think about it, both McCabes and the W Hotel had to take a leap of faith with me and my whisky.  They had to have the foresight to see it’s success and hash out a plan for how they were going to be able to move the product.  These guys are part of the first 50 accounts in the world to stock Brenne and knew off the bat, as good as they believe it to be, that most people walking into their establishments won’t know what Brenne is.  Every bottle and every dram is a hand-sell by themselves and their associates.  THIS fact combined with the sheer number of different alcoholic beverages that are available today is why getting placements are so hard. It’s why each time a new account stocks Brenne, I take a moment to reflect on my journey and let the good feelings sink in.  And this thought is also why, upon reading that email, I really truly jumped up and danced.  Someone who I never met walked into a store specifically to buy Brenne. So cool.

Thanks to social media, I am continually hearing from strangers who have found Brenne one way or another and continue to enjoy it and seek it out.  You all are putting the drops in the water and it’s starting to ripple out.  I know these are all very tiny baby steps when you look at the giant picture but they are such important moments they can’t be overlooked.

The odds are great that a new alcohol brand will fail.  But despite the enormous mountains that are in front of me to take Brenne to the next (and necessary) levels, those still aren’t my odds. I can feel it …

What’s in a name; how we came up with ‘Brenne’

January 25, 2013 § 7 Comments

Y’all have spoken!  I asked, you answered, more in-depth, narrative stories about my journey launching Brenne, please! I’ll certainly sprinkle in posts about other whiskey-related things I experience or am excited about as I bounce along in 2013, but you’re going to also get a little more of an inside look into the good, bad, fun & ugly of launching a whisky brand.

So here we go!

BRENNE_Logo

As you go about your day, you probably don’t think too much about who, how, where & when the names of items we use regularly started.  Apple, Samsung, Starbucks …they’re part of our daily vernacular!  But someone (or many people) at one point spent lots of time & probably lots of money to do just that: name a brand.

I haven’t written too much about my husband, Nital, but he is easily one of the most intelligent men I have ever met.  And when not brainstorming business strategies with me, he’s off using his smarts to re-brands some of the top companies around the world.  Many times, this includes putting together a strategy to create a name for a brand.  After watching him go through this process a hundred times before, I knew what would be involved in developing the name of our whisky… and with all of his expertise, it still took us 6 months!

We didn’t start by just throwing words down on paper (though there was definitely a LOT of that later on!) but instead started with him asking me a ton of questions like, is this going to be a made-up name or a word that already exists?  If it exists, in what language? Does it sing or is it short? What feelings does it evoke? And so on and so forth.

Here’s what I knew I wanted:

  1. 1 or 2 syllables (I kept putting myself as a customer trying to order it at a loud bar, what would someone be able to “yell” easily? What would sound good in a cocktail if it were to be mixed? What would sound pleasing to the ear as I presented it at tasting event after tasting event?)
  2. I wanted something that looked & sounded French but wasn’t overwhelmingly complicated to a non-French speaking person so that it wasn’t intimidating (there was an amazing study that came out by Olive Garden about having a gnocchi dish on their menu.  It was not selling well at all but before pulling it, they decided to try listing it instead as “potato dumplings” rather than “gnocchi” incredibly enough, with that name switch, it quickly rose to become one of their top sellers.  What’s in a name you ask? Everything.
  3. I felt that the name had to have a connection to the wonderful product that had such a rich story – I wanted the name to be a part of that, to feel a part of the product’s history.

So with that (and a whole lot more) we set about creating list after list of possible names.  We wrote them EVERYWHERE ALL OF THE TIME.  Cocktail napkins, word docs, our kitchen chalk board wall … we had scribbled names everywhere for months. No surface was safe!

While sadly, I can’t remember the exact way I first connected with my distiller, I CAN remember EVERY DETAIL of the moment “Brenne” happened.

I was in Los Angeles at the time and my husband was in New York City.  He had waited all morning for me to wake up as LA is 3 hours behind NYC.  At 8am LA time he called me and said, “Did you see my email?!” Being that checking my email while simultaneously saying hi to my husband are the first things of most mornings, I was already adjusting my eyes to the screen.  At the same time I opened his email, he said it out loud. “Brreeenne” he cooed. Brenne …. brrreenne … like ‘men’ or ‘hen’ … Brrrreeennnne … I rolled it around in my mouth like sampling a beautiful dram, Brenne.  It was perfect! It condensed all of the feelings, emotions, sounds & meanings we had been beating to death into one, tiny, single-syllable word.  And he did it by finally finding the right combination of the right French word whose meaning is applicable to whisky mixed with a twist on our distiller’s family name. Done!

Next step – is it available? This is the part that always puts butterflies in my stomach.  After all of this work, to hear a word and know in your gut it’s right it would be so painful to learn that you can’t get it.  And in today’s fast-moving world, it’s not enough to just be available with Trademarks, but you also need your web addresses, twitter handle, Facebook, etc.! The frantic, pre-coffee search commenced.  Trademarks? From what we could tell, check!  (though this is not a fast process – it took months to finally learn that it was approved but initial results looked to be in our favor). Web addresses? Check. Twitter? Check.  I tried to calm myself down, “don’t get too excited, Allison, this is step one in a long, lengthy and expensive Trademark and design processes!” But I knew it had to be mine – it was so right I felt like it’s been called Brenne all along!

You already know the happy ending to this story – we got the name.  And after setting up my google alerts, I learned that a few more things in far-away lands also use that name 🙂 but nothing damaging, comparable, or problematic in any way, shape or form.

PHEW!

ABS = Always Be Selling

January 9, 2013 § 7 Comments

ABS. Always. Be. Selling.  You’re probably more familiar with “ABC” (Always Be Closing) which works great in both the business & dating scenes but I like to believe the original version to be “ABP” as in “Always Be Pimping.”  And if any of you have had the pleasure of spending even a second of time with Compass Box Whisky’s phenomenal US Ambassador, Robin Robinson (@CompassBoxRobin on twitter) you may have heard him utter this phrase once or twice.

For sales people like us, it’s hysterical, and true. Always Be Pimping Your Brand.  And for someone like me who oozes with excitement at the smallest opportunity to share my passion (Brenne, duh!) with anyone, “always” has a truly literal meaning.

The other day I had a very minor procedure which required me to be temporarily put to sleep.  If anyone has had anesthesia before, you may agree that it’s a bit of a mind game.  One minute you hear the anesthesiologist saying, “Ok, you’re going to start to feel the effects of the medicine….” to then waking up (minutes? hours?) later in a room you’ve probably never seen before with people dashing by your bed and most certainly the unpleasant sound of someone moaning in the background.  But while you try to confirm that you still have all of your fingers & toes before you’re knocked out again in another wave of medicinally induced sleep (that stuff takes a while to wear off!) you have these movie-like snap-shot moments that you start recalling after the medicine has fully run its course.

The first time I woke up, all I remember saying was, “I was drinking wine with my husband in Tuscany…” To which someone asked, “Have you ever been?” And I simply said “No” before falling back asleep.  The next time I woke up, however, the ABS train was in full throttle.  I became aware of this as my eyes focused on the activity the rest of my body was engaged in: Orchestrating a full-court press of just how perfect my whisky was for all of the nurses!  And what surprised me most, was that I became aware of this in the MIDDLE of writing “www.DrinkBrenne.com” on a prescription pad with a scribbled note that read, “My whisky, it’s great!”

Yup.  In my drugged out, 1/2 conscious state, I was selling my whisky to any nurse who came near me!  Ridiculous.  And people think alcohol is addictive?  Try sales.  I’m hooked!

RX_Pad_Brenne_Whisky

I survived! … a reflection of 2012

January 2, 2013 § 18 Comments

Yup. Survived captures exactly what I’m feeling right now.  I actually woke up this morning with a little extra spring in my step (though I do feel inclined to mention that my NYE partying is still taking its toll on my head & I’m sure my liver thus my “springing step” is more of a sloth-like meandering around my office which compared to yesterday, is a massive improvement).  I am just so excited that we made it through in one piece!

2012 was a big one for me.  My husband and I bought, renovated & moved into our new apartment and I launched my whisky, Brenne, with what I can only describe as incredible success (thanks LARGELY to the continued sharing, tasting, buying & chatting about by you all) despite having Hurricane Sandy shut us down for arguably the 2 most important selling weeks in the year.

Whisky inventory management is a whole different ball game than any other commodity I’ve ever managed.  The lead-time is years.  To know how much whisky to create in the first place is a major guessing game (how does anyone really know how well their spirit will sell almost 10 years from the day the process is started?).  Then once you have a spirit that has aged as long as you think creates the balanced profile you are looking for – it’s entirely your call as to when to pull the barrels, how many to bottle, and – in my case – how much to put on a boat and wait patiently for it to travel 1/2 way around the world (all the while you’re barely sleeping as the nightmares of a tsunami or freak storm or anything damaging all of those years of hard work and money keep you up in nervous sweats — and yes, whisky is now looked at as ‘years’ verses simply a ‘product’).

To say I really had no idea how much whisky I could/would sell between October 1st and December 31st is a gross understatement.  I spent about 2 years market testing Brenne in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco while asking nearly every bar tender I had ever met how many bottles of any particular brand of whisky they sell through per month (usually the answer was this: “vodka and gin I go through multiple bottles a night, whisky you say? About 1 bottle per brand per month. Why don’t you want to make vodka instead? You’ll make more money”)  Yikes.  This wasn’t a “get rich quick” business for me – I’ve been building this out of my love for whisky, my passion for the influence & effect terroir plays on the aging product, and the impact that true craftsmanship can have on such an amazing spirit!

Still, I had the number I was looking for (1 bottle per brand per month … that’s 1 case a year per account -or 2 cases if you do 6 bottle cases like I do).  That seemed really low and a little upsetting – after hearing that from a lot of people I do remember running the numbers and thinking, “I can never do this!!!  How does anyone make any kind of living off of whisky? Should I just fold this up now? No one will ever know!  We can sell this in bulk to someone else and let it be someone else’s headache.  We’re too small a company to compete!”  But my husband kept encouraging me to move forward and something deep inside of me agreed.  Knowing that a new brand (and one from a “new” country) would need to be hand-sold by bartenders & shop keepers, I had to figure that my product would take even longer to move through on the shelves.  Which meant I really needed to buckle down, create a very focused plan for launching Brenne, and go back to our college days of living off of the cheapest food I could find. We are in this for the long haul!

After much analyzing of whatever data I could get my hands on – my husband and I agreed to bring in a small amount of Brenne to start.  Mind you, we were only selling this in New York and even then, only focusing on a few areas within the Manhattan area so I really had my work cut out for me to launch this with any type of success.  There were a lot of days leading up to our launch that I thought, “I could pull the cord on this now, I don’t HAVE to move forward, no one is forcing me and again … no one will ever know! – I kept Brenne quiet for years, there was no need to change that! ” Which I knew was all fear talking so again, I kept moving forward.

Then one day you turn the corner and realize that with one more step, you’re jumping off the cliff and there is no turning back.  The future is most certainly unclear but once this step is made – it’s seriously GO time.  I happily & nervously danced my way right over the edge.  Major decision making became as regular a part of my day as my morning coffee.  And with never having done this before in this industry, I’ll be the first to admit there was a lot of “follow your gut” guess work.  There still is!  You do the best with what you have and then, you just keep moving forward.

If I didn’t launch October 1st, I knew I would have had to hold it until January 1 (this week!) as it’s impossible to launch anything new during November and December.  So I did it – pounding the pavement, knocking on doors, hand selling this to every single account who would take an appointment with me.  I didn’t launch this with a distributor – I decided to distribute it myself – and I was SHOCKED with just how well Brenne has been received.

That number of “12 bottles of whisky per brand a year per account” was grossly underestimated.  I have one bar going through about 12 bottles a WEEK!  I have stores on multi-case bi-monthly ordering schedules and the initial quantity which I assumed would supply many unique account was satisfied by only a relatively small handful.  Brenne was definitely exceeding the “12 bottles per year per account*” estimate and I woke up each day with more excitement, confidence, humility and gratitude then I have ever felt.

So after what can only be described as a marathon of tasting events this holiday season, I woke up today alive and happy.  And started to arrange for my next few pallets of product to be loaded up from our distillery in Cognac and brought over to the US.  There is still a TON of hard work ahead and many, many long days but if these first 3 months with Brenne are any indication of our future, then I can not WAIT to keep moving forward and see where were are this time next year.

And just to leave you with a little something – I did ring in the New Year with my husband and dear friends at the very cool new NYC whiskey bar, The Flatiron Room, which I will blog about next time!

I hope you all have a safe, healthy, and wonderful start to 2013!  HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Allison_Patel_Whisky_Party_NYE

*Just clarifying for those who really like to get down to the nitty-gritty, the “12 bottles per account per year” was based off of no published statistics but rather gathered by myself by simply speaking with bar tenders around the USA.  Also, the type of account I’m referring to with these numbers are only for on-premise (meaning a bar, restaurant or lounge).

Awesome Whiskey Gifts

December 13, 2012 § 15 Comments

I look forward to putting together this post all year!  I LOVE conjuring up a little collection of my favorite whisky themed gifts to give to loved ones this holiday season.

Hope this can provide a little help – either to you as the giver, or perhaps as the receiver (just send your gift giver this link!).  And in no particular order, I present to you this year’s list of Whisky Gifts!

DECANTERS

You can go about this two different ways: new or old.  Here are some of my favorites!

Crate & Barrel Decanters

Crate & Barrel Decanters

Crate & Barrel launched a nice line of decanters this year, ranging in price from $29.95 – $44.95.  I think these are pretty great for the home, office or home office!

Vintage Decanter found on Etsy (seller: SFKvintage)

Vintage Decanter found on Etsy (seller: SFKvintage)

Or you can go with something like this! – a vintage piece with unique accents.  Etsy has a lot of cool ones (tip: just search for “decanters,” if you look specifically for “whiskey decanters” you’ll see the prices sky rocket). This particular beauty (sold by SFKvintage) is only $40 and sure to be a sophisticated way to enjoy your favorite dram!

ADVENT CALENDAR

Every year (ok, let’s face it, every month!) the UK-based online store, Master of Malt, does something cool.  They somehow always seem to be one step ahead of everyone else.  And further more, they’re genuinely good people; kind, funny, open & honest…  Just the kind of people you want to support.  This year, they put together an Advent Calendar.  BRILLIANT!

Master of Malt's Whisky Advent Calendar

Master of Malt’s Whisky Advent Calendar

But just in case that is not for you … er… I mean the person you’re shopping for (isn’t that you?), they also have this really cool “Home Blenders Kit” – I’d LOVE to get one of these from Santa!

Master of Malt's Whisky Blending Kit

Master of Malt’s Whisky Blending Kit

BOOKS

With one’s ever growing whisky library, one ought to keep up to date with the latest printed releases as well as the liquid kind.  This first one is a GREAT choice for any Whisky Geek (in case you’re not sure, I’ve taken the time to define such geek-dome in an earlier post).  Written by Corsair Artisan Disillery’s owner & master distiller, Darek Bell,  Alt Whiskeys is summed up as: Alternative Whiskeys and Techniques for the Adventurous Distiller … a copy of this just landed on my desk this week, thanks to Darek, and I can’t WAIT to snuggle up next to the fire with a great dram and get to reading!

Darek Bell's Book available on Amazon.com

Darek Bell’s Book available on Amazon.com

There is also Dominick Roskow’s The World’s Best Whiskies that’s been on my list for a while now.  I always love Dominick’s work – he has a lot of passion and knowledge about distilleries all over the world and he’s yet another wonderful whisky guy (starting to sense a theme here? What can I say?! I find it MUCH easier to support people who are intelligent, talented and humble … no egos for me, please!).

Dominic Roskow's The World's Best Whiskies available on Amazon.com

Dominic Roskow’s The World’s Best Whiskies available on Amazon.com

ART

Why not get that whisky lover in your life a beautiful piece of whisky-related art?  I love the quiet elegance of this Old Whisky Barrel print by Olivier Le Queinec.  Choose your print medium (metal, acrylic, canvas, framed, or even greeting card) and your size.  You can find something in any budget as prices range from $4.95 – $257.62 USD (with prints starting as low as $16).

Old Whisky Barrel print on Fine Art America.com's site

Old Whisky Barrel print on Fine Art America.com’s site

WHISKY / WHISKEY

And lastly, a bottle of the good stuff!  It would be ridiculous for me not to suggest my own whisky but I also don’t like the idea of using this blog solely for shameless self promotion.  That said, I AM recommending Brenne Estate Cask as the whisky gift du jour for the following reasons:

Brenne appeals to just about everyone.  I have been (happily) surprised by the incredibly wide range of fans; from young male & female post-collage undergrads to established, middle-aged peat-freaks, to your typical wine-o’s, to your typical whisky-geeks and beyond.

Photo courtesy & (c) by Ken Buschner/Studio-2B.com

Photo courtesy & (c) by Ken Buschner/Studio-2B.com

I have been shocked by the number of Islay Scotch drinking fans who have gravitated towards Brenne (which is on the complete opposite end of the taste spectrum – no smoke, no peat, all fruit).  Also, the number of non-whisky drinkers who have also picked up bottles for both their own consumption and as gifts.  The point is, this whisky is smooth, so easy to drink and has lots of vanilla and fruit notes that there is little about it that can offend someone while at the same time offering tons of complexity for people to enjoy.

You can easily buy this online at Park Ave Liquors HERE

So there is my plug – not because it’s mine but because I so wholly believe in it as the whisky you can share with everyone and not worry about turning anyone off to this great world of whiskies … on the contrary, you may make a few more fans!

Hope you are all having a wonderful time this season – don’t forget to stop and smell the spruce!

happy-holidays

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