February 11, 2016 § 6 Comments
Hi! It’s been a while … a long while. When I realized I am creeping up on my 1yr mark since my last post, I wanted to make sure I pass that moment with a fresh, new, shiny post. So here I am, saying “Hello!” again (thanks Adele), and getting over my “it’s been soooo long since my last post how will I ever blog again???” fear.
“Pushing Through My Fears” could (should?) be a multi-post series as it is something I actively do nearly every. single. day. and something I know everyone faces, no matter where you are in life. My inspiration for this post came when I heard myself correcting someone after he labeled me as “fearless” — flattered as I was, I am certainly not without fear — it’s just that I do my best to not let my fears prevent me from going after my ultimate goals, no matter the size or impact of said goal.
How do I do that?
- Step 1: Address fear
- Sometimes I actually have to say out loud, to myself, “I am scared of ___!” Just doing that diminishes the fear’s power over me 8 times out of 10. If that works, jump to Step 7!
- Step 2: Allow yourself to be vulnerable
- …publicly, with your “inner circle” or even just to yourself (this is a fun one, it humanizes you!)
- Step 3: Visualize ideal outcome
- Step 4: Brainstorm all possible avenues to get to ideal outcome
- Again, solo and/or with others
- Step 5: Commit to a plan
- …while always being open to “of the moment” changes
- Step 6: Start taking action on your chosen plan
- If it feels overwhelming, break the plan down into the SMALLEST pieces possible and truly take them one at a time.
- Step 7: CELEBRATE your action-taking self!!!
- YAY! I toasted the day I first filed for my LLC! Heck, I toast every single milestone I feel I cross with Brenne Whisky still today! When they say “it’s about the journey” I believe it – so I make it a conscious choice to genuinely love the small victories each and every time.
While “fearful me” thinks I should not dare publish a post without giving you a lengthy update on all the great things that have happened with Brenne since last I blogged (like, oh … I don’t know … the fact that I LAUNCHED A SECOND BRENNE WHISKY EXPRESSION called “Brenne Ten” and that Brenne Ten WON 2 GOLD MEDALS AS “2nd World Best Single Malt” AND “Best European Single Malt” in London’s ‘Wizard’s of Whisky’ 2015 competition … AND perhaps the very important fact that BRENNE launched in FRANCE in 2015 … and in the USA grew from 24 to 32 states) the “pushing through my fear” part of me says, “just publish what you have … you can always write more posts tomorrow!”
Annnnnnnnnnnnnnnd that is why I didn’t blog much in 2015. I worked really hard, didn’t know how to distill down all that I wanted to share into decently-written posts (believe me, I tried, I have 23 posts in my drafts folder!) and traveled a ton to humbly & with honor grow this “little whisky brand that can” called Brenne. You know, the one with the blue label from France? Yea … that one) 😀
October 1, 2014 § 16 Comments
First, I want to THANK you ALL for continuing to stay with me throughout this journey of launching my whisky, Brenne. I certainly do not blog as often as I use to but it’s amazing to me to see how many of you are still here, how many new people are following along and how much traffic comes to this site from all over the world. THANK YOU. I hope to continue conversing & sharing with each of you.]
On the morning of Brenne’s 2nd Anniversary of being on the market, I find myself having flashbacks to some incredible points over this past year. The things I think most about are not the gains I’ve made business-wise (though those are awesome!), but rather the people who have stepped into my world to cheer me along and extend a hand. You know who you are; you send me the most amazing tweets, FB comments, text messages. You write to me through the Brenne website to share with me your 1st experiences of enjoying Brenne. You’re store owners who tell me about your patrons telling other patrons about my whisky. You stand around my table at the whisky events bringing other strangers over to try what you’re proudly shouting to be “one of the best whiskies of the show!” You’re the group of Scotch distillers who told me that your brand ambassadors brought some Brenne back for you from the States and you stash it secretly behind your stills to enjoy a nip at the end of a long day (true story!!!). You’re the people who promise to come back to my tasting event with friends … and actually do. You tell me about the times in your life you pull out “the” Brenne; with your sons, your brothers, your sisters, fathers, mothers and friends – and the sweet moment you shared with that loved one while sipping my whisky. You don’t see it, but I’m holding back tears.
YOU bring me the most overwhelming sense of JOY I have ever felt in my professional life. It makes my hands shake just typing this.
My blogger friends (i.e. the #whiskyfabric) have been with me since Day 1 and have continued to support my Brenne dream. That, coupled with the incredible strength, smarts & support from my husband & Brenne co-founder, Nital, has always been my foundation. That is what gave me a confidence boost when I had to step out into the world in those very early days, pounding the pavement with an army of 1, knocking on the windows of bars and retailers around Manhattan with my face cupped to the glass, mouthing to whomever was inside if they’d let me in to have a quick sample of my whisky and, somewhat famously, delivering my hooch on Citibike.
And when that #whiskyfabric family-like support extended beyond the bloggers into the mainstream, well, that’s when my fears started to melt a little and my husband and I could look at each other and say, “this might actually, really, work!”
On the morning of Brenne’s 2nd Birthday, I wanted to highlight a few people’s comments and share with you some of your own words that have humbled me beyond anything I have known.
Allison and all the crew that helped make this extremely unique, delicious single malt whiskey. I was hesitant to purchase this product because I work for a large Scotch distillery, but I always enjoy trying other products. One day a friend/colleague said to me close your eyes and smell this, and tell me your thoughts. I said, it has the aroma of a fine single malt scotch with a semi sweet nose similar to drambue but much fainter. He said good nose, now taste! I did and said I need a bottle of this right now. I wish you much success with this truly amazing product.
I just read the reviews on Brenne, I can almost taste it! I NEED this whiskey in my life. I’m in Miami and can’t find a single retailer….HELP HELP HELP, Please… I would love to introduce this French Whiskey to my fellow female cigar snobs.
Congratulations to you on this fine accomplishment!
(Editor’s note, we’re now selling Brenne in the Miami market and I did get back to this person with a list of stores) 🙂
I’ve just started your blog, and had to pause to let you know how proud I am of your vision, your enthusiasm, and your determination.
July 17, 2014 § Leave a comment
I’ll never forget the moment Fred Minnick called to interview me for his book, “Whiskey Women: The Untold Story of How Women Saved Bourbon, Scotch and Irish Whiskey.” I was on an NJ Transit train barreling away from NYC into the heart of New Jersey where my grandmother, Grace, was saying goodbye to family, friends and life in general.
Though it was over a year ago now, I still feel her loss daily and even reached for the phone to call her recently upon returning from a trip abroad. My grandmothers were key figures in my life for over 30 years and I lost both of them within 6 months of each other. They loved and supported me equally in their own way through my many self-reinventions and career moves.
Grandmom (Grace) was a truly remarkable spirit. She was bold, loving, courageous, curious, had an incredible laugh and LOVED to tell stories (we’d often laugh at how she say she’d have “nothing to share” but then launch into a 40min story chronicling her journey to the post office). She passed two weeks shy of her 102nd birthday and was just as strong and lively a week before her passing as she was the previous 101 years.
So it was interesting for me to be interviewed by Fred in that exact moment when I was deeply reflecting on the incredible life my Grandmother lived and the unsung gifts she had given to everyone she met from 1911-2013.
Fred and I had had a few conversations prior but at the time of the interview, had not yet met face-to-face. He had a way about him that instantly put me at ease and I marveled at how seamlessly the conversation between us flowed as the views of the city quietly disappeared and were replaced with industrial buildings and eventually trees.
When people meet me or talk to me, I don’t think “shy” is a word that comes to mind (nor is it a word I’d use to describe myself most of the time) but I remember being extremely grateful to Fred for even considering to include me in his book – and yes, when it eventually launched with great success, I was certainly shy to promote his inclusion of me in the pages with so many great women – many of whom seemed to possess the qualities I saw expressed by my grandmothers throughout the decades we shared together.
It’s a huge honor when anyone takes an interest in something you do – especially when you’ve risked everything and “put it all on the line” to do it! When I was working on Brenne the years before it was ready to be released, I sectioned off my anxiety about “reviews” and buried them deep inside as I didn’t want any fear for potential negativity to effect my innovation and drive to create something so expressive of the Cognac region and yet so different from any other Single Malt on the market.
I remember when we launched (just 19 months ago!) I’d read blog reviews of Brenne on my phone with shaking hands just praying that they’d be “at least neutral” and feeling my heart melt with happiness when it was one positive review of Brenne after another.
For my Grandmothers who were my biggest cheerleaders of all – I know they were incredibly confused when it seemed that my life took an almost abrupt turn from “ballet to booze” but they nonetheless rooted for me – even if they didn’t understand a single thing I was doing.
Walking off the train that day to sit with my grandmother that afternoon, I shared with her the news of the interview and magnitude of having someone like Fred Minnick take notice of me & my work in those early days. We shared in the excitement together as my faithful cheerleader gave me one of her memorable “I’m so proud of you!” hurrahs one final time. Grandmom was all about family and knowing that all of that cheering she’d done for me here on earth was starting to work in my favor, that maybe “this whisky thing” would work out after all, made us both proud as we sat holding hands that last time.
Fred’s book will always hold a special place in my heart especially because it marks an interesting time in my life. The inclusion of me in context with all of these incredible women in history who greatly impacted the whisky industry – a spirit & industry which I love deeply – is beyond humbling and also something I find comforting. It’s not just my family who has faith in me doing what I’m doing but also all of you – my friends, my peers, my fellow whisky lovers.
A HUGE congrats to Fred who’s book, Whiskey Women was just selected as THE Nonfiction Book of the Year in the Women’s Studies category by Foreword Reviews. It’s an incredible book that continues to climb to the top of the charts. If you haven’t picked up a copy, you can certainly do so now by clicking HERE. I strongly suggest making this your beach read for the 2nd half of the summer!
Thank you also to Drinks Business for recently naming me one of the TOP 10 WOMEN IN WHISKY!
I’m grateful beyond words at being considered one of Fred’s modern day Whiskey Women warriors and look forward to keep pushing forward.
CHEERS & HUGS TO YOU ALL
April 25, 2014 § 15 Comments
My mother jokes that Brenne is her grandchild. I appreciate the joke as Brenne Whisky certainly feels like my first born! And this little baby of mine is gearing up to be a toddler at 18 months old!
Lately I’ve gone through a little internal adjusting and it’s been an interesting game of realization, reflection and a touch of soul searching.
Last Friday my good friend Jackie Summers (of the ridiculously delicious Sorel liquor and yes, he is the Jack From Brooklyn) stopped by to drop something off in advance of a photo shoot we’re doing together next week for an article (yay!). When he arrived, I was not in my usual 100mph, multi- stimuli and multi- everything pace. Instead, I opened the door, hugged him and went back to my living room floor where I laid down, face first.
This journey I’m on is truly incredible. I couldn’t be more blessed; we’re exceeding our goals, leaping over our sales projections, YOU all have continued to be here with me (thank you!), I love when I travel and have the opportunity to meet people in the flesh from all over who we’ve been in contact with on social media (hey #whiskyfabric!), the press & fellow bloggers continue to help me get the word out and I have the BEST team of Brand Ambassadors (via Classic Imports, yay!) out there every day sharing my vision and my little whisky.
Sometimes – the reality of which just smacks you upside the head. Even with all of that support – I’ve still bitten off a LOT. And in my own tiny, super small way, just that fact that I’m still here is a huge accomplishment for me. But WOW – there is still just so much work ahead and on that day, I felt like life had just rushed ahead and left me in the dust. I kept asking myself how am I ever going to get to the tops of these mountains? And man have I have chosen some massive mountains to tackle!!! I was lying on the floor covering my head because the view from my tiny peak was making me nauseous just as much as the realization of how much farther and higher I want to climb! I see plenty of other people climbing these mountains too, but they all seem to have huge teams, fancy gear and a documentary entourage in tow! Yikes. I’m still climbing solo.
This is not an easy road at all. Naturally, I only share publicly the highlights of this journey, but I tell people who are thinking about starting their own _X_ in the spirits world to not be fooled by the happy-go-lucky social media sharing; everything looks easier then it seems, even the stuff that looks impossible. But (there’s always a but!) – the moment when you start to realize your dream is becoming a reality is unlike anything else. It’s deep, exciting and can rock you to the core. 🙂
Brenne has only been on the market for 18 months (which feels like 3yrs) and I realized on that Good Friday that I needed to cut myself some slack. (For example, in that very moment I was getting mad at myself for lying on the floor missing out on valuable work time – I’m my best critic!) My goals and dreams are big – really big, as are any entrepreneurs. And despite the fact that the things I’ve put in motion are, for the most part, farther ahead of where I thought they’d be at this point, it’s still no where near good enough for me and I was in a bit of shock at just how much work I need to do before I get to my next mountain peak.
And here’s where life get’s funny. There I was last Friday feeling like a baby ant in the world of the spirit giants and after spending some quality soul-revitalization time with Jack <@TheLiquortarian on twitter (which included grabbing a slice of pizza and visiting a few accounts together, naturally) this happened:
I decided to walk home after I departed ways with Jackie and popped into a great little store called The Wine Hut NYC along the way. As soon as the store was empty, I pulled out my bottle of Brenne Whisky and introduced myself to the man behind the counter, hoping to get an appointment with the buyer. The store manager looked at me and pointed to a shelf directly above him where Brenne was already sitting! Shocked I asked how he knew about it. He gave me a quizzical look and said matter of factly, “Well, it’s in all the magazines … how would someone not know about it?” (Ummm because I still don’t believe that my baby has sprouted wings!?!). Then 3 people approached the register with 2 bottles of wine and said, “we just need to add a bottle of whisky to our purchase.” Without missing a beat I said, “Oh! Get Brenne! Here!” and popped the cork from my bottle for them to smell & taste it. Without even asking the price – they grabbed a bottle and said, “yup, that’s our new favorite whisky!” I walked out feeling a little better.
The next day, I went up to the country for some much-needed fresh air and some quality time with my oldest friend.
On the drive to catch the train back to NYC, she suggested we pop into her local liquor store, saying that there was something she thought I’d want to see. Walking in, right there on the counter was a display of craft whiskies with Brenne front and center. Best part is she had nothing to do with it (with the exception of apparently doing a dance in the store the first time she and her husband saw it on the shelf!)!
It’s such a weird mix of feelings. I’m out there every day talking about Brenne and the people I meet rarely have heard of it prior to meeting me. But then, there are these incidents of learning about Brenne in places for which the sales had nothing to do with my direct facilitation. On one level I’m well aware that people are learning about Brenne far beyond my direct reach (thank goodness!) – but it’s a fantastic shift to have to alter my thinking (and therefore selling approach) from “absolutely no one I meet has ever hear about Brenne” to “some people may have heard of it!”
I felt like the arm floaties have been removed recently and I’m standing on the edge of the pool watching Brenne swim … not sink … and it feels incredible. Still so much work that needs to be done but at least it’s continuing to grow!
Thank you all for your amazing love & support as I keep trudging forward. Thank you, truly, for bearing with me!
The post I had been prepping for this week was a review of a particularly special night in LA where fellow blogger, Rob Gard of The Whisky Guy blog and author of the recently published “Distilling Rob” and I co-hosted a magical evening of story telling and whisky sipping. Thankfully, Aaron (guest writer on the It’s Just The Booze Dancing blog) just published this magnificent article re-caping the night in far better and more entertaining detail then I ever could! Click HERE to be taken to their awesome post!
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 § 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).
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!
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.
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).
The next morning … we were feeling a little goofy!
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!
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.
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!!!!