June 27, 2014 § 7 Comments
I’m super excited to share something totally fun & a little silly with you we’re calling #BrenneVoyage! Every day during the month of July, I’m going to post a photo of Brenne “out and about” and will tag the photo using the hashtag BrenneVoyage on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
As many of you may know, as the founder of Brenne Whisky (pronunciation reminder: “Brenne” rhymes with “zen”), I’m almost always in possession of a bottle of Brenne. It goes with me everywhere and in a lighthearted way, I’ve found myself occasionally referring to these bottles as having personalities and being far from the inanimate objects that they are (after all, I certainly care for them as if they were my children!).
So on a recent trip to Paris, my mother and I had a blast taking Brenne on a sight-seeing trip around town, photographing it’s journey along the way. When we got back and realized just how many of these photos we had, I thought it was only right to share them in a mini-series that you can follow along on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook by searching for the “#BrenneVoyage” hashtag. It was a hilarious way to enjoy a city that I love so much, the theme of which has now taken on a life of it’s own.
I certainly encourage you to grab a bottle of Brenne, your camera and your sense of humor and join me in this month long photographic journey shooting Brenne around town, on your vacation and hanging out with you this summer – just make sure you use the hashtag #BrenneVoyage so we can all see them! (And please respect your local liquor and open-container laws!).
Here’s a taste of the “behind the scenes” …
And below is a teaser of what’s to come …
Hope to see you around the interwebz … I’ll be the one with a bottle of Brenne in her hand galavanting around some of my favorite cities 🙂
#BRENNEVOYAGE STARTING JULY 1 2014
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!!!!
April 6, 2012 § 14 Comments
Between the rain and the recent snow, there were a few beautiful, dry, warm & sunny days in Scotland … and I was lucky enough to have been a visitor during just those days!
After an incredible tour of Forsyths, the Scottish still makers (see my post on that visit HERE), next on the itinerary was a visit to another place in Speyside which has a deep place in my whisky-heart; Balvenie.
Not only was I lucky enough just being there – but my travel buddy (head distiller of Balcones, Chip Tate) and I were given a private tour by Balvenie’s Malt Master (aka, head distiller), David Stewart and their distillery ambassador, David Mair. And if that wasn’t enough – David Stewart was also in the midst of celebrating his 50th year at Balvenie! Congratulations, David!!!
We truly had a lovely afternoon walking the grounds, geeking out about all things “whisky” and of course – drinking some seriously special drams – a few of which David poured straight from the barrels into our open palms. Luckily, slurping was acceptable because I wasn’t letting a single drop hit the floor!
Below is a collection of photos that I took during the visit. Hope you enjoy!
The Balvenie Castle … not exactly where we were trying to go (it’s not that close to the distillery) but it is quite cool to see. Thanks to Google Maps for accidentally taking us here first!
Oh the Scottish weather!
The sign says, “Welcome To Dufftown” …. phew! Back on the right road and almost there!
We made it!!!
This is the view with our backs to the distillery. Isn’t Scotland just so pretty?
The Malting Floor. One of only about 3-5 distilleries left in Speyside who still have an active malting floor. It’s a lot of hard work, manual labor and expense for these distilleries to maintain so it’s a real treat when you get to see one with your own eyes. Highland Park is another one who malts some of their own barley. I don’t know if there is a single distillery left who currently malts 100% of their own barley… if you know of one – please share in the comments below!
Love their old, red grist grinder!
Inside a giant mash ton
This is what they’re talking about when they say, “wooden wash backs.” Not many places ferment their grains in wood anymore. Stainless steel is far more common.
Check out their shiny gold (ok, brass) spirit safes! This is where the distillate cuts are made. Meaning that during the distillation process, the distiller uses the switches and the hydrometer (the device that reads the % of alcohol content) to move the new make through the stills, the low wines receiver and the spirits receiver. Fancy, huh?
Sorry – no photos allowed of the aging rooms (though they were really cool!) – we need to let that liquid gold get it’s beauty sleep! Off to the tasting room we go!
This was the “planned” tasting round … but as luck would have it, the cabinet doors were opened up and we were treated to a few bonus rounds! David & David gave us to some really special pours which I’ll certainly share my tasting notes to later … so stay tuned!
Needless to say, it was a really special afternoon. Thank you David, David and Chip for the laughs, whisky and lasting memories. This day will stay with me for a very long time.
March 30, 2012 § 16 Comments
Last week I had the opportunity to be a part of the most unique tour in Speyside, Scotland. A tour that is quite uncommon and not available to the public – and one that I will remember for the rest of my life (in a way that only a true whisky-geek could).
I walked the grounds of the Forsyths facility – the Forsyth facility. You know the guys … the ones responsible for creating and maintaining all of the equipment that goes in to making that beautiful dram in your hand. The stills. The beautiful copper stills. To the likes of Balvenie and Bruichladdich, from Kavalan to one day soon, Balcones. These are the original still masters and they continue today to make the stills by hand – 3 generations later.
A most sincere THANK YOU to Richard Forsyth for being such a generous host and to Chip Tate (Balcones) for the awesome & unforgettable invitation.
So, put on your hard hat and your ear plugs, this Whisky Woman is going to let you peep inside this magnificent palace of constant construction!
The day ended with a few shared glasses of whisky and a solid game of pool. Naturally, I was on the winning team – kicking butt with my rock-star partner, Richard.
And just to come full circle, Richard’s father (also Richard Forsyth) was awarded the Icons of Whisky Lifetime Achievement Award in London later that week. Congratulations Richard on receiving such a high honor and much deserved recognition.
March 14, 2012 § 8 Comments
In preparation for my fast-approaching trip to Europe where I’ll be attending the World Whisky Conference, the Icons of Whisky awards, Whisky Live UK and doing a few days in both Scotland and France, I thought it best to do a pre-trip detox. Limiting myself to only the necessary sips of spirits and events that my life requires.
…But then again – I AM a whisky blogger…
I can’t totally abandon all fun drinking for a week, can I? I say no. So I have found myself wishing to revisit a beautiful bottle of Kornog that was gifted to me by the ever-talented head distiller, Jean Donnay, of the Celtic Whisky Compagnie. And since I already published my post about my visit to his picturesque distillery (click HERE for Part 1), I thought today was the day to abandon my carrot+kale+celery concoction and reunite myself with my trusty Glencarin glass. Here it goes!
ABOUT: 46% abv (92 proof), Peated Single Malt Whisky, twice distilled in copper pots over live flame, wooden washbacks, aged in French Oak on an earth floor where it rested in the salty-air climate of Brittany, France for at least 3 years
NOSE: Definitely classic, pure “peat” (think Sharpie marker), toasted cereal, hint of dried tropical fruit, ripe banana
PALATE: Sweet, buttery grain, smooth approach in the beginning, obvious peat appears in the middle which morphs into the black pepper that cuts through the buttered grains
FINISH: Happily strong, travels nicely through the mouth with a long, lingering finish. Black pepper re-appears on the tip of the tongue at the very end.
FINAL THOUGHTS: The little time in the barrels makes it very light and approachable and gives space to let this whisky’s classic peat notes shine through. If you’re new to whisky and want to find out if you like peated malts, this is a GREAT place to start. Not many barrel notes – which is expected. Very enjoyable. A PERFECT whisky to drink during the transition from Winter to Spring. The peat is there to add a little warmth while the lightness is refreshing.