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Nic Christiansen is a Level 1 Sommelier, an Executive Bourbon Steward, and has appeared on Bravo’s Top Chef to educate judges and contestants about cocktails. She started off her restaurant career on the culinary side, but quickly fell in love with bourbon and started her bartending and mixology career. Today she manages the single barrel program at Barrell Craft Spirits and is also the Assistant Blender for the company. Bourbon Women recently caught up with her to learn more.
BW: How did your previous experience managing a high-profile whiskey bar program prepare you for your current role?
NC: There were a number of things at Butchertown Grocery that prepared me for my current role. One big one was I was able to build a whiskey program with over 22 private barrel selections. I quickly fell in love with tasting whiskey straight from the barrel and was able to learn from each barrel selection. I wanted each one to be distinctly different than the previous selections, but they all had to do 3 things:
- Have a complex aroma that evolves over time.
- Have an interesting palate that changes from the front to the mid-palate.
- Have a long finish that brings all of the flavors together and leaves you wanting a second taste.
Another thing was constant tasting to expand my catalog of flavors and aromas. Chef Bobby Benjamin and I were always diving into cultural flavors of food then pairing dishes with whiskey, wine, craft beer, and coffee. I try to use “Zen Mind” or “Beginners Mind” with tasting, so I am always learning, and never making assumptions. This is why I love blind tasting so much.
BW: What does a typical day look like as a Single Barrel Manager?
NC: Every day is different, but it is a combination of pulling barrel samples, proofing, quickly analyzing, and sorting samples. We also have a Private Release Program that involves creating unique micro-blends and barrel finishing them. There is a lot of planning, blending, and tasting as the whiskey or rum spends time in the secondary barrel. Then all samples must be allocated for Retail Stores, Restaurants, Bars, and Whiskey Groups around the Country.
BW: What about as an Assistant Blender?
NC: As Assistant Blender I get to work with Joe Beatrice, Tripp Stimson, and Will Schragis on new product development and innovation. Some days this is in the form of a brainstorming session, other days it’s in the lab where we create test blends, then discuss the blends before going back to the lab to make adjustments. We also spend time in the lab before blending our core products like Batch Bourbon, Dovetail, Armida, and Infinite Barrel Project. Once the lab blend is perfected, we create a plan to scale up to batch size. This also involves constant tasting and adjusting to make sure we create the best product possible.
BW: What advice do you have for women wanting to get into the distilled spirits industry?
NC: Networking is a great way to meet like-minded people in the industry who can offer advice and leads on possible opportunities. Don’t be afraid to reach out to those people. Learn everything you can about the spirits industry and taste whiskey blind. There is always something to learn. I think it’s a really exciting time for women in the distilled spirits industry!
BW: Tell me about your perfect bourbon weekend in Louisville.
NC: I love to bike, so it would be really fun to plan a route with three downtown distillery tours, the Frazier History Museum, and a bourbon focused restaurant.
BW: What’s your favorite whiskey cocktail?
1.5 oz Barrell Bourbon Batch 26
1 oz Campari
1 oz Cocchi Torino or other Sweet Vermouth
Stir, strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with expressed orange peel.
Photos Courtesy of Barrell Craft Spirits