There are a lot of paths to the Bourbon industry, and even if you have a background that would lend itself more to quality control it is still possible to pivot into consumer education. That’s exactly what Buffalo Trace Single Barrel Program Associate Susannah Hubler did after discovering her love of Bourbon.
BW: How did your education in bio-chemistry prepare you for your role as a single barrel program associate?
SH: My degree in bio-chemistry helped me to get my foot in the door at Buffalo Trace. I was originally hired back in 2015 in the quality lab, which makes a little bit more sense with my degree. While working in that role, I learned all about our brands and really started to develop my palate as a member of the tasting panel. A year after I was hired, I started to take an interest in the marketing side of the company. I volunteered to work at different tasting events and fell in love with educating people about our brands and bourbon in general. You by no means need to have a science degree to work in the single barrel program, but I do think my time in the lab taught me a lot about the distillery, how bourbon is made, and how much quality goes into ensuring every barrel we produce is top-notch!
BW: When a group visits to pick out a single barrel and they are new at it, what are some of the pointers you usually give them?
SH: To have fun and take a lot of pictures! Picking a barrel for some people is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so it should be an activity that is enjoyable and memorable. We have done the hard part in ensuring that all the barrels we roll out are excellent – all you have to do is pick your favorite! Some first-timers come in a little intimidated and think they have to be an expert or are afraid they will not be able to taste the differences. Once they find out they will not be graded or judged by their answers, they start to enjoy the process more and are usually blown away by differences they are able to pick up!
BW: When did you discover you wanted to work in the Kentucky Bourbon industry?
SH: I moved down to Kentucky from Indiana to go to school at the University of Kentucky and quickly became acquainted with bourbon! I actually fell in love with everything Kentucky. Between the horse races, basketball, and bourbon, it is easy to get sucked into the culture and traditions of this state.
It wasn’t, however, until my senior year of school that I actually thought of the bourbon industry as an employment opportunity. I was taking a class where your entire grade was centered around one presentation that could be about anything related to chemistry, so I picked bourbon! I began to tour a lot of different distilleries for “research” and learned about the chemists who worked there to ensure the quality of the products and it was like a light bulb went off! At that point, it became a goal.
BW: What advice do you have for women who want to manage single barrel programs?
SH: To be confident! There are a lot of experts in the bourbon community. Some are quick to test your knowledge but really understanding your industry and being confident in what you do know will go a long way with the enthusiasts.
BW: Tell me about your perfect whiskey weekend in Kentucky.
SH: There is nothing I love more than putting together an itinerary for people who are wanting to have the whole Kentucky experience! My perfect whiskey weekend would definitely start with visiting a distillery to learn about the rich history of the bourbon industry and to taste some of the world’s best whiskey! After that, I would be headed to the Keeneland Race track to sip on Buffalo Bow Ties and press my luck betting on the horses with the best names. From there I would take my winnings to my favorite Lexington restaurants to enjoy a few more bourbon cocktails paired with a charcuterie board filled with local meats and cheeses.
Photos Courtesy of Buffalo Trace