Like so many women, Jennifer Brandt’s journey in the whiskey industry just fell into place, and it all started with a Strawberry Bourbon Iced Tea. She’s currently Master Blender for Luca Mariano Distillery and and she discussed with Bourbon Women the importance of mentors and the support of colleagues on her journey from Marketing Managed to Master Blender.
BW: Tell us about your whiskey journey. What’s the path that led you to get into blending and your love affair with whiskey? Were there any interesting detours along the way?
JB: My whiskey journey has been a bit unconventional. Everything about it all happened by happenstance. When I first started with Luca Mariano Distillery, I was in my final semester of college and could not stand the smell, let alone the taste, of whiskey. Luca Mariano Distillery was three months away from releasing its first product, Old Americana Small Batch Bourbon. I also wasn’t looking for a job at the moment, I wanted to take in my final semester of college and all it had to offer. However, a recruiter reached out to me, and I accepted a phone interview and then an in-person interview, and something about it all just felt right. Francesco S. Viola, the owner of Luca Mariano Distillery, offered me a position as marketing staff and I started with the company one week later. At this point, the pressure was on for me to get to the point where I enjoyed drinking whiskey and what I was promoting, so I could be genuine with consumers. Then, everything clicked when Francesco Viola introduced me to a Strawberry Bourbon Iced Tea made with our Old Americana Small Batch Bourbon and that is what started my love affair with whiskey. Throughout my time with Luca Mariano Distillery, I’ve worked my way to Marketing Manager, Marketing Director, and now, Master Blender.
BW: What kind of support have you had from colleagues and mentors that’s been critical to your path as a blender? How are you paying that forward to others in the industry?
JB: The amount of support that I have from my colleagues is truly what got me to the point that I am currently at in my career. Not only in the form of trust and confidence that I have received from our founder, Francesco S. Viola, but also the emotional, cognitive, and political support. Everyone on our team has been there to encourage me, be a listening ear, help me meet my goals both professionally and personally, and of course their favorite, a taste tester. From my very first day with the company back in 2019, I felt support from our upper management and colleagues. Without their support, I would not be at the point in my career that I am.
Having a mentor within the industry is such an important thing. They can help you realize your strengths and weaknesses and be a part of your support system. Everyone in the industry wants to see new faces in the industry thriving, so while they may not be there to answer your every question, they are one of your cheerleaders on the sideline. The way that I want to pay it forward to others in the industry is to be that listening ear for them, one of their cheerleaders when they accomplish something amazing, and someone that young people getting in the industry can look upon and realize that just because you are young that doesn’t mean you can’t achieve your goals.
BW: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career in blending? How did you overcome it?
JB: The biggest challenge that I have faced in my career in blending is the stereotype that you must be a guy and you must be older. Women enjoy whiskey too and we also can thrive in the industry with the right support system. I have been told “you’re too young,” “what could you know about bourbon and whiskey, you’re just a pretty face to represent a company,” and “isn’t that industry for guys.” The best way to overcome it has been hard work and determination, putting my all into my work. The best silencer, and feeling personally, is getting to tell some thank you for liking my blend after they tried one of our small batch products and spent the past 10 minutes stereotyping the distilling industry. The industry has slowly been breaking down that stereotype. To be here witnessing and being a part of it has been an amazing experience.
BW: Can you tell us one or two engaging/fun observations you’ve made in your time in the industry that would surprise someone from outside the industry?
JB: An observation that I have made in my time in the industry that might surprise someone from outside the industry is how supportive and friendly everyone is to each other in the industry. It is truly so much more than just a friendly hello and handshake any time you see someone. It is constantly checking in on people from other companies, helping them set up for an event if you finished before them, lending someone sample cups because they ran out, making sure they heard the latest news in the industry, giving them a behind-the-scenes tour, and being a friend, they can lean on if they need it.
BW: What’s one thing you wish people understood more about the role of the master blender and the type of skills and knowledge you’ve developed?
JB: One thing that I wish people understood more about the role of the master blender is that we do not have our hand in the distilling side. When it comes to creating the distillate used for our products, that is a hundred percent the wonderful creations of our Master Distillers and their team. Without them distilling the distillate, we would have nothing to blend. Therefore, you often see Master Distillers and Master Blenders collaborating to create special tasting profiles.
BW: Tell me about your perfect whiskey weekend. Where do you go, what do you do, who are you with, and most importantly, what are you drinking?
JB: My perfect whiskey weekend would most definitely be a summertime weekend. There is something so special about enjoying a bonfire somewhere out in the country where you can see the stars at night after spending the day out on the lake. I have been on a huge Rye Whiskey kick for about the last year and a half, so I would more than likely be drinking a high-proof rye on a large ice cube, like our Luca Mariano Single Barrel Rye, at night by the bonfire with friends. During the day out on the lake, I would either be drinking a Whiskey Sour made with Rye Whiskey or a refreshing Cherry Bourbon Iced Tea, watch out though they are dangerously delicious.