Shaylyn Gammon, recently named Whiskey Director for Blue Run spirits, has moved from working with one whiskey legend (Jimmy Russell at Wild Turkey) to another (Jim Rutledge at Blue Run Spirits), and her new role as Whiskey Director at Blue Run soun
ds like every whiskey girl’s dream! We had the chance to ask her a few questions about her path to Blue Run, what she sees in her future, and of course, her perfect whiskey weekend in Louisville, her home base.
BW: Your degree is in Food Science. Tell us a little more about that field of study and how you became interested in it?
SG: Food Science is the study of science as it pertains to food – from food microbiology to food engineering, sensory science, and everything in between. I entered college undecided on a major but when I found out about this relatively unknown degree and being the curious foodie I am, I decided to go for it. I’ve appreciated how it’s positioned me from a unique perspective within the alcohol industry.
BW: How did you end up working in the industry?
SG: My first job was in the food industry working in R&D. I gained exposure to the R&D process and worked on many different kinds of formulations for various customers from Gerber to Kraft to the US military. When an R&D position became available at Campari, my R&D background helped me get my foot in the door. I had success right off the bat with SKYY Texas Grapefruit and Pacific Blueberry vodkas as well as the 17 year-old Wild Turkey Master’s Keep which helped me build my confidence and assisted in propelling me forward.
BW: How do you use your background in Food Science and how did that prepare you to work in the whiskey industry?
SG: While I find that many times the directions our careers can go astray from our undergrad degrees, my experience has been quite the opposite. Particularly my food chemistry classes, statistics, and sensory science classes have been the most applicable in my career thus far. Understanding the nuances of how whiskey, namely flavor, and its constituents, develop and interact has been vital to my understanding of how to create a flavor profile.
BW: What does a Whiskey Director do?
SG: As Whiskey Director, my role is to assess the liquid needs and direction of the company – understanding the existing inventory, where the gaps are, and how they can be filled through sourcing and distilling. I’ll attack this from both a flavor and story-telling perspective as well as from a technical and quality perspective. I am involved in all aspects of the creation of our products from the grains selected all the way through bottling as well as learning how to distill from the esteemed Jim Rutledge. I also advise on the business development plan for the company and where we are wanting to take our brand.
BW: What does your day-to-day life at Blue Run look like and what challenges are you most looking forward to tackling?
SG: Every day is different but when we are producing (i.e. dumping, bottling, etc.) I am present to oversee the process, conduct stability testing, etc. Otherwise, I am tackling the inventory keeping up with what liquid should be saved for which project, as well as sampling periodically to understand how the liquid is transforming. I am looking forward to giving Blue Run liquid its signature stamp. . . . whatever I deem that to be, as well as introducing this amazing brand to as many people as possible.
BW: Can you talk a little bit about the difference between working for a large multinational corporation like Campari and moving to a smaller, craft operation?
SG: Working for Campari was an amazing experience and I likely got to do far more there than I would at other larger corporations because of the small-company nature despite its size. The level of autonomy I will have at Blue Run is new for me as well as the freedom to explore other parts of how a company operates being that we’re such a small team. I also think by nature of having more experience now (vs. when I started at Campari) as well as being trusted as the sole expert in some of these areas, I will be able to move projects along faster and get to market faster.
BW: What’s it like working with whiskey legends like Jimmy and Eddie Russell and Jim Rutledge?
SG: Humor. Lots of humor. And of course knowledge. All of these men have extensive backgrounds in not only distilling but every single facet of how to create bourbon and they can’t help but ooze knowledge and wisdom when they’re speaking to you. I’ve learned/am learning an incredible amount from them not only about how to make wonderful bourbon but it’s also interesting to see how the industry has changed (and hasn’t) over the years from their perspectives.
BW: What’s one thing you wish people understood better about whiskey innovation?
SG: While innovation can take many shapes and forms, at the end of the day, having the ability to blend is vital and is as much art as it is science. Blending and its sister processes are critical in order to maximize the potential use for your inventory. They can be used to highlight or downplay certain aspects of the liquid, as well as to create something new and tantalizing to the senses. It’s really the foundation to all innovation before any finishing or other forms of technical innovation should be considered.
BW: What advice do you have for women who want to become involved in the bourbon and whiskey industry?
SG: There are so many creative individuals that have found their niche in the alcohol world through less-traditional roles and angles. If you’re not able to land a job at a distillery, keep applying and creating connections, but in the meantime, look for ways to engage your passion through other creative means. Whether it’s a monthly bourbon gathering for your girlfriends or taking a distillation course, try to do it for you and not for social media or any other purpose.
BW: Tell me about your perfect whiskey weekend in Louisville:
SG: Ideally I would stay at a local BnB and head to a new restaurant (because we have so many amazing restaurants) and order the most interesting thing on the menu along with a complex floral-forward bourbon cocktail. I would then end the night at an outdoor venue and hope that the menu had an indulgent bourbon cocktail to pair with an equally-indulgent dessert that featured dark chocolate (preferably mousse) in some form or fashion.