From a job at Woodford Reserve to becoming Master Distiller of Tropical Distillers in Miami, Florida, Devin Walden has yet to become a household name but she’s well on her way.
BW: Your career has ranged from bartending to bottling to sales to production. How has this variety of work experience prepared you to take on your new role of Master Distiller at Tropical Distillers?
DW: I feel the variety of work experience I have gained so far has helped me in taking on my new role because it has given me a much better understanding of what consumers are looking for in products as well as what it takes for those products to be successful in market. Having knowledge of all these things are essential when it comes to considering what new products we should make, how they should be made, packaged, etc. I am very grateful for each of the positions I have held because each of them served a significant purpose and role in helping me attain a well-rounded grasp on the industry.
BW: How does the distilling culture vary between Kentucky, where you started at Woodford Reserve, and Florida where you now work at Tropical Distillers?
DW: It is really interesting going from working in Kentucky to Florida. The main cultural difference I have noticed, which isn’t too surprising, is that Florida isn’t whiskey-focused like Kentucky is. (You’ll find other spirits in Kentucky but, you catch my drift!) The distilleries here have much more of a variety of products coming out of them. You will find several great whiskies produced in Florida, but will also find just about everything else from gins, rums, vodkas, liqueurs, and more. It has been a place of learning and growth, forcing me out of my bourbon comfort zone which has actually been really exciting for me.
BW: What advice do you have for women who want to transition from bartending to production?
DW: My advice to any women who want to make the transition from bartending into production for the spirits industry would be to do what you need to do just to get your foot in the door, your work ethic and passion will lead you the rest of the way. You can do this by starting in an entry level job like I did. When I started working at Woodford I started as a temporary employee on the bottling line. Or, what I think is a great avenue for bartenders because of their knowledge would be to find a craft distillery looking for someone to help out with their tastings and tours, then express your interest in learning the production side. Often times at a smaller distillery even if you do not officially work in production, you may be able to help out from time to time or at least spend some time with the production team learning and asking questions. Gain experience there then if you decide to apply at another distillery you will have that experience under your belt.
BW: Tell me about your perfect whiskey weekend in Miami.
DW: I haven’t lived in Florida long and I currently live in Delray so I haven’t had a chance to visit all the popular spots just yet. However, anyone who is a whiskey fan should definitely make a pit stop in South Florida. The Warren American Whiskey Kitchen in Delray is a pretty new restaurant with an extremely impressive whiskey selection that reminds me of some of my favorite spots back home in KY.
My perfect weekend would be taking a trip down to Miami, making stops at distilleries that are on the way for tours and tastings – South Florida Distillers, Chainbridge Distillery, and of course Tropical Distillers just to name a few – then grab dinner and a whiskey flight at the Yardbird Southern Table & Bar in Miami.
BW: What is your favorite whiskey cocktail?
DW: This is a hard one! Whiskey is my favorite spirit so it is hard to choose one, but my favorite as of lately has been what I would call a smoked/smokey old fashioned. (However, since it is not actually smoked, I just used ingredients to give it a “smokey” flavor, I call it “Smoke & Mirrors” )
1.5 oz your favorite bourbon (I used Woodford)
1.5 oz your favorite scotch (I used Ardbeg)
2 dashes orange bitters
1 tsp honey (regular or spiced)
Mix bourbon, scotch, bitters add ice, pour in honey and shake, strain over large ice cube garnish with flamed orange peel
Photos Courtesy of Devin Walden