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Meet the Youngest Female Rum Master Distiller

Jassil Villanueva Quintana is giving a female voice to the spirits industry.

Jassil Villanueva Quintana Photo: Courtesy of Brugal

Historically speaking, it hasn’t exactly been a woman’s world when it comes to leading the spirits industry; but that was the past, and there are a group of extremely talented females who are rising to the top. Case in point: Jassil Villanueva Quintana, a fifth-generation Brugal family member who is helping to change that stigma. Not only is Quintana the first woman to become a maestra ronera for Brugal rum, she is currently the youngest Master of Rum in the industry.

The premium rum producer, which is celebrating its 130th anniversary this year, is paying tribute to the legacy of its founder by releasing 1,000 bottles of Odisea, the third limited edition of its prestigious collection Papá Andrés blend. Carefully curated using rum from resting casks of the family’s most exclusive and best-kept private-reserve collection, Odisea is a celebration of more than a century of tradition and innovation. Only 1,000 decanters of the rare and exquisite collector’s items will be available worldwide and each will retail at a recommended $1,500. And Quintana is behind it. We had a chance to chat with her about her rise to the top with the brand.

Brugal Papá Andrés

Papá Andrés collection.  Photo: Courtesy of Brugal

How did you get started in the business?

I grew up with Brugal. As a young girl I remember listening to bedtime stories from my parents and extended family as they shared the stories of Brugal and its traditions. I later came to understand that I was also a part of that legacy, but I did not start working for the company until the rum masters of the fourth generation noticed that I had developed a great sharpness in my nose, my palate, and my eyesight. This is how my career began.

You have been training for quite a long time, what does the process entail?

The baseline requirement to become a maestro ronero for Brugal is to be a member of the family, to be a descendant of Andrés Brugal Montaner. Then, it is training, training, and more training to develop highly refined sensory skills and a deep knowledge of the products based on their signature bouquet of texture and scent, as well as the ability to taste and identify the fundamental differences in the mixtures of each complex, unique rum blend. Training involves exposure to the rum-distilling process and study of the various fragrance notes, appearances, and consistencies of each rum.

Every so often, the family holds a sort of competition to search for the next group of maestros roneros, and I participated in one of them a decade ago along with 11 other cousins. I was the only woman in the family who participated—and I was chosen as the first female maestra ronera in the company, a position I am honored to hold.

As a maestra ronera and fifth-generation family member, I have had the opportunity to observe and take part in a proud legacy. One of my challenges in this role is to keep the Brugal legacy strong.

What do you think is the biggest challenge in being a woman in this industry?

While women have not been historically well represented as leaders in the spirits industry, it is important now more than ever to continue demanding higher standards and to make our voices heard, to show that we’re more than able to lead the industry forward in innovative ways.

Otherwise, our challenges are the challenges of the industry. In order to be competitive, we must always look for new business opportunities, stay conscious of trends, and anticipate and adjust to any industry changes that lie ahead. We must always strategize to keep our brand’s relevancy and position among the competition. I feel like we ladies, because we’re underrepresented, are particularly good at this because we put pressure on ourselves to be on top of our game.

How do you think the industry has changed?

The “premiumization” of it—more consumers in the last few years are drinking more top-shelf, quality dark spirits. Rum classics like mojitos and daiquiris will always be present, but I see cocktails like rum Manhattans coming forward more and more—cocktails that celebrate the innovative complexity of premium sipping rums.

What do you think is the biggest stigma about women in the spirits industry?

 One stereotype that I’ve had to challenge is that women do not typically drink rum neat. This is definitely not true. This is something that is highly valued among female consumers in the Dominican Republic. But we love to cater to all tastes. Brugal 1888, one of our extraordinary products that is rich in flavor and contains notes of spicy chocolate, cinnamon, and dried fruit, is an exceptional choice for both women and men who prefer to drink rum neat due to the complexity of its composition and taste.

What is the number-one change you’d like to see happen?

I’d love to see a more supportive community for women within the industry that helps us build our skills and make connections. The best weapon that we have available to us is our abilities.

Do you think women are consuming alcohol different from how they have in the past? Are there certain trends that are emerging?

I think all people are consuming alcohol differently than they have in the past. We are seeing consumers enjoying more sophisticated products such as aged rum and dark spirits, as well as the emergence of stirred or nearly neat cocktails where the spirit shines.

Walk me through a typical work day in your life.

My work days are never the same—being a maestra ronera has many responsibilities. Some days, I’m traveling, other days, I’m hosting visitors in our production plant for trainings. Other times, I’m focused on new product development in our aging warehouse or scheduling tasting sessions with the other rum masters for sensory evaluations of our products and meetings to educate, develop, and test our organoleptic skills.

This is in addition to managing and filing reports, following up on projects, and releasing our rums before going to the production plant, as each of the production lots must be sensory-approved by the rum masters that is integral to maintaining our Brugal quality.

What’s next for you?

One of my main challenges is expanding the spirit of innovation and creativity that characterizes our brand and uphold the prestige of our products worldwide. This is on top of worldwide expansion.

Our mission with Brugal is to never stop surprising our consumers. I’m excited for the new products we’re developing for the next few years. There is no doubt in my mind that in the warehouse of Puerto Plata we are currently aging the best rums of the future—I can’t wait for you to try them.

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