Conversation with Allison Patel, Founder of Brenne (Part II)

Brenne is a new single malt whisky brand which hails from France. The whisky is uniquely farm-to-bottle, aged in new limousin oak and finished in ex-cognac barrels. I first came across this brand at Whisky Live which is where I met founder and owner Allison Patel.

Two months later Allison and I sat down at a wonderful bar in West Village to talk whisky. I wanted to know more Brenne, and not just the stuff that you can read from the website, I needed to go deeper. Allison was enthusiastic and cheerful throughout the conversation as I pelted her with question after question. Here’s part two of the interview. Part one can be found here.

Barrels of maturing Brenne


What’s are some of the complexities that come with working with the distiller who is halfway across the world while you manage and try to grow the brand Stateside? Are your values aligned to carry this venture forward into the future?
Allison: If this was twenty years ago it’d be very challenging to do business. Thankfully with phones, long distance plans and email we actually get business done pretty easily.

The Estate where Brenne is produced

The distiller takes it from seed to barrel and I take it from barrel and beyond. The distiller is obviously vested and concerned. Originally he had distilled this whisky purely for his own consumption. He had no intention of coming to market. He is just so happy that I have stepped in and developed what was a hidden passion into a full fledged brand. He watches from afar and trusts my judgement 100%. Furthermore, I own every drop of whisky, so in the end I handle the whisky as soon as it’s barreled.

Brenne is famously a one person company, How do you do it all?
Allison PatelAllison: I have the best support team that anyone could ever have. My friends have unconditional love for me and put up with my crazy schedule when I can’t return phone calls and emails as regularly. I have friends who’ve shown up in my lobby and just left flowers telling me “good job, we love you!” Additionally my husband is absolutely my backbone and is my silent partner throughout all of this. He’ll never take any credit for it, but he’s brilliant and has really helped me shape this.As far as the day-to-day, I really like it. People must think I’m crazy – I import, I distribute in New York and I just released Brenne in three other markets. I’m the accountant, PR person, web designer, everything, but I really enjoy it.

What was one thing you wish you had known before you started?
Allison: Insurance. If you’re ever shipping your stuff internationally, you really
need to make sure that you have really good insurance. I had 18 cases stolen recently and that was tough. My insurance company gave me a measly check, but I can’t lay blame on anyone else but myself because I didn’t file it correctly. The importing is definitely the thing that keeps me up at night because anything and everything does happen during the voyage. It’s important to insure your merchandise at the highest value possible.The other thing I would tell my pre-Brenne launch self is to work as hard as I do, but not be so nervous. As confident as I was in myself, I was also petrified. I’m sure in 15 years I’ll tell myself not to work as hard as I do. You have to make sacrifices everywhere, but it’s tough to know now if the sacrifices I make will be worth it – but I hope so.

What’s the hardest part of starting up a new whisky brand?
Allison: Getting the right word out there. Making sure that the message you want out there is the message the comes across. Making sure that I’m able to communicate that message effectively.

Do you feel like Brenne competes with other French Single Malt brands?
Allison: I don’t feel like we’re in competition. I think we can all only help each other, especially considering that there are only a couple of us. Armorik is the only other single malt brand available in the States and there is also a blend called Bastille.

Other than Brenne, what are some of your favorite single malt drams at the moment?
Allison: A mainstay for me is always Yamazaki 12 (or 18 if I can afford it). I’m also a big fan of Balvenie 14 and 17 year Caribbean cask. Both distilleries serve as an inspiration to me.

What do you think is the evolution of single malt whisky in the US? 
Allison: I think world whiskies will continue to develop. I would also wager a guess that more production of single malt whisky from American distillers will continue to grow.

Barley fields at the distillery

 

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