Standing Tall in a ‘Man’s World’: Jassil Villanueva Quintana

6/10/2019

 

For Jassil Villanueva Quintana, a fifth-generation member of the Brugal family, growing up in the rum industry was less about swashbuckling and more about business forecasting.

“You hear everyone in the family just talking about business, talking about how things are going, how things have changed in the last couple years, how it's going to be different in the next couple years and so on,” she told us in a recent interview. “So, to have that kind of perspective on how things used to be, it gives you the knowledge on how things should be in the future.”

Today, Villanueva Quintana is the Master of Rum for Brugal, and at 32, she is the youngest master distiller working today for a major rum brand. But her path to distilling was never certain.

“To be honest, I never thought I would be working in liquids,” she said. “What I really liked was logistics and everything that has to do with operations. Consumers think rum is just pirates and the Caribbean sun, but every single bottle of Brugal that we send to the market has more than 1,000 people working behind that bottle.”

Rum on Her Mind

However, the call of distilling turned out to be irresistible for Villanueva, despite the daunting task of breaking into the male-dominated world of rum distilling.

“I never imagined 10 years ago that I would be here,” she said. “I'm the first female that the company invited to apply for a trial. It’s always been more of a man’s world.”

Out of eleven applicants for the trial, Villanueva was the only woman, and the only one invited to begin training to be a Maestro Ronero, a Rum Master Distiller.

“After a year of trials, they gave me the opportunity to join the company,” she said. “After a couple years in training to become a Maestro Ronero, they decided that I have all the knowledge needed to become the first female Maestro Ronero in the company.”

 

New Blood, Old Ideas

Her journey through the company was a shock to some within Brugal, though.

“In the beginning, there were mixed feelings,” she said. “You have the people that have known me for 10, 15 years through my dad, who had been working in the company for 15 years. They were used to seeing me as my dad's little girl. And everybody was really worried about me, like ‘we have to take care of her. She's like the first lady distiller and she's a kid, so we don't want to be mean.’”

But there’s the other side, Villanueva Quintana told us.

“You also have the people who have the mentality that someone that has this specific experience and knowledge, they must be an older person,” she said. “So, when I show up at a customer’s place for a tasting, they were expecting an older lady. When they see me, this young girl who is going to teach them something, they think, ‘Really?’”

Despite encountering skepticism and other professional roadblocks, Villanueva Quintana is optimistic.

“After people give themselves the opportunity to listen, to open up to the experience, everything changes,” she said. “We have a lot of ladies in the industry, especially at Edrington. We have a lot of ladies on the Master Blender team. So, I think maybe in the end we have more skill than men.”

 

An Eye to the Future

As someone who broke into a part of the industry previously dominated by men, she has some words of encouragement for those women following her.

“I think if you have the knowledge and you have the passion, you just have to push through,” she said. “Those doors will open.”

For Villanueva Quintana, ultimately her passion for rum comes down to joy and living life to its fullest.

“I think with rum is about moments and life experiences,” she said. “For me, rum—Brugal, specifically—is about fun. I think what makes rum different is how it is versatile, and you can create your own experiences.”

 

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