Where Women Work | Allison Parc of Brenne
Editor’s Note: At ROSE & IVY, we are very lucky that we get to cross paths with many talented individuals who have fascinating careers. Many of them have made us curious and made us ask—how do you break into something like that? We took that notion and decided to find out. In this series, Where Women Work, we explore a range of creative fields and tap into those who are pursuing certain paths by asking how they did it, what they have learned and advice on how to break into various fields. We hope this column leaves you inspired!
For more in this series click here
I met Allison Parc of Brenne Whisky at a press event that she was having at the Pierre Hotel in New York. She is the type of person that you immediately want to be friends with—she is kind, energetic and passionate about what she does. Allison, a former professional dancer, started her whisky brand after realizing that there was a gap in the industry that focused on the terroir and a seed to spirit approach outside of Scotland. While many questioned her endeavor, she believed in it wholeheartedly and set out to create a brand with a distiller based in Cognac, France who took a chance on her idea. Years later, her hard work has paid off and manifested into a thriving company that has received many accolades along the way. She shares how she did it, how she overcomes hurdles and shares valuable lessons about running a company.
Meet Allison Parc
Founder of Brenne
Official Job Title
Founder & President of Brenne French Single Malt Whisky
What inspired you to start Brenne?
Terroir! It’s a concept that we hear a lot about in wine and it relates to it having a sense of place in the taste. I realized that no one was focusing on incorporating a seed-to-spirit approach to making Single Malt whiskies in places outside of Scotland. It’s a nerdy way of saying, I was interested in finding someone using a ‘local/sustainable’ approach to making whiskies in non-traditional whisky making territories.
To be clear, I never intended to have my own brand! At first, I was looking to start an import business and these were the types of whiskies I was hoping already existed for me to import. However, when the doors started shutting on me—aka, no one was making single malts this way and so many people told me my ideas were crazy—the window started opening. I saw that if I wanted to find this ‘unicorn whisky’, I was going to have to spearhead this myself. So I did! The funny thing is people always assume it was my family’s business or that I had previous ties to the industry when in fact that could not be farther from the truth. Prior to this, I was working hard as a professional ballerina. I had to learn the booze business from the ground up with a ton of hard work, grit, and persistence.
Allison is wearing Marla Aaron Jewelry throughout
You’re at a cocktail party and someone asks what you do. What’s your answer?
“I make whisky…in France.”
How did you go about starting your company?
The international whisky community knew I was on the hunt for something specific and through a variety of conversations, I was introduced to someone in France who connected me with my now-distiller, a third-generation farmer and distiller living in Cognac, France. He is only four years older than me, which I think really helped; we were both young back then and he saw my passion, drive and creativity and I saw his technical skills, production knowledge and excitement. We eventually agreed to take a big risk together and see if we could develop this into something. It took me wiring him my entire life savings to get Brenne off the ground and I didn’t come from a privileged background so there was no ‘back up fund’ in case I went broke. Tons of hurdles later (including me having to deliver Brenne via CitiBike in NYC for the first year!), we have more than survived, we’re thriving, with still a very long way to go! Thankfully, we have the most loyal and wonderful consumers who have stood by us from whenever they were first introduced to Brenne through present day. It’s quite special meeting our Brenne friends when I travel now—each and every bottle sold, shared, and enjoyed make a true impact in our company.
Allison and her right hand woman Bronwen Jones, assessing a newly opened bottle of Brenne.
What’s usually the first thing you do when you get into the office in the morning?
Well, since moving my office back into my home, after 5 years in a WeWork space, and also getting a new puppy, my answer has changed quite a lot in recent months! Now my first thing is to walk Ernie! Step two is coffee—I’m a daily Nespresso drinker and keep hoping George Clooney is going to magically appear next to my machine one of these days!. Step three is my favorite. Every [work] day whether I’m at my home office or on the road, I start with a blank sheet of paper and I draw a line down the center: left side is for Brenne To Do’s, right side is for my To Do’s. I first let myself do a brain dump into both columns. Then I’ll go back to the list from the day before to see what I may not have finished and move that over or delegate it to someone else. The next, and perhaps most important part is to star the three most important things that move the needle forward and I tell myself, “if you just get these 3 things done, then everything else is gravy.” This keeps me from feeling overwhelmed, getting off track, and it also keeps me focused on the bigger goal: growing the business!
I’m always very motivated to work so the hardest part for me is to look at the items on the right. I’ll often write there: 30 minutes reading, gym/run/yoga, meditate, call X, buy flowers, return X, send X a thank you note, etc. It’s very easy for me to let my work email dictate my day so this list helps me get things done while also making sure I’m living a healthy, balanced day-to-day. Since I started doing this—especially when I’m on the road—I’ve had significantly less burnouts.
What role do you play, e.g. what’s a typical day look like for you?
When I’m in New York, I’m in task-master mode or big project creation zone. My emails are more managed and I can easily have a day full of in-person meetings or calls. But those days make up less than 50% of the time! Usually me ‘arriving’ to work means I’m landing in some city in the USA or Europe and walking out of the airport directly into a meeting with sales people, hosting a business lunch, visiting accounts, hosting a Brenne tasting event, attending a business dinner. I also like to have a BrenneHattan nightcap somewhere to check out a cool bar that could become a great home for my whisky or finally going to my hotel to check-in. Then, around 11pm or midnight, I’ll have a little energy left over to look at my phone, chat with my friends and family—I especially love it when my boyfriend gets our puppy to Facetime with me—and I settle into sleep around 1am. My alarm goes off at 8:30am for a quick visit to the hotel gym or outdoor run before I do the whole thing all over again!
What would you say is one misconception about your job?
This has also changed overtime. In the early days, people had a hard time seeing me as the founder and instead assumed I was a paid ‘face’. The fact that I knew so much about whisky really surprised them. It always made me shake my head when I would tell people I founded Brenne, then go through my whole story, only for them to ask me at the end ‘wait, you founded this?’ And, ‘yea, ok, maybe you did but do you actually like whisky!?’ I used to ask them if a master chef likes food. Today, the misconception seems to be that it’s easy. Everyone seems to know someone who recently started a brewery, winery or distillery and there’s certainly a (short!) honeymoon phase with the idea. However, to produce whisky from seed-to-spirit, as we do, wait the 6 to 10 years for each barrel to bring our whiskies into the perfect balanced flavor, while simultaneously running an international business with multiple points of distribution and partnerships where everyone is responsible to deliver on a variety of goals (sales, supply, etc) and work tirelessly to be heard by consumers above the noise of the competition, well, it’s anything but easy. Wonderful? Yes. Easy? Not at all.
How do you navigate the highs and lows of running your business?
The highs are easy! I tell myself to make sure I let myself enjoy them as much as I feel the lows and to treat myself when and where I can. The ‘highs’ also come in many forms: it can be a heartfelt share from a stranger on Instagram about a special moment that occurred for them around glasses of Brenne to being asked to be interviewed to receiving an award. Through hard work, we’ve been fortunate to have achieved many highs in a short period of time. We expanded Brenne’s distribution to top markets across the country and in Europe, I was named the World Whisky Brand Ambassador of the Year by Whisky Magazine’s Icons of Whisky—I’m the only woman to have received the award. Brenne also has received a lot of awards, including two World Whiskies awards in 2016 and 2017.
When I’m having a challenging day, I’ll do one of three things depending on where I am and my available time: walk/snuggle with Ernie, go for a run, or force myself to stroll through a museum or park alone. When the challenges feel really grand, I can start to get out of my head if I can be immersed in things greater than my own world, like incredible paintings, giant sculptures, or nature. Sometimes I really need to be shaken out of my zone so I’ll see a friend, listen to podcasts about how other people have overcome a challenge or read a biography. Usually in remembering that there are thousands of avenues to create in life, I start to unlock the creative solutions to solve my current challenges.
What is the most valuable career advice you have ever been given?
“If you bagged groceries at the supermarket, that would be enough.” In other words, you are not defined by your company/job/art/etc, you are defined by how you show up for yourself and for others in the world. This reminds me to detach from my work just enough to continue pushing the boundaries and taking positive risks. If I’m too close to my company, then I can start to make decisions based on fear and that’s when I’ve noticed creativity and expansion get stifled.
Have you had a mentor to look up to to help you navigate your endeavor?
I really want to answer yes but unfortunately, no. I’ve had various role models and I am supported by an incredible friend group who have helped me tremendously along the way. Outside of the whisky industry, I admire my grandmother, Grace, who lived to 102 and never stopped learning until her final week. She taught me many things, including that the most interesting person in the room is whoever is actively studying something. A passion for learning keeps you mentally fit. Her legacy is honored on every bottle of Brenne, which are embossed with the words ‘Grace et Saveur’ translating to ‘Grace and Flavor.’
What’s your advice to those looking to have a successful career in your industry?
Choose your distributors carefully and work as hard on your reputation as you do anything else. You only have one. The industry talks and if you lack integrity, intelligence, and kindness, it will be a harder road. Also, if you’re looking to create a product, make sure you’re actually creating something new and not copying something that already exists. As a world, we need more authentic creativity that’s done with integrity than we do something that simply has ‘a good marketing plan.’ Let’s work together to minimize oversaturation of choice and instead continue moving forward with better quality, care and thoughtfulness for our planet, our employees, and our consumers.
Follow Brenne on Instagram!
Photography by Alison Engstrom