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Vuka develops, produces, and sells energy and vitamin drinks. It is based in Del Mar, California.

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2010 Jimmy Durante Blvd Suite 107

Del Mar, California, 92014,

United States

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The Traveling Work Diary of a Master Distiller

Apr 12, 2021

The Traveling Work Diary of a Master Distiller Marianne Eaves has traded the distillery life for travels with her partner’s circus, connecting to clients in the spirits business from all over the globe. Marianne EavesCredit...Rahim Fortune for The New York Times Supported by April 11, 2021 Marianne Eaves, a whiskey expert and entrepreneur, is all about “the journey.” She calls Eaves Blind , her new subscription-based blind-tasting kit, a “yearlong journey through eight different bourbons.” And she says the key to a good bourbon blend is not just its warm finish, but the journey through different flavor profiles that leads you there. Ms. Eaves, 34, has been called Kentucky’s first female master distiller, an honorific that carries a lot of weight in the whiskey world. To her, the title simply means “someone who’s responsible for the quality of what goes in the bottle.” That includes overseeing research and development, equipment installation, marketing and tasting, all skills she honed while interning at the Louisville spirits company Brown-Forman and working at the distillery Castle & Key in Frankfort. Now flying solo, the whiskey enthusiast with a chemical engineering degree creates recipes and consults for spirits brands around the globe, while starting ventures of her own. Her life also revolves around journeying in a very literal sense. Since 2019, Ms. Eaves has resided in an R.V. trailer — a 42-foot fifth-wheel toy hauler, to be exact — with her partner, Kevin Venardos. Along with their 1-year-old daughter (and another baby on the way), the family roams from city to city with Mr. Venardos’s circus . In November, the tent hosted its last socially distanced event, in Buda, Texas, and the family has been parked there ever since. While waiting for live-event restrictions to ease up across the nation, Ms. Eaves blends spirits at her kitchen table and conducts taste tests at a temporary office in nearby Austin. “I think people are surprised to hear I left what seemed like a fairy-tale job at a bourbon castle in Kentucky and ran away with the circus,” she said, adding that her pivot has been a “great adventure.” “I see this as a musical interlude to the next big step for me in spirits.” Keeping with her nomadic streak, Ms. Eaves is converting an old circus Freightliner truck into a mobile spirits laboratory, where she can experiment with new ingredients and techniques, visit distilleries and schmooze with fellow booze enthusiasts. She calls the new project “bourbon jet-setting.” With a debut set for late 2021, it’ll roll alongside the circus. During a phone call in early March, she talked about both her mobile and mail-order endeavors, as well as staying safe while entering her second trimester of pregnancy. “As long as I pace myself, I’m swishing with water and it doesn’t enter my bloodstream, I’m OK,” she said. “I can’t sit there and swallow it. Swish and expectorate!” Interviews are conducted via email and phone, then condensed and edited. Monday 6:30 a.m. Today, I’m moving bourbon samples out of the private office I’ve been renting at Vuka , a co-working space in Austin. I meant to do it the previous day, but I fell behind schedule after the winter storms closed Texas, and I’ve been busting my butt playing catch-up ever since. Being pregnant also doesn’t help my energy levels. 8:30 a.m. After we take our daughter, Andi, to her nanny’s house, Kevin drives me to Vuka. On the way, I call my distribution partner in Canada to discuss introducing Eaves Blind to that market. We’re having a hard time securing the licenses we need for spirits sales because the tasting program doesn’t meet their government’s standards. 9:30 a.m. Kevin assembles moving boxes, and we pack all 260 samples. I’ve approved various lots for my Tennessee bourbon client, Sweetens Cove , based on six different barrels ranging from three different ages, four to six to 16 years old. 11:30 a.m. We head to lunch at this vegan spot, Casa de Luz , then back home to unpack the remaining spirits, plus my graduated cylinders, beakers, scales and other tools. 1 p.m. Start compiling a long list of to-do items for a Chinese client who is constructing a distillery in Fujian. I’m creating a timeline of everything that needs to happen before they whip up their first run of single-malt products, including equipment cleaning and testing, as well as ingredient sourcing. I also review all of the instrumentation diagrams their Scottish engineering firm provided. I love the technical side of the industry! 3 p.m. Time to pick up the baby. On the way, I call an Australian-based design firm about a collaborative project with Lindsay Hoopes of Hoopes Vineyard in Napa. We discuss names for a smoked brandy we created using grapes affected by the 2017 and 2020 wildfires. I’m excited about the name we all like — it’s sexy and provocative. 4 p.m. Head home for our nighttime routine with Andi — dancing, lots of funny faces, plus some walking and “talking.” She’s got the hard “k” sound down. She tries to say “truck,” “rock” and “duck,” but it just sounds like she’s sitting there cussing. 7 p.m. Kevin and I spend a little time alone together watching “The Last of the Mohicans,” because he’s on a Daniel Day-Lewis kick. Today in Business Tuesday 6:30 a.m. I pluck our sweet morning angel from her crib and give her a diaper change, a bottle and some cuddles, then it’s playtime. 8:30 a.m. With Kevin and the baby off to the nanny’s, I eat breakfast, take a shower and start thinking about rum. 9:30 a.m. I set rum samples out in the kitchen and develop blends for a taste test. I try an addition of sugar (or a “dosage”) but find I prefer the samples in their natural state. Once I finalize the blends, I bottle them and get them ready to send to a client in Florida. Noon Call Sarah Perez, a Black female brewer in Wasilla, Alaska, who reached out to me via Instagram . She recently spearheaded a local chapter of the Pink Boots Society , a nonprofit that helps women brewing professionals. We talk about a possible collaboration, and I learn that the society has expanded to include all fermented beverages, meaning I’m now eligible to join. 1:15 p.m. I clean up after my blending exercise and tune the TV to “Bridgerton” for some background noise while I review orders for the tasting kit. They were initially intended to ship March 1, but that’s been delayed to April because of Covid-related issues in the supply chain. 2 p.m. Exchange emails with my box and label manufacturers to ensure that I can stay relatively close to my budget and timeline for my kits, but everything is going over budget. I should have expected as much — it’s my first time doing a release completely on my own. 3:30 p.m. On my way to pick up the baby. 7:30 p.m. After Andi goes to sleep, I have a quick update call from a partner in California to discuss a Kentucky-produced bourbon that will hopefully be launching in 2022. Then I get in bed to read “ The Science of Storytelling .” It’s giving me ideas for the book I want to write about becoming a distiller, something in the vein of “ Lab Girl .” Wednesday 8:30 a.m. Eat breakfast and do a few dishes, then put on “real” clothing for a Zoom call. 9 a.m. Talk with my partners in a Kentucky bourbon venture using a special recipe I developed and produced for them about three years ago. We look at nine exciting bottle designs done by the Ohio-based firm Holotype . One of these will be our bottle! 10:30 a.m. Respond to an email from a larger-scale distillery in Australia looking for help with managing their quality-control system as they scale up. They have a successful team of in-house blenders, but they need someone experienced who can help them set up smart methods for operating effectively and efficiently. Noon After lentil soup for lunch, I start packing up the house. We’ve been parked behind Buck’s Backyard , but the bar is hosting a BBQ competition this week, so we have to move to a new location temporarily. 2 p.m. After settling in our new spot, Kevin heads out to collect Andi while I try to make some headway on work. More emails with my label manufacturer, then I have a call with a client in Illinois to discuss a new recipe. 6:45 p.m. After her nightcap bottle, the baby is ready for bed early, so I lay her down and keep working. Thursday 9:30 a.m. Zoom call with a Holotype designer, Dale Doyle. I bring him up to date on my Covid-related delays, and we talk about what’s left to be done for the tasting-kit launch, including finalizing the label design and product photography. 10 a.m. Start blending the same set of rum that I prepared on Tuesday; the client wants it prepped for some key players on their team to try. Noon Head out to send a few shipments and get a change of scenery from the inside of our R.V. The terrain here is so different from what I’m used to in Kentucky. It’s a lot more vast. There are so many species of oak trees that grow here, which fascinates my “bourbon brain.” 3 p.m. I hop in the car and take my weekly update call with the Sweetens Cove team to talk about upcoming product launch events in Texas, Colorado and Louisiana. 3:45 p.m. I’m back at Vuka — using their public space now — and I hop on a call with a single malt distillery expert, Jordan Via. We chat about malt production for almost two hours while I take vigorous notes. I decide right away that I need to get into a malt whiskey distillery and start brewing beer at home (the processes are similar). My mind is spinning thinking about setting up a mini-brewery in my mobile laboratory. 6:30 p.m. Back home, Kevin and I call my mom to let her know the news that Andi is going to be a big sister. She’s the first family member we’ve told. Friday 8:30 a.m. I tinker with images on the Eaves Blind website, then curl my hair and try to get this GoPro camera figured out so I can record some videos at the office. 10 a.m. I head into Austin with bourbon, tasting glasses, graduated pipettes, my ring light, GoPro and makeup in tow. I plan to record video of the blending process to use as marketing content. Then I’ll create “Welcome” videos for members-only website pages. I want to give more details about what they’ll experience and get them excited. 11 a.m. For the first video, I unwrap 45 bourbon samples on camera, thinking I’ll do some kind of “fast-forward” effect when I edit it. This is my first time creating this kind of content on my own, but I’m excited to get outside my comfort zone and learn some new tricks. Noon All my gadgets die, and I’m hungry. I’ve successfully recorded six videos, and I’m hoping I have enough quality content for the site. I pack everything and go home to get power and some food. 1 p.m. As I’m eating leftover Singaporean tofu, Kevin calls his mother to break the news. 2 p.m. I start downloading the videos, while handling business emails on my phone. One message is from a videographer that Sweetens Cove hired to shoot a video of me discussing their next whiskey release. We schedule the shoot for the coming Tuesday. 4:30 p.m. After picking Andi up from the nanny’s, we’re ready for some family time. 7:30 p.m. The baby’s in bed, and I’m still trying to figure out how to download the videos from earlier. I realize that, while I’ve always enjoyed winging these kinds of clips, I really should put some effort into writing a script over the weekend, then try to reshoot on Monday. Advertisement

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