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Woman at Work: Brandy Pieper, Head Distiller, Oregon Spirit Distillers

What does a day in your work life look like?
Every day looks a little different. When I come in, I look to my team to see what they need from me to accomplish their goals. If there's any trouble-shooting to be done, I am in the room. If the milling/mashing and distillation are running smoothly, I may be out at the warehouses tasting barrels. Most days, I spend some time in the lab working on new product development.

What brought you to distilling?
The jobs I've had that I loved were always focused around being a maker. I worked small scale production for a pottery studio that was owned and operated by a wonderful woman and I found it rewarding because I was proud of the product. Working in whiskey has been the same way. Being in my 6th year at Oregon Spirit, I am really coming into my own and able to share ownership and pride in the products we are making.

Did you complete any training?
I hold a Biology Degree, and am a Certified Spirit Specialist. Although, learning to distill is not a classroom affair, it's hands-on: an art and a science. This job has been like an apprenticeship. I am thankful to the owners of Oregon Spirit because they are so willing to share, and teach. They give time and space to allow people to learn and grow.

What did you want to be when you were growing up, or a little kid?
No lie, I wanted to be a model. I thought they didn't have to work hard, and they made a ton of money. I realize that's an insult to models, because the 4-hour shoot I did with Dovetail was in some ways more taxing than cranking a shift on the production floor. As I've built my career, I also realize that the dream job isn't the one where you don't have to work. The work I do is rewarding.

What do you have to sacrifice to be good at what you do?
Impatience. For good American whiskey, it's a minimum 4-5 year journey. In year 3, when I thought I was ready to move on to different work, I realized I hadn't even tasted finished whiskeys I had distilled yet.

What are you great at, and what do you suck at?
I am great at making people feel welcome. Being friendly comes naturally, and I tend to be able to find the good in people. On the other hand, I suck at staying in my lane. I am constantly bugging the marketing team with “hey, we should do this in our ad campaign” or “we should design our merch like this.” Or asking the owners after their meetings “so, what did you guys talk about?” I want to know everything!

What scares you?
Wishing I had done or said something that I no longer have the chance to do or say.. Basically I am afraid of REGRET!

What do you want people to know about being a woman in your field?
Having a discerning nose and palate are extremely important. Women have an average 40% more cells in their olfactory bulb - meaning, women are scientifically proven to be better at determining character, and thus are extremely valuable on the distilling or blending teams.

Tell us something surprising about you.
I am from Tennessee, and now I make whiskey. Because the south is like the heartland of distilling in America, people assume that I came to Oregon with a passion for whiskey, but the truth is that this is where I developed that passion.

If you could give your 20-year-old-self advice, what would it be?
Wade through discomfort because it may be challenging to put yourself in uncomfortable situations, but that is how you grow. Advocate for yourself, and don't be afraid to tell people what you need and want.

Do you have any special projects or cool things you want people to check out?
Currently I am working with Marianne Eaves on her Eaves Blind project where she blends bourbon from distilleries to highlight that great Bourbon can come from outside of Kentucky. Oregon Spirit is also about to launch a Luster, a West-Coast Inspired Limoncello. I am STOKED for this project.

What does workwear designed for women mean to you?

It means I can work this gritty job while wearing clothes that support what I do. It says to women from a young age that gritty jobs are for them, and that is reinforced because there is workwear designed for female bodies. Workwear that doesn't sacrifice functionality or durability for style or vice versa. Workwear for women feels like a whole-hearted love letter expressing gratitude, support and cheering me on. It's truly uplifting.

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