Meet Carolina Hoyos, Master Distiller and Winemaker From Argentina

18/01/2024 My journey into distilling began unexpectedly and surprisingly. I decided to study Enology in Mendoza, the birthplace of wine in Argentina.

1) Tell us a little about your background and journey into distilling.

My journey into distilling began unexpectedly and surprisingly. I decided to study Enology in Mendoza, the birthplace of wine in Argentina. I graduated in 2012 and during my studies, I had various harvest experiences in wineries such as Trivento, Altos las Hormigas, Renacer, and Ehlers Estate in the Napa Valley.

After completing my studies, I started working at a well-known family winery in Mendoza, Bodega Los Toneles. My initial steps were in the laboratory, and later on, I took on additional responsibilities in the legal department and as a shift supervisor during the harvest season.

Just when I thought I had reached my limit, the winery decided to embark on a Distillates Project: Casa Tapaus. They offered me the opportunity to lead it, and as with any new challenge, I didn't hesitate to accept. At that time, we had a 400-liter still from Switzerland and a great desire to develop different products. I was taught the art of distillation by Huber, a Swiss oenologist and distiller. Given that there wasn't much history of distillates in Argentina, the company allowed me to travel to England to study and visit gin distilleries such as Bombay Sapphire, Beefeater, and the City of London, among others. I also briefly traveled to Ireland and Scotland to immerse myself in the world of whisky.

Carolina Hoyos Master Distiller

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Upon returning to Argentina, filled with motivation and new ideas, we developed three styles of London Dry Gin under the brand Terrier: Terrier Citric, Terrier Spicy, and Terrier Wild. Additionally, we launched a line of liqueurs, brandy, and grappa. It was there that I discovered my passion for creating beverages, understanding that it is a sensory and infinite world, with a rich history and ample room for innovation.

I spent three years there, and my next step was to join Tato Giovannoni's project, the creator of Principe de los Apóstoles Gin. In that experience, I had the opportunity to develop a vodka recipe, add two more gin recipes, and establish a distillery in the Uco Valley.

In 2019, thanks to a scholarship provided by Juan Agustin Maza University, where I pursued my university studies, I traveled to Italy. There, I obtained my Master Distiller title with international recognition after an intensive month of study at the Cerletti Institute in Conegliano, a region renowned for prosecco and distillates par excellence.

Following these experiences, I decided to venture into freelance work in September 2022, allowing me to dedicate myself to training, consulting, and developing various alcoholic beverage ventures. Though the years have been few, the experiences, experiments, and knowledge gained in the field of distilling have been significant. This brings me great joy because it is no longer just a job for me but a way of life.

Carolina Hoyos Winemaker

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2) Your current role and how does your day look like?

Currently, as I mentioned, I am an independent consultant. I am actively involved in three projects related to distillation and beverage creation. Two of them are in Argentina, and one is with an international company.

In addition, I am conducting Vermouth Production Training and teaching classes in the Distilled Beverages Diploma at the Buenos Aires Technological University, specifically in the Botanicals department.

Regarding my projects, we are setting up a distillery in the Maipú department, Mendoza. We are currently in the process of obtaining municipal permits and eagerly awaiting the activation of production. At the distillery, we will provide distillation services to third parties and create our beverages.

3) What inspired you to become a distiller?

What inspired me to become a distiller was not just one reason but several. One of them was the opportunity to apply my knowledge and experience in winemaking to give it a new purpose and create a derivative of wine like Brandy. Being able to make informed decisions on how to produce a wine specifically tailored for the type of Brandy I wanted to create was a truly wonderful experience.

When it comes to gin, vermouth, and liqueur production, I became passionate about the fascinating world of plants. Studying them from their classification to their chemical composition to selecting the ones that would give me the desired product profile and determine the method to extract their essential oils was truly captivating. It made me more aware of the nature that surrounds us and further strengthened my collaboration with small-scale producers.

Another reason that inspired me to become a distiller was the history behind each beverage. They all have origins, with many of them having medicinal beginnings, while others were discovered by chance, such as using barrels for transportation, which generated effects that would later be understood from a technical aspect to create whisky, cognac, and more. Being able to travel to the countries where these beverages originated provides much more than what a book can convey. Feeling history and imagining the past is a great source of inspiration.

Lastly, I believe that consumption habits are constantly changing and evolving, which means that the creation of alcoholic beverages is also in a constant state of evolution. Making improvements in processes and searching for new flavors requires constant research and creativity in their design.

4) What are some of the most important skills for a distiller?

The skills that a distiller should have, which are crucial for growth and learning in the profession, start with a solid foundation of technical knowledge. To make use of distillation, it is necessary to understand it from a theoretical standpoint, not only in terms of the process itself but also regarding fermentation and the extraction of flavors and aromas. With this knowledge, a distiller can make informed decisions about what they want to create and how to achieve it.

Another important skill is sensory ability. This profession wouldn't be complete without the ability to describe and recognize aromas and flavors, discern nuances and subtleties in profiles, and identify defects as well. This allows the beverages to be crafted with both technical expertise and a sensory foundation that consumers can recognize and enjoy.

Creativity is closely tied to passion, another skill that a distiller should possess to ensure that their projects always remain vibrant and continue to grow. Creating is giving life to ideas, and sharing them with consumers brings the greatest satisfaction one can experience. Without creativity, it would be difficult to develop beverages that make a difference in the industry, and it could leave us far behind in competing with major brands, ultimately missing out on the vast world that lies behind each beverage.

When it comes to being part of a team in a distillery, a crucial skill is task management and organization, along with effective communication with the team. Being passionate and sharing that passion with the team can lead to shared success and genuine project growth.

Lastly, and though it may seem less important, having patience is a skill that a distiller must possess. The process of creating alcoholic beverages can sometimes be lengthy. Many spirits require time in barrels or aging to improve and achieve optimal results, so patience is an integral part of this practice.

5) How do you think a distiller can help in driving marketing and sales personally?

As distillers, we have a unique opportunity to make a significant impact on marketing and sales by leveraging our expertise and passion for our craft. Firstly, we can contribute to crafting a captivating brand story that truly resonates with consumers. With our deep understanding of the production process, the carefully selected ingredients, and the distinctive flavors of our spirits, we can effectively communicate these elements to create a compelling narrative that sets our products apart.

We also have the pleasure of actively engaging with industry events, trade shows, and tastings to showcase our exceptional spirits and connect with professionals and consumers alike. By sharing our enthusiasm and knowledge, we can forge personal connections, educate potential customers about the artistry behind our products, and generate positive word-of-mouth recommendations.

Moreover, our collaboration with marketing teams is invaluable. We can provide them with insights into the production process and the essence of our spirits, enabling them to develop effective marketing strategies, refine branding efforts, and design packaging that authentically conveys the unique qualities and values of our creations to our target audience.

Additionally, we can serve as educators within the industry, empowering professionals and consumers alike. Through training sessions, engaging tastings, and informative materials, we can deepen our understanding and appreciation for our spirits. By sharing our expertise and passion, we foster brand loyalty and become advocates for our products.

In summary, as distillers, we have the privilege of making a significant impact on marketing and sales. Through effective storytelling, personal engagement, collaboration with marketing teams, and educational initiatives, we can drive awareness, spark interest, and ultimately boost sales for our exceptional spirits.

6) Define a good distiller

I believe that a good distiller should possess the aforementioned skills, in addition to being open to consumer feedback and the input of their team, with humility. They should also be a good person, communicating with respect and speaking from knowledge and experience.

7) What is the hardest part of a distiller's job?

The most formidable aspect of a distiller's job lies in delicately balancing the realms of art and science. It entails mastering the technical intricacies of fermentation, distillation, and aging while embracing creativity to craft unique flavor profiles and innovative spirits. This fine equilibrium calls for continuous experimentation, meticulous attention to detail, and a profound comprehension of the interplay between ingredients, processes, and time.

Furthermore, the patience and anticipation required for spirits to mature can be quite challenging. Many spirits demand extensive aging in barrels, necessitating distillers to carefully nurture and monitor their creations, awaiting the opportune moment to bottle and unveil them to the market.

Moreover, as the craft of distillation progresses, staying abreast of emerging trends, consumer preferences, and industry regulations presents a significant hurdle. Distillers must remain well-informed, adapt to evolving market dynamics, and constantly refine their techniques to remain competitive in this swiftly evolving industry.

Lastly, we must not overlook the physical demands of the job. Distilling often entails long hours, handling heavy equipment, and working with potentially hazardous materials. Maintaining focus, adhering to safety protocols, and managing the physical demands can be both physically and mentally taxing.

Despite these challenges, the gratification of being a distiller, such as witnessing the culmination of our labor in exceptional spirits and the delight they bring to consumers, makes it all worthwhile. It is an everlasting journey of learning that requires passion, dedication, and a profound love for the craft.

8) What are the current challenges the spirits industry is facing according to you?

As a distiller, I believe that the spirits industry is currently facing a range of challenges.

The regulatory environment poses a significant challenge as we navigate complex and evolving regulations regarding production, labeling, advertising, and distribution. Complying with these regulations while maintaining creativity and innovation is crucial for our brand.

Intense competition is another challenge we face. The spirits market is highly competitive, with numerous brands vying for attention. Standing out in this crowded landscape requires us to develop a compelling brand story, unique offerings, and strong relationships with bartenders and consumers.

Consumer preferences are constantly shifting, making it essential for us to adapt. Today's consumers are seeking authenticity, sustainability, and a connection to the products they consume. We strive to meet these evolving preferences by prioritizing quality ingredients, sustainable practices, and engaging storytelling.

Managing the supply chain can be challenging, especially during times of global disruptions. We focus on sourcing high-quality ingredients, ensuring a stable supply, and maintaining strong relationships with our partners. Adapting to supply chain challenges is essential to deliver consistent quality and meet consumer demands.

Rising costs of raw materials, packaging, and operational expenses pose a challenge for our industry. We continuously evaluate our processes, explore efficient sourcing options, and optimize our operations to deliver value without compromising on quality.

The increasing emphasis on health and wellness trends affects the spirits industry. We embrace this trend by offering options that cater to different consumer preferences, including low-alcohol or non-alcoholic alternatives. We prioritize responsible drinking practices and promote moderation among our consumers.

Global economic factors, such as currency fluctuations and changes in consumer spending, can impact the industry. We stay vigilant and adapt our strategies accordingly, ensuring that our brand remains resilient in the face of economic challenges.

As dedicated distillers, we embrace these challenges as opportunities for growth and improvement. We remain committed to crafting exceptional spirits, staying innovative, and building strong relationships with bartenders to drive the success of our brand. By constantly adapting, listening to consumer feedback, and striving for excellence, we navigate these challenges and shape a prosperous future for our distillery.

9) What is your idea of a good life?

A good life, in my view, encompasses finding a harmonious balance and deriving fulfillment from various aspects of one's existence. It involves embracing personal well-being, meaningful relationships, purposeful work, continuous personal growth, enjoying the present moment, and making a positive impact.

For me, a good life starts with prioritizing personal well-being. Taking care of my physical, mental, and emotional health is essential. By maintaining a balanced lifestyle and engaging in activities that bring joy and fulfillment, I can enhance my overall well-being.

Building and nurturing meaningful relationships with family, friends, and loved ones is another vital component of a good life. Connecting with others, sharing experiences, and supporting one another create a sense of belonging and enrich our lives.

Having a career or profession that aligns with my values and passions is also crucial. Finding fulfillment in my work, continuously learning, and making a positive impact in my field contribute to a sense of purpose and satisfaction.

I believe in the power of personal growth and learning. Embracing a growth mindset and seeking opportunities to expand my knowledge and skills add depth and richness to my life. It allows me to explore new interests, challenge myself, and evolve as an individual.

Finding joy in the present moment, practicing mindfulness, and cultivating a sense of gratitude are important aspects of a good life. Taking the time to appreciate the simple pleasures, being fully present with loved ones, and expressing gratitude for what I have brought contentment and happiness.

Lastly, making a positive impact on the lives of others and contributing to the well-being of my community or society is an essential part of a good life. Whether it's through volunteering, supporting meaningful causes, or using my skills to help others, making a difference adds purpose and fulfillment.

10) Which is your go-to drink and what is the perfect setting you enjoy it in?

Although my favorite cocktails are classic ones like the Tom Collins, New York Sour, and Red Snapper, I enjoy and choose to drink these classics in bars that draw inspiration from the art of classic mixology. But above all, what I truly love is getting to know the bartender behind the bar, engaging in conversation, and entrusting them with their creativity to put their spin on these drinks.

11) Your favorite 2-3 distilling or spirits books?

Some of the books that have accompanied me on this journey and that I recommend having and reading are:

'Distilling knowledge, a professional guide to spirits and liqueurs' by the Wine and Spirit Education Trust. This book is a professional guide to spirits and liqueurs, providing in-depth knowledge and insights into the world of distilling.

'The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World's Great Drinks' by Amy Stewart. This book explores the botanical origins of various spirits and offers fascinating insights into the plants used in distillation.

And when it comes to vermouth, I recommend 'Vermut, todo el Universo de la bebida de moda' by Juan Muñoz. This book will immerse you in the fascinating world of vermouth and provide valuable information about this popular beverage.

Header Image Source: Carolina Hoyos

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