In The Male-Dominated Spirits Industry, This Latina Will Be A Master Blender At The Biggest Rum Distillery In The World

credit: Arrogant Watcher for BACARDÍ

The liquor industry has long been considered an old boys club, with men, who overwhelmingly hold the highest distilling and blending positions, preserving secret formulas as well as a culture of machismo. But at Bacardí, the largest privately held, family-owned spirits company in the world, blender-in-training Noidys Herrera is one of a growing number of women breaking rum’s glass ceilings.

While Herrera, a chemical engineer who currently works as a chemical facilitator at Casa Bacardí in Cataño, Puerto Rico — the biggest rum distillery across the globe — will soon become the only female master blender on her team, she knows that women have long played significant roles in the spirits world. In fact, some of those players were women in her own family. Back in Cuba, where Herrera was born and raised, her mother and aunt were chemists who worked at a distillery in their small town in the center of the island. After graduating from college, Herrera found herself working in distillation and fermentation at the same liquor manufacturer that once employed her then-teenage mother.

“It’s a combination between tradition and also like a magical chemistry between rum production and the passion of my life,” Herrera, 38, tells FIERCE of her work.

Following that spirited dream, she immigrated to Miami, Florida in 2008, hoping to one day work for Bacardí, a brand that, like her, was born in “la perla de las Antillas.” Her entry into the company was a part-time job in events, but in 2010, when she saw human resources was seeking a processing engineer, she applied for the position, wooing interviewers with her proficiency and passion and landing the job. Working close to those in rum production for two years, she was selected as a possible candidate to train to become a blender in 2013 and was offered the opportunity in 2014, moving to Puerto Rico to train full time two years later.

Credit: Arrogant Watcher for BACARDÍ

“Starting in Cuba, with that passion, living in that little town surrounded by sugar canes, and then this magically happening when I came to the United States, I was really, really lucky. Of all the people who work at Bacardí, I was the one they selected to be in the training,” she said.

But the instruction, she acknowledges, is lengthy and plentiful.

“As a blender, you have to deeply understand the process of production and the process of aging. You have to spend a lot of time on the floor, learning from master blenders and senior operators,” she added.

For the past two years, Herrera has been absorbing a wealth of, often-top secret, information. From analyzing the base of aged rum and performing organoleptic analysis — tasting and smelling the bases and comparing them to the Bacardí profile — she is working to master the company’s rum-processing practice so that its consistency is maintained throughout generations. Beyond chemistry, she is also studying the history and culture of the brand, other aspects she is expected to hold dear and pass down to future blenders, as well as exploring technology that could increase the efficiency and competitiveness of the rum-making process while remaining sustainable and environmentally friendly.

Credit: Arrogant Watcher for BACARDÍ

“The most challenging, but exciting, part of being a future Bacardí master blender is trying to always ensure that I make my decisions based on Bacardí company pillars: founders, family and fearless,” Herrera, who sees her work as more of an art than a job, says. “… We are the custodians of the quality of the rum, and we protect the secret formula, preserve it and pass it to new generations.”

That power has long been held solely in the hands of men, but when Herrera graduates from her training and becomes a maestra de ron, she will be the third woman — though the only current one based in her distillery — to hold the position for Bacardí. The company, which advocates and encourages the success of women across all career levels, created a Women in Leadership initiative that Herrera partly credits for her, and other women’s, advancement.

“[Women] didn’t get here by accident. We worked hard and earned our positions. … But I want to see more of what we have here in Bacardí in the whole industry. Here, we feel empowered and supported, and I think that has helped us win the respect that we didn’t have in the past,” she said.

Credit: Arrogant Watcher for BACARDÍ

Training to become a master blender at Bacardí takes between five to seven years, a process that Herrera calls “very long but gratifying,” but when she graduates from her lessons, she’ll become the Cuban-born brand’s first Cuban maestra de ron, a feat that doesn’t go unrecognized by her.

“Bacardí and I have a similar history: leaving Cuba, coming to the United States and trying to succeed as an immigrant. I could apply to work at any other rum plant, but I decided that it must be Bacardí, because of that link that we have,” Herrera said.

Travel for the author was provided by Bacardí Rum for the purpose of writing this story.

Read: Meet The Afro-Cuban Sisters Making Cigars That Celebrate The Beautiful Shades Of Black Women

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