Partial Transcript: Hello, uh, my name is Adam Boulden. As a student for Dr. Fernheimer's Bourbon Oral History course in Spring 2021, I am conducting this interview as part of my work for that class and the Women in Bourbon Oral History Project. Today is April 22, 2021, and it is my great honor and pleasure to interview Jackie Zykan using TheirStory from here in Lexington, Kentucky.
Segment Synopsis: Boulden introduces Zykan and explains the reason for the interview. She talks about her family background and the origins of her family name. She talks about her parents' backgrounds and occupations. She describes her first encounter with whiskey in her grandmother's cookie recipe. She describes her childhood in the small town of Florissant outside of Saint Louis, Missouri. She talks about her childhood career goals and her path into biology. She talks about her college experience.
Keywords: Bourbon; Brothers; Careers; Drury University; Fathers; Florissant (Mo.); Maryville University of St. Louis; Mothers; Oral history; Parents; Siblings; Travel; University of Missouri–St. Louis (UMSL); Women in bourbon
Subjects: Bourbon whiskey; Childhood; Families.; Saint Louis (Mo.); Whiskey industry; Women in the whiskey industry
Map Coordinates: 38.797778, -90.325556
Partial Transcript: So, bartending. You spent a number of years bartending while you were in, in school. Uh, can you tell me a little bit about that?
Segment Synopsis: Zykan describes how she began her bartending career in college. After working in restaurants in high school, she realized that bartenders made the most money. On Zykan's twenty-first birthday, she began working as a bartender.
Keywords: Alcohol; Bartenders; Colleges
Subjects: Alcoholic beverages.; Bartenders; Bartending.; Bourbon whiskey; Whiskey.; Women in the whiskey industry
Partial Transcript: Um, so, how did your background in, in, probably mo-mostly in chemistry, um, help you with inventing new cocktails or refining old classics, um, while you were bartending?
Segment Synopsis: Zykan shares how her chemistry background impacted her ability to create cocktails. She shares how working as a bartender and learning to make drinks based on smell improved her cocktail-crafting abilities.
Keywords: Chemistry; Cocktails; Shots
Subjects: Alcohol industry.; Alcoholic beverages.; Bartenders; Bartending.; Women in the whiskey industry
Partial Transcript: Um, how does your background in biology and chemistry help you in your current role as Master Taster for Old Forester?
Segment Synopsis: Zykan explains how her background in chemistry and biology impact her role as Master Taster for Old Forester. The many moving pieces of bourbon distilling are part of chemistry and biology.
Keywords: Biology; Bourbon; Chemistry; Master Tasters; Old Forester bourbon whiskey
Subjects: Bourbon whiskey; Women in the whiskey industry
Partial Transcript: So, in terms, in terms of Master Taster, what falls under that umbrella?
Segment Synopsis: Zykan shares what she does as the Master Taster for Old Forester. She oversees cocktail strategy, quality assurance, sensory tests, and much more.
Keywords: Master Tasters; Old Forester bourbon whiskey; Sensory labs
Subjects: Bourbon whiskey; Brown-Forman Corporation; Cocktails.; Quality of products.; Whiskey.; Women in the whiskey industry
Partial Transcript: So, how many, um--I don't know this, this might--the first part of this question might be kind of hard, um, to answer. How many other women are employed at Old Forester? And how many are in leadership like yourself?
Segment Synopsis: Zykan describes how many women work at Old Forester. She lists women that she works with at Old Forester and their roles. The only male on the team is Jim Lake, who is the senior brand manager for North America.
Keywords: Bourbon; Old Forester bourbon whiskey
Subjects: Bourbon whiskey; Brown-Forman Corporation; Whiskey.; Women in the whiskey industry
Partial Transcript: What would you say it's like to be a woman in the bourbon industry in the 21st century?
Segment Synopsis: Zykan shares what it is like to be a woman in the bourbon industry in the 21st century. She describes the different ways she has been treated within the industry, simply because she is a woman.
Keywords: Bourbon; Bourbon industry; Old Forester bourbon whiskey; Whiskey; Women in bourbon
Subjects: Bourbon whiskey; Whiskey industry; Whiskey.; Women in the whiskey industry
Partial Transcript: Um, what challenges do women still face and what barriers must they overcome to succeed and lead?
Segment Synopsis: Zykan shares the challenges women face in the bourbon industry. She discusses self-doubt, a pay discrepancy, lack of self-advocacy, sexual harassment, and more. As the bourbon industry is an entertainment industry, there are many different types of challenges.
Keywords: Bourbon; Whiskey; Women in bourbon
Subjects: Bourbon whiskey; Whiskey industry; Whiskey.; Women in the whiskey industry
Partial Transcript: Um, so, what helped to broaden the audience for bourbon to include women, from a marketing perspective?
Segment Synopsis: Zykan describes how marketing to women has broadened the audience of bourbon to include more women. She shares how people market to themselves, so having a diverse marketing team creates a diverse audience.
Keywords: Diversity; Marketing; Marketing strategies; Marketing to women; Women; Women in bourbon
Subjects: Bourbon whiskey; Marketing.; Whiskey industry; Whiskey.; Women in the whiskey industry
Partial Transcript: So, in a previous interview you mentioned that $20,000 was raised by Old Forester through the sale of a barrel, uh, to teach women in India to sew so that they no longer had to work in brothels.
Segment Synopsis: Zykan shares why she chose the Anchal Project to be the beneficiary of the proceeds of a barrel auction. The Anchal Project teaches women in India a trade to provide an alternative to working in brothels.
Keywords: Anchal Project; Bourbon; Non-profit organizations; Old Forester bourbon whiskey; Women in bourbon
Subjects: Brown-Forman Corporation; Women in the whiskey industry
Partial Transcript: Um, so what, what's your favorite cocktail?
Segment Synopsis: Zykan describes her favorite cocktail, the old fashioned. She prefers a simpler old fashioned, as opposed to those with fruit.
Keywords: Bourbon; Old fashioned (Cocktail); Old fashioned cocktail; Women in bourbon
Subjects: Bourbon whiskey; Cocktails.; Whiskey.; Women in the whiskey industry
Partial Transcript: Um, what Old Forester expression would you personally recommend for women who want to branch out?
Segment Synopsis: Zykan shares her personal recommendations for women who want to try drinking bourbon. She recommends Old Forester's 1920, the 1870, and the 1910.
Keywords: Bourbon; Old Forester bourbon whiskey; Women in bourbon
Subjects: Bourbon whiskey.; Cocktails.; Whiskey.; Women in the whiskey industry
BOULDEN: Hello, uh, my name is Adam Boulden. As a student for Dr. Fernheimer'sBourbon Oral History Course in Spring 2021, I am conducting this interview as part of my work for that class and the Women in Bourbon Oral History project. Today is April 22, 2021 and it is my great honor and pleasure to interview Jackie Zykan, using TheirStory from here in Lexington, Kentucky. Thank you so much for joining me today.
ZYKAN: Thank you for even asking. I'm flattered to even be included.
BOULDEN: Um, so, for the official record, please state, uh, your name at birth.
ZYKAN: Uh, Jacqueline Marie Zykan.
BOULDEN: And could you please spell the, your, your surname, please?
ZYKAN: Sure. Z-Y-K-A-N.
BOULDEN: And, uh, when and where were you born?
ZYKAN: I was born in St. Louis, Missouri.00:01:00
BOULDEN: Um, could you tell us a little bit about your family background? Um--
ZYKAN: Sure. Um, what specifically do you want to know? (both laugh)
BOULDEN: Um, you know, I suppose where your ancestors come from, um, you know,the, the origins of, of, the last name Zykan.
ZYKAN: Sure. Um, so, Zykan is Czech. It actually means "Gypsy." My family ishalf from Germany, and half from, well, the Czech Republic, at this point, right? So, um, yeah. I came from this like big, Catholic family in Missouri. Do you want to know like details? Like I have brothers? I don't know, I don't know what you want to know. (both laugh) What's relevant--BOULDEN: --but, uh, yeah, how many, how many siblings do you have?
ZYKAN: Um-hm, I am the middle child of three. I have an older brother andyounger brother.
BOULDEN: Okay. Okay. Um, so, what about your parents? Um, what are00:02:00their names and occupations? Where were they born? Um, are they still in St. Louis, now?
ZYKAN: So, yeah, they still live in St. Louis. My mom is originally fromJefferson City, Missouri, and my dad is originally from St. Louis. Um, my dad was an electrical engineer for Boeing and my mom does insurance--healthcare insurance processing, um, for a doctor there, which is always funny because she works for a proctologist, so I used to always give her hell about that but-- (both laugh)
BOULDEN: Awesome. Um, so, what is your first memory or encounter withbourbon--ZYKAN: --hmm--
BOULDEN: --or spirits in general. Um, obviously, you, you know, you, your--youlove what you do. Um, so, yeah, do, can you, can you come back to that memory, that first? 00:03:00
ZYKAN: Oh, sure. I mean, um, way, way, way, way back, I was exposed to whiskeyat a younger age than I guess--it, it, it, it's not like it sounds. Let me be very clear with you. (both laugh) Um, my Grandma Zykan, so my dad's mom, made these whiskey cookies every Christmas. Uh, never a Christmas without them. They were the thing you went to her house, just for these cookies. And they were actually made with Jack Daniels, um, but she just called them--I think they're literally called fruitcake cookies, but she just called them whiskey cookies. And, uh, I would sneak them in the kitchen, like just handfuls of them because I was a little turd like that, you know, when I was little, getting all this whiskey. Like little did I--like I was a child, I had no idea that the alcohol like cooks out of it, but, um, just was up to no good from an early age, I guess. (both laugh) Uh, so, that was my first. So, I mean, 00:04:00technically, you could say that the first spirit category I ever tasted in my entire life was whiskey, which is kind of strange because I wasn't a big whiskey drinker until I moved to Kentucky. So. And that was eleven years ago. So, yeah--
BOULDEN: --that's kind of a full circle-type situation there, uh--
ZYKAN: --yeah, right?
BOULDEN: (laughs) Um, which, that's actually a pretty good segue, um, I wantto talk about your childhood and growing up a little bit. Um, what were your experiences growing up in St. Louis in the, you know, eighties and nineties? You're, you're not much younger than I am, so I imagine your experiences weren't that much different, um--
ZYKAN: --right, um, well, I grew up in Florissant. Florissant is a portion ofSt. Louis. It's in North County, St. Louis, and was Catholic school kid. We all went to the same Catholic school, you know, parochial schools--
ZYKAN: --St. Dismas is what it was called. And then, yeah, it was00:05:00just, it, it was--I have a seven-year-old son now, and I feel like even if I tried, I could never replicate the childhood that I had. It was just, it was, you know, it was like come in when the school lights are on and--
ZYKAN: --just go about your business, right? (laughs)
ZYKAN: --like, you were just free. Um, and so, I went to Catholic high school,uh, Incarnate Word Academy, it was an all-girl Catholic high school, and then went off to college from there. But growing up in Florissant, it was, it was great. It's such a small little town. It's, uh, it means "Valley of flowers." It's a cute little area. And, um, there was a donut shop within walking distance called Old Town Donuts, and Fritz's Frozen Custard, and there was a bowling alley. Bowl, that was walking distance to do. So, like, we literally just, like, roamed Florissant as children. (Boulden laughs) Um, but yeah, like 00:06:00all of your friends lived within the same, like, couple of blocks because you're all part of the same parish, so you're all like in close quarters. But it was good. Our family, you know, we didn't travel a lot unless it was by car. I didn't--I don't think I got on a plane until I was high school. That was for a school trip my junior year of high school. Like, we drove everywhere. We drove to Montana. (Boulden laughs) Like, it was not fun. But we drove everywhere. Like, what you do in the Midwest, you drive. Um, my grandparents still lived in Jefferson City--I, I mean, they still do. So, we were always, we were always in the car driving somewhere. We went camping a lot. We spent a lot of time outside. We went to National Parks a lot. We went to State Parks a lot. Um and that was kind of, what, kind of--I don't know. I, I, and I still to this day, like, would rather just live barefoot and outdoors, but-- (Boulden laughs) Um, that, kind of, sparked my interest in the biology, uh, side of 00:07:00things that I went on to kind of focus on in school later, um, for a various amount of reasons. But, yeah, I had a, I had a good upbringing. You know, like, just--you had your Saturday morning cartoons, and then, you were just kind of free. So--
ZYKAN: --yeah. No complaints.
BOULDEN: That's, that's, that's great. That's great. Um, so, when you werelittle what did you want to be when you grew up?
ZYKAN: (laughs) It changed every week. (Boulden laughs) Uh, I wanted to be aveterinarian, first and foremost. I loved animals so, so, so, so much. Um, and then, I think there was like a short stint of time where I wanted to be a country singer, and then, there was a short stint of time where I wanted to be a zookeeper, and then, I wanted to be a doctor. And when I finally said 00:08:00"doctor," my parents' ears perked up, like that was the only thing that was, "Oh, well then that counts," right, so--
ZYKAN: --"we can actually support that." So, that was the route that I startedchasing, from that point forward. You know, you get a little bit of positive feedback or validation, and you're like, "Oh, okay, that's what I'm supposed to, that's what I'm supposed to do," right? There's something right about that, whether you really want to or not. But it is what it is. So, yeah.
BOULDEN: Well, that's--you know, you, you touched on the, uh, the biologything, uh, a minute ago, and, and mentioned, uh, wanting to be a doctor, um, but I understand that you actually went on to study biology and chemistry at the University of Missouri St. Louis--
BOULDEN: --um, from what years did you, were--did you attend?
ZYKAN: So, I went to Drury University first in--what year did I graduate highschool? Finally free, class of '03, that's right. So, it was 2003. I did one semester at Drury. I went there for pre-med because they had a 00:09:00program where if you kept up a certain criteria, you could automatically get accepted into the med school at, uh, Columbia, out at Mizzou. So, um, I hated it down there. I hated it. It was in Springfield. I don't have anything against Springfield, like, I don't have a weird vendetta with Springfield, Missouri, but, um, I just did not have a good experience. I was in a sorority and I hated that. (Boulden laughs) I'm not meant to be in a sorority. (both laugh) I am just not that person. Um, I don't know. And I just--I hated it there. And I failed at it. And I came home, and I was like, "I'm not going back to school. I don't want to go to school. I'm over--this is stupid." (Boulden laughs) But I did. I came back, and I went to Maryville, um, University, which is in St. Louis, and kept studying biology. And then, hated it there, too. So, after a semester there was like, "Nope," and I completely dropped out of college. And so, I 00:10:00didn't start up at UMSL until, I want to say it was 2005 when I met my husband. He went to school there, and I wanted to go to school there because he went to school there. And obviously, I needed to continue going to school because that's kind of what you have to do if you want to be a doctor. (laughs) So--
BOULDEN: --sure (laughs)--
ZYKAN: --I went back and finished up there and I graduated from UMSL with adegree in biology in 2008, and then went back to do a chem minor, which took like no time. That was the next semester over. So, yeah--
ZYKAN: --so, I think it was five to eight. And I apologize, my do has now,like, fished some kind of toy out of a basket, and like, there might be squeaking, so I apologize in advance. (both laugh)
BOULDEN: That's alright. No problem--
ZYKAN: --it happens--
BOULDEN: --um, so, well that, that one was kind of answered, it wasn'tnecessarily important to your family, specifically, for you to go to 00:11:00UM, but, you know, it was important to you for a good reason, um, and of course, you were motivated to go study biology and chemistry, um,--(laughs)--because you wanted to be a doctor. Um, so, bartending. You spent a number of years bartending while you were in, in school, uh--
ZYKAN: --yes. yes--BOULDEN: --can you tell me a little bit about that? Um--
ZYKAN: --sure. I--
BOULDEN: --when--go ahead, I'm sorry--
ZYKAN: --no, go ahead. What's up? When, when, where, those sorts of things?
BOULDEN: Yeah. (laughs) Um, when--do you remember what year it was when you started?
ZYKAN: Um-hm, of course. It was the day I turned twenty-one, the day I legallycould bartend. (Boulden laughs) I started working illegally--(laughs)--when I was too young to get a worker's permit. Like, I was fourteen at a Chinese restaurant in Florissant, and then, when I finally got a worker's permit, I moved onto dun dun dun, Dairy Queen, um--(Boulden laughs)--and then worked in a restaurant, uh, called Cannoli's, it was this little independent 00:12:00restaurant, and started as a dishwasher and then became a server assistant, and then became, uh, a hostess, and then hated that part of it, so I went back to server assistant. And then, I moved onto a different restaurant and became a server. And I was like, "The bartender. That's the job I've got to have. They're making the most money"--
ZYKAN: --"they get to talk to people," which sometimes is a positive andsometimes isn't, but they just get to make things. They get to create things, and I think that that is so cool. The day I turned twenty-one, I--yes. So, it was October 11, what--I was born in '84, so let's carry the two there. Um, so--(Boulden laughs)--uh, 2005, is that what it is? Is that what it was--BOULDEN: --yeah, I think, I think that's right. (both laugh)
ZYKAN: --yeah, welp--
BOULDEN: --I'm a year older than you and I'm struggling for when I turned 21 (laughs)--
ZYKAN: --we're so good at math. So yeah, I started bartending. Um, I obviouslyhad bills to pay, had school to somewhat pay for. I'm still paying 00:13:00for said schools, to be--(laughs)--totally honest with you. (Boulden laughs) Uh, but I started bartending at this place called Show Me's. It was actually, um--
BOULDEN: --oh, yeah--
ZYKAN: --it's, it's embarrassing to talk about now, but it's like a Hooters knock-off.
BOULDEN: We, we had one here in Lexington for a bit.
ZYKAN: You did? Oh, god. I knew there was one in Paducah, but, like, oh lord.Well, yeah, so that's where I started, it was, like, in that setting. And it was just a interesting experience, so. But I stayed there throughout all of college. I mean, money was good. The--I could fit it into my schedule, because I also worked at a vet clinic, which is great, because then I can bring my dog to work with me and not have to worry about the fact that I hadn't been home all day long. And I worked at St. Johns-Murphy Hospital as a nurse tech to get that experience under my belt, um, for school. So, yeah. I worked a lot, and, um, would cram in, like, two or three shifts of bartending a week, and 00:14:00that was enough to float me. So--
ZYKAN: --I stayed there, and then I started bartending at another place calledPepper Lounge, that was in downtown. It was a nightclub. And I would get done with school, go work at the vet's office until they closed at seven, go home, change into all-black nightclub bartending clothes, go work at a nightclub until four in the morning, go home, sleep for two hours, get up, go to school. And I was just--I don't know what--how I even did it. Like I was a--not a human at that point in time. You lost me?
BOULDEN: I lost you.
BOULDEN: Oh, you came back. You froze for a second. It froze for a secondright when--There we go, well now--
ZYKAN: So, yeah--
ZYKAN: --I don't think that there's--I don't, I, I'm, I'm just a worker. Ijust work. That's just what I identify as, as a person that just can't sit still very long. And, um, yeah, just go, go, go. All the time. 00:15:00
BOULDEN: Well, there is nothing wrong with that, um--
ZYKAN: --I mean, there is and there isn't. I've put myself in the hospital acouple of times because of it. I've run myself ragged, and I am just now, as a thirty-six-year-old woman, just still trying to figure out how to sit still. It's weird. But all good.
BOULDEN: Sure, sure. Um, so, uh--(both laugh)--uh, I, I've been to Show Me's,obviously. (Zykan laughs) Um, we had one here in Lexington. Um, uh, and then, you, you mentioned Pepper Lounge. Um, could you describe the type of clientele that you had at, at, at these places?
ZYKAN: Uh, yeah. They're predominantly male. Uh, the Pepper Lounge was a mixedcrowd, obviously, but it was a very late night. Like, your rush didn't start till 11:00 PM and then they closed at two or three, one of the two. Um, and then, you had to clean up all damn night. So, uh--but obviously, the 00:16:00Show Me's clientele was, dudes, ninety percent.
BOULDEN: Yeah. (laughs)
BOULDEN: (laughs) So, um, you know, did, did you enjoy working there? What,what was it like, working at, at Show Me's and Pepper Lounge--
BOULDEN: --would you say?
ZYKAN: Well, the girls that I worked with at Show Me's were just characters.They were hilarious. I was always very different from them, they--because in a, in a concept, like, Show Me's you--it's exactly what you think it's going to be. It's, you know, it's--people don't go there for the food, put it that way. (Boulden laughs) Um, but I don't know, uh, all the girls that worked there were--I guess from an outsider's perspective, you would think that they were, I don't know, I don't know. I don't like using this word, but I'll 00:17:00use the word, like slutty, you know what I mean? You're like, "Oh, how could you possibly work in a place like this and just get basically tips and carry around plates of chicken wings and, like, you're, you're working for attention," and it's like--but they weren't, at all. There's no sex behind any of it, it was, uh, it was a charm hustle, more than anything, which, uh, is very fascinating. And they all had totally normal lives, and totally normal relationships, and kids. And, um, it's--you, when you're on that side of that industry, it's very, very different from how it looks from an outsider's perspective. But, I was, um, free to be a full-blown smartass and my usual, cynical self, and for some reason, people found that charming. I was like the asshole one at Show Me's. (laughs) I was the bartender that was like--I wasn't mean, but I was very honest and very no-BS. And I had a very thick skin. You have to. I mean, you 00:18:00absolutely have to if you're working in that environment. And for some reason, people found that endearing, or, endearing. I don't know. Um, but I never had to be like, "I'll make out with you in the parking lot," or like, "Let me bend over." Like, it wasn't like that. It was more so like, I was free to make fun of that kind of stuff. It was--I don't know. So, it's, whenever you tell people like, "Oh, I used to work at Show Me's," I worked there for a long time too, it's--they kind of place you as being a certain type of person. But the truth of it is, is that I was just, I don't know, a bartending job. I just had to wear pantyhose (laughs)--
ZYKAN: --and that's basically what it is.
BOULDEN: (both laugh) I worked at, at--I was a cook at Hooter's for a littlewhile, so I've--
BOULDEN: --I've seen the other end of that, yeah.
ZYKAN: Yeah. Hooter's, I actually worked at Hooter's for six months before Iworked at Show Me's, and I hated it because it was so corporate, and, like, the whole, like, line up, and, like, sign this, take your picture, don't 00:19:00gain weight, make--the rules. It was just horrible. You don't make any money at Hooters because they staff it so heavily so that there's plenty of girls on the floor at all times for like a bunch of that hula hoop crap. Um, so, that's what was so great about Show Me's, is that there'd be, like, two or three people running that entire restaurant. So, the money was just a lot denser.
BOULDEN: Oh, sure. That makes sense. Yeah, absolutely.
ZYKAN: Yeah. (both laugh) So funny.
BOULDEN: Um, so, how did your background, in, in, probably mostly inchemistry, um, help you with inventing new cocktails or refining old classics, um, while you were bartending?
ZYKAN: Well, so, we had this Rolodex, it's still there, too. I haven't beenback in a very, very, very long time, but I hope it's still there because those were the first Jackie cocktails ever written down in that damn Rolodex at Show Me's--(Boulden laughs)--um, but it wasn't a cocktail bar, right? That these were shot recipes, more so than anything. So, the first drink recipes 00:20:00I learned out of that place, there was this older bartender, her name was Megan, the ultimate charm hustler of all time, um, she had all these--and I thought it was so--I was like, "How do you know all of these things?" I would go out and I would call her while she was working and be like, "I need to order this shot but I don't know how to tell the bartender how to make it, can you tell me?" And she was like, this, like, kind of, reference for me. It was funny. But I didn't drink while I was working. Actually, I went a couple of years there I didn't drink at all. And I learned all of these drinks on whether or not they were made right by smell, not by taste. And I think, honestly, that did--I had no idea it would do me any favors down the road, but I think it really, really did. Um, it's, it's interesting. But, um, I didn't start getting into craft cocktails until I moved to Louisville, craft cocktail culture was not a thing in St. Louis, especially not where I was in St. Louis, um, when I lived there. Uh, I wasn't introduced to all that stuff until I first got down here. So, 00:21:00um, yeah.
BOULDEN: Okay. Okay--
ZYKAN: --I don't even know if I answered your question to the whole chemistrything. Uh, once I actually started taking it seriously and wasn't ashamed of bartending anymore and was proud of what I was doing, and was comfortable with what I was doing, then it started to make a little bit more sense. And once I started learning more about the actual product and the histories of the products and the balance of the flavors and the balance of acid and sugar, that's when it all kind of, like, clicked for me, a little bit more so. And, just, everything just, kind of, meshed, at that point.
BOULDEN: Sure, okay. Okay. Um, so, you mentioned the charm hustle and, uh, um,you know, you touched a little bit on, on, you know the job itself. But how did being a woman impact you in that kind of job?
ZYKAN: Well, I mean I worked in a place that was only women working there. Theonly guys that worked there were managers or cooks. Um, that job gave 00:22:00me a very, very, very, very thick skin, very thick skin. Um, and I--that's been a massive, uh, massively useful thing for me in the whiskey industry when I still find myself surrounded by dudes, which is fine, whatever. (both laugh) I can't get away from them. But, um, working in a place that definitely, uh, it teaches you endurance, and it teaches you to smile through stress, it teaches you to, yeah, to thicken up. Obviously, I cannot behave now in the way that I used to behave back then. Like, I can't go to, like, lead a whiskey taste hour and, like, insult people--(both laugh)--it doesn't work actually. No one finds that charming anymore. There's a certain point and a place, like, it, it does not belong in this world. But, um, I don't know. It--you don't really 00:23:00think twice about it, because like I said, you're--it's all females that work there. You do start to become really aware of how other females judge you for where you are working, and stuff, and, like, you become really aware of female insecurity. Um, because, um, from time to time, you know, they come in with their significant others or what have you--and it's not all of them, but it's something that I still have issues within the world of whiskey, now. Like in present day. I've had women in the backroom, or, the back of a room at a whiskey tasting, when someone's like, "How did you get this job?" yell, "Casting couch." And it's like, "What the hell? I don't even know you. Why would you even say that?" (Boulden laughs) Um, it's very strange. Uh, but I don't know. I just, I never really thought twice about it, I guess because the--it, it was just, it is what it is. Uh, it put a lot of stress on my relationship. It put--I mean, I'm sure my parents weren't happy that I worked there, at all. Um, I know my first husband was definitely not happy about me working there. And it was 00:24:00really strenuous on my mental health, that's for sure. And--but I needed the money. I was in school. Like, what are you going to do?
BOULDEN: Sure, sure. Um, what would you say was the most rewarding thing aboutworking there?
ZYKAN: The clientele wasn't that diverse, let's be honest. But still, peopleare different, each and every one of them. Working in a place like that where you are, doing the charm hustle, you have to find a way to connect with so many different types of people, and I think that that was, honestly, one of my biggest, like, take-home, like, lessons that I took out of that place, um, and skill sets. It has really helped me in the long run. So, yeah. I don't know. Other than that, I mean, I learned--that's where I learned how to 00:25:00change a beer keg. None of the other girls would ever even touch them. They'll just call somebody to, you know, call a manager to change the kegs when they blow. But I was like, "No, I want to learn how to do it. I want to do it by myself. I don't want to have to call you and rely on you to show up ten minutes later to change it. I need it now. Like, come on." So--
ZYKAN: --I did learn one thing, at least. I learned how to change a keg.
BOULDEN: (laughs) Um, so how did you make the jump from bartending to workingat Old Forester?
ZYKAN: Well, so I was in St. Louis, obviously, like, there's still this sortof, like, "What happened to school? What happened?" all of that. I went into my MCAT classes, day one, to go in for my study classes and they were like, "Your class has been cancelled," and I was like, "What?" And they're like, "But you can do the online option." I was like, "No, no, no, I'm not an online learner. I need to be --I need to hear, I need to see, I need to write, I need 00:26:00actual paper. I don't do online learning very well." They're like, "Well, sorry. You're going to have to wait." "I can't wait. Like, I have to take my MCAT. I have to get this done." So, I looked for an alternative that--and take it kind of as a, the world just doesn't--I felt like I was forcing myself up a hill the entire time, anyways. Um, and I just, didn't really feel any joy in any of the stuff. I hated working at the hospital. It was depressing, and it was very, um--it gave me a perspective into the world of medicine as a business and not necessarily as a caretaking practice. Um, it didn't make me--I--it just felt icky. And so, I did not take my MCAT. I tried the online thing. I tried. I gave it my best. I used to, like, write all my organic chemistry formulations on the sliding glass door of my apartment. It was a mess. Like, I was, I was a mess. Um, but there was this program at the Medical University of 00:27:00South Carolina that did pathology technology, and they accept three people a year. And I was like, "There's no way in hell I'm getting into that, but I'll give it a whirl." And so, I busted my ass to get that application in, and I got in. And I had just gotten married. And, it was, it was in Charleston. It's beautiful there. Like, it sounded so great to go to Charleston and be in this program, and then I could be in a lab processing samples, and I would never have to talk to people, and, like, not have to charm people anymore, I could just do my thing, right? And my husband said, "I don't want a long-distance relationship. I want a wife, so you can't go," and so, I didn't go. Um, and I stayed in St. Louis while he finished up school, and I had nothing. Like, I no sense of purpose, right? Like, everything that I had worked to and finally settled on just hit a dead end. And so, I went back to school again 00:28:00for interior design and arts, because it at least made me happy, and, um, gave me something. So then, I busted my ass again, and got an internship with Anthropologie and an internship with a designer based there in St. Louis, and one week later, he got a job offer in Louisville, Kentucky. So, I had abandoned all of that shit, and then move to Louisville, Kentucky. Again, I have no reason to be here, other than just to be married to somebody who has a job and an entire, like, community and, like, a purpose. And so, I went back to bartending because I had nothing else to do, and I wanted to start to get to know people, and, um, it was at that point I was like, "Holy shit, there is a wall full of whiskey, and I didn't know this many whiskeys even existed."--(Boulden laughs)--"Okay, here we go." Um, and I felt like a complete moron. I was a great bartender. I was fast. I was actually--uh, people were leaving in a good mood, not getting all pissed off. And, I mean, I was always very, very 00:29:00fast. But, eh, I hated the feeling of people ordering something and I didn't even know what to look--what the bottle would look like on the shelf. They would, I would--"Can I get a Bookers, blah, blah, blah," and I'd be like, "What is that? What's Bookers? I don't know what that is." Um, this lady named Maggie ordered a Manhattan at the first bar that I worked at here in Louisville. I had never made a Manhattan. No one had ever ordered a Manhattan from me. And that sounds like such a silly thing, but, like, never had a reason to. So, the bartender there had to show me how to make one, which the recipe of--the way I was shown how to make a Manhattan the first go-round was the worst Manhattan that has ever existed in the history of Manhattans. (Boulden) It is the worst. Hands down worst. But Miss Maggie wanted her Maker's Manhattan, and she liked it shaken and a bunch of ice chunks in it and a big, ole, fat, you know, neon pink maraschino cherry in there. And, like, and she sipped it and was so graceful and just tipped me, and she was like ,"It's just delicious." I'm like, 00:30:00"There's no way that tastes good. That's garbage. That's trash."--(Boulden laughs)--"There's no way." But, anyway. Slowly but surely, just after learning, "Oh, this is what a Booker's bottle looks like. Oh, this is what, uh, a Blanton's bottle looks like. Oh, this is what this is, this is what that is." And I started learning a little bit, a little bit, a little bit about the different brands. I left that bar because I wasn't making enough money to make myself happy. And, um, there were other issues there, too. Like, there's just an interesting management style there, uh, that felt very icky, as well. So, like, sexual harassment weird icky, like makes comments when you bend over the beer cooler kind of manager. So, I was like, "I dealt with that shit enough, I'm out." (laughs)--
ZYKAN: ---I'm going to go apply to this whiskey bar downtown I know absolutelynothing about whiskey," but they said in the advertisement for it that they would train everybody, and, uh, it was on Whiskey Row, Doc Crow's, so 00:31:00I applied there. And they looked at my work history, and they were like, "Oh, well, we'll take you on as a hostess, I guess." Okay. So, I did two weeks of bar shifts and was made bar manager because I just worked my ass off. That's what I do. And I learned so much in such a little amount of time. And then, they went on to open another restaurant. It was a French restaurant called Le Chasse, and I took over that bar, pretty much, so we had both of them side by side. And Maggie came in one day to Le Chasse, in the first week that it opened, and I go, "Holy shit, you. Maggie. Maggie Manhattan. Maggie Maker's Manhattan, I remember you." (Boulden laughs) And she was like, "Huh?" And I'm like, "I made you a very terrible Manhattan, and I have learned so much since then. I would like to have a chance at redeeming that Manhattan recipe." (Boulden laughs) And so, I made her one after I had actually learned technique, and actually learned what the hell I was doing, uh, made her a Willett rye Manhattan with Carpano 00:32:00Antica, and it was flawless. And it was perfect. And it was beautiful. And I was like, "All right, I can finally lay that, that bruise to rest, now. (both laugh) I've finally did it. Maggie's got the best Manhattan of her life and we are good to go." And, um, yeah, weird--I know, sorry. I can talk forever about all this crap. But anyways, I end up in Louisville because his job. And then, I found a purpose here, and that was in the bar scene, and in whiskey, and all of that stuff. And I loved it so much. And that relationship really fell to the wayside, and we got separated after being here for one year. So, yeah. No regrets--(Boulden laughs)--at all.
BOULDEN: (laughs) Okay. So, um, could you-- (both laugh)
ZYKAN: Hey, you want to know stories, I'll keep going. (Boulden laughs)
BOULDEN: Um, I, I, you know, we, we may end up back in that realm00:33:00here in a little bit. Um, it wouldn't surprise me. But could you talk, for now at least, a little bit about the history of Old Forester.
ZYKAN: Sure. So, Old Forester is the founding brand of Brown-Forman. Uh,Brown-Forman was established back in 1870 by George Garvin Brown, so the Brown of Brown-Forman, and was founded solely on a premise of doing something different in the industry that, at the time, was pretty unregulated and kind of the wild, wild West. Um, and so, he partnered up with a physician here, Dr. William Forrester, but with two R's, not one, and came up with this concept of, you know, people keep going to get these prescriptions, right? Whiskey is a prescription filled, and, uh, patients are, you know, they're getting this script written for their ailments, and they're coming back and going, "But now I have more ailments, " or "I'm blind," or, "What's happening?" Like, 00:34:00"And it never tastes the same, and I went to the same damn store and filled up my, my empty bottle from the barrel behind the counter and it's not the same, and it--there's tobacco spit in it, what the hell's going on here?" (Boulden laughs) So, George comes up with this idea that maybe, you know, every barrel yields a different liquid, even if you don't mess with it. So, the key to making a consistent product is that you have to batch it. You have to blend it. Um, so, he blended from three different distilleries, Mellwood, Atherton, and Mattingly, that's where he got his whiskey sourced from, and he sealed it in a glass bottle. And it was the first brand that was ever only sold in a sealed glass bottle. That was just, sort of, the concept of, "This is how we're going to ensure that it's quality and hasn't been messed with." And so, yeah. And here we are today, still trying our damndest to do the same thing.
BOULDEN: Well, uh, from, from my perspective, you guys are doing an amazingjob. I had some 1920 last night. That's, um--
BOULDEN: --one of my favorites. Um, and then, of course, you know,00:35:00the, uh, the 117. Um, I, I took some of that with me. I was on a bourbon podcast, uh, um last week, and I took some of that on there with me, and they really enjoyed that--
ZYKAN: --awe, good-
BOULDEN: --so, it's, it's, it's really good. Congratulations on that.That--it's really good stuff.
BOULDEN: Um, so, let's see here, um, how does your background in biology andchemistry help you in your current role as master taster for Old Forester?
ZYKAN: Well, it's so funny because I had to do the, the, like AT&T MorningLine Derby interview stuff this morning, and someone asked me, like, "How is that relevant?" I was like, "Uh, I guess no one's every asked me it like that before, I don't know." Uh, distillation in and of itself is like a lab bench practice, you know, like it's--that's easy-peasy. Having the background in that stuff really helps you to understand the production side to a deeper level, and that helps with innovation very, very much so, and, kind of, 00:36:00understanding what the guardrails are and aren't when it comes to wanting to do new product development. So, um, that all helps very much. Uh, biology was--I mean, that was obviously at the forefront because I was originally going into, like, things focusing on a human body. But with that, you still do quite a bit of botany and understanding--oak is a huge part of this business because we kind of need it. Old Forester actually does a whole lot of work for oak sustainability research. Um, so, all that is, is quite interesting. And is it necessary? Probably not. But does it help you talk about it? Does it help you have a deeper understanding to put together answers when people ask you questions? Absolutely. Um, yeah. Everything about it, even down to the filtration, down to the oxidation and what's going on in the actual barrel itself, all of it is--it's all chemistry.
BOULDEN: Sure, absolutely. That, that makes perfect sense. Um, so,00:37:00before you were the master taster, you were the master whiskey specialist. Can you talk a little bit about that role--ZYKAN: --um-hm--
BOULDEN: --um, the differences between that and master taster, and thetransition from one to the other, please?
ZYKAN: Yup. So, the master bourbon specialist was the original title. It tookliterally an entire day and a team of people to figure out that that's what it would be called. (Boulden laughs) Um, they--the ask was to have somebody that knew the bartender side of it, to speak to that audience, knew the cocktail side of it because that was growing interest in consumers' minds, and also understand the science. So, it was kind of like the perfect storm, and it turned out to be me. So, um, it was this weird hybrid. It was a brand ambassador, mixologist, cocktail strategist, whatever you want to call it, um, kind of role. 00:38:00But the difference was, is that while I sat in that incubator of master bourbon specialist for a year, throughout doing all of that job and all--everything that that entailed, and a lot of it was very, like, PR-focused, of it was time for me to like really hunker down and get my production training done. So, the entire year that I was in that role was just me training for the master taster position. Because I told Campbell, "When the new distillery opens, I will be a master taster," because we had just lost Marianne right before I came on board, um, who was occupying that space prior, and the role was--I mean, we didn't have a master taster. We had--Elizabeth was master taster for Woodford, though, but Old Fo didn't have anything. And so, he was kind of like, "What?" I was like, "Yeah. I'm going to be master taster." And he's like, "Well, I guess we need to get you on that program, then." So, Brown-Forman has this internal, uh, training course, if you will, that's been developed by the sensory lab from the production teams, uh, Chris Morris has a say in a couple items in 00:39:00there, too, of just sort of this, "These are the things you need to learn, this is what you're going to need to, to know in order to actually earn this role." And, um, I made it a point to go through all of that about as quickly as I possibly could, not to get it out of the way, but just, I am that person that when you, when you went to take a test in class, it wasn't just about having the perfect score, you had to be the first one done, too, and--(Boulden laughs)--everyone had to know that you were the first one. Like, I'm just like an, I'm just an asshole like that, I can't help it. And--(laughs)--I don't know. So, I finished that up in a year, and that's--a lot of that sensory training is getting familiar with the practices that the lab does for quality assurance, and a lot of defect, um, uh, familiarization, because that's basically what your job is. Your job isn't to necessarily write marketing copy and tasting notes, even though that does happen. The job more so is to find if anything is wrong with something, um, not to be able to identify, like, toasted coconut. 00:40:00So, yeah. (both laugh) So, that's where that was. And then, um, I've been in that role for--July will be five years, as master taster. And so, yeah--
BOULDEN: That's, that's pretty amazing. Um, pretty, pretty amazing story. AndI was actually going to ask you about, um, walking into Campbell's office. Uh, I saw it in a, in another interview that you gave, you walked in and said, "By the time those doors open, I'll be master taster of this brand." Um, so, uh, you, you, you answered that for me. But, um--(both laugh)--so, in terms, in terms of master taster, what falls under that umbrella? Could, could you describe, you know, what your day is--
ZYKAN: --sure. Well, I've had the, um, blessing and the curse of being ableto, kind of, write my own job description. My background is very different from Elizabeth's, for example. She studied psychology in college and then 00:41:00got a job in the sensory lab at BF, setting up different liquid panels and what have you. So, she didn't have any of the exposure to the alcohol industry outside of Brown-Forman the way that I had, so I brought something kind of new to the table that they--(clears throat)--found to be very important for Old Forester at the time. And, so, we do have a line--sorry, I have keys in my pocket, um. We have a line of cocktail mixers, for example, that I developed so that we could better market drink strategy in a consistent way, across all of our different markets and regions that we're located in. So, cocktail strategy, uh, still falls under me but I'm starting to wean off of it so I can focus more on new product development for the actual whiskey, itself. We have other brand--we have brand ambassadors now that can handle the cocktail side of it, so it's time for them to do that. And, I mean, look, I haven't been 00:42:00behind the bar in--even in the end days of me being a beverage director, I was actively behind the bar every single night. The industry just evolves very, very quickly and consumer trends change very, very quickly and I think for anybody to really remain relevant in cocktail strategy, you need people that have had closer exposure to that. And I--it's time for me to be put out to pasture, let's just put it that way. I'm getting too old. I've been too far removed from it. So, quality assurance is also a thing. Uh, our whiskey is tasted, obviously fresh off the still before it goes into a barrel, it has to get approved. It gets tasted at our first maturity check, which is six months, and then also, again, at three and a half years. And that's where it gets determined where it's going to go, what it's going to ultimately end up being. We don't clock it until it's four, for our youngest expressions, and then, obviously, higher ages on--than that. But so those panels, those samples, all have to get 00:43:00graded and tasted through. And, it's not just with Old Forester. I also have to do them--I do and everybody else in the sensory department also does, you have to do it for Jack, you have to do to it for Woodford, you have to do it for--well, we used to have to do it for Early Times, um, these new whiskey panels, and warehouse panels, you've got to give your input. And it can never be based solely on one person's input, ever. It has to be a collective. And we have other things that are, um, different sensory tests to make sure that consistency is being met. And so, we do something called the triangle test, where you've got two identical samples, and then one outlier, and you have to figure out the outlier, and if you can't, that's a good sign if you can't detect it, because it means the general consumer probably won't either, and it means that it can be considered consistent. Um, so, there's that. And that is all of our products. That's Chambord, Finlandia, that's--oh, it's everything. So, there's a lot--it's all the tequilas. There's a lot of tasting going on in--just in that 00:44:00portion. I run our entire small barrel program as far as the inventory, as far as all the tasting notes for that, uh, categorization of that, all the tax stuff that has to be turned into for that. I'm going to sneeze, hold on, sorry.
BOULDEN: (laughs) That's all right.
ZYKAN: (sneezes) um--
BOULDEN: Bless you.
ZYKAN: I am now, or, I have been involved in the Birthday Bourbon Process withChris, uh, since I started as master taster. I do all of the President's Choice stuff and give Campbell final say, but I whittle it down quite a bit for him to not--(laughs)--be able to pick a bad one, I guess. (Boulden laughs) Um, new products that have come out, uh, the blending process is becoming more and more a feature of my day-to-day. Like the 150th, at the anniversary, that was my first full-on "Jackie, this is your blend, don't mess it up, like, figure it out." Um, the 117 series is now my baby, as well. Um, what else is there? Shit. (laughs) It's a lot of stuff. Like, "What, what, what else do I do? 00:45:00What did I do today?" I did, uh, eleven interviews before nine o'clock this morning on the radio which is insane. Um, espeically since I did podcasts until ten o'clock last night and I had my fair share of Old Fashioneds during that--(Boulden laughs)--as you do, so today is a little rough. But the travel's kind of been disbanded because of COVID. That was fifty percent of my time, on, on the road, in the air, across the ocean. Um, and in my role, I, I cover every single territory of Old Forester, so that's UK, Canada, Australia, US, some sprinklings here and there. Germany just picked us up, which is pretty cool. Um, France is coming up next. So, yeah--kind of all over the place. So, I do all the PR stuff. Um, I am a face, right?--
BOULDEN: --sure, sure--
ZYKAN: --a face that happens to sip and spit, a lot. And I do00:46:00trainings and tastings, and develop what those programs even are. Um, like when you go to like a whiskey fest, right? Or you, like, go to, like, a seminar and there's like, uh, a nice, pretty, little, curated tasting mat, and there's a whole, like, run of show and a script with it, and all these materials, and all this branding prep, that falls on me, too. So, um, yeah. I work a lot. But that's okay because I like to work a lot.
BOULDEN: (both laugh) so, how, how many, um, how many do you taste in, in, ina, in a given day; would you say?
ZYKAN: It depends. For single barrel lots, that's a minimum of thirty-one,because that's a rick. Um, I don't like to go above ninety-three single-barrel lots in a day just because--that's not in a row. You know, you're doing six, then take a break, and then another six and take a break, and it's just, the amount of hours in a day will limit the capacity to do that many barrels. Um, for marketing tasting notes--like, single barrel tasting notes are 00:47:00different. Those are categorical. Those are very quick, just to make sure when you send out a set of samples, you're not sending them three very similar barrels. It's, "Oh, this one is a spice bomb, this one is a fruit bomb, this one is," you know. It's, it's very, like, high level stuff. But when it comes to a-- requiring a marketing copy for things like Birthday Bourbon or new products that we release, um, that has--something has to go out in a media release kit, or on a website somewhere. Those, I take my time with. I'll spend, um, a couple hours, at least, of letting it sit, going into it, but then, like, coming back to it later, and just, like, really compiling a very, very long list of, uh, of notes. So, that'll take a little bit longer. Not because you can't find it, just because it--you can't just say, "Oh, this one has caramel corn," and be done. Like, you have--it's writing a poem about a whiskey, and it just takes-- 00:48:00
ZYKAN: --thought to really connect it, so--
BOULDEN: Well so, you, you did mention the Birthday Bourbon, and for those whowatch this interview and not have any idea what you're talking about, could you expand on that a little bit?
ZYKAN: (laughs) Yeah. For sure. So, Birthday Bourbon is a limited release thatwe do. It is, um, once a year, once a year only, in celebration of George Garvin Brown's birthday, which is September 2. So, we ship it out so that distributors have it by September 2. They don't always release it in the store by September 2. Some, a lot--a lot of them like to hold it for holiday, uh, sales and things that. But, um, it's one day's production, what you get is what you get. Uh, we do a heat cycled warehouse, so we get a higher loss of evaporation, so there's not a whole lot left in those barrels. And they age, um--the range is always from nine to fourteen years. We've never done older or younger, and outside of that but--they were twelve for a long run, there. They were all 00:49:00twelve, and so everyone thinks Birthday Bourbon is a twelve-year-old product. It's not. Um, it's just when it's done, it's done. So, um, it's usually, hmm--what was the lot last year? This year's been so weird with it because the lot will get selected in January, and proofed. It's proofed differently, it's just proofed to taste. It's--there's no rule or regulation around that one, besides, like, what the bottle and the cork can actually handle. That's always your limited reagent, there. Um, just be like why don't you do "Barrel strength Birthday Bourbon," it's like, "Well, that shape of that bottle and the style of that cork will pop right out, and you won't have any whiskey left. That's why we don't do Barrel Strength--
ZYKAN: --Birthday Bourbon." But, um, oh, the, the sexy thing's about thewhiskey industry, you know, like. Anyway. It's proofed differently. We usually do that in January. This year because of COVID and things just taking ten times longer to get shipped and glass ordered and everything else, we actually selected the 2021 Birthday Bourbon in October of 2020, a month after 00:50:00we release the 2020 Birthday Bourbon--(both laugh)--So, it was like, "Can we just breathe for a second? No, you can't. You never breathe. You just have to keep on going." So, uh, we started it in 2002. And we did two releases in 2003, a spring and a fall. And, in, in 2002, nobody wanted it. They--you know, you could have stacks and stacks of it at liquor stores from--on the floor, and nobody cared. Um, if only we had a time machine, right? But I would guess if you'd have a time machine, you should probably go try to address more important issues than, like, scrambling to find all the Birthday Bourbon you can. I don't know. (both laugh) But, um, yeah. It's um--that's kind of the thing, vintage-dated bourbon. It's a one-day production kinda, kinda story there. And it's just, it's never going to taste the same year to year. It's one of our only--or very few, I guess President's Choice is single-barrel, so 00:51:00that's never the same. But it's the only blend that we do that isn't intended to be consistent in flavor profile. It's actually intended to be different, um, so that you can really capture the vintage dated bourbon essence, I guess. Um, but it's more important that the barrels get along, than it is that the barrels themselves are good, although they do have to have a perfect quality score throughout the entirety of that. So that's kind of part of that, too. There's a lot of things with bourbon. But yeah, so now you know more than you thought you wanted to know about Birthday Bourbon. (both laugh)
BOULDEN: It's, it's one of the few that I've not managed to get my hands on,but, uh, before too long, I, I imagine I'll find myself standing in line, uh--
BOULDEN: --you know, downtown Louisville. Um, but, um, so, as far as--I, I--inNeat, the, the documentary about bourbon, um, you were actually shown 00:52:00drilling into a barrel. So, um, my, my question is, is that pretty much what you do whenever you're getting some out? I mean, or do you use a thief? And if you do drill into it, pretty much every time, how do you plug that back up?
ZYKAN: So, we don't ever use a thief. The--when I'm sampling barrels, they'restill in the rick, so I can't get to the bunghole to use a thief. Um, I use a drill. Uh, you plug it up with a tiny little spike made of cedar and, um, hammer it in. Uh, but yeah, it's basically what we do. We drill at certain levels to figure out where--like, single barrels for example have to have a certain amount of volume in them in order to be part of the program. And so, you know exactly how many gallons of liquid you've got at certain levels on the head of that barrel, and so, we have specific drill points. We actually have a gauge that you hold up against the barrel head, so you know where to drill it. Um, and you drill an airhole, otherwise you just--it just gurgles at you.
BOULDEN: (laughs) Sure.00:53:00
ZYKAN: Uh, and yeah. I mean, you just go boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, all theway through. And it's fine when you're in the second-tier, because there is--they're three stacks high, right, these barrels. There's one below you, right in front of your face. You want--I always love sampling the second-tier. It's the third tier barrels where you're just like this for five hours straight, so it kind of gets you. (Boulden laughs) But yeah. It's, uh, it's nice. It's nice to be in the warehouse. I know a lot of people walk into a warehouse and they're like, "Oh, I love that smell," and I'm, "Yeah, you love it when you're in it in the middle of a heat cycle for hours on end and you can't see or breathe." And like, it's, it's different. But, it's, it's quiet. And it's just, it's a really nice escape from the forward-facing nature that this role, kind of, has on the other side of the coin. So, I love my warehouse hours. I hate spiders, but I love the warehouse.
BOULDEN: (both laugh) I, I also hate spiders. The--I agree with you.(both laugh) Um, so, what's your personal sweet spot in terms of the 00:54:00age of the spirit? Or, or do you just let your taste buds lead you to the proverbial sweet spot?
ZYKAN: Um, it's tastebud led because there's just so much variance. I candefinitely say that I don't really like stuff a whole lot older than fourteen, um, out of heat cycling especially. It's just too--it's like chewing on a coffee filter at that point. There is such thing as balance. Older isn't always better--
ZYKAN: --and it--that balance of still maintaining a little bit of the grainflavor profile with the oak attributes is very nice to have. Uh, but it all just comes down to the tasting it, really. Uh, I have certain spots of the warehouse that have given me, uh, nicer barrels, that are most conducive to my personal palate preference, maybe not everyone's, but mine. But I cannot say in any way, shape, or form, that that is something that wasn't just a fluke. Or, 00:55:00you know, I've only been with the brand six years, total, so, even if I sampled a barrel in that exact same spot, again, uh, six more years from now, and it tasted good, I still couldn't say it's a good spot. It would take a very long-term study, to, to figure out if it was really the spot that was building those flavors, or if it was just the barrel and just happened to happen that way. Um, it's--that's one of those interesting things, of, like, we get asked that a lot. They're like, "Oh, you know where the good spots are, they give you the good barrels, why don't you just replicate that?" It's like, "I don't know what the good spots are because there are a lot of factors that go into that flavor, and I have no idea if it's the spot. No clue." You see differences in how, how things interact with dilution, for sure, but you don't necessarily see that, like, "Oh, this corner of H warehouse always gives you brown sugar flavor forward barrels." It's not a thing. 00:56:00
BOULDEN: Sure, sure. Um, so, the working atmosphere at Old Forester, what,what is that like for you?
ZYKAN: Well, it's corporate, you know, which is--has always been, kind of, a,a friction point with me. I'm not a corporate person but I think that--uh, it's so funny because one day we had this event at the distillery downtown, and Campbell Brown who, you know, is now our chairman of the board who was my boss as president of Old Forester, his mom was there. In like--I don't know, I didn't grow up in Kentucky, I didn't know what Brown-Forman even was. I didn't--I don't have this idea of, like--or a perception of the Brown family, or the company at all. I just walked in and, like, it is what it is in front of me, which is great. Um, but she goes, "I always thought that you were quite a modern choice for this brand." And I was like, "What does that mean? Is that an insult?" Like, this lady basically just--I don't know what just happened, but 00:57:00okay--(Boulden laughs)--She could have said worse, I guess. I don't know. But I, I don't fit in there, necessarily. I mean, I'm covered in stupid tattoos and, like, half the time probably not dressed appropriately for a corporate environment and I certainly am opinionated and not very shy with those opinions--(laughs)--and, it's the--I don't know. But at the end of the day, Campbell really kind of embraced that, and just let that exist without trying to, like, really sand down the edges very much. And it has done really, really wonderful things. Like, it has brought the brand into a modern place, right? So. But the corporate structure is hard. It's hard to deal with. It's stressful. There are days where I feel like my hands--like, I have the hands of corporate America around my neck and I'm like, "I've got to get out of here." But at the same time, out of any other company--because, you know, we all talk. 00:58:00Distillery to distillery, like, not just Brown-Forman with Brown-Forman, we all talk. All the whiskey brand people talk, and it seems to be that, like, I'm in a pretty damn good spot with a pretty damn good company that really--compared to the competitive set out there, treats their people like family, honestly, um, which is awesome. It's very, very hard to find that in a corporate setting. But, you know, the, the politics are frustrating at times, but I guess, like, that's just going to be what it is, whatever, right? But, it's, uh--yeah.
BOULDEN: So, how many--um, I don't know, this, this might--the first part isquestion might be kind of hard to answer. How many other women are employed at Old Forester and how many are in leadership, like yourself? You mentioned Elizabeth earlier. I know of Elizabeth Conway, and Elizabeth McCall, and both of them, um, are in, you know, some form of leadership, um, position there at Brown-Forman. How many others would you say there are at Brown-Forman? 00:59:00
ZYKAN: Oh, lots. So, the Old Forester brand team, in and of itself, um,Kiernan, she is our associate brand manager. Kate Purdon is my other half on the single barrel program. She leads that, and she does the, uh, exclusive cast program for the scotches, as well, just, like, from, uh, an admin side, customer service, kind of, side, like, all the nitty-gritty stuff that I don't have time to deal with. Oh, God, god love her. Um, who else do we have? Kim was our, um, admin-admin, which she left with Campbell, which I'm sure she's very excited about. Um, Kelly is our digital, um, and modern media specialist. Micah, she does that as well. The only dude on the team is Jim Lake, and he is our, um, senior brand manager for North America. Like he is not global. Um, 01:00:00but yeah, it's a bunch of chicks. It's great. (both laugh) But as far as Brown-Forman is concerned, though, like, as in the leadership sector, obviously, like, the closer and closer you get to the top, the percentage changes. But they are very, very vocal about having goals of sort of equalizing all that out, um, over due course of time. So, it's something that they, they do pay attention to.
BOULDEN: Okay, that's, that's good to know. Um, how, how many of those womenare from diverse backgrounds?
ZYKAN: Um, I--like in Brown-Forman in total, or the Old Forester team? OldForester team's pretty vanilla, um, but it changes every couple of years. Uh, they reorder everything every, like, three years or so. We just went through one. But, um, in Brown-Forman, I mean, I don't know. I--again, it's another one of those things that I know that they're trying to get better and better on every single day. Um, I'm excited. We just like, kind of, merged 01:01:00managing structures with the Woodford team, and Tracy Johnson, and she's African American, she is the head manager over there, uh, with Mark Bacon, and she's amazing. I'm really excited to work with her. But yeah. I don't know. I don't know a number, a percentage, I can't give you--
BOULDEN: --sure, sure. Yeah, that's I, that's a, that's a--with such a, a bigstructure like Brown-Forman, I would imagine that it's a pretty hard thing to nail down because it's--
BOULDEN: --you're not going to know everybody, uh--
ZYKAN: --and it's such--it's a global company. You know, so it's like, it'syeah. We're scattered all over the place.
BOULDEN: Sure. um, how do these various populations, um, impact your workingenvironment would you say?
ZYKAN: These various populations. What do you mean?
BOULDEN: Um, um, various backgrounds, men, women, all this, you know, the,the--just the mixture of, of, of people. Does it really impact your 01:02:00working environment on a day-to-day, or would you harken back to, it, uh, actually an interview that you gave where you said that you like that you can go to work and not necessarily be a woman in the industry but more so just in the industry, working, period.
ZYKAN: Yeah. I mean, it's not something that gets brought up. The only time itgets brought up is when there's, like, "It's women's history month," and, you know, they've got stuff going on for that. Or, there's a lot of women whiskey groups that have been formed out and about in the world, and they do a lot of stuff. And I get a lot of calls to do stuff with groups like that. Um, Women of the Vine is a really big organization, too. We get--we do a lot of stuff as a corporate partnership with them. But in my day-to-day, honestly, like I--you can look at that two ways, right? Yeah, I don't show up and people are like, "She's here, it's a woman." (both laugh) That doesn't happen. But 01:03:00also, I'm, kind of, a lone wolf. I, you know, for sensory panels and stuff, you kind of come and go as you can fit into your schedule. It's not, like, a group sit-down all the time. Um, I just, kind of, work around the clock. I go to the warehouse by myself. I log the samples by myself. I either, now do them at home, or go to the distillery to my office to do them, or to corporate campus to my office there to do them. Like, even before COVID, I just--my job is so damn all over the place, that I'm, kind of, just alone most of the time, which no complaints. I love the people on our team, but I'm also, like, totally fine with that.
BOULDEN: Sure. Um, so, you mentioned earlier that, um, you know, a need fordiversity is something that Old Forester, um, it really, you know, focuses on in some way or another. How do, how do they, how do they go about doing their, uh, recruiting, retaining diverse talent, um, and, and, you know, 01:04:00equalizing that out as you stated earlier?
ZYKAN: Um, they do a whole, a whole, whole lot of educational platformsinternally to sort of break down a lot of biases that people don't even realize that they have. So, they do sort of a very great, like, from the ground up internal structure with all of that stuff. Uh, as far as specifically, what, what is the HR department doing? I'm not in HR. I, I know what I am doing, and, I know like, I see the stuff that we do. We do a really, really good job of listening to feedback from the world outside the walls of Brown-Forman. Um ,it's interesting. It's a company that moves very slowly in their decision-making processes but is very, very in tune with the external opinions of 01:05:00everything. It's, it's great. Um, and I think that's important. Once you get closed up in sort of, like, your own bubble is where you start getting issues, right? So, you're just left to your own devices. Uh, we use that for everything. That's not just for acquiring and holding onto talent. Um, it's also for innovation and product development, and things of that sort, you know. Um, all of that. So, I don't know. Did I answer any of that?--
BOULDEN: --it's great (laughs)--
ZYKAN: --I don't know if I even answered the question--(Boulden laughs)--but Iam going to go on right--
BOULDEN: I think you answered it well enough, um--
BOULDEN: --uh, so, who are some of your most influential, uh, mentors in, in,in the business?
ZYKAN: Um, it's interesting. It's, it's a whole mix of people that are at BFand not at BF, to be honest with you. Um, the first person, and he is very well aware of this because I've told him many, many times, and it's funny, um, Jim Rutledge, when I was at Four Roses. Four Roses was the first brand 01:06:00that ever published one of my cocktail recipes. It was, like, on a website, oh my god, my name's on the Internet, this is so cool, like, way back in the day. And I would do a lot of events for them and Jim and I would always go smoke cigarettes behind the dumpster at an event--(Boulden laughs)--and have our little shitshow chitchat. And he just, he was different than a lot of the--I did a lot of different work for a lot of different brands, um, and he was very unapologetically honest, very noble to this, um, and that's a quality that I just, I admire in anybody, but I saw in this industry that--of branded polo shirts and khakis and all the other, you know, like there's a lot of BS, uh, and there's a lot of, just--I don't know, the corporatey stuff. He just, he never held back. And I told him often like, "You really inspired me to feel empowered to be honest, and unapologetic about it." I mean, this was at his 01:07:00going away, like, party, right when he left Four Roses and he patted me on the head, like, like a little dog. He was like, "Oh, it sounds like someone's had too much to drink," and he just walked away. (Both laugh) I was like, "What the hell? Like, I'm trying to, like, say thank you. What just happened?" So, when the 117 series finally came out and my name was finally on the damn label, I sent him a bottle and I wrote this big, long note and told him about, "Hey, you probably don't remember the time you patted me on the head like a dog, but you did. And I was trying to tell you then that I appreciate you and you've always been a very no bullshit, and inspiration to me, and I'm going to tell you again, and I'm going to keep telling you until you hear me out." And, um, he wrote back and was like, uh, "I'm the, I'm the sappy one now, because your note had me in tears," and like, I finally got through to Jim. (Boulden laughs) I finally did it, but he was always fantastic. Um, I know he's not with us anymore, 01:08:00but Jeff Arnett and, um, well, Chris Fletcher is still with us, down at Jack, but the Jack team is amazing. Amazing. They are just--they're on a whole other level of, of skills. They, they really are. And they are very--same thing, very honest, very straight-forward. They're not all about the ruse and they're not all about the show, and, and, like, the market hoopla. They're very like, just want to make a good product, and I respect it a lot. And, uh, there are people that I connect with on a regular basis that came from Brown-Forman, so. Jill Jones is no longer with Brown-Forman; um, she was in the seat suite right before she departed. She is a fearless, fearless, fearless woman. She has been very, very inspirational and has given me a lot of really great guidance. Um, Wendy Treinen, she was my first PR manager. I worked with her before I even joined Old Forester, out of Four Roses stuff, actually. She has always been, 01:09:00sort of, like, an amazing, very inspirational, very--she, she taught me a lot about, sort of, um, uh, busting ass in this industry. Who else? Oh, god. I mean, every single person I've ever worked--Campbell's been a huge ally of mine. Huge, huge. Um, so, it's sad to see him go out of the role he was in. I mean, he's not like disappearing, he's literally moving his office, to like, to across the street, so it's fine. But he's been great. And,uh, I don't--there's just been, goddamn, there's been so many. There's been so many, people. But if they exist, I've told them thank you at some point--
ZYKAN: --even if I can't remember or recite the entire list, right now, themost important part is actually being able to show your gratitude for anything anyone ever leaves you with. So--
BOULDEN: Well, that's, that's pretty amazing to me because, I mean,01:10:00I, I'm a, uh--those, those are my kind of heroes, you know what I mean? I, I'm not, uh, I'm not a celebrity kind of guy, but those are the, those are the people I would geek out over. Um, so, that's, that's pretty cool. Um, what was the most valuable advice that any of them have ever given you?
ZYKAN: I don't know that they--hmm, uh, this is hard. This is a really, reallyhard one. So I'm like, the only one that ever--most of it was just in learning from them, not so much a sit-down like, "Here's the da-da-da." Jill, though, Jill gives me very structured advice, and, um, it's, it's really, really interesting that she went as far as she did in Brown-Forman and has 01:11:00the ability to convey, like, the struggle that she went through to get there. When I say I show up and that they, you know, they don't treat me like a woman, blah, blah, blah, her correction when I tell her things that, she's like, "Yes, they do. You just don't see it. You choose not to see it, but it is one hundred percent there." And she is like, "How many golf outings have you been invited to? How many of these? Like, do you see now? Do you see? Do you see?" And I'm just like, "I don't want to know. Like I just, I don't want to pay attention to that, in my defense." (Boulden laughs) But she has made me very aware. But also, has sort of like--she's, she's ferocious, man. Like she's--she doesn't fuck around. She, um, shebasically is like, I mean--not literally slapped me across the face, but she has, like, smacked some awareness into me so many times where I'm like, "Oh my god, she's right." And she has made me very aware of the fact that I have a responsibility to be aware of those things. I can't just say, "Well, you know, I don't really notice it," even though, like, I 01:12:00guess I don't pay too much attention to it. But I have to get better at noticing it because I'm in a position where, hey, I'm in a very visible role to a lot of people that probably want to get into an industry, and still doubt that they could. Um, and I know there's tons, there's tons of females that want to get into the whiskey industry, and they have that moment of like, "But I won't even apply. It's not even worth it. Like there's--I don't have a chance," blah, blah, blah. Um, I have to make sure that I, especially with public-facing things, show up in a way where it gives that confidence to people because they need it. They definitely do. Um, but I don't know. The best advice I ever got in my entire life was not from any of them. It was a professor in a class I didn't even want to take. It was like a political science class, it kind of was like, check the box, so I took a political science class for my bachelor's degree or 01:13:00whatever. Um, and he says, "The world is run by those who show up." And it is, like, the truest damn simplest thing in the entire universe, but it is one hundred percent applicable to everything. You just--you have to. You absolutely have to show up. No matter what. And you've got to be there earlier than everybody else, you've got to be there working harder than everybody else. You just have to show up. The second you don't, someone else will, and then you're gone. It's just a weird thing. And I obviously have, like, deep rooted issues with insatiable work ethic. (both laugh) We should probably change the subject before it goes to a dark place. (both laugh)
BOULDEN: Well, um--(both laugh)--have, have, I, have, have you--I can'tpromise this is really necessarily changing the subject, but it is a different question, um.
BOULDEN: Do you see yourself as a mentor to others, um, in the industry?
ZYKAN: I have had a couple of people that have reached out and said, "Hey, doyou mind if, like-- I just want to, like, have coffee or have lunch." 01:14:00And people I've never met before, ever, um, that just want to sit down and pick your brain. And what I've found in most of it, is like, I, I can't tell anybody, like, "If you want to do this, then you need to do this and this and this and this and this." Look at where I am and where I thought I was going to be. You know what I mean? Like, who am I to sit here and say, like, "I had a plan." I didn't have a plan. But I found the right current of something I was passionate about, and I stopped worrying about what I should be doing, and just started doing what I wanted to be doing. And I, you know, I think that that's really the key. That's the only advice I can really give anybody. I can't say, "Make sure you go to this school and study this program." And like, I know that you guys are in a program and it's awesome, but, like, there are so many people that end up in this industry and in all kinds of industries that just,like, kind of, came in through the side door. And, it, it's hard for me to be responsible for misguiding people. The best I can give is just, like, top-level, like, "Just do what you want to do, it's great." (Boulden laughs) Um, but it's, uh, 01:15:00it's interesting to me the people that come out of the woodwork that you didn't realize you had an impact on that you do. And, um, it's terrifying. It's absolutely terrifying. It definitely makes you be very, very aware of how you're coming across to other people. Maybe you don't let it necessarily morph who you are, but you just definitely need to be aware of it. Um, I don't know. I just, you know, I wake up and I go to work and then I come home, and I work more, and I wake up and I go to work and I come home, and I work more. So, I don't really, like, pause to think about it very often. But, uh, I'm--it's--I have a public-facing job, so it's always going to be a thing.
BOULDEN: Sure. Okay, so how has the industry changed from when you startedwith Old Forester to now?
ZYKAN: Um, I think that the industry has finally come around to the idea thatthe purist mentality is, is not applicable anymore. You can make the 01:16:00best damn whiskey in the entire world. You cannot fault someone for adding something to it in a cocktail. And, um, just, we all need to, kind of, let people drink it how they want to drink it. It doesn't mean you ruined it. There's no offense to be taken by that--
ZYKAN: --that has been a really big shift. And with that, you get all thesebrands that are investing more attention and energy--dollars into drink strategies and barware and bartender advocacy programs and, like, kind of supporting that because they're finally starting to recognize, like, "Hey, these are people that are, like, one person at a time, selling our brands. They're really responsible for a lot of that movement, um. They have to be on board with us. We need to support them." So, that's been a really big thing, um. And I think that bourbon in general, even though we obviously see some very, very excruciatingly high-priced items out there, bourbon has, as it 01:17:00naturally will do, has widened, um, the range of accessibility that it has. You know, you fill in the middle gaps a little bit more so, uh, than just having the super, super high-end and then the, the stuff on the bottom shelf. There's just so much more selection, and there's so much more, um--I don't want to say there's a difference between brands, because a lot of them aren't that diverse. But with an explosion of number of brands comes more opportunities to reach different types of people and different palate preferences. So, that's a really cool thing.
BOULDEN: Sure, that, that makes sense. Um, what would you say it's like to bea woman in the bourbon industry in the twenty-first century?
ZYKAN: It's a really weird place. It's weird. Because you've got people thathave been in this industry for a long time. And certainly, in 01:18:00certain, uh, geographic regions, uh, there always--everyone is different in their perspectives. Um, I literally had a radio interview this morning where somebody asked me, um, "Do you just look around at the other people in the bourbon industry and think, like, 'What the hell am I doing here? I don't belong here?'" And I was like, "No, sir. I actually don't, like ever--I don't look at other people most of the time, anyway, so I don't really know what you're talking about. But also, ow, that's kind of--okay. So, let's talk about Derby." (laughs) Uh, but I don't know, it's weird. You get into some audiences and they're all like, "This is awesome," and you're like, "Okay, cool I guess," like. And then you get into some and it's like you've gone back in time. Um, they're--it, it's different. It's very different, just depending on where you go, on how people treat you, and what they expect or don't expect. 01:19:00But you just--you cannot take any of it personally. You show up and you do the best damn job that you can within your control, and that's all you can do. You cannot control what other people say or do about it. But then, you get into this other weird side of it, where people want to almost, um, exploit you as a woman in the industry, to a certain extent. You're the, you're the token woman, like, "Go talk to the women group, because you're a woman." Like, "No, you learn how to talk to women. You go talk to the women, too." Like, it's weird. It's very weird. Or, they want to over celebrate it, um, and it just is like, "I'm a human. I'm not a woman in whiskey. I'm a woman." Like, I just--as I told you, Jill would be smacking me right now. Jill would be like, "Wake up." (Boulden laughs) But it, uh, it's a weird place to be in. I'm sure, or maybe I don't know, maybe I'm just making this up because I wasn't in the whiskey industry twenty years ago. I don't know what it was like then. But I have to 01:20:00assume that it's different, that there's more women actually in visible roles, anyways, now than there were before, because that is speaking to a wider consumer base, you know, which is great. But, um, it is by no means lacking in the things that you think have gone to the wayside. People still grab you. People still are gross with you. People still don't let you speak. People still question you. People still ask silly questions like, "Do you ever just look around at everyone else in the industry and wonder, 'What am I doing here? I don't belong here?'" Like, uh, it, it still happens. It literally happens every day, just in different ways. You just have to have thick skin and you just got to, like I said, you can only control what you do. Just go bust your hump and keep your head down and keep on keeping on. 01:21:00
BOULDEN: Right. Right. Um, what challenges do women still face? Um, whatbarriers must they overcome to succeed and lead?
ZYKAN: Well, I think that women are good at doubting themselves. That's one, abig one, an internal one that people need to start coming to terms with. That's nothing external. Uh, step one, stop doubting yourself. Just do what you want to do. There is, uh, a pay discrepancy. I can say that there have been many opportunities that I've had over the course of my time in the alcohol industry where you are doing the exact same thing as a male counterpart and probably doing it better--or at least you thought you were, whatever--and you were getting paid half as much, which is crazy. But then, you have to advocate for yourself. You have to speak up. It doesn't mean it's going to get it fixed, but you have to speak up. You can't just, oh okay. Um, the sexual harassment in this industry is still there. It's very, very much there. But, um, 01:22:00there's also--it's a very weird thing because the alcohol industry is an entertainment industry. Um, it just is. It's a vice. It's an entertainment industry. And so, when you're doing things like having a promo model standing next to women that are actually, this is their job and they're well-versed in product knowledge, and, like, are a part of the production process, or any of that, and you have those two standing side-by-side at a Whiskey Fest, nobody wants to listen to the one who actually has anything to say of substance, or any, sort of, um, experience in the matter. They want to trust to the younger, the prettier, the skinnier girl. It's very frustrating, um, but that's something. It's like I don't understand how some companies--trust me, I've been very vocal about this, like, probably more than I should, it's probably--whatever, no, screw it. I'm just going to say what I say. Um, it's counterintuitive to say that, "Oh, we're empowering women within our company, but yeah, we're going to also do this at the same time and set them 01:23:00up for immediate failure and discrimination right off the bat." It's just very weird. It's a very weird concept. Um, but, that's just the world we live in. So, and it's all--that's all still there, and part of it.
BOULDEN: Okay, um, last June, the KDA made a very strong statement in supportof diversity, uh, equality, and inclusion, in response to the events of last summer. How welcoming do you feel the bourbon industry is to African Americans and other people of color?
ZYKAN: I am not an African American, uh, nor a person of color, so I cannotgive an honest answer to that. I only have my own perspective, and it won't be accurate for how anybody in those shoes actually feels. I want to be able to give you a better answer than that, but that is as honest as I can get.
BOULDEN: I feel like that's fair. Um, so, what helped to broaden01:24:00the audience for bourbon to include women, from a marketing perspective?
ZYKAN: Um, you hit the nail on the head. Marketing. That's exactly what itwas. You can attract, um, any sort of bird to a bird feeder. It just depends on what seed you fill it with. It's, it's just a very weird thing, that this idea of whiskey being a masculine thing. It's a drink. It's a big, strong, high-proof spirit for cowboys and men, and only men. It was because it was being marketed that way. It had absolutely nothing to do with, like, whether women would actually like to drink it or not. But so many of the decisions we make on a daily basis, we are not making on our own. We are just seduced by advertising and marketing. And so, the big shift that you see of women coming around to whiskey, is when you started getting women in marketing departments. Because you are always going to be selling to yourself. Always, always, always. Everybody does it. It's just the damn thing. The more diverse your marketing team can be, than the more diverse your potential consumers are going to be. 01:25:00That's just how it works.
BOULDEN: That, that makes perfect sense. Um, so, I have three daughters, and,uh, I'd like to know--
ZYKAN: --your hands are full, oh my gosh--
BOULDEN: --(laughs) and three daughters and a son, uh--
ZYKAN: --oh, my gosh--
BOULDEN: --but, uh, uh, you know, what advice would you have for them if theydecided to take after dear old dad and gained a love of bourbon and wanted to work in the industry?
ZYKAN: Um, well, here's a, here's a nice little nugget. Working in the bourbonindustry doesn't necessarily have to mean that you're in a role like mine, or in a role, um, like the ones that you see in articles. We have a very, very extensive, very broad scope of people that work related to bourbon at Brown-Forman that you would never guess. I, I didn't know until I got into it. I was like, "Oh my gosh, this is a job." There are people that 01:26:00literally--that are graphic designers. If they're into art, cool, you can do that and work in bourbon. Somebody's got to make those damn labels. There are attorneys. There are interior designers that are actually, like, putting together home places and office buildings and all of that other stuff. There's so much more to it--the uh, Accounting. I would have never gone to school to be an accountant, but, like, these accountants aresitting here processing bottles of whiskey, and then taking whiskey home, you know what I mean? Like, it's very--it's interesting. Bourbon is not just drinking it or making it. There--it's a whole very, very, very complex machine that goes into this entire industry. So, um, I would tell them what I would tell--or what I tell my own kids, is just, don't worry about should. Just worry about what feels right for you. Don't worry about what you think you're supposed to be doing. The sooner you can figure out what you like to be doing, the better. So, just try everything until you find what you like. Bourbon will always be 01:27:00there. You can always come home to bourbon, right? So--
BOULDEN: Sure. (both laughs) So, in a previous interview you mentioned thattwenty-thousand dollars was raised by Old Forester through the sale of a barrel, uh, to teach women in India to sew so that they no longer had to work in brothels, uh.
BOULDEN: I mean, that's, you know, that's, that's pretty straight, straight tothe point description there, but could you expand on that and tell us, tell us what barrel was sold and, uh, um, who chose which women would benefit from the sale, and how did that come about and, uh, where they're at now?
ZYKAN: Yeah. So, there's this, um, this small company in Louisville calledAnchal, A-N-C-H-A-L. It is run by two phenomenal ladies and it is a nonprofit where they have just started doing this, where they sell these sewn goods and these textiles that women in India--and now they do stuff with, like, the shelters here as well, um, giving them opportunities to have a trade 01:28:00and to have different sorts of incomes so that they aren't just subject to the sex trade. Um, so, I partnered up with them, the first--oh my gosh, that was in the first, uh, couple of years. Actually had them--had these women make bartender aprons so that we could have--find a way, because their mission is so great. And, the, the concept is so phenomenal, um, and the impact they're having on these lives is so, so impressive that I was trying to find any and every way that we could support them. You know, um, we are an industry of abundance, to put it very lightly. We, we have budget to be able to make a difference, we just have to channel it the right way.
ZYKAN: And so, they made bartender aprons that we used for programming, andthey were amazing. And, um, we've done all sorts of different things, including that barrel. I want to say that was a 1920 barrel that was actioned 01:29:00off, and when asked what charity we wanted the proceeds to go to, it was a no-brainer of like, "The Anchal Project, Anchal, Anchal, Anchal," no matter what. Um, we, yeah, we've done a lot of stuff with them. It's just, like I said, you can raise money and give it back and make a difference, then do it. Then--if you've got the budget, to do stuff. If you are going to source, the little branded tchotchkes and stuff, you know, all the brands have all their little branded tchotchkes. Um, why not do things that are actually going to make a difference and help support these companies that are actually changing lives out of it instead of just giving people branded coasters or something? You know, like, whatever. So--
BOULDEN: --yeah that--
ZYKAN: --you might as well. Like, it's simple.
BOULDEN: That's great--
ZYKAN: --but yeah, look them up. They're a fantastic company. Fantastic.
BOULDEN: Okay. Um, so, what, uh--do you know how those women are01:30:00doing now, the women that benefited from the sale? Do you--have they updated you or anything like that?
ZYKAN: Um, they send me notes to my office every, every now and then and hereand there. We still keep touch a little bit. They have impacted thousands of women. Thousands. So, I don't necessarily know, um, specifically, like, "Where are they now?" I have no idea. But I know that the money we gave to them, they have it structured out where you can donate twenty-five dollars, and that is a sewing kit, or you can donate fifty dollars and that's a machine or seventy-five dollars, and that's a this. Or, the--you know what I mean? And it's all structured out that way. So, um, they keep track of that. We haven't--we've worked with them so many times that, like, I--even if I ask them, "Hey, remember that time that we did that thing with the barrel?" They'd be like, "Yeah?" I know it all goes to a good place. I know it does--
BOULDEN: --well that's--
ZYKAN: --but I don't have the specifics to give you, sorry.
BOULDEN: No, no, that's, that's fine. That's amazing, either way.01:31:00Um, um, yeah, that's, yeah, that's, that's definitely a great thing, a great charity. Um, so, wrapping up, um, we're--just got a few more questions here. Um, what is your favorite expression of Old Forester? Do you have one?
ZYKAN: Oh, it depends on the day. I love them all. We have so many thatsometimes I drink one, like, just like casually or whatever, and I'm like, "Oh yeah, that's right. This is so good. That's right."
BOULDEN: Um-hm. (laughs)
ZYKAN: I drink the most of the 100-proof, just everyday signature. So, I haveto, I guess I have to say that that's my favorite one, because volume wise, that's what gets depleted the fastest in this household. So, let's go with that. (laughs)
BOULDEN: It's, it's a pretty darn good one, I've got to say, um--
ZYKAN: --it's solid, you know, for the price, for the everything, it's just,it's solid.
BOULDEN: Well, I haven't, I haven't come across anything price-wise that Iwasn't willing to put down on the counter when the bottle was sitting in front of me, um, as far as Old Forester. Uh, I can't say that across the 01:32:00board for every brand, but, uh, Old Forester--
BOULDEN: --they've got some good products. (laughs) Uh--
ZYKAN: --I mean, that is by design. That is one hundred percent by design. Allgoods worth the price charged. We are not all about the gouging or any of --no. It's, it's great.
BOULDEN: Yeah, um, so, what, what's your favorite cocktail? Do you have afavorite cocktail?
ZYKAN: Oh, yes. I am a die-hard Old Fashioned drinker. One hundred percent.Uh, all year long. No matter what. Uh, I got in the cups with those a little too much last night, uh, but--(both laugh)--yeah, I'm a very, a simple clean, Old Fashioned drinker. I don't like the muddled fruit and stuff, even though every now and then some--I order one and that's what I get and I'm like, "Oh, okay. This is a great little change of pace." But if I'm making it myself, it's just sugar and bitters and Old Fo, and that's it. So. 01:33:00
BOULDEN: Alright, um, what Old Forester expression would you personallyrecommend for, uh, women who want to branch out, um, you know, maybe get away from vodkas or, um, get, you know, uh--move away from, um, cocktails, into straight bourbon, or, uh, just branch out in, in bourbon in general? Like my wife, she, she has one specific brand that she likes, and if you were to talk to her, what, what expression, uh, would you recommended her to move her into Old Forester?
ZYKAN: Um, I mean, honestly, at this point, I've had people that we've doneevents and they're die-hard vodka drinkers and they're like, "Oh my gosh, the 1920. I didn't think that I would like it, because it's super high proof, and I'm tasting it on its own and I expected it to be like diesel fuel, but it's not." And then, of course, there's people that just, when you start getting into drinking stuff--or, I don't want to, like, phrase this, like, when 01:34:00you move up into drinking things neat, because it's not a progression. This isn't a linear thing of like, "You're a better drinker because you're drinking it without training wheels." Like no, just, just drink the stuff, like whatever. Um, so, the 86-proof is the lightest, uh, flavor profile, so if you're used to clear spirits, that's probably going to be the least aggressive one. Um, the 1870 as well. I mean, it's coming in at 90-proof, it's, uh, delicious. It's very, like, very classical Old Forester flavor, sweet on the front, a little spice in the back. Um, the 1910 man, 1910's a sweet one. It's, it's pretty, it's pretty tasty.
BOULDEN: It is.
ZYKAN: If I keep going, I'm literally just going to name--(both laugh)--everysingle Old Forester and then not answer the question, so--
BOULDEN: All right. Well, um, what advice would you have for students, or, oranyone in general, that wants to break into the bourbon industry? 01:35:00
ZYKAN: Well, kind of, going back to what we--or what I mentioned earlier, thatthere's a lot more facets to this industry than are necessarily public-facing. So, um, where's a will, there's a way. If you really, really want to get into making bourbon, and you want to get into actually just sticking with the production side, chemical engineering is a really, really great focus for you to get into. Um, chemistry, chemistry's awesome, but the restaurant industry is also a really great gateway because that's--working at a liquor store is a great gateway, because when you're in those roles, you're getting--you are exposed to people from distributers and from brands on a regular basis, and that networking is, kind of, what sort of initiates that process. So, yeah.
BOULDEN: For sure. Okay, um, where do you see the industry in the next fiveto ten years? 01:36:00
ZYKAN: Well, my hope is that we don't run out of whiskey. We love the bourbon,but, like, it's something that takes a while to age so, you know. Let's all just pace ourselves real quick, here. (both laugh) I hope the boom continues. I don't have any reason that it won't. Um, alcohol trends tend to cycle through thirty-year jumps, so we're just, we're just getting started with it. Uh, I don't know. I hope that the marketing starts to become a little bit, uh, more transparent with their promotion processes. That would be great. Customers do want to know these things, um--
ZYKAN: And I really hope there can be, maybe, I don't know. I don't know ifit's necessary or not, don't want to kill the romance, but there's a lot of marketing crap out there that's just not true. And I think there needs to be better regulation on some of that. So. 01:37:00
BOULDEN: So, um, you know, you often mention your son in interviews, um, andin one that I read not long ago, it said that you, you were starting his "sensory memory bank." Um, so, the, the article that I read said that you had actually taken him to the candle aisle and have him just smell things. Um--
ZYKAN: Yeah. (both laugh)
BOULDEN: So, it--aside from that, uh, how, how--it, uh, is it really a way todevelop his talent or is it more just, um, helping him, you know--he, he smelled the--he, he recognizes that smell and it brings up that memory for him, uh, that kind of thing?
ZYKAN: Well, I mean, it, okay, uh--very clearly, I'm not like forcing him.It's just something that we do because it's kind of like a fun like thing that he can guess--
BOULDEN: --oh sure--
ZYKAN: --like, the thing, I--
ZYKAN: --I ask him because he's come to the warehouse with me before. He lovesit. And he just--it's just like, he's just running around crazy 01:38:00because it's such a weird space for a kid.
ZYKAN: --it's probably not--there's only certain days that he can be therewhen the vapor level is super, super, super low, or nonexistent. I'm not, like, bringing my kid into, like--(both laugh)--get wasted.
BOULDEN: --(laughs) for sure--
ZYKAN: --but, I asked him. I was like, "Do you want to work in whiskey oneday?" And he said, "No, that's boring." Like, okay, cool. That's fine too. So, whatever. But, um, there's two parts to, to your palate, right? There's the actual presence of number of taste buds that you've got, and then there's your exposure to things to help you build that sensory bank of things to articulate--
ZYKAN: --what you're actually tasting and smelling. Um, there are test kitsthat you can get. Um, we use them from time to time, just for, like, different events and stuff. I'm actually going to start using them more once we start actually getting back to normal and in person stuff, where there's different chemicals, and it's a strip. That--you put it on your tongue in different places to see if you can even detect that it's there or not. It is a good 01:39:00indicator, instead of counting--literally, the only other way to do it is to count your tastebuds, which is interesting. Um, they're Supertaster Kits, is what they're called. It's just weird little strips. So, I've done those on him. I will argue that his palate is more sensitive than mine. He smells things long before I smell them. Um, which makes sense. As you age, you start to lose sensitivity, all of that. This is why you see a tendency, generally speaking, not science, but I have noticed you see a tendency in people, the older and older they get, the more robust the flavor profile needs to be, the more they want to season their food, the bigger, bolder red wines they want to drink, the black coffee, all of it. You stop needing the sweetness, and you start moving into needing more of a pop because you're losing taste buds and it takes more to get the same threshold of sensation. So, it could be that. Or, it could be that the kid is just incredibly, like, sensitive and can--I don't 01:40:00know, maybe he'll become a candlemaker. I don't know. I've probably, like, ruined him for life now, of, like, forcing him to sniff all these candles at Target, but whatever.
BOULDEN: (laughs) I doubt that--
ZYKAN: --the best thing you can do is just be present and be aware. If you goto the grocery store where like, make a note if you smell something. Make a note of what it looked like, or what it--or what things feel like, and, what, everything. Just be open with your senses it's the best way to go about it. You can force feed yourself, obviously, uh, but in general, just sitting down in a very, like, sterile is not the right word, but it is the first thing that comes to mind. In a very structured, sterile way of like, "This is lavender, this is rose, this is geranium, this is jasmine, this is blah, blah, blah," that's cool and all and you're locking in those, those items in your head, but better yet and more, um, more fun, is when you are aware of actual things you're 01:41:00doing just anyways, that you have a memory to go with it, and it takes you back to that moment when there's emotion tied to it, not just ----------(??). Um, that's the beautiful part when you're sipping whiskey, especially with the other people, is that vulnerability that they get when they start to unleash these memories that they have of things that, "It reminds me of smell of, " or "It reminds me of the taste of," or, "It reminds me of this person, that person," "It reminds me of this food, this one place, this one time." Um, that's the magic of it. Not just, "Who can name the most notes going on in a glass?" Like, nobody likes that person in the room. (both laugh) Don't be that person. So, yeah.
BOULDEN: Okay, so, um, you know, you, you, you had mentioned, uh, asking yourson if, if he wanted to go into the industry, but would, would you like for him to, uh, go into the industry at some point?ZYKAN: I want him to do whatever makes him happy, and I hope that he--he'll learn it when it's the 01:42:00right time to learn. It's not something you can force, right? Like, you figure it out at whatever point in your path is the right time to figure out what you want to be doing with yourself. But I just let him exist. I do not force him one way or the other. The best thing I can do is give him the, the foundation, you know? Like feed him good food, have an education for him. He reads a lot. He's an amazing reader, so good for him. But--
BOULDEN: --that's great--
ZYKAN: --no, I don't have a preference one way or the other. Whatever that kiddoes, as long as he's doing it for a reason that he likes it, not because he feels he should be doing it, then I'm happy with it.
BOULDEN: That makes perfect sense. Um, so, let's see here. I did want to askyou if you could talk a little bit about the process that went into high angel's share. I, I understand the, uh, the concept of an angel share, but could you talk a bit about the process of actually extracting the distillate from the barrel itself, to create a high angel's share whiskey? 01:43:00
ZYKAN: Well, see, these are all barrels that--that bottling that went out,that was twenty-seven barrel batch. All the barrels had thirty-three percent or less yield to them. That's what we internally call a low-yield barrel, or a high angel's share barrel. Um, and it was kind of a mix of how they got where they got. So, some of them just had, uh--a couple of them people didn't plug the airhole when they went to sample and they got rolled around and it leaked, so tada, low-yield barrel--(both laugh)--some of them, just the wood was super, super porous, and they evaporated at a faster rate. And, uh, I don't know if there were any with wormholes or any holes in them, but, other than the ones that didn't get plugged for sampling, and then it's like, "Oh crap, the barrel's leaking." (both laughs) It happens. Like people, people are people. 01:44:00So, yeah. But the flavor that you end up with for those that didn't have an accidental leak in them, right, they are the ones that evaporate, dramatically evaporate, um, it's basically bourbon concentrate, you know. It's super, super, super, super, condensed. It's super, super high proof. When you dump those barrels out, you've lost a ton of water, and then you bring it right back up. I've had it at 110, it's too hot at 110, for my personal taste, but I just wanted to be able to give it in its most concentrated form that I felt comfortable doing so, so that everyone can water it down and extrapolate out wherever it's going to taste best for them. So, yeah.
BOULDEN: Sure. Um, so, is there anything interesting on the horizon in OldForester that you can talk about?
ZYKAN: Not that I can talk about, but yes, there is always somethinginteresting and exciting coming around the corner from Old Forester.
BOULDEN: Is there anything else that you would to add or make sure is on theofficial record?
ZYKAN: No, I think I'm good. And if you have anything that pops in your mindlater, you have my email so just feel free to write a note.
BOULDEN: That's amazing. Thank you very much, um, and--
ZYKAN: --you're welcome.
BOULDEN: And thank you for taking the time to talk with me today. I appreciate it.
ZYKAN: Not a problem, at all. Good luck with the project. Good luck with allof it. All that good stuff.
BOULDEN: Thank you so much. Great, bye.
[End of interview.]