Sensory Inspiration with Spirit Blenders Silvia Segato and Evelyn Liong
In an industry globally dominated by men, more women are finally finding their way to distilling generally and to blending and spirit production at Archie Rose, which makes us very happy. This International Women’s Day, Ev and Silvia, two Spirit Blenders on our team shed light on how they followed their noses to the Archie Rose casks and stills, and are proud to climb the ranks in this traditionally male-centric arena.
Happy International Women's Day! Can you both tell me a little about yourselves?
Silvia: I started working at Archie Rose in Mid November 2021. I’m originally from Italy, from a city close to Venice called Vicenza. When I began travelling 15 years ago, Australia was the first country I visited. However I kept travelling around the world working in hospitality which evolved into a passion. I met my husband, an Australian, in London, and we eventually moved back to Australia. I kept working in hospitality, then when we moved to Tasmania I began working at Lark Distillery in Hobart - starting as a supervisor then going into production - working with whisky and gin until we eventually moved back to Sydney (his home town) last year and began working at Archie Rose.
Evelyn: I’m originally from Sydney, but I’ve been in Melbourne for the last 14 years to study silversmithing at RMIT University. I ended up pursuing a career in cocktail bars and eventually became a bar manager. I worked at Madame Brussels, Black Pearl in Fitzroy and Whisky & Alement in Melbourne - the first whisky bar to open in Melbourne! That's how I got into spirits and specialising in single malt. I was pulled away to help my brother [chef Victor Liong] open his restaurant, Lee Ho Fook, which began as a more casual restaurant with natural wines - “a trendy response to what people wanted”. We then moved into Melbourne’s CBD and got serious after four years with more focus. We gained a hat and I continued to work in operations there for most of my serious hospo career. I then became a mum to two daughters before I went back to working as a wine and spirits buyer for an independent bottle shop. This got me back into spirits, I continued judging the Australian Distilled Spirits Awards and at the time was going to relocate to Ballarat before I got the call for the spirits blending role I had applied for at Archie Rose. So we moved back to Sydney.
What are each of your roles at Archie Rose?
S: I’m a Spirit Blender. I have a background in cocktail design and distilling spirits - so blending is something very new - a transferral of skills. Everyday is a school day and a learning day - blending different casks together and marrying different flavours can be quite challenging. We have the chance to go through the whole range (in regards to whisky/gin/vodka/all the various spirits we produce at Archie Rose). It’s so cool that we get to influence the Archie Rose style! It’s great to have input on the final product. It increases your confidence by creating an incredible product.
E: I’m also a Spirit Blender - It’s been amazing, I love it. There aren’t many spirit blenders out there, especially in Australia. I think it’s really exciting to be in a place where it all happens (in regards to how many spirits we create). You get to experience it through a wider lens, as a whole.
As Spirit Blenders, what does a typical work day look like for both of you?
S: It’s always different - from malt assessment in the lab, project development, daily screening of new make, assessing the quality of both the raw material and the casks. We look at the quality overall from raw materials, to casks, to bottling and everything in between.
E: Very different. We usually work out what a month looks like and work backwards from there. Tasks include: Sampling - assessing about 200-300 casks a month within the various categories for single malt and rye, looking at them across different stages of their ageing journey, working on the bottling line to changing over spirits and making sure the bottling lines are clean and untainted from previous products.
What drew you to work within this industry?
S: Distilling made me curious about “how is this made?” After working for Tony Conigliaro at Drink Factory, a drink lab in LondonUK, My favourite question became “why?”. I started working in production at Lark Distilling Co. with Bill Lark in Tassie and was asked to help Rick Hoedjes (current head distiller at Forty Spotted gin) to redo his botanicals library - that's how I started distilling. I never say no to things and I'm always up for new experiences. Juggling between whisky and gin in Tassie meant I was thrown into a washing machine of learning, and I quickly became accustomed to a new job.
E: For me it was more finding a position I can grow in and something that's relatively family friendly. I didn’t want to be a distiller - I know I have a good nose so it made sense to chase a blending/sensory role.
What are you inspired by?
S: I’m inspired by curious people - they make me think - I'm attracted to people who think outside of the box.
E: I’m inspired by people too - that's what drove me to hospo and service roles. You can tell your story through your service to others. It’s a strong thing to build a community through product and service.
What is your drink of choice?
S: My drink of choice is probably a beer, I like simple things, as long as I drink it with good people I’m happy.
E: My go-to is always a rosé and a floral, grassy mezcal. Together they’re a good Boilermaker!
What’s the best part of your job?
S: You get to try everything - the exposure to a lot of flavours plays a lot with the senses, it’s a visual and a sensory interaction. There are memories attached to the senses - the particular things you're trying have a reaction in your head.
E: I like that it’s not just a distillery - the access to knowledgeable people - the amount of minds you can pick in one day is just incredible. I love the exciting conceptualising of ideas and asking people's opinions about it.
What is the worst?
S: I don’t have anything that I don’t like. I like every single bit - even the bad smells - it’s all still a sensory experience.
E: Smelling dank barrels!
What are you working on that you’re excited about right now?
S: I’m working on different rye projects, some straightforward and some complex.
E: I've started working on the single malt blends we’re releasing - there’s another in the pipeline coming soon, so I’m really excited to keep moving on that.
Across your career, has there been anyone that has specifically inspired you, or that you look up to?
S: Lyn Lark - the wife of Bill Lark from Lark Distilling Co. in Tasmania. We love the smell of flowers and mostly talked about gardening rather than distilling. She was the first female distiller in Australia - she’s an incredibly fun woman, with an inspiring personality, she’s very humble, kind and present. A very big figure in the industry and a wonderful person in my life.
E: Probably Brooke Hayman - owner of Whisky & Alement in Melbourne - she pulled me from behind a coffee machine to be a bartender - trained me to be a speed bartender, and has kept tabs on me ever since. Encouraging in the right way - she knew how to spark my curiosity and drive and continued to check in to make sure I was on a good path.
Are there any female distillers you admire or want to shout out?
E: I had been fangirling Lisa Truscott (Senior Distiller at Archie Rose) for a while before working here. We need more open female presence in the industry.
Do you have any advice for women wanting to enter the industry?
S: Trust your senses, and throughout your journey be open to adapt to different situations. There are opportunities out there, so be receptive to what's around - I’m a person that never says no to anything, so give it a crack. Be honest and positive, trust yourself and your senses.
E: Go for it. There’s no right or wrong way to get into the industry - find the ways that you can to get there. There are a lot of people to reach out to - we’re all on this journey to make us happy and balance our lifestyles. The short and long of that is just don’t be afraid.