How This Former Ballerina Launched a Whisky Brand, and Found Herself in the Process
Ballet and whisky might seem like unlikely bedfellows, unless you're Allison Parc.
These days, it feels like everyone and anyone is opening up a distillery of some kind, but this particular opening caught our attention. Meet Allison Parc, once a member of the Joffrey Ballet in New York, who traded her ballet shoes for whisky flasks.
“My professional ballet life, while wonderful, also occurred for me as a big story of I’m-not-enough moments,” she tells Food & Wine. “I’m not working hard enough. I’m not flexible enough. I’m not skinny enough. I’m not good enough to get star roles.”
That, she says, was an exhausting way to move through life. But with her ballerina days behind her, Parc was able to slow down and relax—and, she says, eat more cheese and enjoy a good glass of wine or whisky. “I loved the concept of terroir and artistry in winemaking,” she says. “But whisky had my heart. It was interesting, complex, and full of nuances. And life—when shared around a glass of whisky—was not about whether I was enough. Those times were about who we were, what we thought, and what we shared. Whisky is a slow-sipper and I was able to just be me.”
Parc’s love of whisky grew until it couldn’t be contained in those moments enjoyed with a glass in hand. She began to wonder: Was anyone making a whisky-focused on terroir? Was there a distillery using only local and indigenous ingredients? And if not, could she? “When I could not find anyone [making whisky] the way I thought it was possible, I decided that whisky would be my next move in life,” Parc explains.
So Parc set out to teach herself the craft, visiting distillers and working with them at their distilleries. “Thanks to the craft spirits boom in the U.S., there are now incredible resources for people looking to enter the industry,” Parc explains. In her travels, she met a Cognac producer and eventually collaborated with him, use his Cognac casks for aging, to create Brenne Whisky.
Brenne Whisky, Parc says, is an organic single-malt whisky made with ingredients local to Cognac, France. “We’re truly seed-to-spirit,” Parc says, “because we grow heirloom varietals of barley ourselves in fields next to the Cognac vineyards." The brand’s first expression, Brenne Estate Cask, has hints of crème brûlée and banana foster notes; its second expression, Brenne Ten, is more floral, dry, and spicy—the kind of whisky for which Parc had searched for so long. “Brenne is something that I love sharing with those who don’t think they like whiskey and whisky collectors who think they have tried everything,” she says. “Brenne is a fun discovery for both.”
To get Brenne off the ground, Parc biked around on CitiBike to hand-deliver bottles to some of NYC's top bars, restaurants and retailers.
“The incredible workload that came along with learning a new industry, working around the insane amount of ‘no’s,’ and waking up every day to face potential ridicule were all part of the process. It is one thing to sell whisky—it is quite another to sell something that has your name on it and is completely different from everything else out there.” Now, Brenne is available in 35 states and abroad.
For anyone looking to get into the distilling game, Parc offers these four pieces of advice:
1. Create, don’t copy.
“It’s easier to do the latter,” Parc admits, “more rewarding to do the former.” So, she encourages, when you launch your business, “do something original and not only for the sake of being different, but so that you can innovate.”
2. Be intentional with your time.
“Understanding my deeper purpose helps me be intentional with my time, which is our biggest commodity,” Parc says. “How and who I spend my time within a day helps me be fully engaged with my choices and maximize my ability to contribute to the world, even when I break to have fun.”
3. Make time for yourself.
“If you are like me, putting on the blinders and running the marathon to attain a goal is more natural than remembering to look up, enjoy the moment, and have a little fun,” Parc says. “I’ve made changes to create space in my very full, very intentional business world to make sure I am living a life that is also full of doing things with those I love—including some me-time.” One way Parc makes time for herself is to schedule what she calls solo dates. “The often involve getting lost in art museums or spending an afternoon at a spa,” she describes.
4. When you travel, spend time outside.
“I spend 70 percent of my time on the road,” Parc estimates, “and I recommend you always pack your sneakers and get outside.” To get time outside, “I book hotels that are close to walking and running paths and—no matter the weather—I get myself outside for a run. Seeing a part of wherever I am and feeling the weather, even rain or snow, helps me stay grounded and not just go from a car to an appointment to a hotel to the airport—and repeat.”