02 Nov Women to Watch: Melanie Asher, Founder, Master Distiller and Blender at Macchu Pisco in Peru
In the June issue of BIN Magazine, I profiled 10 women in the spirits industry, an industry that has historically been a male dominated industry. Now each month, a more in depth profile is being printed showcasing each of these amazing women.
Meet Melanie Asher, founder, master distiller and blender at Macchu Pisco.
Macchu Pisco was founded in 2006 by sisters Melanie and Lizzie Asher. A graduate of Harvard Business School, Melanie wanted to create something extraordinary that had never been seen before while bringing economic vitality to the people of Peru where she was born. She wanted to be the inventor of the purest spirit on the planet. Melanie learned how to distill at an accredited Government distilling program and is guided by doing what she knows is right, even if it takes more effort and is the less popular path. Macchu Pisco honors the tradition of their grandmother Amelia Rodriguez who was born almost 100 years ago and who grew up helping her mother sell pisco at the local bodega in Lima, Peru.
Distilling requires that Melanie connects keenly to her intuition and engages all her senses to make the correct choices. “We always have the answers inside of us, just sometimes we let self-doubt and fear get in the way. Being present is super key as a businesswoman and distiller so I returned to meditation to be more conscientious in my production,” she shared. Melanie is at every cut of head and tail, monitoring the oven temperatures, and uses a specific proprietary fractioning system to identify the differences in the heads, body, and tails. Melanie added, “the thing I enjoy most about being a distiller is distilling. If you are not having fun with it or doing it yourself, you’d better find another profession.”
There are few women in distilling. What types of challenges have you faced?
One of the first challenges that I encountered as an intrepid distiller and brand owner was securing the best top-quality grapes. For me that meant grapes that have not been spayed. You cannot make a pure product with low grade material doused in pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides. I was first told it would be impossible to find because everyone sprayed. I would find empty containers and dead birds along farms. I even travelled to a province in the mountains eight hours away looking for the all-mighty natural grape. When I finally did find purity estates of small growers that kept to age-old healthy farming practices, we paid a quality price related to their work. I was labeled the “gringa” that came to ruin the market. My reply, ‘Macchu Pisco pays fair prices base on fair trade not market conditions.’
I cannot stress enough how much safe grapes are the underpinning of our wholesome operation. Macchu Pisco tests all grower’s grapes every year before purchasing. We have built a nice community of growers that are beyond organic and encouraging them throughout the year with fertilizing and cover cropping techniques. I am glad to say we have paved the way and see more and more growers wanting to convert to our way. My style of distilling has garnered much derision and again has put us at the forefront in the industry. The Macchu Pisco method is a mindful “drip” distillation where the stream of pisco coming out of our stills is super thin. Many folks laugh at us saying we are too slow. One run of ours takes 24 hours when it takes other producers 8 hours. The old masters 400 years back distilled by wood and were very conscientious to have a light stream as that meant the wine was being cooked not burned. Maybe we are getting the last laugh!
What do you see as the future for women in distilling?
The future is bright for women in the distilling trade or any other. As humans we all face challenges. I see it as a way of testing our resolve. The opposition and mansplaining came from all sides – workers, distillery owner and so-called industry experts. They said I wasted gas and that there would be more heavy metals in our pisco. Both are false and the opposite. I see expediency as the root of all evil. Maybe that is why good always wins out in every La Diablada (dance between angels and demons) bottle.