Meet Lorena Vásquez, one of the few female master blenders in the sector of spirits, she works for Zacapa rum, which is considered one of the best and most recognized rums in the world.
“It is important to me to create examples for women so that they can know it is possible to do anything they are passionate about. I’m very proud to have generated a culture within our company where I’ve given many opportunities to other women to pursue the career of their dreams in a male-dominated industry”
Who is Lorena Vásquez? Define yourself
I´m Nicaraguan, but I have lived in Guatemala since the late 1970s. In Nicaragua, I studied pharmaceutical chemistry and food science, before joining ILG in 1984. I work in the world of Ron since 1985.
I love research; I enjoy the world of gastronomy and I am passionate about my work and life.
How were you as a kid?
Since I was a child, I was always very sensitive to food and aromas. My mother frequently told me off for pushing away foods and ingredients that I did not like from my plate.
You are from Nicaragua, did that factor shape your life?
I think that the place where you are born and live always marks you, Nicaraguans are very happy, and we like to party.
You hold a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry & Pharmacy with studies in Food Technology and Business Administration, why did you choose those courses of study?
When I studied pharmacy chemistry, I realized that I liked the classes related to food, my final work I did on the lemon and not with medicines. So, I started in the world of food, for me, it is more interesting for the sensory part.
“ Learn every day, always be informed of world trends, and put a lot of passion into work”
Tell us how did you start your career in the beverage industry and how did you become a master blender in Zacapa?
Becoming Master Blender was like a game of life. When I finished my studies in Nicaragua, I met a Guatemalan and for family reasons I moved to Guatemala, after a few years I entered the distillery in quality control, this allowed me to develop the innate ability of sensitivity of aromas and flavours.
A year later I was involved in the production process of Ron Zacapa, conducting research, and product development mixtures, which I do to date.
For people who are not experts, tell us more about the characteristics of Zacapa rum, which is considered one of the best and most recognized rums in the world, and what activities exactly do you do as a master blender?
Zacapa Rum is an ultra-premium rum, which is barrel-aged to achieve its complex flavors and aromas. We use only the first pressing of sugar cane, creating a pure and unique Rum. Every drop of Zacapa Rum is aged in several different casks, including white oak cask ex-American Whiskey, charred ex-American whiskey cask, Ex-Oloroso sherry cask, and Ex-Pedro Ximenez cask or Ex-French oak cognac cask, for the ultimate depth of flavor.
We aged the Zacapa Rum 2,300 meters (7,545 ft) above sea label in the highlands of Guatemala, at the mystical House Above the Clouds, at this high altitude, there is an average temperature of 62 degrees. This also allows the rum to develop its deep, rich taste. It is slow aging.
The color is light mahogany, the nose great intensity, sweet with notes of wood, fruitiness, vanilla, toasted almond, chocolate, and delicate hints of spice. The taste is dense and exceptionally balanced white with rich notes of vanilla, caramelized fruits, chocolate, and wood, resulting from the aging process and the time.
I´m involved in the production process of Zacapa Rum, conducting research and the blending process and the use of different types of barrels in the aging. In some ways, I like to explain my role as a chef, but for rum.
“I consider myself an artist, because I can express myself through the different aromas and flavors in the rum as an artist can express in a painting using his imagination”
I heard you are particularly proud to be able to employ indigenous women living in remote communities in Guatemala, can you give us more details about it?
Zacapa has a direct impact in different areas, providing jobs to those who do the work in the cane fields, in the sugar mill, in the distillery, and aging facility.
One of the most important contributions is that the petate rings are weaved by indigenous women from different communities, who are able to work from home this 100% handcraft ring. This has generated a great social and economic impact on those communities.
You have been the orchestrator behind Zacapa’s delicious taste for 35 years, you are one of the few female master blenders in the world of spirits, one of only a few female leaders in a traditionally male-dominated industry. You were named one of PEOPLE en Español’s 25 Most Influential Women, What´s the recipe for your success?
- Being one of the few female master blenders is a true inspiration reflected in my work. I started my work at Zacapa when I was 29 years old and was able to quickly rise in spite of being an industry dominated by men - which was definitely not easy.
- When I started at Zacapa, I was one of the only women working there, and now we have tons of women in all types of roles. It inspires me to see so many women around me every day and I hope we continue to see progress throughout the industry.
- It is important to me to create examples for women so that they can know it is possible to do anything they are passionate about. I’m very proud to have generated a culture within our company where I’ve given many opportunities to other women to pursue the career of their dreams in a male-dominated industry. As a female, I will always support women and encourage them to pursue what they want and not allow any barriers to stop them.
It is very important knowledge of the job, to be persistent, passionate, and dedicated.
I had the opportunity to meet you during the fourth edition of the Latin American Fashion Summit (LAFS) In Miami, where Zacapa was one of the sponsors, how was your experience during the event?
I loved seeing many young women from Latin America, presenting their designs with great pride and passion.
What does a normal workday look like for you?
I get up very early in order to do exercise and have a light breakfast (tea and fruit). After arriving at the office, I check my mail, plan for the day, have a look at the production schedule, and spend some time checking blends and tasting rum samples. At lunch, I like to eat with some colleagues in order to catch up. In the afternoon, I check my mail again, have a look at inventories, spend some time checking blends and tasting rum samples and meet with my team. On my way home I always think about my dreams. I have dinner, watch the news, and read a book.
“Be yourself best – hone your craft and earn your credibility. As a Latin American woman in this industry, I had to work very hard to persuade people to believe in me and my craft, but I was able to do it by learning everything I could from previous Master Blenders”
Do you have any particular philosophy that guides your career decisions?
Learn every day, always be informed of world trends, and put a lot of passion into work.
What do you love most about your job? & What is the most difficult part?
I really love what I do, I think that being a Master Blender is like being an artist. My favorite part is being able to try new things, like trying new kinds of barrels to create new blends.
I believe that life is art, the important thing is to develop the artistic within us. I consider myself an artist, because I can express myself through the different aromas and flavors in the rum as an artist can express in a painting using his imagination. The most difficult thing is to achieve consistency in the rum.
What is one strategy that has helped you to grow in your professional career?
It is important to always investigate, to be very curious to learn.
Dedication, persistence, and passion at work.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned over the years?
- The most important lessons I have learned is to go after your goals, pursue what you want and do not let any barriers stop you and to remain humble.
- Be yourself best – hone your craft and earn your credibility. As a Latin American woman in this industry, I had to work very hard to persuade people to believe in me and my craft, but I was able to do it by learning everything I could from previous Master Blenders.
Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking?
What has impacted me the most in my life, was the advice that my father always gave me.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I like to cook, exercise, read and travel.
Many authors say women can and must strive to have everything – a shining career, a blossoming family life, and a perfectly balanced lifestyle all at once, others point out that– then women are placing unrealistic expectations on themselves if they believe they can have it all, you are divorced with 2 kids, so according to your experience, what do you think about these statements?
It is a very complicated challenge, but it can be achieved, it is very important to choose a good travel companion. I am divorced, and I have two children and three grandchildren.
What are your plans for the future?
I would love to write a technical book on rum, to show what I have learned during all my years of work. I would like to be able to make a perfume.
“Understand what you enjoy doing, what your skills are and when you manage to combine them and go to work on this line, the future becomes your dream, and your job will become your passion”.
There is still the glass ceiling for women in the world: Fewer opportunities, jobs underpaid just for that fact of being a woman, etc. Have you experimented with the glass ceiling? If yes, what are the biggest challenges you have faced and how have you overcome them?
The alcohol business has traditionally been male-dominated and as a result, the industry was more focused on masculine tastes. Naturally, this led to more men working in the art of blending. There is no doubt it is a very demanding role and at the time as the industry was developing, women focused on taking care of their children and homes. Therefore, it may not have been an appealing area to work in.
However, times are changing and it’s very exciting to be part of it. Women are adapting their lifestyles and empowering themselves with knowledge and education. I believe it is important to break down these barriers and dismiss stereotypes as we welcome more women into this vibrant and fascinating industry.
Yes, it is true, but it is up to us to achieve the challenge, we have to work very hard to achieve it, but it is possible.
What tips, can you give to young girls who want to become like you?
As a child you always have to dream, but also know that reality exists and we must be preparing for this, you have to study hard. It is very important to understand what you enjoy doing, what your skills are and when you manage to combine them and go to work on this line, the future becomes your dream, and your job will become your passion. Something very important never stop dreaming and fighting to make it happen.
I think in your position, many people may have the wrong idea of who you are, and what do you are (professionally) are, with this idea in mind, what is being Lorena and what´s not?
I am a woman, mother, and grandmother, a lover of life, passionate about her work, inquisitive, and a dreamer. I'm not boring, passive, or arrogant.
Who is the woman you admire the most and why?
I admire……….. Indira Gandhi y Margaret Thatcher, to enter a man´s profession, first you have to develop knowledge through studies, then you have to gain respect in the area you work in, in order to break paradigms or models so that you are seen as part of a team.