Nicaragua born, Lorena Vásquez is among one of the few Master Blenders in the world. She is the talent behind one of the most distinguished world-class rums, Zacapa. This woman has earned her title with over 35 years of experience in truly male-dominated industry, making her way to the top with her drive and craft.
Lorena is not only an expert in rum, she has an interesting academic background, which includes a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry & Pharmacy and additional studies in Food Technology and Business Administration. Throughout the years, she has been written about and honored in the spirits industry and in 2015 made it to PEOPLE en Español’s 25 Most Influential Women.
Our team had a chance to ask this Latina Powerhouse a few questions about her success, her story and her inspiration.
[Lorena] I always say that my love of rum was more of an encounter than something I planned, but once I started working with Zacapa, I knew I had found my calling. My work history within the spirits industry started at a brewery but I didn’t have much of a palate for beer so when I had the chance to move into blending rum, I jumped at the chance. I have a very developed sense of flavors and aromas as well as a background in chemistry, which really helped me when it came to understanding certain aspects of the process. I really enjoy being a master blender for Zacapa because of the complexity of aromas and flavors of the rum and the freedom I have to innovate and improve the processes.
[Lorena] 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. The most difficult part was to break that barrier and to obtain credibility from my peers. I was able to do that by being humble and learning from the previous master blenders and their experience while becoming a teacher of the more technical aspects of the job. Being a woman in Latin America meant that I had to work very hard to demonstrate my value as a professional and persuade people to believe in me and make things the way I was proposing. This job has opened many opportunities for me but I’d like to highlight the amazing people I have met and the fact that it afforded me the chance to travel the world while doing something I’m passionate about. Most importantly, I’m honored to be able to inspire other women to pursue their career in the industry.
[Lorena] In some ways, I like to explain my role as a chef, but for rum. Master blenders play an integral role in the creation of any spirit and are responsible for the aging and crafting of the flavors, colors, and aromas of each bottle that goes out to the public. My role, in particular, is to make sure every batch of Zacapa Rum meets brand standards and delivers an exceptional rum experience. My goal is to make sure that Zacapa offers the utmost quality each and every time it is used when enjoying a special moment or when crafting a delicious cocktail. In the case of Zacapa Rum, this involves a special approach to blending which goes beyond the traditional rum standard. I work hard to harness only the best ingredients from Guatemala to create one of the world’s best-tasting rums. I would consider Master Blenders the Guardian Angels of the rum. They oversee the process to ensure the consumer gets the best product possible every time they drink it.
“I like to compare myself to a liquid chef. I always look for the best product for my consumers, using the highest quality ingredients to make sure every part of the process is done the right way.”
[Lorena] I focus on aromas, really concentrating on the nature of my work, and the mixing of scents and flavors to create something truly unique. Being one of the few female master blenders is a true inspiration reflected in my work. Through my time working with women, I have discovered that they are more sensitive to aromas and flavors, which is so important when it comes to aged spirits. I love working with them and sharing our love for the rum-making process.
[Lorena] As a female in a male-dominated industry, it is important 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. 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. When creating new products I garner inspiration from things like unique perfume scents, wine, and gastronomic industries. My travels have always been a source of inspiration for me as well.
[Lorena] I wish everyone knew just how special the process that goes into making Zacapa Rum is. From the use of sugar cane instead of molasses to aging at high altitude in our House Above the Clouds, where the temperature and the pressure are lower so we can age the rum at a slower pace, and finally how we use a dynamic Sistema Solera process with a minimum of four different types of casks to age our liquids, resulting in a very complex and smooth rum - the creation of each bottle of Zacapa Rum is truly one of a kind. Another thing I would love everyone to know is how versatile Zacapa is, you can have it neat or on the rocks or in delicious cocktails after a meal with friends and family, and you’ll always find yourself not wanting that moment to end.
[Lorena] Yes, each bottle of Zacapa is finished with a petate band. The band on every bottle is hand woven by a community of over 700 Guatemalan women. It is an initiative close to the brand both in that is provides a platform for the women to continue their craft and that it provides a source of employment and income to these women and their families.
[Lorena] There is a world of opportunities for women as every year there are more and more women entering into and excelling within the industry. I just hope that this will continue to increase in the near future. I will continue to be involved in conferences and industry discussions to inspire other women in the spirits industry to pursue a career in blending or any other role within the industry.