If you haven’t been to the Maker’s Mark distillery in Kentucky, listening to Daniella speak passionately about their bourbon and its history is the next best thing.
For this month’s Women in Whiskey, meet Daniella Solana, Maker’s Mark Diplomat.
In case you’re wondering why it’s “Diplomat” and not “Brand Ambassador”, Maker’s Mark has an “Ambassador Program” for consumers, offering perks from product discounts to regular swag deliveries to having your name on a barrel. That last perk includes a golden ticket invitation to tour the distillery and purchase a bottle filled with the bourbon from that barrel that you can personally hand-dip.
As a Diplomat, Daniella leads experiences for both the industry (e.g., bartenders) and the general public, passing their feedback onto her fellow colleagues (from sales to marketing to distillery staff), to impact future releases and programming. She’s part of a global team of about two dozen people that promote and support initiatives such as the Ambassador program, their Barrel Program, their Heritage team, and Single Barrel purchases.
Before Maker’s Mark, Daniella was a Pernod Ricard Brand Ambassador for their whisk(e)y portfolio that includes brands such as The Glenlivet, Chivas, Smooth Ambler, and Jefferson’s.
At a Celtic Festival in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, she hosted her first large-scale consumer tasting in a tent. It was a new experience for her professionally and led to one of her favorite career moments. A couple that she met in Pennsylvania continued their new whiskey journey in parallel to her career, six months later they showed up at her Redbreast tasting in New Jersey.
We chatted about the not-so-glamorous side of her job, including spreadsheets and receipt hunting. I was not surprised to learn that Daniella holds multiple industry certifications, including WSET Level 2 (Spirits), BAR 5-Day™, and BarSmarts. Her career started in her hometown of Detroit, at a dive bar, where everyone knew your name and patrons invited you to their family events and backyard barbecues.
What began as a way to make money, turned into a career as she progressed to working in bars and restaurants of different types, from casual fine dining to high volume chains to 5-star hotels in Denver, Colorado; Portland, Oregon; and Cleveland, Ohio. As a self-proclaimed “People Pleaser”, she focuses on ensuring that her guests walk away with a great experience.
Throughout our conversation, Daniella credited others at every stage of her career, whether it was a referral from a friend, mentorship from a colleague, or the community of her local USBG (United States Bartenders Guild) chapter. She cited everyday things such as correct Scotch whisky pronunciations, building a proper Manhattan, providing hiring insights, road trips, and acknowledging when people went above and beyond.
It wasn’t just her professional network that she acknowledges helped her get where she is today. As a child, school was challenging for her and she learned firsthand about care and compassion from her third grade school teacher, who took the time to create a space for her. So naturally, when she grew older, she dreamed of teaching either first or second grade.
But destiny had other plans for Daniella. She remarked that as a Detroit native, ending up in the spirits industry at an iconic whisky company seemed fitting. The city is iconic in whiskey history, for its proximity to the Canadian Club Distillery, and its underground booze smuggling tunnels.
Speaking of iconic…
Margie’s [Literal] Mark
People both familiar and unfamiliar with Maker’s can not help but notice their instantly recognizable square bottle, with dripping red wax and custom label, which is credited to co-founder Marge “Margie” Samuels. We saluted her in our inaugural issue of Whiskey Network with the following entry:
Marge Samuels, a chemist, transformed the packaging and marketing of American whiskey in her home kitchen. She created the company logo comprised of a star (representing Star Hill, their farm), “S” (for Samuels) and “IV” for her husband being a fourth-generation distiller. She introduced the curved bottle shape and iconic red wax reminiscent of Cognac bottles along with the handmade labels featuring her custom font design, used the spelling of “WHISKY” and dubbed the brand “Maker’s Mark” in homage to how English pewter makers sign their work. In 2014, she was the first woman to be inducted into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame for her work with a distillery.
In addition to branding, Marge collaborated with her husband and co-founder, Bill to bake several different loaves of bread, featuring an array of NOT rye grains. Soft red winter wheat was the favorite of their R&D team of family and friends. It is the 16% grain in their mash bill, along with the 70% corn and 14% malted barley, that gives Maker’s its distinctive flavor profile.
Their heirloom yeast strain is over 150 years old and ferments in tanks made from 100-year-old cypress. Double distillation is done in copper column pot stills, followed by aging in barrels from Independent Stave Company, which are charred for forty seconds. Barrels are rotated by hand, spending the first 3 years at the top of the rickhouse, and aged for an average of six to seven years. While it may not state “small batch” on the label, Daniella advised me that their batches are 20-25 barrels. Their labels are still cut on a hand operated printing press, featuring the “whisky” spelling (without the “e”) in homage to their Scottish-Irish background. Finally, the bottles are hand-dipped in wax that is in the 300 to 400 degrees °F range.
Fun fact: All diplomats are required to be certified in the hand-dipping process, one of several experiences as part of a three week training in Kentucky.
While the mash bill used in their flagship expression Maker’s Mark (90 proof), is the same for other releases, such as their high proof Maker’s 101, here’s a quick overview of their portfolio
- Cask Strength (Proof range 108 to 114): Whisky used for Maker’s 46 and Private Selection
- Maker’s 46 (94 proof): Ten finishing seared virgin French oak staves are added; “46” is the stave number assigned by the Independent Stave Company
- Private Selection: Retail Partners choose 10 finishing staves from 5 wood types (total 1,001 possible stave combinations) and the barrel rests for 9 additional weeks in a custom aging cellar.
- Wood Finishing Series: Limited edition showcasing experiments that complement their core expressions.
Maker’s is also great for cocktails. Recently, Daniella was on a call with their team in Japan chatting about bourbon cocktails. She said highballs are popular there and often pair well with different foods. For fans of Maker’s and those new to the brand, she recommends this riff on a whisky sour:
Gold Rush Cocktail
2 parts Maker’s Mark® Bourbon
3/4 part honey syrup*
3/4 part fresh squeezed lemon juice
Lemon wedge for garnish
*FOR THE HONEY SYRUP
2 parts honey
1 part hot waterAdd bourbon, lemon juice and honey syrup to an ice-filled shaker.
Give it a good shake.
Strain over ice into rocks glass.
Garnish with lemon wedge.
Switching companies during a pandemic was a bold move for Daniella but it reinforced the importance for self-care through maintaining a good work-life “flow”. She credits support from her Mexican-Irish family and said running became part of her life because of her uncle.
As part of the Maker’s family, she’s excited, as earlier this year Maker’s was the largest distillery to earn B Corp certification. This was accomplished through their initiatives as a distillery-wide zero-landfill, solar installations, and incorporating programming such as the Director of Sustainability at Camp Runamok, a “bartender summer program”. They also plan on continuing their annual 46 Cask Strength release.
For her final thought, Daniella wants everyone to be kind to those in the hospitality industry and everyone around you. Whisky brings us all together and the community keeps us together.
Join us next month as we chat with Amanda Beckwith of Virginia Distillery Company!