All photography by Jeff Licciardello
Hanging out with Allison Patel is a lot like sipping the very whisky she makes. She exudes a contagious warmth, offering us a gamut of beverages as she welcomes us into her West Village apartment. Jeff and I take in the beautiful white-on-white furniture, the snazzy bar, and the wine collection. Turns out, it’s her husband’s. Allison keeps her extensive whisky selection hidden in her home office. With an easy grin, she tells us, “If anyone wants to drink my whisky, they first have to learn about it. This is important stuff!” Allison knows her whisky, because whisky is what Allison is all about.
A former ballerina, Allison became intrigued with non-traditional whiskies through her husband, who, when traveling overseas, would tell her about the unique spirits he’d tasted. When she realized she couldn’t find many of the products in the states, she began an alcohol import/export company. She was constantly searching for something new, which is how she began crafting Brenne. Through her adventures, she met a Cognac producer who was dabbling in producing single malts. When she tasted his whisky, she was inspired. She’d never heard of a French single-malt, and now, she wanted to make one – the best one. Incorporating the terroir around her, she decided to add a layer of complexity to Brenne by finishing the whisky in Cognac barrels.
The result is an elegant, fruit forward whisky. It’s filled with plenty of bananas and raisins, yet it’s off-dry on the palate. It’s feminine, but so unexpected: robust and coaxing at the same time. Brenne’s bottle only serves to complement this combination of delicacy and strength. The tall, blue bottle looks more like it would hold wine, not whisky. Between the unique taste and the non-traditional bottle, a dram of Brenne is immensely approachable. As it were, so is Allison.
Like Brenne, her style is all about contradictions that work. “Everything I own has sentimental value,” she informs us, holding out her bangle-bedecked arm. How that sentimentality manifests itself, however, varies. Some pieces of hers are hand-me-downs from her grandmother, others are luxe, detailed duds scored on her trips to France, where the organic malted barley for Brenne grows. She mixes designer and discount effortlessly, creating looks that we’d describe as relaxed red carpet. Her outfits are lovely, but not in a stuffy way that makes them look catalogued or far removed from the New York streets, where we sweat and squeeze onto the subway.
Allison’s personality is sunny. In fact, the only time she fails to listen to us is when we ask her to hold a serious expression. Even when she resists smiling, the corners of her mouth turn up a notch. Yet, despite her bright disposition, she professes to, “only wear black, white, and gray.” She livens up the simplicity of her color palate by experimenting with different textures. For example, she dons a faux-leather dress with a sheer, black lace dress thrown over it. One is from H&M, the other is from a boutique in Paris. Can you guess which is which?
Her Brenne blue bottle and the golden whisky inside of it also serve to provide a pop of color to each of Allison’s outfits. When she dumps out her purse, we see shades of robin’s egg blue and gold everywhere. From her meticulous outfits to her branding, Allison is precise and committed.
Brenne is in 29 states and France, a remarkable feat when you consider the obstacles a product like Allison’s faces. Yes, Brenne is delicious. But it’s also a French single-malt, competing with the likes of Scottish counterparts like Macallan and Glenlivet. Not only that, but Brenne is a craft product. Allison is the one-woman team behind every sales pitch, trade event, and tweet. Yet somehow, we have no trouble understanding how Allison has managed to forge Brenne’s place in the whisky market and the New York cocktail scene. She’s utterly personable: just the trait you need to have to work in the booze industry.
As Jeff and I pack up to leave her apartment, we mention we’ll be shooting a certain bartender for our next fashion spread. Allison lights up. “Oh, you’re so lucky! She’s the best.” She then darts into another room and comes back with a note and a nip of Brenne. “Can you give this to her? I haven’t seen her in forever and I miss her so much.”
We did, indeed, deliver the message. Unsurprisingly, she was equally fond of Allison.