Leslie Johnson has the recipe for craft spirits success. As a beverage laboratory manager, Leslie helps create recipes in Next Century Spirits’ Beverage Development lab. Working closely with our Master Blender, she also makes sure the final product is unique and of the highest quality before it goes into production.
We spoke with Leslie about the critical role a beverage laboratory manager plays in the production process at Next Century Spirits and how she works to meet the company’s exceptional standards of innovation, consistency, and flavor profiles.
It’s difficult to define a “normal” day for a position in a fast-growing company!
You can often find me helping out wherever needed, whether it’s on the bottling line or labeling samples for competitions. My main job is to manage the daily functions of the Beverage Development lab, so I work closely with our team to make sure the lab runs smoothly and efficiently.
We’ll typically start the day with small-scale processing runs for any ongoing beverage development projects. Then, we’ll shift to the blending portion of our projects, which requires a good amount of lab and sensory analysis to make sure that we’re making a product that meets all necessary specs. I tend to spend the rest of my time scaling up recipes to send to production, along with sourcing new distillates and flavors.
We’re able to work with oak profiles and use natural flavors and extracts to create fully customizable products. Creating a flavor profile for a craft spirit can take anywhere from 1-3 months on average. Sometimes we can hit a target profile on the first trial run, but other times it takes a couple of iterations to really dial in the liquid, based on client feedback.
The most complex part of scaling up recipes is making sure everything is done exactly the same in both the lab and large-scale productions. It’s easy for me to be very hands-on with the lab samples. But in passing the recipe off to the production crew, it takes a lot of communication and planning to make sure everything is done precisely the same.
Lately, we see a lot of demand for low-calorie products or herb/fruit infusions to meet the needs of a more health-conscious crowd. We’re also getting a lot of requests for premium options using a variety of cask finishes. The alternatives are limitless, and it’s always an experience to try new and innovative flavor profiles in the lab.
My favorite is the Blackberry Bourbon Smash because it’s a great introduction to bourbon cocktails.
The whole Next Century Spirits team is dedicated to supplying the global spirits market with the best high-quality products possible. The attention to detail, innovative technology, methods, and control over the entire production process make it possible for us to create unique high-quality spirits.
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