Diane Rogers, 35
Maker's Mark Distillery
"I'm on day 23 of my new job. I oversee all of the whiskey, from distillery to bottling. My job is to protect the quality of the brand.
"I've been walking the production lines since the first week. Among other things, I pull bottles off the line and check the labels to see that they're not crooked. Every bottle is hand dipped in red wax to seal it, and I make sure the wax doesn't get all over the side of the bottle, on the label, or over the government warning label. There can't be any bubbles in the wax, either.
"But the taste panel is the most important part of what I do. Every morning, I set up a taste panel in a conference room—alone, to avoid distractions—and taste and smell about 30 samples at different stages of the six-year aging process. I line them up, one by one, 15 milliliters in a glass, and cut the proof so that I don't overwhelm my sense of smell or taste. During the day, the other four people on the panel do the same thing.
"It takes time to learn all the flavors. You have to train your nose to recognize the by-products of fermentation. I don't know yet what everything smells like, but I'm learning. If my boss, Dave, comes across something funny, such as a slight rubbery smell, he'll say, 'Hey, Diane, smell this off-note.'
"When I took the job, I didn't realize I would be the first woman ever on the company's taste panel. I guess that's interesting, but I don't think about it that way. It's just my job. Who knows, maybe women have a better tasting ability—and we won't know unless we're at the table tasting our share."
A version of this article appeared in the Table of Contents - April 2004 issue of Fast Company magazine.