Odd Jobs: The World’s Youngest (and Only Woman) Rum Master

In Odd Jobs, Yahoo Food brings you the weirdest, wackiest, and most interesting occupations from around the food world. Who knows, you might be inspired to make a career change. Here, we chat with Jassil Villanueva Quintana about being the youngest — and first female — rum master in the world.


Quintana noses a glass of Brugal rum. All photos: Brugal

Name: Jassil Villanueva Quintana

Age: 28

Job Title: Maestra Romeo, which is Spanish for “Rum Master”

Where She Works: Brugal, a family-owned rum producer based in the Dominican Republic

Years on the Job: Quintana has worked at Brugal for five years, including two years spent as a rum master. Her history with the company goes way back, though — Brugal is owned by Quintana’s family and always played a huge role in her life. Proof: Her dad has worked for the company for more than two decades, and Quintana used to help out on weekends as a teen.

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Barrels of Brugal rum.

What She Does: Quintana spends most days in Brugal’s warehouses, monitoring batches of rum as they mature in stainless steel tanks. (Later, some batches will continue aging in wooden barrels.) She checks them regularly for taste, smell, color, and consistency. “On average, I will say that [I] try at least 20 different samples a day,” Quintana told Yahoo Food. That’s not as much booze as it sounds, though: “It’s just a sip of each one, so I don’t get drunk every day. We drink responsibly!”

Education is a big part of her job, too — if visitors swing by, Quintana is the one who guides them through tastings.

The Workload: “Start at 8 a.m., and you leave the office when you finish,” Quintana said. Most days, she heads home at 5 p.m., but being a rum master means burning the midnight oil when the job demands it. Quintana often puts in overtime when a new product is in development or when visitors swing by for an after-hours tasting.

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A Brugal daiquiri.

Education: Quintana studied business administration at Pontificia Universidad Católica Madre y Maestra in the Dominican Republic, and also has an MBA. But she learned nearly everything she knows about rum from Brugal’s in-house training programs.

First, she did a year-long internship learning the logistics of the rum business. Then came a year in a trial program filled with blind tastings, lectures on the distilling process, and palate training. At the end, only a handful are selected to begin rum master training.

In Quintana’s class of 12 people, she was the only woman — and the only one to make the final cut. But it’d be another three years of training until Quintana could officially claim the rum master title.

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Quintana examines the clarity of a glass of rum.

How She Got the Gig: Growing up, Quintana never thought of becoming a rum master. “You never hear about females in the business,” she said. But an uncle saw something in Quintana and urged to her join the year-long trial program.

“He was thinking of cousins with skills Brugal could develop, and [he] thought of me,” she recalled. It was the first time a woman had ever been invited to attend the program, and Quintana had her doubts. Would it be strange to be the only woman? Would her co-workers ever fully accept her? “But then when I started trials and I was chosen, it was like they really believed in me,” she said.

In time, Quintana saw a shift in her fellow rum masters and even her own family, though the two groups are hardly mutually exclusive. “The first time that I traveled abroad, I was with my boss, who’s one of my cousins,” she recalled. “We were going to Germany, and his mom was calling him anytime that we landed any place and saying, ‘You you have to treat her well! Did she get there safe?’” It was sweet, although Quintana noted that none of her fellow rum masters received the same treatment. But soon, everyone could see that Quintana was holding her own.

“Now they are not checking on me to see if I’m OK,” Quintana said with a laugh.

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