Here's how much the top leadership at Chattanooga Whiskey Co. thinks of Tiana Saul — she got promoted to head distiller while she was taking what she called a "slight break" from the business.
"I left at the end of 2021," she says. "It wasn't a bad thing — I was following through on another opportunity, and we parted on really good terms.
"This was definitely not what I thought I'd be doing with my life," she adds, "but I can't imagine doing anything else at this point. I'm in for the long haul."
Born and raised near San Francisco, she says she lacked a "true direction" after earning her undergraduate degree at the University of California, Los Angeles in 2008.
"I ran my own jewelry business for a while and worked in the hospitality industry," she says. "In 2015, I reached a point when I decided it was time to give something else a try — move away from my comfort zone."
She says she decided to try Chattanooga, based on the experience of a couple of friends who'd visited the city and liked it. Before long, she says, she landed a front-of-the-house job at Chattanooga Whiskey's Market Street location, working the front desk, selling bottles and merchandise and leading tours. At the same time, she adds, the company was building out what is now its Riverfront Parkway production facility.
Saul says she applied for, and won, a production job. The fact that she had no distillation experience was not a problem, she adds.
"They were cool, willing to teach us from the ground up," she says. "All of a sudden, I'm lifting 50-pound bags of malt and going home at night with corn mash behind my ears. There were pretty rough days, but I fell in love with it immediately.
"It was exciting to be able to see and have your hands in the process from beginning to end," she adds. "It's both science and art — you're bringing together something that's greater than the sum of its parts."
Saul concedes that she was "pretty nervous" when she was offered the promotion to head distiller late last year.
"It was a huge honor to be asked, but it's a huge commitment," she says. "It took a while for me to decide whether it was the right role."
One of the things that tipped the balance, she says, was that she'll continue to work with Grant McCracken, Chattanooga Whiskey's original head distiller, who now serves as chief product officer.
"And the team," she adds. "It's pretty much the same team since the beginning. (The members) are incredibly knowledgeable and committed, and we're tight-knit, with a lot of collaboration."
* Age: 37
* Home: Chattanooga
* Family: Husband, Jared Padovani
* Education: University of California, Los Angeles (ethnomusicology/cultural anthropology, 2008)
* Hobbies: Cooking, jewelry making