Imbibe 75 People to Watch: Juan Calderon - Imbibe Magazine Subscribe + Save

Imbibe 75 People to Watch: Juan Calderon

Juan Calderon holds his fingers up to his face. “My hands smell like new-make,” he says with a laugh, referring to the fresh whiskey that flows from a still. It’s a familiar fragrance these days for Calderon, who recently traded in his bartender’s apron to become assistant distiller at Rogue Spirits in Newport, Oregon.

It wasn’t the path Calderon was planning to follow when he first stepped behind the bar about 13 years ago in his native Puerto Rico, rising to work at spots including La Factoría and La Penúltima. But after he left the island in 2017 in the wake of Hurricane Maria (tending bar at Sovereign Remedies in Asheville before moving on to Proof on Main in Louisville), Calderon began learning all he could about spirits and the ways they’re made—building on his rum experience in Puerto Rico, expanding it to bourbon in Kentucky, and now learning hands-on the techniques for making Rogue’s whiskey, gin, and other spirits.

His goal had been to find a distillery job by 2020, and a September introduction to Rogue distiller Jake Holshue put him back on track. “It’s skill-building on distillation,” Calderon says, moving potentially toward starting his own project, or working with one of his favorite rum distilleries back in the Caribbean. “Those are the utopic options,” he says. “I could end up making my favorite spirit, basically.”

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