We had the good fortune of connecting with Jennifer Nerius and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jennifer, how has your work-life balance changed over time?
This is a fantastic question and one that after twenty years of attempting to perfect I still struggle with daily. My appreciation for gin started in a bar back in Scotland long before its “Renaissance” and acceptance into more modern cocktails and lifestyles. I remember my friends laughing at me saying I drank like “an old man.” To this day, I am so grateful that I stayed true to what I liked and have found a way to intertwine it into my daily life.
At this point I’m not sure what came first, the gin or the job. Years of working in a lab carried over to my home life where you could find me fermenting or distilling something related to alcohol. I have a Master’s degree in Biomedical Research and specialize in Microbiology, so distilling is in my blood. Maybe it was a stroke of good luck, but my hobby and my work aligned beautifully. When I was younger it was easy to spend hours sitting over a still and creating something unique, but now my time seems so much more precious.
I am a professor of Microbiology and spend a great deal of time back in labs and teaching classes so I am very busy. I like to think that the work-life balance is an endless cycle. Life is too unexpected to have it all perfectly mapped out without stress, we are only human. With this understanding I have become a lot more relaxed in my daily life. I do what I can and stay true to my personal work ethic. When I do find those days where I can’t figure out what the heck I’m doing, I pour a very stiff gin on the rocks and reprioritize, haha.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
Gin is a tapestry of flavor, transporting you around he world with each sip. This has been my response to every person who questions why I would possibly want to drink gin and devote my time to making it and collecting it. The look of questioning and uncertainty on most people’s faces when I ask for a gin on the rocks always makes me laugh and makes me fully aware of how unique my story is. Long before gin became popular in the UK and the variety of unique flavors entered the market, I was drinking some of the roughest gins available. I now live in the US and gin is still a questionable choice for most people, they often have bad memories of taking a sip from their grandfather’s cup and almost choking haha. I would argue that gin has the greatest depth and variety of flavor of any other spirit on the market (but I may be partial). If you look at the gin produced in most countries, you will find a gin that embodies botanicals from their culture that they hold with pride. I love the idea of sitting in a bar, closing my eyes, and taking a sip of gin with flavors from the other side of the world that are incredibly obscure. It takes a great level of talent to perfectly mingle juniper with endless flavor combinations to create a complex and fragrant product. It is this appreciation for gin that has led to my own personal collection of over 450 unique gins from around the world. I am not just a collector and connoisseur, I am an experienced and trained distiller with over twenty years of working with gin. Is it always perfect? Not at all. My biggest lesson is learning to humble myself in the understanding that not all of my “great” ideas will taste good. I often have to argue a gin’s “worth” in todays society, even with its incredibly unique history. People are quick to collect Whiskey and Wine, yet the idea of gin baffles them. I would love for people to understand the complex nature of gin, to be more open minded in finding one they would enjoy, and to shake the taboo mentality associated with it. With such a tumultuous history, alluring variety of flavors, and versatility in unique cocktails, gin is an incredibly sexy spirit.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I live in Tampa, Florida, and the variety of food and activities are incredible. My family visits from Scotland every summer and two weeks isn’t long enough to even touch what Tampa has to offer. This itinerary would be amazing for an age:
Start the day walking to American Social on Harbour Island and ordering one of their unique cocktails. While sipping and relaxing, you can take in beautiful scenery (Tampa skyline, families on boats, ferries, paddle boats, bicyclists, etc).
After drinks, I would walk down to the free streetcar that goes between different spots in Tampa. It’s adorable and looks like the ones in San Francisco. Since it is free, we would spend the day jumping on and off tasting our way through some of Tampa’s best bars and restaurants. Everything is outdoors, so kids can run between parks. We would check out Sparkman Wharf (food area built in cargo containers), Ybor City (small Cuban area with cigar rolling, amazing food, distilleries and breweries).
The beaches here are second to none. I would take new guests to Clearwater beach and spend a few days driving south to check out the less tourist saturated beaches such as Lido Key (my favorite). I have a boat and would pack a cooler full of drinks and head to a close sandbar for the day.
Busch Gardens is incredible here with every tropical animal, plant, food, drink and ride you can imagine.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I am so grateful to be surrounded by people who continuously challenge me to be the best version of myself through laughter and love. I am a firm believer in surrounding yourself with people who have a positive approach to life and a strong work ethic. My family and friends are the greatest people and deserve a massive shoutout. They have all been subject to endless taste testing, good or bad, endless conversations about gin types and distillation techniques. I have a village of people who deserve thanks and I love them all fiercely.