Whiskey Women Changing the Game
Deb Pickell – Director of Production & Master Blender at Devils River Whiskey
By Meredith Kay
Photography by Brittany Paul
Born in a small farming community in Northern California, Deb Pickell was the youngest of seven and grew up helping around the farm and selling vegetables at her family’s roadside produce stand. She never dreamed that her life’s path would lead her to San Antonio, Texas, to become a Master Blender for one of the fastest-growing whiskey brands in the country.
Deb was working with her husband resurfacing commercial floors when she met Mike Cameron. Cameron is the co-founder of Rebecca Creek Distillery, and in 2017 he struck out on his own to launch Devils River Whiskey. Deb began working for Cameron doing administrative work, and when Devils River went into production in Dallas, Pickell moved up there to get the business off the ground and worked hard to grow the business, doubling production year over year.
“We put out 15,000 cases the first year, 30,000 cases in the second year, and by year three, we were bottling and distributing 60,000 cases. The enterprise got so big that we had to split production and administration. So, I decided to head up the production team as we made the move to San Antonio,” Pickell explains.
The whiskey is distilled in the ground floor space of the historic Burns Building downtown San Antonio, but when it is ready to be casked, the sacred liquid is moved to the production facility just north on I-35. Here, Pickell and her team transfer the whiskey, and the soon-to-become bourbon, to their new barrel homes. The barrels are stacked in the rickhouse and left to rest, age, and mature. It is here, among her “babies,” that Pickell feels the most peace. She even recalls breaking down during the height of the pandemic as she worried about her staff and the future of everything.
“We were all still here working together as the world stopped around us. I was so worried that one of my guys would catch COVID, and no matter how thoroughly we cleaned, there was no guarantee that we wouldn’t. One day, it all just hit me so hard. So, I climbed the barrels and sat there in the peace and quiet of the rickhouse and had a good, long cry. It was cathartic. I looked around at everything we had accomplished, and I knew that I was where I was meant to be.”
Pickell beams with pride when she describes her team. “I get to set the culture here, and we’ve developed an environment that fosters learning. Nobody is perfect, and mistakes are a part of the learning process, but we pride ourselves on turning those mistakes into teaching moments, and that is reflected in our quality.”
Devils River Whiskey takes its name, and its water, from the Devils River, which runs through some of the roughest and most remote country in South Texas, near Del Rio. The distillery harvests the naturally filtered limestone spring water, considered to be the purest water source in Texas, for their small-batch whiskey and bourbons.
Currently, Devils River Whiskey can be found in 33 states, and Pickell has created several unique flavor profiles that allow her to play with the palate. Their Coffee Bourbon invokes the aroma of Vienna Roasted coffee, and their Agave Bourbon blends their signature bourbon with sweet Blue Agave nectar, creating a smooth finish reminiscent of the land where the Devils River crosses over into Mexico.