solve: how could a simple desire translate into making whiskey?
HOW TO GET INTO DISTILLING WITHOUT H AV I N G T O OWN THE JOINT
I’ve done every one of the things suggested below, and I
WRITTEN BY JEANNE RUNKLE
orking for a craft distillery isn’t all R&D (i.e., drinking on the job). Bags of grains and tubs of molasses don’t
magically turn themselves into whiskey and rum. It takes
dedication and hard work—hot, sweaty, knuckle-banging work. Work that is also very satisfying! If you think this is the career for you, but don’t know quite where to begin, check out these tips to get started. When I started researching the craft spirits industry, I honestly had no idea it would lead me to being a distiller. My background includes being a jet engine mechanic for the Marines, and the bulk of my professional experience and education is marketing and customer experience. However, with every new distiller I interviewed the desire to join their ranks grew. I had a problem to
continue to do them. While my formula worked (with a splash of right place/right time) it may not succeed for everyone. So I also
DO KNOW YOUR STRENGTHS
spoke with people that have shared a similar journey into craft
Craft distilleries aren’t usually big enough that you’ll do just
distilling, to get their perspectives.
one thing. Did you bartend your way through college? That’s a
John Wilcox is an artisan distiller with four years of commercial
great transferable skill, especially if the distillery you want to
experience in the craft spirits industry. With a degree in art, he was
work for has a tasting room that serves cocktails. More than
on his way to becoming the stereotypical “starving artist”. He got a
one of today’s crew of Head Distillers was yesterday’s tasting
job in the craft beer industry as a way to support himself because
room bartender. Homebrewing is also really helpful, since you
as romantic as it sounds, the starving part isn’t that great. Beer led
already understand a large part of the distilling process. Every
the way to cocktails and whiskey, and that led John into a career in
good whiskey starts with a good mash!
distilling—one he didn’t even know he was looking for. Laura Johnson is the Co-Founder/Head Distiller of Your & Yours Distilling Co. in San Diego, and Founder of Distillerista.com. Over the course of a year, she attended classes at several distilleries, and toured as many distilleries as humanly possible along the way. With her dream job solid in her mind, she is working with one of the local distilleries to navigate the maze of permits and paperwork it takes to open a distillery. While her path into distilling was more intentional than mine, she used many of the same ideas to break into the industry.
D O K N O W W H AT Y O U ’ R E S I G N I N G U P F O R Fermentation waits for no (wo)man, so you’re likely saying goodbye to a regular, 9-5 style job. Sure, there are schedules — but when the still doesn’t run quite the way it’s supposed to, or an early morning delivery pushed your mash-in back an hour — you can’t just close up shop and leave at 5. The long, irregular hours can be stressful.
D O L E AV E T H E H O U S E ! You’re entering the world of start-ups. No one waits to start
While their journeys differ (John lived in a tent during his
a business until everything is completely perfect, and the
apprenticeship, and Laura had to secure funding capital), both
same goes for you. You never know who you’ll meet that could
John and Laura offered similar advice about getting into the
change your entire life when you step out your front door. My
industry. Along with my own tips, we present our advice, and hope
first event was terrifying! Take a friend if that makes you feel
it will help get you started in pursuing your career in distilling...
more comfortable (I did), but get out there.
“ iIft ’ds i sntoi lt l ianl gl bi se eyro ua rn dp awsesni ocnh eAsN! DI t yt oa uk er sj osba,c irti’fsi cael lawn od r thha ri dt . wI to’ sr kt—h e best time in all the world to get into this industry—do it now!” JOHN WILCOX,
The magazine for craft distillers and their fans.