GREAT TEAM WRITTEN BY MAGGIE CAMPBELL
s craft distillery culture progresses in the US, many
Many distilleries are hiring trained chemists, but the adage
companies find themselves needing to add employees to
“You can miss the distilling forest for the chemistry trees” still
their core team. Suddenly you are going from a company of a few
rings true. John Jeffery, a consultant of Chicago Road Spirits
deeply passionate founding members to one that is adding guns
(formerly of Death’s Door), points out that you literally have to
for hire. Finding and attracting talent from a small community
teach them how to flick switches on pumps as well as understand
with few career development resources can be challenging
your goals. It can be hard to hire a trained chemist and convince
enough. Now add long hours, tight budgets, and hard physical
them to do things a certain way to meet the company’s needs.
work, all in a field where new distilleries are trying to poach your
Their knowledge of chemistry does not always mean they have
knowledge of barrel maintenance, packaging concerns, or
How are we to attract new talent, welcome them into the team,
developed technical tasting ability. You need to be very aware of
and retain their skills once we’ve invested in their development?
what training they will need as their deep chemistry knowledge
Well, thinking critically about what image your brand sends out
may lead you to believe they need less support in practical
into the hiring pool, identifying core values and experience,
distilling matters. Hiring a chemist can lead to a great employee,
making a new employee feel like a part of the tribe, and looking
but do not think they will be ready to go out of the gate.
for diversity may just be the keys to not only building a great team, but also building a lasting one.
FINDING NEW TALENT
If one hires a brewer they will have basic brewing knowledge including use of equipment, safety training (especially forklift and CO2 exposure), and some olfactory development. However, much training will still be required. Brewing for distillation is
Do you want someone with experience? Being that home
different, with distinct considerations for pH, lees management,
distilling is illegal and few schools offer comprehensive training,
and microbial protection. Brewing is also a few days in the life
this is becoming a question that leads to two very different roads.
of a spirit. They will need distillation training, ripening, and
Often, getting someone with quality distilling experience requires
barrel training. The technical skill involved with a proper barrel
poaching—a very expensive, dicey, and political proposition.
program mimics wine, especially fortified wines, far more than
Hiring someone with little experience means investing heavily in
the mash process mimics beer brewing, yet few leave the wine
training for the long haul (think years not months or weeks). It
industry to pursue distilling. Dave Smith of St. George Spirits’
also means inherent blind spots be it in science, safety training,
incredible breadth of skill, including technical tasting, clearly
or basic warehouse operations.
stems from his time in the wine industry.