Artisan Spirit: Fall 2021

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In 2020, the Kentucky Distillers Association announced the launch of the Lifting Spirits Foundation’s scholarship program, which funds scholarships for students in the distilling programs at the University of Kentucky, Kentucky State, and the University of Louisville. “Our hope was to activate scholars from the beginning, get them in these programs, and hopefully keep them in Kentucky and in our industry,” said Sara Barnes, the director of industry responsibility and sustainability for the association. In 2021, the foundation will fund seven scholarships directly, which will be matched by five additional scholarships funded by the schools themselves. Students can apply for the scholarships directly through partner schools. Applicants can come from any background, but awards will be made with a focus on bringing more BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and women into the industry. “We want to strengthen diversity efforts in the industry, and that hasn’t been something that is forward-facing in the bourbon industry in the state of Kentucky,” said Barnes. The scholarship is supported by KDA members. Traditional university coursework can also offer compelling knowledge and credentials for starting a career in distilled spirits. The options range from certificate programs attached to chemistry, food science, or agricultural programs to full four-year and/or masters’ degree programs in fermentation science or chemical engineering. Once a relative rarity, the number of distilling-specific programs has proliferated in recent years, with certificates and degrees offered by institutions of all types, ranging from community colleges to large research universities. Among the more established programs in the United States (but by no means an exhaustive list) are UC Davis, Metropolitan State University of Denver, Oregon State University, the University of Kentucky, Central Washington University, Colorado State University, Appalachian State University, the Siebel Institute of Technology, and SUNY Cobleskill. International English-language programs include Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland, and Niagara College in Ontario, Canada. 62


Named for the legendary beer and whiskey writer, the Michael James Jackson Foundation was launched in 2020 with the goal of funding scholarships for people of color to complete professional coursework in brewing and distilling. Recipients are also matched with mentors to help them build relationships and develop new insights into the industry. Initial funds for the scholarship came from an organization that Jackson founded more than 20 years ago at the now-defunct American Institute of Wine and Food, as well as a crowdfunding campaign that has raised nearly $100,000. Many major beer brands, as well as a handful of spirits brands, have also donated. While Jackson was most closely associated with whisky, Oliver, who serves as the foundation’s chair, says applicants can be working in any spirit discipline. “It doesn’t have to be whisky,” says Oliver. “Even though Michael was certainly a champion of whisky, he also loved other distilled spirits, so we thought that was very much in the spirit of his overall drive.” For now, the foundation is focusing on funding scholarships for people who already work in the brewing or spirits industry in some capacity, but want to advance their careers with more education. Five recipients were chosen in early 2021, and the foundation expects to issue another round of awards in time for the fall semester. Over time, it might expand to include folks who are brand new to the industry. “We need to work hard first, establish what we’re doing, and once we’re good at it, we can do a good job for those [newer] people,” said Oliver. The Nearest & Jack Advancement Initiative, created by the Jack Daniel Distillery and the Nearest Green Distillery in 2020 with a combined donation of $5 million, aims to create professional development opportunities for Black professionals and entrepreneurs in the spirits industry. The initiative includes a leadership acceleration program for Black professionals who already work in the whiskey industry and want to advance their careers, and a business acceleration program for Black entrepreneurs who want to grow their spirits businesses. The initiative is also helping to create the Nearest Green School of Distilling at Motlow State College in Tennessee, a new distilling certificate program. The DISCUS Academy offers a wide range of a la carte online courses and certificate programs, as well as in-person events (pre-Covid, anyway). Most cost at least something, but less if you’re a member and some are free. The emphasis is on the business side, with relevant information for a wide range of tiers: managers/owners (e.g.,taking on outside investment, exit strategies), sales (impacts of Brexit, export), production (developing safety policies), and tasting room operations (state compliance, cocktails-to-go, etc.). For the citizen-scientists among us, the American Distilling Institute also offers a Distilling Research Grant program to fund practical research into craft distilling. Funds are disbursed by an independent advisory committee of academics, distillers, and scientists. Recently funded proposals cover topics ranging from how oxygen interacts with distillate in whiskey barrels, to the performance of ancient still types. Look for results from funded projects in ADI’s magazine, Distiller, and presented at the organization’s annual conference. W W W . ARTISANSPIRITMAG . C O M