The Art + Science of Distilling

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How to Become a Master Distiller

One of the questions we get asked more than any other is, “How do I become a master distiller?” And that’s a tricky question. Some are born into it, some just put it on their business cards (even though they don’t know where the steam valve is on their still), and some earn it through dedicating themselves to the craft.

The first thing to understand is that there is no formal definition, training, or certification to become a master distiller. It may be defined by a distillery as to what it means to be a master distiller at their distillery, but it ends there. There is no accepted, industry-­wide definition of what the emblematic Master Distiller title means.

Education teaching Pete | Master Distiller

A Family Tradition

Some who have the title were simply lucky enough to be born into it. That’s not to say they haven’t earned it, in fact it’s quite the opposite. They were raised in a multi-generational distillery and have spent their entire life in the distillery. They learned every facet of their company from bottling to warehousing to knowing how to run the entire distillery and make a good, consistent product. It’s in their DNA, we imagine.

Buy a Still

Others may just buy a still and call themselves a master distiller. After all it’s their still and they’re the master of it, even if they don’t know how to operate it. A consultant I work with once told me a story about such a case. They were sent out to help a still manufacturer’s client because they couldn’t get their still to work. So this consultant went to the distillery and met the “master distiller.” The title was right there on the guys business card, he had to know what he was doing, right? Well, he didn’t. He couldn’t even answer the first question. “So, where’s your boiler?” the consultant asked. “My what?” was the master distillers response. (and no, it wasn’t an electric still!). Despite calling himself a master distiller, he didn’t know that you needed a heat source to run a still. So step one is to understand that heat is needed to run a still.

The Right Way (If you’re not born into it)

So what do we say to people who ask how they can become a master distiller? Earn it. There’s nothing embarrassing about having a title like Lead Distiller or Head Distiller (or even distiller in training or distiller’s assistant for that matter) while you hone the skills and earn the respect that most in the industry believe are prerequisites to donning the title of Master Distiller. Spend several years learning the ins and outs of every step of the entire process. If your yield drops 10% do you know how to troubleshoot your system and fix it? Can you make a consistent product batch after batch after batch? Have you made a consistently well­-reviewed product and know how to make new products that will be equally good?

There’s nothing wrong with putting in the time to gain the experience to be a master at your craft.  And, if you’re interested in such a thing, we know a place where you can start your training and then continue your training.

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