What does it takes to become a good distiller?

In all the years that I have been a distiller, I have done a lot of distillery tours, tastings in both a recreational and professional manner and I have promoted my products on numerous professional fairs.

Often, I did get the question ” How do I become a distiller” ?, What do I need to study? Which training should I follow? Do I need to study chemistry? etc.. So in this post, I will share you the path that I think is good to become a distiller But first:

What is the duty of a distiller?

This is a very general question. You have to ask yourself what you want to do and what you want to achieve. For example: If you want to be a small craft distiller, making a gin, then the knowledge and equipment you will need is totally different as if you want to make potato vodka.

Once again, I am explaining here about my work method. If you read this post and you are a colleague distiller, you probably will have a different way of working, and that is totally fine if it gives you the desired results.

My way of working and this is also my specialty is that I distill all my ingredients separately. After I have made all the distillates that I need, I start to assemble. You can compare it a bit with a perfumer who has all his bottles with ingredients in front of him and he starts to mix them together to get the overall fragrance he is looking for.

A distiller is a multi function person that can manage a lot of different tasks. What I summarize below has to be mastered in my opinion :

  • product knowledge: You need to know the characteristics of you raw materials. Only then you will be able to get the best results. What do I mean with raw materials? grains, fruit, herbs, spices, plants, yeasts, etc…
  • Product extraction knowledge: There are a lot of ways to extract the desired substances from you raw materials. You need to know what you want and how to do it.
  • A basic brewing knowledge if you want to make a simple beer, that you will distill later.
  • A basic wine making knowledge if you want to make a simple wine ( based on fruits, veggies, flowers, etc)to distill later
  • Knowledge of the distilling equipment that you will use
  • Knowledge on how to distill and to rectify
  • Creating you product formula. If you have collected you distillates, you need to learn how to assemble them to the desired product

Above, you could read in general the steps you need to master to make a good distilled product. As with everything, It will take a lot of time, trial and error to get the desired results. I am not telling you this to scare you away but to inform you honestly how it is! The key to success here is Perseverance !!!

Mastering the above is something that will take many years. Personally, It took me more than 10 years before I started understanding the process and I was able to manage it, but from there on, I started realizing ” The Sky Is The Limit ” . There are endless flavors and fragrances you can create. It is a really fun game.

So, which studies did I do to become a distiller?

None, yes that’s correct. I have never followed or been enrolled in a distiller training course. I have learned everything from studying books, several master distillers and last but not least: never-ending Trail and Error. It is all about experimenting. I have learned almost everything the hard way.

Is that something I would recommend to a new student? No, and Yes

No:

  • It is good to follow a basic course to have a base foundation. With basic, I mean: learning to yeast, learning which equipment and how to use it. The result of the training should enable you to make a basic product.
  • After you have done the basic training, you need to start looking for a good, experienced teacher – distiller that will learn you how to master the technique of distilling, yeasting and assembling in practice.
  • In this case, I assume that you will already have an idea what kind of product you want to make and in what kind of field you want to start specializing. So I will give you a practical example :

Yes:

  • Because you will learn it the hard way, You will make endless mistakes and errors. Everything will take you a lot longer in the beginning but when you start mastering the basics because you have made so many mistakes, you will have gained on the end a very thorough practical knowledge. And this is priceless!!
  • Automatically, you will develop you own way of working and this will lead to more creativity.
  • You will do very thorough research in the professional literature and this will expand you knowledge
  • Even if you learn everything yourself, you still will need an experienced distiller that will correct you where needed.

Basic example: Let’s say that you want to become a single malt whisky distiller: What do you need to master?

  • You need to know everything about the ingredients you will use. In this case: knowing everything of you malted grains ( types etc..), yeast and you water
  • Knowing everything about milling and making you mash
  • knowing what kind of pot still ( wash still) you want to use for the first distillation and afterward you pot still ( spirit still ) for second distillation ( rectifying of the low wine )
  • knowing how to distill for the first time ( It is basically cooking all you alcohol out of you mash ) to get you low wine.
  • Knowing how to redistill you first distillate ( low wine ). Here you will separate the foreshots and faints from the actual spirit ( the middle )
  • knowing which barrels and how to prepare them before you will fill them up with the new whisky spirit.
  • Patience and knowing everything about barrel aging program.

So, my conclusion here is: If you go for YES or NO or a combination of both possibilities, if you work hard, and you keep on going, no matter how many obstacles you will have to deal with along you path and if you never give up, sooner or later you will master this beautiful profession .

I wish you all the luck in you research and if you have questions, please sent me an email.

Opinion on Alcohol, seen from the viewpoint as Experienced distiller

Hello to everybody that is reading this post. This is my first post ever.  In this post, I am outlining a little what I will write about in the near future. If you want me to write about a certain topic, related to being a distiller, distilling, a way of production or a certain product, please contact me ( you can find my contact details on my website ). For now, let’s start

Is Alcohol bad?

I know that this is such a question with an answer that is mostly related to somebody his experiences whether they are good or bad, so that is why I am sharing my personal thoughts.

When I was doing research for some good keywords, I came across a lot of words concerning alcoholic, alcohol addict, alcohol rehab or something like that and I wanted to clarify myself a lit bit. In my opinion, as a distiller, with more than 20 years of experience, alcohol is not a bad thing at all, but and there is a big but:  You drink it to enjoy, to have an experience of fragrance and taste, an experience you have once a while, I repeat, One a while and as long as you can dose it correctly.  Too much of anything is never good !!

Why do I design it?

For me, the purpose of the whole thing is to create an experience, an alcohol that people love and enjoy it as an aperitif or digestif, together with a good meal, or maybe to celebrate something or just in the evening, when you sit in your comfortable seat, after a hard day of work.

The smell of a product is very important, since it 
is generally known that smells can assimilate       themselves
with previous experiences and feelings.

I can keep on going on like this but I think you understand my point: I make it that you enjoy it, not to become addicted.

Different types of Alcohol

There are many types of Alcoholic beverages available today . The choice you make depends on how you like your drink. For example: Do you like it Pure ( with or without ice ), Do you like it in a cocktail or maybe just with juice, the time of consuming, etc.  Anyway, the choices are endless.

Every change you make in preparing will give a different outcome.  The choice of a typical glass can also highlight some aspects of your drink.  In the upcoming posts, I will start discussing this topic in detail,  start explaining to you the difference between all the alcohol types, way of production, etc.

Quality of Alcohol

Every producer or distiller will tell in there advertisements that their alcohol is ” the good one “unfortunately, most of the time it is just words and nothing more. A lot of big brands are putting a lot of money into marketing to let their consumers believe that their product or products are premium quality, designed and prepared with the utmost care and so on. This is also something I will discuss in very detail in future posts. I can tell you already 1 thing, mostly nothing is at it seems.

Pricing of alcohol

As you probably already know, there are high taxes charged on alcohol. The rate of taxes depends on the country you are living in. Some countries ( for example Albania) have low taxes and a country like Norwege has very high taxes.

For me, pricing depends on the biggest part of how alcohol is made  ( production method )and the use of different ingredients.   Unfortunately, this is again, most of the time not really represents with reality. I came across a lot of products that are overvalued..   And you see this not only in the big brands but surprisingly enough also  “craft distillers” are guilty .   I understand that everyone must  earn a living but please keep it honest and real.

A closing word

The alcohol business is huge,  a lot of money is going on in the industry. There are numerous producers, distilleries, distillers, bartenders, specialized shops, web shops etc.  They all offer a big variety of products . There are hardly passing days that there isn’t a new product in the market. I do understand that this is really confusing the consumers and often people have no idea which product they should choose . This is one of the many reasons I started this blog . I hope over time that I can bring a more clarified structure into this rabbit whole .

It is not because a product is expensive, that it is automatically also a high quality product. Some producers are very clever in misleading there customers . Having that said, I have to say straight away that the best product, is the product you like the most . Fragrance and taste gives us all different experiences so you have to taste it yourself,   to know if you like it or not . Ofcourse, you have to consume the product in the way that the producer has made it for. Let me give you an example: A very good aged single malt whiskey is not made to use in a cocktail based on whiskey . You are for your cocktail better of with a cheaper whiskey . And your single Malt? You drink it pure with or without ice as you prefer. Cheers

I will do my best to write as good an and as honest as possible . Everything I write, is my opinion, seen from the point of view of being a distiller. I am not perfect and if you are not agreed with something, please feel always welcome to contact me.

About Koen

Hello Everyone, My name is Koen. I am a distiller – spirit designer with more than 20 years of experience. I ‘ve been lucky that I could make spirits for the finest clients worldwide.

Creating and distilling are truly my passion. It took almost 20 years of “locking myself up”, to master what I am able to create these days. It is a lifestyle where the engine is driven by fuel as Passion and perseverance.

My mind is constantly busy creating new ideas with the result that I am constantly experimenting.

I am striving for the ultimate fragrance and taste and I have to be honest: It is a never-ending search…