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.

2 Replies to “What does it takes to become a good distiller?”

  1. Great Post. I just started the journey of making Gin, and purchased my first 5 gallon still. I think it will be fun. I will check back here for tips.

    1. Hey Rod,
      Thanks for your comment. Very encouraging to hear that you want to start distilling. If you are ready to start up, you can ask me whatever questions you have and I will help you make the best product. greetings Koen

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