Skills and Education Needed for Distilling

Rex Burden Nonesuch distillery

If you are thinking about starting your own distillery, or hope to gain skills in the art of distilling, what skills, competencies and background do you need to have?

Its one of the questions we are asked frequently at The Academy.

The good news is that, at the moment in Australia, there are no formal prerequisites for starting out in distilling and in some ways this makes for an easy transition into the industry.

That said, if you are thinking of getting into distilling, there is also quite a bit of knowledge and information that you need before you start going – whether that’s working for someone else or starting in distilling yourself. Most importantly, if you are distilling, you have to do so responsibly and safely which means understanding aspects such as cutting spirit, managing waste products and complying with safety.

Here are our top 5 things to think about before starting in distilling:

1. Get real and Get a Plan.

You do need to get a real understanding of what distilling is in Australia (or any other place in the world for that matter).

Distilling conjures up romantic notions of joyful days or nights spent lovingly crafting a beautiful, singular spirit, surrounded by copper and then joined by a swag of your friends oohing and aahhing as their sip the fruits of your labour.

Its true this will probably happen at some stage, but it is important to understand that the crafting, and the oohing and aahhing for that matter, is just a small part of the job of owning or running a distillery.

ACTION: Our advice – either get yourself to a heap or distilleries to see what actually goes on, or join us for a Foundations course and we’ll give you the 101 of what really goes on behind the scenes.

2.Get legal

If you are planning to distilling alcohol. The short of it is you need a licence (and some other things) from the Australian Tax Office.

The ATO is your go to place for information about what licences you need, your obligations before and after you commence distilling, and exactly what the excise requirements are if you are distilling in Australia.

There are also some requirements for you to think about once you have decided what sort of business you wish to run. These are things like ‘what training do I need and do I need to give my people?’, ‘what are my WHS responsibilities’ and ‘what other licences do I need?’

ACTION: Check out the ATO website. Search for terms like ‘distillation’ and peruse the Application for Licence to Manufacturer Alcohol to start to get your head around what the ATO will be looking for from you. We cover a bit of this in the Foundations course which will help.

3. Stay safe

There are some elements of distilling that you need to understand from the outset.

Staying safe is about making sure whatever spirit you produce, you do it right. And you produce and check the quality of that spirit.

It is important to understand what actually happens in the distillation process and why, and how, the the spirit is ‘cut’. The heart of the whisky is where the smooth flavour of whisky comes from – so what happens with the Foreshots and Feints of the run, and how should these be managed?

Once you are ready to start, there is a collection of other things to get your head around in terms of both safety and quality production of spirit. These are things like spirit testing, setting up and managing your workplace and so on…

ACTION: Read up on distillation theory. Talk to other distillers. Consider doing a course to learn about distillation process and make sure you do your homework before you start. Much of this content is covered in the Institute of Brewing and Distilling‘s courses

4. Fill the gaps

It goes without saying that you can’t be good at everything (no really!)

So as the Harvard Business Review often reminds us – Play to your Strengths. What this means is that if you really want to focus on distillation, but you have no interest in the business side of things then you probably need to get some help to fill the skill gaps you will have in the business. Or any other version of this….

The solution might look like getting a business partner, seeking professional advice or potentially retraining yourself in a particular area before you start your business.

Whatever the case, you should Play To Your Strengths and ideally spend time getting the business, the roles, the vision and the plan right before you get going.

ACTION: Be really clear on what you want to achieve. Be honest about where you’re at and then seek advice about how you might fill the gaps you’ve identified. Your business plan if done properly will make both your bank manager and the ATO look favourably upon your plans.

5. Harness the passion

Passion in this game is important.

Why? Because we know that starting a distillery (like any small business) will take time. It will take time to :

  • Get the plan right
  • Do your research
  • Master the skills
  • Order and receive your gear
  • Set up the distillery
  • Build a market
  • Gain a return

Passion, a really good plan and being clear about what you set out to achieve is important because the process WILL TAKE A VERY LONG TIME. We’re not kidding.  Once you are going you also need a bit of resilience and persistence to get where you want to get to.  Linking to the business side of things, you have to get this bit right as well and doing really good financial projections and getting help from professionals will help you retain your passion.

Most of all enjoy it. Remember that when it get’s hard you could be sitting in an office, or you could be making whisky (or gin, or vodka…).

If you need help to get there, then visit us at The Academy. We’ll have a course that can help you.