So You Want to Be a Distiller... - The Whiskey Wash

So You Want to Be a Distiller…

If you’re a serious whiskey fan, you’ve probably been on plenty of distillery tours. You likely have opinions on esoteric topics like chill filtration and the merits of pot versus column distillation. You’ve got a liquor cabinet with a whiskey for every occasion. The logical next step is clear: You want to try your hand at making the stuff.

The trouble is, distilling, unlike homebrewing, isn’t something you can easily try at home. For one thing, distilling alcohol for your personal consumption is illegal in the United States. And even if you wanted to go the legit route and get a job in the spirits industry or start your own distillery, it’s hard to know where to start.

Jimmy Russell

Wild Turkey Master Distiller Jimmy Russell is one who has definitely earned his title. (image copyright The Whiskey Wash)

Don’t despair, though. If you have the ambition—and, more importantly, the money—there are plenty of educational opportunities out there for would-be distillers.

One well-regarded resource is the American Distilling Institute. The ADI is an organization of craft distillers that offers many different resources, including a magazine and support for new distilleries navigating the legal complexities of the industry. They offer occasional workshops (check their website) including a recent weekend with Hubert Germain-Robin of, surprise, California brandy distillery Germain-Robin. They also offer a range of workshops at their annual conference.

A handful of standalone for-profit distilling schools are out there. Moonshine University in Louisville, Kentucky, offers courses geared at both beginners and established distillers in a range of practical and business-related topics. Classes are taught by staff with experience at Jim Beam, Brown-Forman, Maker’s Mark, and other distilleries and spirits-related businesses. One-day classes start at $500, and a five-day introductory workshop is $6,250. 

The Chicago-based Siebel Institute, best known as a brewing school, also gives a five-day distilling class for $2,675.

Another route is through a distillery, a number of which offer educational opportunities. Spokane, Washington’s Dry Fly Distilling gives private week-long workshops and consultation to new distillers, starting at $5,000. Downslope Distilling, in Centennial, Colorado, gives two-day introductory courses covering production and business topics starting at $525 per person.

Some equipment manufacturers also have an educational branch. Chicago still maker Kothe gives three-day workshops for $900 that cover everything from mashing, fermentation, and distillation to business and legal issues. White Labs, a yeast manufacturer, gives spirits-specific classes on fermentation aimed at experienced distillers.

If you’re looking for something more affordable, a budget option is Distillery University, an online resource. You pay for a monthly, yearly, or lifetime subscription ($49, $249, and $499, respectively) and get access to courses like Vodka Distilling, Regulation Highlights, and Aging Spirits.


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