A master distiller oversees the creation of spirits and/or liqueurs. It is a senior position and involves a wide-range of responsibilities including managing staff, overseeing the production line, product development, quality control, product testing and sourcing raw materials.
The master distiller is ultimately responsible for the quality of the product that a distillery produces. They must ensure the production and maturation processes are working correctly to create an outstanding product.
They are also the “face” of the distillery and will often liaise with customers at product launches, tastings, trade shows and other events. The master distiller plays a key role in ensuring customer satisfaction and the success of the distillery.
Responsibilities of the Master Distiller
- Manage the spirit-making team
The master distiller takes on responsibility for managing the distillery’s production staff. He must direct their actions and ensure the product is meeting quality guidelines. In a large distillery, they may be required to manage hundreds of staff including other distillers.
- Manage day-to-day operations of the distillery
The master distiller oversees every aspect of production including the sourcing of raw materials, malting, fermentation, distillation, maturation, blending and bottling.
- Developing new products
The master distiller works with tasters, other spirit makers, marketers, finance and marketers to maximise the value of the spirit stock held by the distillery. For example, making decisions on how to use available stock in the most profitable way.
- Designing a comprehensive sampling and recording programme
Improving the quality of the spirits produced by the distillery is the chief concern of the master distiller. They must create a program which samples and records the quality of the product produced and works towards improving that quality.
- Longer Term Liquid Planning
A master distiller must plan how to store spirits over longer periods.
- Work with other staff to define agreed upon specifications and processes
The master distiller works with other staff to refine the process of spirit making and defining a set specification for spirit production. That may involve tasks as diverse as wood procurement and wood seasoning, along with distilling and maturation processes.
- Maintain process logs
Each phase of the distillation process must be logged and detailed records should be kept to ensure the product meets quality guidelines
- Develop a stock management plan
A plan must be devised to continually sample maturing stock and make decisions on its use
- Work with the scientific team to refine all production and ageing processes
To gain a better understanding of the production and ageing processes, master distillers are usually required to understand the underlying scientific processes. Once a scientific understanding has been gained, it is easier to consistently produce high-quality spirits.
- Brand promotion
The master distiller will liaise with customers, the media, other distilleries and wholesalers to promote the distillery and its products.
- Develop new styles of spirits
They may have to develop new products, often in conjunction with marketing teams and tasters.
- Plan staff training and development
A master distiller may sometimes be responsible for training staff to perform specific tasks including milling, mashing, fermenting, distilling, record keeping, cleaning and effluent treatment.
- Maintain hygiene and food safety standards
Care must be taken throughout the distillation process to maintain the highest levels of hygiene and food safety. The master distiller must ensure staff are working to the highest standards.
Traditionally master distillers gained their position by working at distilleries for many years and improving their craft. Nowadays, most master distillers are also expected to have an academic qualification in distilling. It is common for a master distiller to have a degree in distilling, chemistry, biology, food science, or microbiology.
Master distillers must have a substantial amount of work experience that reflects their ability to create high-quality spirits, manage staff, talk to the public, and maintain high levels of food safety. Previous work experience would ideally include the following:
- Previous distilling experience
Minimum of 4 years commercial experience in distilling alcohol and managing production lines
- Management experience
Demonstrated experiencing in managing staff
- Public relations experience
A demonstrated ability to liaise with customers, suppliers, stakeholders and the media
- Project management knowledge
Being able to manage a project and evaluate its success.
- Quality assurance experience
Demonstrated ability to maintain a quality product
A master distiller has to excel in a wide range of areas so requires a varied skill set. Some of the key skills which they will use on a regular basis include:
- Advanced knowledge of all aspects of the beverage production line
- Advanced knowledge of all process involved with distillation
- Well-developed sensory skills for tasting and evaluating spirits
- Strong scientific knowledge
- Project management skills
- Managerial skills
- Excellent communication skills and public speaking skills
- Must be very methodical, logical and detail orientated
- Quality control skills
- Strong computer and mathematical skills
View the latest roles in the distilling industry here.