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Unbound87

Do I need to be a Mad Scientist?

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Unbound87    0

Hello everyone, 

This is my first time posting on the forum. I had this crazy idea about a year ago about opening a distillery in AZ. I figured, "Hell, we don't have any distilleries! Brilliant!" Turns out I was wrong, we did have several and several more have popped up since my ground breaking concept. Fast forward, I took a distilling workshop a couple months ago, and although it was a bit of a come to Jesus moment, it didn't scare me off. 
 

I really want to work in the environment, to be sure I actually enjoy it, before I fully commit to this path. I went to a local distillery, they're a pretty successful local business. When I spoke with the manager, I inquired whether or not there were any positions available for either an unpaid apprenticeship or distiller assistant. She was quick to inform me she had no say in matter, that I would have to talk directly to the owners. Instead of leaving it there, she said, in a very matter-of-fact manner, that their distiller had his master's in chemistry. Without even knowing my background, I found her response a bit insulting and dismissive. 

Though I have no doubt that a chemistry background would help in the process, I'm assuming creating a good product comes down to trail and error along with collaboration and brainstorming. 

Are all of you formally trained in the sciences? Or is there plenty of room for those who are interested and competent, just not officially scientists? 

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indyspirits    32

Masters in chemistry, while helpful, is far from necessary.  What you really need is a process engineering consultant for about a year, a stellar marketing company, compliance officer, and CFO.  Oh, and a shit-ton of money. Distilling is by far the easiest thing about running a distillery (and probably, after the first year, the most boring). 

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Foreshot    14

What he said ^^^^

3 hours ago, Unbound87 said:

 Instead of leaving it there, she said, in a very matter-of-fact manner, that their distiller had his master's in chemistry. Without even knowing my background, I found her response a bit insulting and dismissive.

She was just being defensive. There are a lot of people interested in being a distiller so she probably hears that a lot. I will say that my personal experience is that you get about 50/50 with people being friendly about it and not. Luckily @Huffy2k is local to me and has been really open and friendly. I have stopped out at his place a couple times and he's always been welcoming. Other people in the area weren't as much.

Do you need a master's degree in Chemistry? No. I know several distillers that make money that don't have the slightest clue as to chemistry. They pick a mash bill and repeat it. If they encounter a problem they dump whatever it is they are working on and start again. If you have a good bio/chem background you can adjust and probably save whatever it is you're working on and save money. It also helps with the repeatably of the process / consistency of the product.

Distilling is a limited though complicated subject. Any reasonably intelligent person can pick up a couple books and learn. That knowledge is what allows distillers to make nuanced changes to make a flavor different, or to know when a step can be ignored to save money, or increase efficiency.

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MDH    4

I have seen an increasing amount of fairly basic jobs, such as small-sized vineyard management, asking for specialized degrees. I would hope these positions offer flexibility to their applicants in this regard. Credentialism is a serious and real issue that is costing an entire generation much more money and time than it did to their parents and grandparents.

I would not trust a highschool graduate to be my heart surgeon, but I'd certainly trust one who showed incentive and interest in learning to distill a spirit.

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kkbodine    8
15 hours ago, Unbound87 said:

Instead of leaving it there, she said, in a very matter-of-fact manner, that their distiller had his master's in chemistry. Without even knowing my background, I found her response a bit insulting and dismissive. 

Though I have no doubt that a chemistry background would help in the process, I'm assuming creating a good product comes down to trail and error along with collaboration and brainstorming. 

Are all of you formally trained in the sciences? Or is there plenty of room for those who are interested and competent, just not officially scientists? 

I'l probably get blasted for this but...

I get a never ending parade of people wanting to apprentice or work for free to "learn the craft". Basically you are asking to get for free what has taken me 25 years and a masters degree to acquire. So unless you offer some skill I happen to need or I'm short on bottling labor, I'm not super inclined to take your offer. In fact my standard response is to offer you training at $1000 per day; you pay me. Most small operations don't need any body, they need skilled bodies; we simply aren't big enough to afford the luxury in time or money. If you can't find a position in a distillery, try a brewery or winery to get a good feel for what we do. Which, by the way, is mostly cleaning. A science background is not absolutely required but it helps when problems arise. In a small operation, being able to handle any situation with creativity is key. Can you re-wire a pump or tweak a labeling machine? Mechanical aptitude often saves the day. Just having passion, or what you think is a good idea, does not make things happen; you must be able to follow through. I don't want to discourage you, but unless you bring some skill, most operations simply don't need you. End of rant.

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kkbodine    8

I try not to be rude but sometimes people will show up on a super busy day or during an event and expect full attention/lots of time and that is difficult.

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Foreshot    14

Ok, I'll revise that - as long as you don't smash a bottle and threaten them with it then you're ok. Image result for smashed bottle

 

To the OP - have you done any homebrewing/winemaking? I picked up a lot from local homebrewers when I realize I wanted to make whiskey. The brewing/fermenting process is basically the same. With distilling it's actually easier. If you haven't started snooping around try http://homedistiller.org . The forums there are great for beginners. Commercial distilling is slightly different due to batch size but it's a good place to start.

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nabtastic    13
1 hour ago, Hudson bay distillers said:

lol a masters degree in chemistry ...and your cooking whisky for a living , id say something has gone horribly wrong in ones life ..unbound 87 next time your talking to her thank her for the chuckle she made my day  

Our brand manager has a master's in Chemistry but found his calling bartending, becoming one of the best known and respected mixoligist out here before getting into rhum.  For some people it's more important to enjoy what they're doing than to make less money doing something they hate.  I also expect there to be a lot of chemist and engineering people in the industry given that it's the very fundamentals of what we do.  Moonshiner's may not need a chemical engineering background to make hooch but tweaker's don't need a *chemistry* degree to make meth either.  Chalk it up to one's own standards, I suppose..

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relax lol its a inside joke with another forum member ,it has nothing to do with wearing bib overalls with no shirt or making meth lol .  i agree chemistry , design engineering , marketing skills , working knowledge of history and good old think on ur feet and work ethic are the foundation of our industry . but a sense of humour is pretty important too sometimes we jus gotta relax and realise were jus making a product that our customers like and makes there lives a touch richer when they enjoy our product after a hard day on there jobs . cheers to all and hats off to everyone that makes the world a more pleasant place , one sip at a time .  

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nabtastic    13

Oooh gotcha. My apologies 

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nabtastic    13

No doubt that you dont need a degree (I dont have a (relevant) degree and I like to think my hooch is good..) but the "big boys" definitely do. MGP probably wouldn't hire me just yet to take over their Rye program...

Regardless of what you read in a text book, hands on is necessary (imho) for context. 

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Skaalvenn    24

No need to be a mad scientist, but it certainly wouldn't hurt.  Having at least a basic understanding of chemistry, biology and physics goes a long way in the industry because without that understanding, you're going to be doing a lot of guess work and trial and error.

Can't tell you how many times I've gotten a call from a distiller that goes something like this...

New distiller : "Hey, I'm having trouble with my conversion"
Me: "OK let me see.  What percent efficiency are you getting?"
ND: "I'm not sure?"
Me: "Ok, well how many pounds of grain to water?"
ND: "Well I just chuck it in until it gets thick and then add enzymes"
Me: "OK, what's your pH range for XYZ enzyme you're using?"
ND: "I don't know man"
Me: "What's the pH of your mash when you add them?"
ND: "I don't know, I don't have a pH meter"
Me: "What's the temperature range of your enzymes?  What's the temperature of the mash when you add it?"
ND: "I don't know, it's real steamy though!"

That's the basic science 101 of our industry, and I'm really surprised how few people have any understanding of it.  I'm not a scientist, I'm just a hack/nerd who's taken a few college courses and has a basic understanding.

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A janitor is more qualified to be a distiller than post-grad chemist.

This isn't a slight against education, I happen to have two masters degrees, and I wouldn't tell anyone that either are a prerequisite, or make anyone better than anyone else.  Did they help me?  No.

The only prerequisite is the willingness to learn, or really re-learn, since you would have had nearly all the foundation you needed by high-school chem.

To second Dehner's comment, having a specific skill like being able to TIG are incredibly more useful than most MS-level chemistry skills.  

You don't need to be a microbiologist to culture and propagate your own yeast, or effectively manage fermentation.  Nor do you need to be a chemist to be able to distill.  But, you need to be willing to take the time to learn, be open minded, and work through it.

Skaalvenn - Agree with you, but your example highlights ignorance not a lack of education.

 

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PeteB    45
On ‎4‎/‎28‎/‎2017 at 10:40 PM, Silk City Distillers said:

.

This isn't a slight against education, I happen to have two masters degrees, and I wouldn't tell anyone that either are a prerequisite, or make anyone better than anyone else.  Did they help me?  No.

 

Even though I have never met you I say your answer "NO" to your own question is incorrect. Your masters degrees may not have given you any direct knowledge of running a distillery but I would be certain that your brain was taught to think and problem solve, that is obvious from your contributions to this forum.

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kkbodine    8
5 hours ago, PeteB said:

Even though I have never met you I say your answer "NO" to your own question is incorrect. Your masters degrees may not have given you any direct knowledge of running a distillery but I would be certain that your brain was taught to think and problem solve, that is obvious from your contributions to this forum.

I agree. They show that he could complete something and most likely has critical thinking skills.

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There is nothing wrong with being educated, and having a masters degree is a great accomplishment.  However, in my business I have ran into some engineers that could not even come up with simple formulas to solve real world problems.  They could not even do basic college algebra without using some sort of software.  i have ran into extremely educated individuals that had absolutely no mechanical ability what so ever.  On the flip side of the coin, I know of a guy who built a multi million dollar business who dropped out of school in the 9th grade.  He designs very complex equipment using complex mathematical formulas with great success. So no you definitely do not need a degree to be a distiller. Personally I would rather deal with a plumber who is starting a distillery than a guy with an electrical engineering degree who has never worked in the field.

  The other day, I saw a college graduate being interviewed by a reporter who said that she believed that a person who is not a college graduate should never be allowed to make more money than a person who is a college graduate.  Personally I'm really glad that I live in a country where the 9th grade drop out can reach the highest pinnacle of achievement in business and science.

Thomas Edison only had 2 or 3 years of formal education.  He left the 7th grade because the teacher said that he was addled.  It was not all that long ago, in the grand scale of things, that 2 high school dropouts solved  a  problem that all of the greatest PHDs and engineers in the world could not figure out.  

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PeteB    45

There are always exceptions to the rule. I have had some short term employees with University degrees in subjects I thought would have been useful but they were useless, almost a hazard. They lacked life skills and could not think outside the box. But on average there is no doubt a well educated person doing a reasonably technical job will be better than a person with little education.

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. Pete B said "But on average there is no doubt a well educated person doing a reasonably technical job will be better than a person with little education."  That is probably true in most fields where that person is working in an office or lab, but not so much in other fields.  For example a Tool Pusher on an off shore oil rig.  That is a very technical job which requires a great deal of technical skill, but most of the guys that have those jobs  have never been to college.  The main reason for that is that most Tool Pushers start at the bottom and they usually do every job on drilling rigs before they become a tool pusher.  Most college boys would never do those kinds of jobs.  I am, for the most part, self educated and I have gone farther than most, but I still want my son to go to college.

 

 

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I have a PhD....but in finance. What you really need to have are simple repeatable processes. It's just like cooking...Follow the recipe and Follow the steps...don't cut corners. 

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