A Day in the Life of a Distiller
5:10am - I wake up and get dressed, I’m out the door by 5:35am - I’m glad we’re an ‘urban distillery’ as work is not far away!
6:00am - I check in on the distillers in the control room to make sure there are no pressing emergencies, then I join the cellarhands and sensory team for our daily morning meeting. We note that one 35,000L new make tank is full and discuss the casks we intend to fill it into. Cellarhands head off to prepare those casks and I return to the control room.
6:15am - The distilling team has different sub-roles that we rotate through, to ensure we all get full exposure to every element of production. Today, I’m on the stills, so I re-read the previous evening’s shift report and confirm that both the wash and spirit are still ready to recharge. At the new Archie Banksmeadow site, a lot of the production is run remotely from our ‘control room’, so I kick off the system to charge the stills, ensure all data is collected and entered, and monitor the volumes, temperatures, and pressure as the stills fill and heat.
7:15am - The stills are up and running - time for a coffee. Archie owner Will knows the importance of good coffee and generously installed a high end La Marzocco espresso machine for us to use. We get amazing fresh beans delivered from Welcome Dose coffee. I whip up a cappuccino for myself, and one for the distiller running brews in the control room. My latte art still needs work…
7:30am - time to sort out some daily tasks. I put on my high vis jacket, grab my chemical handling gloves, and put in some earplugs - it’s loud in the distillery when the stills are running full blast! I head down to the effluent area and check and clear all the filters. If they get too full we cannot run the cleaning cycles on all of the tanks and stills. I do a quick chemical stocktake, and replace an IBC of sulphuric acid. I head back to the control room to check the stills, then back onto the distillery floor to clean some steel IBCs. They previously contained rye whisky, and now need to be completely free of flavour and smell so that we can use them to blend some single malt.
9:15am - One of our cellarhands comes and finds me - there is confusion about a truck of casks that has arrived with incorrect paperwork, and the casks themselves are not safely stacked. We figure out the confusion together and make a plan for safely unloading.
10:00am - I go for a chat with our production planner Marlon. There has been a delay in brewing the previous day, and we need to discuss how this impacts the length of this ‘campaign’ of malt brews and distillations. Marlon has a tough job because we’re constantly ruining his careful forward planning, but we couldn’t do it without him!
10:30am - while I’ve been busy, the spirit still has made the hearts cut on a preset volume and ABV that was determined by us based on previous sensory team feedback. I run the mixer remotely to ensure the hearts tank is thoroughly mixed, then go out to the tank and grab a sample. This sample will go up to the sensory team for analysis and data entry. If it’s out of specification, we will go digging back through our data for that brew and distillation run and try to identify and resolve the issue.
11:00am - I’ve been up since 5am, and I don’t eat breakfast, so it’s definitely time for lunch! I join the cellarhand team and two distillers that are not too busy and we have a bite to eat and a chat. I have a terrible soft spot for a microwave meal and this ‘beef madras and rice’ goes down a treat…
11:15am - One of our distillers has a concern with a CIP (clean in place) that she’s running on some brewing equipment. We run through identifying the problem together, change a setting on the software, and restart the clean, which completes itself successfully. Then, we head out onto the distillery floor to visually inspect the equipment for cleanliness. It looks good.
12:15pm - I grab some time at the computer and work on rostering for next month. We run two shifts a day, 7 days a week, all year, and I try to rotate all distillers through both shifts, have everybody work with everybody else at some point, and also have everybody work in every area. It gets complex! I also have a look over one of the projects that a distiller is running on top of their normal work. This distiller is running mass trials on juniper macerations at different temps, ABVs, and times, to see if we can improve the flavour or efficiency of our pre-distillation juniper macerations.
1:30pm - There is a quick sensory nosing/tasting of a few spirits from the day, every day at 1:30pm. I try to cycle the distillers and cellarhands through joining the sensory team for this, as it is very important to connect with and assess your spirit, especially with the distillery now run remotely for much of the time. Today, it’s my turn, and I join senior blender ‘Fish’ and master distiller Dave to taste some new make spirits from yesterday and some two year old cask samples. The cask samples look and smell excellent, but the new make is lacking the ‘grain’ character that we’re seeking. Dave makes some suggestions on how to tweak the system to hunt for that flavour.
2:00pm - Time for shift changeover. I check over the shift report email, which is filled out by all distillers, and add a note or two of my own before sending it out. With the Coronavirus concerns, we have been avoiding in-person handovers between shifts, but now that restrictions are lifting we can once again chat face to face. I much prefer this and less detail gets missed! I hand over information about the stills to my PM counterpart, and then head into the weekly leadership meeting with Fish, Dave, distillery manager Tim, and the other senior distiller Lisa. We chat about upcoming projects, changing plans for maintenance shutdowns, and personnel issues. During this meeting, I open my extensive ‘to do’ list on my phone and add tasks as they come up. This list keeps me on track and it’s satisfying to scroll back through at the end of the year and see how long it is!
3:00pm - done for the day! It’s nice being out by 2 or 3pm. Today is a glorious sunny day so I’ll probably head down to the beach for an hour or two with my housemate.
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