Meet Lisa, Our Distilling Team’s Leading Lady
It’s safe to assume that distiller falls a fair way below doctor, teacher and town planner on any career advisor’s list, but despite it being an unlikely career choice, Lisa Truscott followed the whisky stream all the way to the Archie Rose distilling team.
Along the way she visited more than 150 distilleries, was Australia’s youngest female head distiller during her time at Old Kempton Distillery in Tasmania, and before that, when she was the visitor experience manager at Summerhall Distillery in Scotland, Lisa was awarded the Best Visitor Attraction in Edinburgh, the Lothians & Borders—she beat a castle for that award!
Needless to say, our spirits are safe in Lisa’s hands, but for all her success and hard work, Lisa agrees that there’s still a way to go before people recognise that women are equal to men in the distilling scene. That's why we sat down with our team’s leading lady, to hear all about her journey and hopefully inspire a few women to follow in her footsteps.
Hey Lisa, can you tell us about your role at Archie Rose?
My title is distiller—we've got six distillers on the team at the moment—and my day to day includes lots of different things. Sometimes I’m brewing, sometimes I’m distilling, sometimes I’m filling or decanting [whisky] casks. We have gin onsite as well, so some days I’ll be running the gin still, or even doing prep for all those things by getting botanicals and grain ready.
How did you get started in distilling?
I got started in Western Australia, where I’m from. I was working in hospitality, and knew it wasn't what I really wanted to do, but while I was there I was learning more about whisky and just really diving down into that. I'm the type of person that when I want to know about something, I want to know everything, so the more I kept learning about whisky the more I realised, “Oh, I actually want to make this.” So I searched around and found a distillery that was opening up in Perth—I applied there and they hired me.
What did you start doing there?
I started as a cellar door attendant, which is a common place for distillers to start. I hosted tastings and managed the cellar door for a while, but I was always really clear from the start that I wanted to be in production and was hoping that I could transition through. That meant they would give me training days where I'd spend a day at the back learning how to distil.
What is it about whisky that inspired you?
I think it’s because there's so many elements to it—especially if you incorporate the maturation and cask filling aspects. You've got to be patient for years, and it's still sort of half science, half magic because we don't know exactly what happens inside a cask. You can do everything that you know will work up until a point, but then you’ve got to let mother nature take over and just hope to God that it's good. It’s magical in that way.
You’ve worked overseas as well. Can you tell us about that?
I lived in Scotland for two years and funnily enough I was working in gin over there. There's a massive market for gin in Scotland—around 70% of the gin made in the UK is actually made in Scotland, not England. I ended up working for a pretty small company with big dreams, which I am so grateful for because they were just incredible to work for. But I came back to Australia to be closer to my family and moved to Tasmania for a year before I came here.
What’s the best part of your job?
I like that there's a lot of variety. Most people think that distilling is quite repetitive, and it can be, but because it's so large here [at Archie Rose], there's a lot of choice when it comes to what you can do, and I really enjoy that. The challenges of commissioning [the new Archie Rose distillery] during the past eight months or so has been a ride, but we’ve learned so much and we are solving problems, which has been great.
What about the worst?
I never get to wear nice clothes!
Do you try to make the most of that when you’re not at work?
100 percent. If I'm popping out to the shop, I’m tempted to put my heels on. But [dressing down] is just part of the job—it's very labour intensive.
I take it whisky is your drink of choice?
I'm definitely partial to whisky—I like a whisky soda. I'm basically an 80-year-old man trapped in this body.
What are you excited to be working on at the moment?
Because we're now distilling each grain individually, we have been able to make a really weird chocolate spirit that’s really dirty and oily, and we’re going to see how that matures. If you make a clean product, the impact of the cask isn't going to be as influential—but with this, it might not be something that you would drink initially, but as the flavours change you can just tell it's going to be something really interesting.
Throughout your career, has there been anyone who’s mentored you along the way?
Definitely. Kathleen Davies [founder of Australian spirits distributor Nip of Courage] has always been so supportive of Australian distillers in general, and incredibly supportive of women. Her background is in beer and she experienced a lot of glass ceilings and had a lot of really negative experiences, so she never wants anyone else to feel that. She's always been really positive towards me.
Do you think some of those barriers still exist for women in the industry?
Yes, but I definitely associate the barriers with being a woman in a male-dominated industry, rather than being specific to women in distilling. You so often hear about women in science experiencing the same kind of “mansplaining” or not being taken seriously. I've got a friend who's a ship captain and we've had conversations about how we feel that we tend to really have to make an effort to be taken at the same level as a man. From my experience, once you establish yourself it’s fine, but it’s tough when you begin. And while it is changing and developing, there's still not necessarily a lot of young women in the industry, from a production point of view.
Are there any female distillers you think are killing it?
Heather Tillott—she's taken over as Head Distiller at Sullivans Cove, and working with her is Kirsten Laurie. They’re both amazing women.
Do you have any advice for women who would like to get into the industry?
My advice is just to start anywhere you can. When I applied for my first distillery job, I literally wrote "I will clean your toilets." But once I was in and I was there, I could ask questions and I could learn and really absorb as much as I could. So just do what you can to break in, because breaking in is the hardest part.
Where do you see yourself long term?
Honestly, I'm not sure. The growth at Archie Rose is exponential—you have no idea where it's going to take you. I'm here for the ride and I’m holding on to see what happens, because at this point in time, I don't think any of us can predict where it’s going next.