On September 20, 2020
We first found Canadian distiller, Miss Brewbird, documenting production and daily life as a distiller on YouTube. Currently in a new position at the Welsh Wind is nestled in Cardigan Bay after distilling at The Borders Distillery in Scotland, she didn’t always know she wanted to be in the distilling industry.
What made you want to become a distiller?
When I was studying for my ‘Brewing and Brewery Operations’ diploma at Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) in British Columbia, my classmates and professors would sometimes talk about distilling and how it compares to brewing. Through these conversations, I became interested in distilling since it seemed like a much more simple and elegant process. As well, I’ve always thought stills were beautiful pieces of equipment and wanted to learn how to use them. I think that distilling is the natural progression from brewing since you often can’t distill a spirit until you’ve brewed the wash first, so the switch from brewing to distilling was natural to me.
When you were a child what did you think you’d be when you grew up?
I never knew what I wanted to be. The idea of my grown-up self always made me anxious and afraid of the future. I had thoughts of becoming a farmer, a chef, a veterinarian, a doctor, an entrepreneur, and a writer at different times in my childhood. I don’t like to think that I can only have one ‘grown-up’ occupation, or that I’m pigeon-holed into one industry for life though. I hope that my job titles will continually change and grow as I continue to develop and expand my skill set.
Tell us about your path in becoming a distiller.
Well, I’ve always loved creating things, whether it’s making pottery, drawing, or cooking. I see distilling as another outlet for that creative energy. My path to becoming a distiller began when one day my dad was in the car listening to the radio and they were interviewing Nancy More, a lecturer from the KPU brewing program. She talked about her life working at Labatt and all these big beer companies, and when my dad came home he encouraged me to apply for the program.
I started the program and when I was close to graduating, I thought it might be fun to try working in the UK for a while. Excluding myself, everyone in my family lived in England for several years and hold British citizenship, so growing up I always felt like I missed out on the whole British experience. I was also interested in getting into distilling at that time, and since the UK is famous for their whisky and gin distilleries it seemed like the perfect reason to come here.
For about a month I’d come home from university and email my CV to any independent UK distilleries I found, asking if they were looking for a distillery apprentice or trainee. I expected to be soundly rejected by all of the places I emailed, but then at least I could live with myself knowing that I tried. Surprisingly, I heard back from a new scotch whisky distillery called The Borders Distillery in Hawick, Scotland. I was hired for a one-year contract distilling position, and I left for Scotland within two weeks of finishing my final exams.
What’s your favorite part of the distilling process?
I love seeing people come in and try the spirits that I helped to make. When other people enjoy and value my work I can’t help but feel proud.
As a woman in the distilling industry, what’s one thing you’d like to see change?
I’m sure a lot of female distillers will say that they’d like to see more women in the industry. As far as my experience at The Borders Distillery goes, I can’t really complain about that. Our distillery is quite unusual in that we have four women and four men working on the production side. John Fordyce, a co-founder at the distillery, was keen to have more women on the production side since he knew that women are generally under-represented in
this industry and he wanted to help change that by hiring more female distillers.
One thing that would be cool to see is for home distilling to be legalized. Back home in Canada, all of my brewing classmates homebrew. From my experience, home brewing doesn’t take away business from breweries, it just makes consumers more educated and passionate about what they are drinking. I think legalizing home distilling could have the same positive effect on the distilling industry.
Tell us about your Miss Brewbird video series and what inspired you to make videos about the distilling industry.
I was browsing on YouTube and noticed that the distilling/spirits community on it isn’t very large. Most of the channels occupying this space are either cocktail making channels or drink review channels. There are very few channels actually about distilling. Of these channels, virtually all of them are made by older Caucasian men.
I don’t think there are many Asian female distillers in the world, so I saw an opportunity to create a channel that showcases a different perspective on the distilling industry. The “Miss Brewbird” YouTube channel is really about giving people an insider view of the spirits industry, from how distilleries operate to what life as a distiller is actually like. Some of my topics have included whether buying a whisky cask is a good investment and the science behind identifying fake spirits.
The channel is also just a fun way for me to incorporate my distilling side with my artsy side. I’m never truly happy unless I’m busy creating something.