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Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Adventures Of A Young Distiller

It's guest post time folks - and we have a really superb introduction to the world of distilling from a relatively young (but very experienced) chap. We recently met up with Matthew Pauley, part of the Thames Distillers operation, but also the man behind a wonderful new site - Distillers Nose. Matthew delivers highly entertaining but detailed discussions on the art of distillation and naturally, we thought you might want to get to know him!! Anyway check out the Distillers Nose site and.... take it away Matthew!!

The Adventures Of A Young Distiller

Firstly a brief introduction to myself and how I came to be a distiller.

I was very fortunate in comparison to many young people that I come across today, in as much as from the age of about 16, I have had an idea of what I would like to do jobwise… it was just a case of how. Part of my school curriculum was to go and do a weeks work experience. It was my mother’s idea to send her science mad son to the local brewery. During the week I was walked through every part of the process from keg cleaning (getting covered in dead yeast and oxidised beer) to wracking off, rolling and stacking kegs into the hundreds next to a lazy temp, who kept sitting down on the job.

More often than not I would make a weary and smelly scooter ride home.

I was bitten by the bug and realised I wanted to get into the industry in some way or another. During 6th form, I heard there was a course in Brewing Distilling and Malting at Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh and having put it as my only option on my UCAS form, I was lucky enough to get a place. Edinburgh has to be the ideal place to be a student and Scotland is great place to get to know the drinks industry. I used to work in a pub during the holidays from uni and one day, I encountered a customer I had known for a while and got talking. It turned out he was a master of the Worshipful Company of Distillers.

It was through this conversation that I managed to get a job at Glenfiddich Distillery as a tour guide and I must admit, it gives an Englishman pause for thought when asked what size kilt socks he wears! I stayed in the Balvinie distillers cottages, walking in the foot steps of distillers past, also quietly perfecting a taste for whisky. Overall I spent the best part of two summers in Speyside.

During the summer, Dufftown, has regular Ceilidh, which for a relatively quiet village in Speyside, is both exhausting and exhilarating I am still unfortunatly rubbish at Ceilidh dancing. I spent a week in the company of the distillers at Glennfiddich turning big wheels to open needle valves and levers. I spent a day with Ali who, despite his advancing years, was as fast as a hare at getting from one end of the still house to the other. It was a real education and helped cement a love of the art and science of distilling.

When I went back to Edinburgh for university, (having built up a taste for whisky) I managed to get a part time job at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society on Queen Street.

It was here that I was given a free dram at the end of the shift, which being a hard up student, my eyes where naturally drawn to the prized golden ribbons.

Never one to be backwards in coming forwards, I asked if I could sit on their selection panel where you sit around a table and score cask whiskies and describe them as eloquently as you can. If a high enough score is awarded it is listed with a little description in the guide. I managed to wangle a place and was thrilled to get a description printed in their tasting guide. Among my other experience, I spent a placement at Tate and Lyle’s Tunnel Refinery looking at their continuous fermentation plant, which was lacking in the romance but from the technical geeky perspective was pretty cool.

I was pleased to graduate with honours and after a little while looking, accepted a position at Thames Distillers working with a novel distillation system and small scale beer bottling plant which has kept me busy to this day. The good thing about Thames is we do all sorts of small scale and specialist products, so things are seldom the same twice, which stops things getting stale.

I have still have a huge passion for the craft of distillation, despite doing it every day and I enjoy finding other spirits to tantalise and intrigue me.