The Chuck Cowdery Blog

I should have been clearer concerning this in yesterday’s post. The Louisville Courier-Journal’s headline, “Bourbon Leaders Debate Term ‘Master Distiller,'” wasn’t true. There is no debate. Nobody is discussing it unless a reporter phone calls around requesting questions. That is the history of the term’s use in Kentucky. Year As Fred Minnick pointed out last, its use was not unknown in the past. Minnick’s Kentucky citations are to obituaries of people like Joseph L. Michael and Beam J. Dant, whose mastery no one would have challenged. He also cites to promotional announcements, in which companies tout the credentials of their employees.

They used ‘grasp’ like we might use ‘awesome,’ as an amplifier. In more prevalent usage, the name was ‘distiller simply.’ Every distillery had at least one. In Sam Cecil’s 1999 reserve, The Evolution of the Bourbon Whiskey Industry in Kentucky, his Chapter 5 is entitled ‘The Master Distillers,’ however the word ‘professional’ shows up nowhere else in the five web pages that follow.

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The men he writes about are simply just called ‘distillers.’ Distiller was the working job name. Master Distiller’ was a term of honor informally bestowed by one’s peers, near the end of a career usually, when the individual’s mastery was beyond dispute. No-one would have been egotistical enough to to refer to himself as a Master Distiller.

But things changes. WHILE I started in advertising more than 40 years back, every advertising company had one Creative Director. The Creative Director was the individual accountable for the agency’s creative product. Large or small, every agency got one and only one, exactly like every company acquired one leader. Today, even small agencies have a large number of creative directors and the biggest have hundreds. In all types of companies, every department head is a leader now.

That’s just how it is. I’ll let others philosophize about why this is so, but Master Distiller is no different. Every distillery really needs one. Some have significantly more than one. A convenient justification is to establish Master Distiller as the individual in charge of a distillery, however in many cases that’s not actually the Master Distiller’s job. Master Distillers usually have the ultimate word on quality control, however, not always.

Responsibilities vary by company. The truth is, the firms want you to look at the person they call their Master Distiller as the ultimate authority on production and quality, and the most prestigious guest you can possibly have at the whiskey event. Like it or not, that’s the actual title means today.

I don’t see how the small men can resist using it that way when the best guys are unlikely to avoid. This use of the name can be humiliating for all worried, especially when the business is a non-distiller manufacturer. A good guideline would be to withhold all distiller titles until the person has actually distilled something. Someone who reviews and approves liquid distilled by another person is not a distiller.

But is there a debate? Not necessarily. Is anything likely to change? Not Probably. Can it matter? But I will offer one small piece of advice and it’s really not simply about the name Master Distiller. If you want to maintain this business, it is within your very best interest to learn and become delicate to its background.