Job focus – Distillery Manager in the Whisky Industry

The whisky industry is both dynamic and thriving. In Scotland alone, it employs approximately 10,000 people in over 100 distilleries scattered across Islay, Speyside, The Scottish Highlands, amongst other locations.

In the UK, exports total £4.3 billion and make up a quarter of all food and beverage exports.

With the industry healthy and on an upward curve that has yet to change direction, a career in the whisky trade could be an attractive and secure choice. One position that attracts those seeking a rewarding and engaging job opportunity is that of distillery manager.


What the role involves

Distillery managers hold one of the most senior positions at a distillery, so they have a lot of responsibility, not the least of which is overseeing the production of premium whisky, which is then bottled and sold to customers both locally and abroad. They are also responsible for the quality of operations at the warehouse where the whisky is stored.

In terms of ongoing duties, distillery managers must make sure that each year the facility meets its stated production targets, while constantly looking for new ways to improve the quality of the whisky and the way it is produced.


What the average day looks like

Distillery managers typically work anywhere from 35 to 38 hours per week. The average workweek is Monday to Friday, but depending on the size and the needs of the facility, they may have to work extra hours from time to time or be on-call.

The average working day is divided between office work and duties in the plant and warehouse. If you secure a position as a distillery manager, you may perform any or all of the following duties::

  • Monitoring product quality, cost, and delivery to confirm that all three remain within approved guidelines
  • Ensuring that the distillery employees meet production goals
  • Working with the Master Distillers to make new whisky products while making sure that existing output maintains quality standards
  • Confirming that the distillery complies with health and safety regulations
  • Organising proper equipment maintenance and recording details about overall equipment effectiveness (OEE)
  • Managing the distillery’s annual budget
  • Recording key information about the whisky production process
  • Filling out any necessary regulatory documentation to comply with the requirements of HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC)
  • Working with human resources and the distillery management team to recruit new employees when required
  • Serving as a brand ambassador to promote the distillery at public events

These are broad examples. A distillery manager’s actual workday will vary considerably from one facility to the next. With smaller distilleries, there will be more hands-on work while larger places will support the delegation of more tasks to employees.


Where you will work

Most whisky distilleries are in isolated rural locations, so you will need access to reliable transportation.


Main challenges of the job

Distillery managers must be able to multi-task in multiple environments: the office, plant, and warehouse. To do your job efficiently, you need a reliable team of assistant managers and employees who can be trusted to work independently.


Key skills needed for the role

Below are some of the key skills that you would need to master in order to succeed as a distillery manager:

  • Clear communication with team members and customers
  • Working as part of a team to meet deadlines and quality standards
  • Taking the initiative
  • Solid problem-solving ability
  • Approaching all situations in a logical manner
  • Working with financial data
  • Strong decision-making ability


Necessary education, qualifications, and experience

Being a distillery manager calls for management experience and an understanding of how spirits are produced, which means that you will need a considerable amount of industry experience and/ or an appropriate amount of higher education. This could be in the form of a degree or postgraduate study in spirit production or closely related subjects, such as quality control or excise.

Heriot-Watt University hosts an International Centre for Brewing and Distilling and offers degree studies in brewing and distilling. Some distilleries have graduate employment programmes that assist course graduates in getting the practical experience needed to do the job.


Required qualifications include:

  • Institute of Brewing and Distilling General Certificate in Distillation
  • Managing safely qualification (Institution of Occupational Safety and Health)
  • Food safety qualification, such as Hazard Analysis and Critical Control


Once you are hired, you will be required to obtain these qualifications if you don’t have them already.

  • Diploma in Distillation – from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling
  • A safety management qualification such as RoSPA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents)


You will also require:

  • In-depth knowledge of the spirits industry, especially as it pertains to whisky
  • background as an assistant distillery manager or leadership of a production team
  • full understanding of all whisky production and warehousing processes


Average salary

The average salary for the distillery manager across the UK is £59,800, and £47,000 in Scotland (Scotch Whisky Association – Skilled Workforce Report)


Outlook in the next 5 years

Demand for qualified distillery managers is expected to grow by 6.64%.according to online careers data website LMI for All.

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