The Circumstance Distillery has looked to push the boundaries of craft distilling ever since its co-founders Liam Hirt and Danny Walker first started investing in making their own craft spirits – they even sell their some of their brands through the blockchain with their own crypto currency. Now they want to address diversity and inclusion within the distilling sector by starting a female only work experience and intern programme. Here head of operations, Stephanie Peck, explains how it is going to work and how to apply.
“Someone with an inquisitive nature and lots of passion for spirits and flavour.” That’s just about all the credentials you need in order to apply for the Circumstance Distillery female focused work experience programme, says operations director, Stephanie Peck.
For those that don’t know Circumstance Distillery can you give us some background to what you do?
Circumstance is an independent organic distillery in the heart of Bristol. We are a young brand, but hope our innovative approach and production methods, alongside our social and environmental ethos, puts us at the forefront of modern whisky. Apart from our whisky and grain spirits, Circumstance also produces organic vodka and white rum.
You have forged a niche in the spirits sector for looking to do things differently in how you make your products – can you give us some examples?
There are two ways you can get flavour into whisky, from the fermentation and from the cask. Cask ageing requires very little input from us, so we focus most of our energy creating layers of flavour during fermentation. We do this by creating interesting mash bills using organic English grains, by using flavoursome beer yeasts, and by allowing our fermentations to continue open for over 300 hours.
We feel maturation is all about a balance between the new make spirit and the wood. We are very proud of our flavoursome new makes and because of this, some releases are considerably “younger” than traditional whiskies. We believe “the liquid is ready when it’s ready”.
You are now looking to open up distilling to potentially more women by offering a new work experience programme – why are you so keen to do this?
I was interviewed by a student recently and asked why I thought there are less women working in the spirits industry and specifically production. I don’t necessarily think there is one answer to this, but access routes into the industry and practical experience did feel like barriers. Over my career I have regularly been the only female on the team, in a meeting, at the tasting. This has definitely improved over the years, but there is still an imbalance. We wanted to address it in our own small way and do something active about it. Any conversation is more interesting if it’s between a more diverse group of people. New thoughts, new ideas, new perspectives.
How is the programme going to work?
We’ve written a programme so the successful candidate will get hands on experience across all aspects of a small working distillery. They will shadow a variety of roles across the business to get a full picture of the job opportunities available. One section of this is all about specific courses and qualifications available if they wish to continue on the route to become a distiller.
What will the work experience involve?
A little bit of everything, although the main focus is on production. Mashing, fermentation, distillation, cask sampling, blending, gin recipe development, bottling etc and all the other daily tasks we undertake to produce our spirits. It is definitely hands on, so potential applicants should be up for getting their hands dirty and digging out the mash tun.
What sort of candidate are you looking for?
Someone with an inquisitive nature and lots of passion for spirits & flavour.
Do they need to have had distilling experience?
Not at all, this is about giving someone with lots of interest, but no experience, a chance to try out something new.
How do you apply to take part?
Just send us an email. Full details can be found on our website
What other steps are you taking to be inclusive and diverse?
We are aware that every small step is part of a larger journey, to make the whole industry more inclusive and diverse in every way. For us that starts with really listening, and being ready to change.
Tell us about your product range and what brands you make – and why?
We felt it was better to divide what Circumstance does into two brands for the sake of clarity. All of our products have the same DNA, but we felt is was important to make it clear to consumers, which products followed the rules that allows the use of the word ‘whisky’ and which did not.
The spirits that do adhere to the traditional rules are branded as ‘Circumstance Single Grain Whisky’ in our etched bottle. Those branded as ‘Circumstantial’ that come in our bottles with the fun, bright, square label; are a bit more experimental and a bit more unorthodox. We really enjoy the challenge of producing both. We also have a lot of fun with the ‘Circumstantial’ releases because we can make things that are truly delicious in slightly unexpected ways.
You have used blockchain technology in distilling before – how does that work and what impact has had it had?
When we were setting up Circumstance we created our own form of cyprto currency. We generated tokens on a blockchain, which we then sold for £30 each, with the promise that each token could be returned to us in exchange for any bottle we produce and have in stock. That chunk of money was really helpful for us while setting up and we loved that it was engaging and felt more personal than the usual crowd funding platform.
Some were exchanged for our first whisky that we released in September, but there are still a lot out there. We like the idea that someone might redeem one in the future for something really rare or old.
This project lead to our founders (Liam Hirt and Danny Walker) to explore blockchain further and they set up Still In Cask. Still In Cask opens up the world of cask ownership to those that are not investors or wealthy individuals. The platform divides a cask up into bottle sized shares, that almost any enthusiast can afford. The platform uses a public blockchain to keep track of who owns what in a secure and transparent way.
Circumstance doesn’t sell casks to individuals, but has sold three casks on the ‘Still In Cask’ platform so far. We love it, because for each cask we get around 300 whisky enthusiasts coming along on the maturation journey with us.
What next for the distillery and your plans for growth?
We have a new Circumstantial grain spirit ready to be released next month, Circumstantial Barley 3. Then our next whisky release is planned for spring next year. Growth wise we’ll continue as we always have – to grow organically led by the team’s passion and the liquid they produce.
Anything else to say?
Just to really encourage anyone considering a career in the spirits industry to pursue it.