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Of passion, patience, dedication and discipline

Michael D’Souza: What makes a Master Distiller?

Many aspire for success, but only a few manage to actually succeed – probably because mere aspirations eventually fizzle out without the numerous necessary qualities that assure triumph.

And, unlike what is commonly believed, only some of these qualities are actually inherent within. What actually makes the difference are the qualities that one cultivates within oneself.

For instance, I strongly believe that to be a master at one’s profession or art one must have true passion. Without the persistent burn of passion one would surely stumble and fail at accomplishing expertise in one’s chosen realm.

Thus is the same at being a Master Distiller. Passion is my driving force. It drives me on from wave to wave. It fuels my eagerness to know more, to learn more and to thereby create more.

Fine balance

But passion needs to be balanced with endless patience. It takes years of learning to be a Master Distiller, to develop the confidence and abilities that can eventually bottle liquid gold.

Being a Master Distiller also demands dedication – unparalleled, exceptional dedication… A dedication that dictates the stringent terms on which one must live, even from day to day.

For instance, your day has to start very early because your palate is at its freshest in the morning; and the morning’s first shot of caffeine is often only a fond memory!

With dedication comes discipline. No skill or art can be fully assimilated without rigorous discipline. For a Master Distiller, a clean and clear palate is essential. Therefore many favourite spicy curries have to be forgone!

It isn’t easy and often requires a colossal control on self and that’s where discipline comes into play.

Again, as in most arts, imagination and the will and time to allow imagination to rule is requisite for a Master Distiller as well. The proficient calibre to imagine intrinsic blends that can carry exceptional flavours is a profound ability demanded of a Master Distiller.

Science & Art

His fiery passion and unwavering dedication should lead him to wield his imagination to create whiskies that awaken every sense.

Apart from talent and skill and the immense urge to create, being a Master Distiller can indeed be a dream come true for those truly passionate. Whisky making is a neat blend of art with science.

There are some courses that offer basic training in distilling and brewing. Among the best known are Heriot-Watt and the Institute of Brewing and Distilling, both in Scotland.

However, I’ve noticed that not many students actually have the ability to handle production; nor do they have a proper understanding of practicalities. Everyone has to begin somewhere and it’s always best to start at the very beginning.

Take baby steps, hold a hand, be an apprentice. Learn from the brilliance, experiences and learning of those who have already trodden and survived the tough path.

It takes years of dedicated and passionate practice to eventually identify individual flavours in a blend from just a whiff. I recommend that the laboratory is the best place to initiate your learning. Here you can understand the composition and characteristics of every material and ingredient used.

It is also of utmost importance that an aspirant should have a clear understanding and awareness of different regions and their environments and specific micro-climatic conditions. Remember that many universities focus primarily on Scotch whisky; but today great whiskies are being created from other parts of the world including Japan, Taiwan, the US and, of course, India.

One must also understand that whisky making is not limited to fermentation and distillation – it is necessary that one knows the working of each and every machine and equipment in the distillery.

All in all, being a Master Distiller can be truly and totally demanding. Sacrifices and a stringent lifestyle are some of the unavoidable choices you have to make, but the fruit at the end of the journey is worth it all! In simple words, practical experience is all you need to excel.

There is a saying among Christians – a clean Bible speaks of a dirty Christian, while the owner of a dirty Bible is a true and clean Christian! The thumbed pages of the latter’s Bible prove he reads it every day! So, to be a successful distiller or blender, just get your hands downright dirty.