Nicole Austin has lent her expertise to a number of distilleries throughout the United States. Today she is the General Manager and Distiller at George Dickel in Tennessee, but her path to distilling wasn’t always an obvious one.
BW: With a degree in chemical engineering, did you always know you wanted to work in distilling?
NA: I really had no idea it was even a career that I could pursue until well after I had graduated. I started in the Environmental Engineering industry, working as a Design Engineer in the water and wastewater treatment industry. It wasn’t until a few years later, while exploring whiskies, that it occurred to me that my expertise would enable me to move into something as artful and beautiful as making whiskey! I feel so fortunate that my degree is well suited to an industry that I genuinely love because it definitely was not on purpose. I wish I had that kind of direction and drive when I was a teenager!
BW: What is your favorite project that you have worked on during your tenure at Dickel?
NA: Too many to name! Right now I am feeling so proud of the collaboration we did with Leopold Brothers. It’s a gorgeous whiskey and it was so wonderful to be able to work with a producer like Todd Leopold, who I have admired for many years. I think it’s a secret ambition of many distillers to resurrect and rediscover historic whiskey styles, so this project was a particular privilege and I think a career highlight, for me.
BW: How have your various roles in the industry differed and how have they been similar?
NA: My career in this industry has been all over the place. Tiny distilleries, massive distilleries, blending, distilling, mopping floors, consulting, selling, delivering cases…all the things. I miss some of the hands-on work that was a part of the day-to-day at smaller distilleries, but I really appreciate now having such an amazing team that helps me reach beyond what I can do alone and allows me to pursue some really creative work, like the Leopold collaboration.
BW: What advice do you have for women who want to work in the whiskey industry?
NA: My best advice, no matter what industry you’re in, is to really vet the attitude of the particular company that you are considering working for. I wouldn’t say that the whiskey industry is any better or worse for women than any other industry. Turns out, it’s all but impossible to avoid conflict and bias no matter what you do! However, many companies will say they support diversity and inclusion, but do they action those values? Find out what their leadership actually looks like and what diversity and inclusion benchmarks they have publicly committed to. The values of your company and your direct coworkers will have a much bigger impact on your quality of life than the industry overall. Shoutout to Diageo, for being far and away the best company I have ever worked with when it comes to living their values every day.
BW: Tell me about your perfect Tennessee whiskey weekend.
NA: This is so lame, but at home cuddling with my critters and sipping on a Dickel cocktail.
Photos Courtesy of Diageo