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You would not believe the number of people who go from being teachers to making beverage alcohol for a living. It’s almost as though we aren’t paying teachers enough for an extremely stressful job! Meet Kay Bennett, Distiller at Tenth Ward Distilling, who went from science teacher to stay-at-home mom to bartending to working in a distillery, a timeline very similar to my own. There’s something in the brown water 🙂
BW: What was the journey that led you to knowing you wanted to make whiskey for a living?
KB: Highly technical subjects have always fascinated me. I ended up going to school to study biology and eventually became a science teacher. While I was really good with the students, I didn’t fit as well as I wanted to in the administrative structure. It always felt like some parts didn’t quite line up. When my daughter was born I left the classroom to stay with her. She has very acute special needs and requires a lot of care. As she got older, she was able to attend school and I started looking for a new job, one that was flexible and less consuming than my previous profession. I started bartending at Rockwell Brewery, a local gem. While there I was always peeking around the brew room and asking questions about how everything works. I asked to shadow the brewer and eventually was able to have a hand in some of the beers I was serving. Monica from Tenth Ward approached me in December of 2019 about joining them in the stillhouse. There’s so much to learn about the technicalities of distillation and a beautiful magic of creating a spirit, I hope I never get tired of it. It challenges me in a deeply satisfying way and I have the space to be creative and experiment.
BW: What does a typical day in the distillery look like for you?
KB: When I get in, I check in with Mark the head distiller about my duties for the day. Usually it’s either mashing in, running the still, bottling, or some combination of all three. Whatever I’m doing it’s pretty messy and there’s a lot of noise.
BW: What is your favorite part of the distillation process to talk nerdy about?
KB: I love to discuss layering botanicals and determining flavor profiles. My next fave to hear about is the science behind barrel aging and the science of cooperage.
BW: What advice do you have for women wanting to get into the distilling industry?
KB: Do it! Be nosy, ask questions, meet people. Find what fascinates you and use it to guide your path. There are so many roles to fill and the more voices we have, the more of an impact we can make.
BW: Tell me about your perfect whiskey weekend in Frederick, Maryland.
KB: I’d love to get dressed up and go patio hopping in beautiful weather. I’d make sure to hit Hootch and Banter, The Tasting Room, White Rabbit, Brewer’s Alley rooftop bar, and wind down at Tenth Ward’s Cocktail Lab.
Photos Courtesy of Kay Bennett