For Laura Walters, Head Distiller at Ironton Distillery and Crafthouse, a history of wine class was her wake-up call to move into fermentation science and her eventual role as a distiller. The vibrant craft distillation community in Colorado served as great support for Laura’s role at Ironton Distillery as a distiller. Our favorite quote: “Being a distiller isn’t a super glamorous job. It’s hard, messy work but it is very fulfilling. Especially when you are sipping on something that you made with your own blood sweat and tears! Or even better, when you see a customer enjoying your product, there is nothing better than that!”
BW: When and how did you discover you wanted to work in the whiskey industry?
LW: After taking a history of wine class in college I fell in love with the culture of the alcohol industry and quickly switched my major from fisheries and wildlife to fermentation science!
BW: How did you end up working in the industry?
LW: I had a few internships in the wine world right out of college in Washington state and New Zealand which were the greatest learning experience I could have after graduating. I moved to Colorado after my stint in NZ to move in with my now husband. I applied for all the booze jobs available in Colorado and eventually landed a packaging position at Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey. I worked for the company for 3 years and learned how to run every position there. I then decided to pursue my interest in making other spirits and joined the team at Ironton Distillery before it even had a building!
BW: What was your previous background – and how do you use your background in your role today?
LW: I’ve always been in the alcohol and food industry in some capacity ever since my first job at an ice cream shop. I think the biggest thing I’ve learned from my education and job history is to pay attention to detail even in tasks that can be mundane.
BW: What was something surprising you learned in your early days at Ironton company?
LW: Early on at Ironton there was a LOT of trial and error to get the recipes right and to get the equipment all commissioned properly. I gained so much knowledge of my own system and products in that time. I think what helped me get through all the trials and tribulations of starting a new distillery was to really rely on the amazing spirits community we have in Colorado and being able to learn from my peers.
BW: What does your day-to-day life at the distillery look like?
LW: I spend my mornings with my production manager in the distillery getting things rolling for the day and getting our schedule all planned out for the day/week. On a typical day, we will run a brew and two distillations. Once the bar and kitchen staff come in in the afternoon we will usually have a pow-wow about what they need from production such as bulk spirit for cocktails or a specialty batch of bitters for an event and we can get rolling on those items. No two days are ever the same! Which is what we love around here!
BW: What similarities and differences are there between your former position at Stranahan’s ?
LW: I would say the biggest difference between my last position at Stranahan’s and my current position at Ironton is the flexibility of being able to make whatever I want but with great power comes great responsibility!
BW: After working in the whiskey industry for all this time, what are some of the changes you’ve seen?
LW: The amount of ingenuity and focus on sustainability has been something that has stuck out to me! I think it’s so awesome that more of us are getting on board with making our industry more sustainable all around from grain sourcing to water and energy recapturing! It’s very cool and something I can’t wait to be a part of at Ironton.
BW: What’s the future role or vision you’d like to see the industry move towards? What are the biggest roadblocks and how can we overcome them to get there?
LW: I would love to see more consumer focus and education on local craft spirits. This would greatly benefit sustainability efforts, support our local economy and diversify what people know spirits to be. There are so many amazing products coming out from our local craft producers!
BW: What’s one thing you wish people understood better about your role?
LW: Being a distiller isn’t a super glamorous job. It’s hard, messy work but it is very fulfilling. Especially when you are sipping on something that you made with your own blood sweat and tears! Or even better, when you see a customer enjoying your product, there is nothing better than that!
BW: What’s something in your role that inspires you or gets you going in the morning?
LW: It might not be the most interesting answer but as a very goal-driven person, being able to come into work and start completing tasks and crossing them off my list is so satisfying. Being able to solve problems on the fly using critical thinking is another one of the main reasons I love my job.
BW: What advice do you have for women who want to step into a similar role or carve a similar path?
LW: Get into it!! Women have been underrepresented in the spirits industry since the dawn of time!
BW: Tell me about your perfect whiskey weekend in your state/city:
LW: One of my favorite activities is to round up all my fellow booze nerd buddies and host blind tastings in my dining room! It’s such a fun way to get to know other products and to get a little buzz on. 😉