In this week’s Meet the Makers, Lauren Riggleman, Master Distiller at Silverback Distillery discusses her whisky education in Scotland and what it’s like working for a small family operation where she has to wear many hats and fulfill many roles to succeed.
BW: Tell us about your whiskey journey. What’s the path that led you to get into distilling and your love affair with whiskey? Were there any interesting detours along the way?
LR: My distilling journey started with my mom! In 2012 on a family trip to Scotland, she decided she wanted to open a distillery. At the time, I was a psychology major at the University of Virginia, but decided to switch gears and jump into this brand-new spirits world with my family! When we opened Silverback, I started with running our tasting room but immediately became fascinated with the production side of spirits. I had so many questions and was so eager to learn more about the science behind the products. This led me to apply to a Master’s Program in Edinburgh, Scotland.
BW: And you studied whiskey in Scotland? What’s the biggest takeaway you had from that education that’s helped you in making American whiskey?
LR: Yes! What an incredible experience. I studied in Edinburgh, Scotland at Heriot-Watt University and received a Master’s Degree in Fermentation Sciences: Brewing & Distilling. The biggest takeaway from
my education that I’ve applied to making whiskey here in the States is that the science behind what we’re creating is so important, and a small flavor note or characteristic of a spirit you’re making can be
the difference between a good product and a great product.
BW: What kind of support have you had from family, colleagues, and mentors that’s been critical to your path as a distiller? How are you paying that forward to others in the industry?
LR: I’ve had an incredible amount of support from my family. Being a family business, all of our staff are incredibly close and were very encouraging when I decided to further my education. My mom, Christine, has been my biggest mentor. She gained all of her experience from hands-on training and has an incredible palate. She is always pushing me to reach higher in this industry. I’m always eager to share knowledge with other people in the industry. This is the best industry to be a part of- colleagues and acquaintances become friends so quickly!
BW: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career in distilling and distillery management so far and how did you overcome it?
LR: My biggest challenge has been managing and trying to streamline two distillery operations during COVID. Silverback has two locations: our original site in Afton, Virginia and a second location we opened
in 2018 in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. Our production is split between the two locations, but with COVID supply chain issues and freight costs there have been some difficulties. I’ve worked to overcome it by ensuring the trips we are making between locations are efficient and communicating with the production staff.
BW: Can you tell us one or two engaging/fun observations you’ve made in your time working at Silverback that would surprise someone from outside the industry?
LR: Most people actually have no clue how spirits are made, let alone all of the differences between different types of spirits. I once had a gentleman on a tour ask me how we stop the mash from turning
into bread because it contains yeast.
BW: What’s one thing you wish people understood more about your role both as a master distiller and as chief operating officer of Silverback?
LR: I wear many different hats at Silverback. I play a role in customer relations, label design, branding, marketing, as well as having a hand in almost every aspect of spirit production. My role isn’t always fun
or exciting like some people think it may be, but it’s incredibly rewarding to see a finished product and the customers’ reactions to them!