Rachel Sykes, Lead Distiller at Nashville Craft Distillery started her path to distilling with an interest in spirits from bartending and serving, but quickly to the home brewing community as she immersed herself in the distillery world. When Nashville Craft Distillery opened, she was their first hire and has loved her journey from a distillery tech to lead distiller.  Read more about her journey below.  Our favorite quote: “I believe creating spirits is just as much of an art as it is a science. We can be intentional yet creative.” (Please note, Rachel has moved on from Nashville Craft Distillery to work as Distiller at High Wire Distilling Company.)

BW: When and how did you discover you wanted to work in the bourbon/whiskey/spirits industry?

RS: My love for bourbon/whiskey/spirits first started out of necessity. I learned quickly that when you bartend and wait tables, the more you know about the spirits and products you are serving to the consumer, the bigger the tip. As I got deeper into learning who made what and how they were made, I realized that I wanted to be the one making the spirits.

BW: How did you end up working in the industry?

RS: Growing up, I never in my wildest dreams would have thought my career would be distilling. I moved to Nashville right after college for music (like so many do). I ended up landing a job as Wynonna Judd’s nanny/assistant. But, as kids do, they grow up and only need a nanny for so long. So, I started serving and bartending in restaurants all over Nashville. It was there that my interest and love for all things spirits and beer began. I started home brewing beer and immersing myself into home brewing community. When Nashville Craft Distillery opened in 2016, I was the first hire as Distillery Tech/Apprentice Distiller.

BW: What was something surprising you learned in your early days at your current company? (or at your early days at your first whiskey position)

RS: I was happily surprised that there is just as much creativity involved as there is science. Nashville Craft Distillery’s founder, Bruce Boeko’s, previous career was as a DNA forensic scientist. So he naturally brings his love for science into everything we do and I love that. But, I believe creating spirits is just as much of an art as it is a science. We can be intentional yet creative.

BW: What similarities and differences are there between your former career/position and this one?

RS: Working in a smaller craft distillery where at times we’ve only had 2 employees and at the most 5, you wear a lot of hats and you do a lot of multitasking. Working for years in restaurants and bars taught me to multitask very well. In both jobs you find what needs to be done and you do it. No matter our role at the distillery, we are all part of a team with a common goal to put out the best products we can and give the customer the best experience we can so they will continue to support and come back.

BW: After working in the whiskey/spirits industry for all this time, what are some of the changes you’ve seen?

RS: I think the biggest change I’ve seen over the years is how much more knowledgable the average whiskey drinker has become. In all aspects, from knowing yeast strains to mash bills to the distillation process. Today’s whiskey drinker is taking pride in what they are drinking and knowing how it is made.

BW: What’s one thing you wish people understood better about your role or the initiatives you’re working on?

RS: It is a great job but its not all fun and games. We don’t sit around and drink whiskey all day (unfortunately), its hard work. There is some blood, A LOT of sweat, and an occasional tear. But, the reward of seeing someone order the spirit you made at a bar or buying the bottle off the shelf to take home is SO worth it.

BW: What’s something in your role and/or company that inspires you or gets you going in the morning?

RS: What I love about my role is that no day is the same as the last. Each new day presents new challenges, new ways to learn, new ways to push myself. Hopefully through all that I’m growing and become better.

BW: What advice do you have for women who want to step into a similar role or carve a similar path?

RS: Believe in yourself. Go after what it is you want and don’t let anyone tell you because of your gender or age that you can’t. Learn as much as you can about every aspect of your job and the roles around you so that when it’s time for you to advance or take that step, you’re ready.

BW: Tell me about your perfect whiskey weekend in your state/city:

RS: MY perfect whiskey weekend because I’m a homebody is staying at home a drinking from my whiskey collection with my wife and two dogs, Whiskey and Barley.

If I must go out, some of my favorite bars with great whiskies and cocktails are: Gertie’s Whiskey Bar, Earnest Bar & Hideaway, Old Glory, The Fox Bar & Cocktail Club, Never Never and Attaboy.

About Rachel and Nashville Craft: Her Instagram is @rachaelsykes and Nashville Craft Distillery’s website is www.nashvillecraft.com and Instagram is @nashville_craft

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