24 hours with distillery

As the first female head distiller—now Master Distiller—in the state of Tennessee, Alex Castle is a trailblazer. But given her background, it seems she was destined to make spirits for a living. A Kentucky native, Castle’s passion for good bourbon runs deep; as a chemical engineer, the distillation process provides seemingly endless opportunities to experiment. In her role at Old Dominick Distillery in Memphis, Castle oversees all facets of production at the company, which involves sampling bourbon, developing new products, discussing marketing plans, and more. Recently, we tagged along with her for 24 hours in her busy life, from tastings to team meetings to trivia night.

5:00 a.m.: I wake up to the sound of my pup walking around outside the bedroom, shaking off a dog’s worth of fur. I try, without much success, to fall asleep again.

 5:15 a.m.: My alarm goes off and I silence it as quickly as possible so I don’t wake my husband up. I sneak out of the bedroom and, upon opening the door, see the tail end of my dog running around the corner, heading to the backdoor. I turn on the Keurig and let the pup out. After feeding the dog I settle down on the couch with my coffee to catch up on last week’s episode of Grey’s Anatomy. This is the only “me” time I plan on getting today.

6:10 a.m.-6:40 a.m.: Time to get ready for work and head out the door.

7:00 a.m.: Today is barrel sampling day, so I meet my team in the Aging Loft (this is where we store all of our white oak barrels, each aging a different whiskey). We have a special barrel to sample today; I did a collaborative project with a local brewery, where they took one of our used bourbon barrels, aged beer in it for a few weeks, and then returned the empty barrel. So, now we’re aging a bourbon in a used beer barrel. I like to check on these experiments at least once a week, and include my whole production team in the sampling as well. We determine that the barrel is ready to be emptied and bottled.

7:15-8:00 a.m.: I catch up on my emails and check timecards while the production team stirs and transfers a fermenter for distillation. Time to make some Tennessee Whiskey!

“Everyone wants to joke about it, but our ‘quality control’ really does involve sipping the product.”

8:30 a.m.: I work with my production team to get the distillation leveled out, which includes tasting the spirits coming off the still. Everyone wants to joke about it, but our “quality control” really does involve sipping the product!

9:30 a.m.: We gather for the weekly management meeting, where every department head gives updates on their various projects and schedules. Today I have several updates on a few product releases that we have coming up, including our long-awaited gin.

11:30 a.m.: It’s finally time for lunch. While I do eat lunch at my desk, I try to avoid a “working lunch;” I use this time to catch up on my personal emails and social media, and occasionally spend the time reading. Anyone who knocks on my door during this time usually receives a very annoyed look from me.

12:30 p.m.: I check in with my team while they make a Tennessee Whiskey mash, which will be distilled next week. At this point, my team has been doing this long enough that they have it down to a nice routine, so there isn’t much for me to worry about.

1:30 p.m.: I have a meeting with our marketing team to go over several events and activations we have in the works. We’re working on staffing two big Tennessee Whiskey Trail events for November and December, and it is already time to start working on our major event for 2020, Spirits and Soul Fest. While I would love to attend every event, we definitely have to divide and conquer and decide where my time is best spent.

3:15 p.m.: I have one last visit with the production team before they head home for the day. I like to make sure everything finished out okay and that all paperwork is complete for the day. We also go over the schedule for the next day.

3:30 p.m.: After entering the production numbers from today I start to wrap things up. I try not to let paperwork pile up, and I find finishing the day by doing the data entry leads to a clean desk and a slightly less stressful departure from the office.

5:00 p.m.-7:00 p.m.: I take over my husband’s home office to record a bourbon podcast via Skype.

7:30 p.m.: We head out to trivia night. While I prefer to go to bed relatively early, one night a week I sacrifice some sleep to spend time with our friends. (Unfortunately we lost!)

10:30 p.m.: I brush my teeth, wash my face, and remove the dozen pillows from the bed that I insist on having. While I typically read in bed for about 30 minutes to an hour until I fall asleep, on trivia night, I tend to just pass out from exhaustion.

Photography by Sélavie Photography. Old Dominick Distillery is featured in The Scout Guide Memphis & Oxford.