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Emma Millar of Hinch Distillery on meeting challenges and changing perceptions

The artisan distiller also reveals what it's like to work in a brand new distillery


The drinks industry, like any traditional sector, has a history of being full of male-fronted enterprises, but remarkable progress has been made thanks to a generation of brave, forward-thinking women.

This week on foodandwine.ie, we’re celebrating such women from around the country who are making their mark in the drinks world. From what it's like to be the only woman in your workplace to the advice they'd give to other women, inspirational women who work in all aspects of the drinks industry have been sharing their stories.

Emma Millar is an artisan distiller at Hinch Distillery in Ballynahinch, Co. Down which plans to open in 2021. The twenty-six-year-old joined the distillery last year after working at Peebles Hydro, Scotland’s largest gin school. We caught up with her to find out how she navigates challenges in her career and what she loves most about her job in a new distillery.

How did you get started in your career?

I completed my undergraduate degree in food design and nutrition and then went on to a MSc in brewing and distilling (yes, I literally have a degree in alcohol). I worked as a distiller in the Scottish borders in a newly-established gin distillery, making four different styles of gin. The distillery was also home to Scotland’s largest residential gin school, where people can create their very own unique gin. I moved home to Northern Ireland in August 2020 to begin my position as a distiller at Hinch Distillery. 

What prompted you to take the role in Hinch?

I was drawn to the opportunity to work in the Irish whiskey industry. It’s not every day that you get the chance to shape and create a brand new Irish whiskey. It’s very exciting to be involved in building the desired flavour profile and character of our liquid which will one day become Hinch Irish Whiskey. 

What does an average day look like for you?

This question made me laugh a little! We are still in the commissioning phase of production so an average day could consist of anything from disgorging, blending, reducing and bottling spirit, mashing, fermenting and distilling new make spirit to driving a forklift, loading finished goods, admin, revenue and customs compliance - and anything in between.

What would you say has been the most challenging part of the business so far? And the highlight?

I think every job/role has its challenges, I think it depends on how you approach them. We are a newly established distillery, still in the commissioning phase. Hinch is just beginning its whiskey-making journey. It’s been extremely busy. I wouldn’t say I’ve had any huge challenges, but it’s been a big learning curve. The highlight would definitely have to be getting to do a job I love every day; no two days are the same.

What do you enjoy most about what you do?

That I do something I absolutely love with a great team of people. Every day is different and I am continually learning and growing in my position. I love that I’m involved in part of the history of a whiskey brand that will outlive me for years to come and that I get to create a product for people to enjoy and share among friends.

Do you feel there are any particular challenges to being a woman working in what is quite a male-dominated industry? 

Being overlooked and underestimated. Most people hear 'distiller' and picture a man so you're already starting from a place of having to 'prove yourself'. Personally, this hasn’t been a major issue for myself in my current position, but there have been scenarios previously where being a young female in distilling has its downfalls. I think to overcome these attitudes it’s more about changing other people’s perceptions of what a distiller ‘is’. 

What advice would you have for women who may be thinking of pursuing a career in distilling? 

Go for it. 100%. I would always encourage anyone to pursue something they’re passionate about. 

Who or what inspires you?

Creating good spirits with good people. I want to make the kind of spirits people enjoy drinking and share with the people they like best. 

For more on Hinch Distillery see the website.

With thanks to discovernorthernireland.com.

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