In times of crisis, consumers often look to spirits for comfort—but what do the makers of those spirits have to lean on under such circumstances?
Well, mostly one another.
Throughout my eight years serving as Director of Spirits Education at Moonshine University, I’ve experienced firsthand the characteristically open, friendly, and supportive culture that defines our industry. There aren’t too many fields where you can call up nearly anyone in the business, introduce yourself, ask a question, and get the answer. The coronavirus has disrupted our world in many ways, but it has not changed that.
Luckily, there is more support available to distillers than ever before. Within this incredible community, there are a multitude of resources (including a network of compassionate distillers and industry operators) ready to assist as we collectively adapt our businesses to survive this latest historical challenge. As one such resource, Moonshine University is proud to do our part—and I’d like to share a little bit about how we’re continuing to evolve in support of this inspiring global community.
Becoming Better Than the Internet
Moonshine University has quickly become a thought-leader for the distilling industry at large, providing educational resources, expert-led training, and professional services for entrepreneurs and existing brands, alike. But before its founding in 2012, there were very few training opportunities for the craft sector.
With only the Internet to draw from, many would-be craft distillers attempted to Google their way into the business in those early days—a practice that not only threatened their own success, but the integrity of the industry as a whole. Moonshine University was created to remedy that problem.
From the start, we understood that we had to design an experience that would be better than the Internet; one that would expose students to a breadth of knowledge and skills demonstrating the realities of distilling—from laying the first brick on their facility to bottling their product. As the only educational provider to be endorsed by the Kentucky Distillers’ Association, Moonshine University has done well to accomplish that feat.
Operating largely under the mantra of “show, don’t tell,” attendees benefit from hands-on distilling, access to an extensive sensory library, and a curriculum led directly by experts employed in every facet of the industry. Of course, in light of the on-going pandemic, the “hands-on” and “face-to-face” components so central to the successes of our classes have had to be carefully re-thought.
Rather than be discouraged, however, we’ve decided to tackle this challenge as just another opportunity for learning and growth—and ironically, one that has involved discovering how to properly embrace the affordances of the Internet.
When “Hands-On” Gets Complicated…
Like the rest of the industry, Moonshine University has pivoted operations so we can continue to do what we do best—deliver the same world-class educational experiences we’ve built a reputation for. But how do you create tactile experiences in a world where “hands-on” has become a bit taboo?
It’s a hurdle we share with many of our colleagues in the industry. The good news is that there’s plenty to be learned from how our friends in the business have safely re-structured their own tours, tastings, and other experiences to maintain the same level of hospitality and engagement despite on-going limitations. Meanwhile, we’ve been equally impressed by how they’ve supplemented lost income with creative solutions like virtual events, curbside service, to-go cocktails, and direct-to-consumer shipping, where allowed.
In addition to reducing the capacity of in-person classes and adopting CDC-recommended safety and sanitation guidelines, Moonshine University has addressed these challenges similarly by providing every attendee with their own station of sensory materials and equipment, complemented by distanced, small group activities in the distillery.
Our expert webinar series, which we introduced in 2020, offers another resource for those not yet able or comfortable to travel. The webinars, which are free when attended live virtually and $5 for on-demand access thereafter, provide former and future students the opportunity to connect with industry professionals and gain expert insights from the comfort of their home or office. They also allow Moonshine University the flexibility to introduce students to a sampling of content covered in our in-person classes or to explore special topics that don’t otherwise fit into our existing curriculum.
And we haven’t stopped there. Moonshine University has several new learning opportunities and initiatives in the pipeline that we are excited to roll out in 2021 and beyond.
Embracing Change For Growth
Moonshine University’s mission has always been to advance the industry by training the next generation of distillers. The successes of our graduates, along with the world-class reputation we’ve garnered over the years, are confirmation that we’re on the right track—but they are also evidence of the immense value of continuing education.
To date, Moonshine University is proud to have welcomed students from all 50 states, 3 US territories, and 49 countries, with almost 50 percent of our signature 6-Day Distiller Course graduates entering the industry within two years of coming through the course. I truly believe that the education gained at Moonshine University has been a key influence in the success of our alumni now thriving in the industry.
And then there’s current events to consider—few of us can afford mistakes right now. There’s a quote that says, “if you think education is expensive, try ignorance,” and I think that’s immensely applicable here. Now more than ever, distillers and would-be distillers alike must arm themselves with the knowledge and skill set required to succeed in this business today and learn to adapt to the challenges of tomorrow.
As the COVID-19 crisis continues to disrupt and change the spirits business, we too must embrace change. Now is the time to strengthen our community as well as our resolve, to band together and learn from one another. There are more resources available to our industry than ever before—let’s take advantage of them as we power forward, innovate, and grow toward a future we can all raise a glass to.
Written by Colin Blake, Director of Spirits Education at Moonshine University.
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