How did you become a distiller?
Actually I wanted to learn something completely different at that time, to get into the IT industry, I thought, but found nothing, I did not find anything directly after my graduation, and I saw an ad in the newspaper for a trainee position as a distiller. I first looked at what it was, then I thought that I could like that… I applied for a job. I was taken, and it is the best that actually happened to me.
What kind of training was it, was it here in Berlin?
No. It was in Lutherstadt Wittenberg. There was a company producing “Kräuterliqueur” there that unfortunately no longer exists, it closed for economic reasons unfortunately. There I did my 3 years apprenticeship. And one year later again a Master.
With this education, it means when you started, did you really know nothing?
Exactly. The vocational school, that was in Dortmund. Then it was block lessons, so practically 3 x 3 months in Dortmund at a stretch then again in the company. So that what you theoretically taught at school could be put into practice in the company.
And the master distiller program was here at PSM in Berlin?
Yes, it was with the PSM as well as with the VLB (Institution specialized in Education, research, consulting, information and services for the brewing, malt, beverage and spirits industries and applied biotechnology), thus directly beside (…) as well as all the economy or accounting related knowledge I did at the Chamber of Commerce here in Berlin
Additionally one might take a certificate to train distiller, so I have that also.
You are not many Master Distillers, right?
Now I would have to lie….. There is only every 2 or 3 years at all the further training to master distiller. There are very few compared to
What would you say to a young person who wants to become a distiller ? What would you recommend?
In what way?
What kind of studies, or…
At the end of the day, I personally don’t care much about the school education. You must have fun at work. You have to be relatively good in mathematics in order to fully understand and apply subject-specific calculations. Yes, so everything comes explained at school but you don’t have to be able to understand it. (…)
It’s a craft. It is a artisan profession. You don’t sit at the computer all day… filling up your Excel spreadsheet. It is really a craft profession.
And of course you should be careful not to drink too much. You don’t get that job to come home drunk every day, you must be able to taste but only in order to ask yourself “how can I still improve at the product”.
Yes… You must not be an alcoholic.
What did you find great at the beginning?
What I liked best. That is difficult. I could say the alcohol but you can also misunderstand it. But I found it interesting what you can do with the raw material. Which taste do you get out. It was never boring. There were always different products you could make. And then I was quickly active in product development and then I could understand even more. I find product development the most exciting. Still. And it will never change. And now it has become my profession. Something better couldn’t have happened to me.
And today, what do you like best about distilling?
That is a difficult question. I can’t say that I especially like anise better than cumin…
I meant action, not raw materials, i mean a moment you like particularly?
Ah yes. Whenever I distill, there’s a kind of feeling of happiness when it works. There is a feeling of happiness. A lot can go wrong. It is also different with raw materials every year. The raw materials are not always the same. There is the temperature, or when they are harvested, whether it gets warm this year or not, whether there were rainy days. Then the raw materials be different. An apple does not taste the same every year. Therefore one must pay attention that one can offer always a constant quality to the final consumers. It is not quite simple. (…)
What do you find difficult with distilling? Is there anything you don’t like?
I can name a product. Also the production of a certain product, egg liquor. The production is very complex, cleaning intensive (…) I don’t like that at all. Otherwise I can’t say what I don’t like… (..)
You do everything here on the spot?
Not everything. For example the Halb und Halb there are the quantity meanwhile so large that we have it produced industrially in North Germany. However, the herbal essences, i.e. the valuable substances, continue to come from here (…)
I noticed you are also welcoming and discussing with customers. Which is not always the case of distillers. Do you like that too ?
I’ll say this, since I’ve been working here I have a lot to do with customers and that wasn’t the case before (…) I don’t have the problem of talking to customers That’s because I’m 100% behind my products.
Let’s talk about Mampe for a moment? What fascinated me the most about Mampe was that when Mampe was bought by its current owner, he could simply get the recipes from PSM, where they had been since the middle of 1800! Crazy and impressive. Were you there for the new interpretation of the recipe ?
No, I wasn’t there yet. I started 2016. Tom bought the recipes and the Mampe brand in 2013. However, in the previous company where I worked I had produced Mampe Halb und Halb as it was outsourced in that company. (…)
Of course I don’t ask about the recipe, but in which direction has it changed?
Yes, because I wouldn’t say anything…
I am more interested in taste change, in sensory changes. For example. Champagne now has much less sugar in it than in 1900. Is it the same with your categories? My question is more to understand what is our taste today?
I can only say that the first product that made Mampe is Bitter Tropfen so it was only herbs and alcohol at 55% abv, without sugar, then everyone wanted something sweeter so this is why the Halb und Halb was developed. And I’m still of the opinion that sweeter spirits are more comfortable to drink, but too much sugar is not good either, it should work in the middle (…) and people still like that. Sugar-free, hum hum…
Regarding sugar, today is it so that there is a difference between what customers like and what they think they like (ie dry and no sugar added)?
It depends on the product. In gin you have no sugar. (..) You know gin as a sugar-free product, if you try gin with sugar, then “oh, it’s sweet” – I see that in our caraway. Our caraway is slightly sweetened, there is a little bit sweet, compared to North Germany or Scandinavia caraway or aquavit, which in the end is the same, are not sweetened at all, there is no gram sugar, they don’t like that in North Germany.
(….) So today you can’t say that society likes something sweet, you can’t say that in general.
How has the recipe changed?
Compared to the 19th century, the alcohol content has gone down. At that time it had gone 41 to 31. Because of the higher and higher tax on pure alcohol essentially.
So there was no change of taste but adaptation to new tax law only?
Yes. (…) That’s why many companies go down with alcohol so that the price remains stable but the company saves money.
So there are no raw materials that people suddenly don’t like anymore.
I don’t think so. What still plays a role is the prices. I can also say that there are raw materials that have increased their price enormously in recent years, and I am not mentioning any now.
So we don’t take the same amount now, for example vanilla. The price has risen to 100%. The kilo now costs 700 Euros. (…). Generally one tries not to change the recipe so that in the end the sensory characteristics do not change. Because the consumer remembers this automatically. (…)
I have one last question: what would be your definition of craft spirits?
For me personally, craft spirits are handmade spirits that are produced in smaller batch quantities, with natural raw materials. that is for me craft spirits. That doesn’t mean 100000 bottles per hour. Everything has to be done beautifully by hand.
No matter who does it? Also Diageo or Pernod Ricard, they can do something like that.
Yes, but when Diageo or Pernod Ricard do something like that, it’s not credible for me.
(…) . I don’t want to accuse anyone of that but it is not credible for me. When a global player makes craft spirits. One sees with Monkey 47. They started quite small. (…) but now ? As if it is still by hand ? It’s all industrial, isn’t it? For me it has nothing to do with Craft Spirits anymore.
Definition of Craft should also encompass the idea that there is a person behind it. Or maybe there is also the idea that you don’t have to be everywhere in the world. And a certain local feeling.
Or ? Yes. Like PSM, they are Craft Spirits to me, and we are. And the DSM in Marzahn. They also make small batches. Handmade.