A conversation with Alex Castle
What’s it been like as a woman working in the spirits and distilling world?
I’ve been fortunate not to have too many struggles coming up as a female in a male-dominated industry, and to have had professors and colleagues who didn’t really see a difference. There are people along the way who definitely had issues with women in leadership or management positions, not necessarily just in this industry, but those were few and far between. Prior to coming to Old Dominick, my boss and I got along great from day one – he trusted me with everything that he’d trusted my male predecessor with. I have been very fortunate with my experience in this industry.
How did you decide this was what you wanted to do?
I was in high school. My plan, up until then, was to be a marine biologist. Well, freshman year of high school was the first time I ever took biology – and I realized it absolutely was not for me! It was horrible. I think it was the first time I ever failed an exam! I went home to my mom that day and told her, “Clearly I cannot do this. I need to switch gears.”
The next year I took chemistry and more advanced level math. Then physics, then more chemistry. And one day I was talking with my mom and I said, “I really like these subjects, but I don’t have the mentality to be a teacher. I’ll kill my students! So – what can I do with this?” And I guess she must’ve been reading articles – my brother was about to head off to college, and she knew I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do – because she immediately said, “Well, you could do chemical engineering.”
I thought, well, I don’t really know what that is – but it sounds like it incorporates everything. So I said, “What do you even do with that degree?” The first words out of her mouth? “You can be a brewmaster and make beer!”
Now mind you, my mom does not drink – especially not back then – so it took me by surprise a little bit and piqued my interest. And she kept going. “You don’t have to do just beer, you could be a master distiller and make whiskey, or a master vintner and make wine.” She continued and was listing off a few more options, but I have no clue what any of them were because I had stopped listening. There was something about that first title that was so intriguing to me.
I started off wanting to do beer, so when I was in college and I started looking for opportunities, I interviewed with Anheuser Busch and ended up with a small company in Lexington that had a craft brewery. What I didn’t know then – but I realize now my boss did know and influenced the choice to hire me – is that they were planning to add a distillery. I started hearing these conversations about the distillery project, but no one was telling me anything. Then one day the stills got delivered, and my first interaction was just cleaning them. Not the most fun or luxurious, but I absolutely loved it.
Finally, one day my boss asked me if I wanted to observe a distillation. We get there, and he’s frantic – he remembered that he had to take his kids to the dentist, so he can’t be there for the distillation. So immediately I’m disappointed, thinking I have to go back to the office and have a boring day. Instead, in five minutes, he walked me through what to do – so I spent the day unexpectedly running my first distillation.
I don’t think I stopped smiling once that entire day. I realized in that moment that beer wasn’t enough; I had to have that distillation element. From that point on, that was my focus – doing everything I had to do to get to where I am now.