Scholarships, Internships, and Grants Support Aspiring Whisky Makers and Bolster Diversity in the Industry

The whisky industry has joined the widespread movement for racial equality and justice by mounting efforts to create a more diverse and supportive workplace. Part of those efforts includes scholarships, internships, and other opportunities to support Black and other minority professionals and students across the distilling industry, with several launched in the summer of 2020. Among them is the Nearest & Jack Advancement Initiative, which on Sept. 7 announced its first official apprentice, Tracie Franklin. The former national brand ambassador for Glenfiddich, Franklin calls the opportunity “a dream come true” that fuses two of her greatest passions.

Distilling is “a part of the industry that I’ve wanted to join for a long time,” Franklin tells Whisky Advocate. “The process, creating flavors, how the chemistry works, and the science behind distillation—it’s always really driven me.” Now Franklin will have a chance to dive into all of that under the aegis of some of the industry’s leading distillers—while working to change the industry itself. “As an ambassador, the opportunity to be a representation for people of color in the industry kept popping up, and I wasn’t going to say no” to the apprenticeship, she explains. “The whole reason I started working in this industry, and took a leadership position, is because I wanted to create more inclusion and diversity.”

Yet as Franklin pushed to achieve that while working for Glenfiddich, she also couldn’t ignore a growing desire to delve deeper into the technical side of whisky making. “As I moved through [the industry] and became a scotch ambassador, being visible really mattered and helped,” she says. “But it also…kept taking me away from the distillation part. I always studied—I would hop into friends’ distilleries, ask a lot of questions, and try to get as much hands-on experience as I could, but that wasn’t my job.” Now it basically is. “This opportunity is allowing me to step into these shoes, to actually do this.”

While Franklin is stoked to finally pursue her long-deferred interest, she also sees the opportunity as part of a broader movement. “There are other programs coming along that are really focused on creating diversity, and the more diversity we have—the more whisky drinkers, the more styles, the more palates—the better whisky’s going to get,” she says. As for her own distilling ambitions, she’s wasting no time in tackling them. “I’m going to work my butt off. My goal is to gain as much knowledge, as much hands-on experience, as possible, [so] that when I finish this program, I feel comfortable stepping into a distillery and saying, ‘I can run this.’”

Along with the Nearest & Jack Initiative, there are several other funding opportunities for students of distilling and professionals in the whisky industry. Many are focused on supporting historically underrepresented groups, such as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) and women, but others are open to applicants of any background. Whisky Advocate will continuously update this list. If we’re missing a scholarship, grant, internship, or apprenticeship for whisky professionals, let us know.

Whisky Scholarships, Internships, Grants & Apprenticeships

American Distilling Institute Distilling Research Grant
Established in 2018, the American Distilling Institute’s (ADI) research grant program supports original research with the aim of advancing the knowledge of America’s craft distillers. ADI’s Distilling Research Grant is funded by the institute’s online auction house, filled with donations from vendors who supply equipment to the distilling and beverage industries. In 2020, in addition to proceeds from the online auction, grant funding was supplemented by donations from attendees of ADI’s first-ever virtual conference and vendor expo. Proposals are reviewed and grants awarded by an independent advisory committee made up of experts and consultants from academia, government, and the distilling industry. In 2019, the committee awarded nearly $20,000 in funding to three recipients to investigate topics such as ancient stills, oxygen uptake by barrel-aged spirits, and the use of molecular spectrometry in distillery quality control. For 2020, ADI is accepting proposals until Nov. 25; submission guidelines and instructions can be found on ADI’s Research Endowment website.

The Kentucky Distillers’ Association–University of Kentucky Scholars Program Fund
The Kentucky Distillers’ Association (KDA) is looking to increase diversity in the distilled spirits industry and announced on Sept. 2, 2020 that it is setting up a program to fund scholarships with the University of Kentucky’s (UK) distillation, wine, and brewing studies program. The fund will support full tuition for up to four students each year; the KDA will fund 27 credit hours while the UK College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment, Gatton College of Business and Economics, and UK College of Engineering will cover the remaining 18 credit hours, resulting in a total of 45 credit hours. Aiming to bring opportunities to underrepresented students in the distillation, wine, and brewing studies program, the KDA will also be providing internships and hands-on experiences for these scholars.

The Michael Jackson Foundation for Brewing & Distilling
Founded in part by Garrett Oliver, brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery, in 2020, this organization provides funding to BIPOC students in brewing and distilling programs. It’s named for the late beer and whisky writer Michael Jackson, whom Oliver describes as “an active anti-racist.” The Foundation offers two scholarships: the Sir Geoff Palmer scholarship for brewing and the Nathan “Nearest” Green scholarship for distilling. As of September 2020, the foundation has raised more than $200,000 and continues its fundraising via GoFundMe. Oliver is busy building the founding board and says that he expects applications to be available in November. The Michael Jackson Foundation aims to begin granting scholarships in early 2021, with a goal of offering six in the first year.

The Nearest & Jack Advancement Initiative
In June 2020, Jack Daniel Distillery and Nearest Green Distillery pledged a combined $5 million to launch a joint, three-pronged initiative aimed at increasing diversity in the American whiskey industry. Through the initiative, the two Tennessee whiskey makers created the Nearest Green School of Distilling at Tullahoma-based Motlow State Community College; a Leadership Acceleration Program that grants apprenticeships to Black whisky industry professionals who aspire to become a head distiller or take on other leadership roles; and a Business Incubation Program that offers Black entrepreneurs mentorship in all areas of the distilling business. The initiative is “allowing me to step into this role that I’ve always wanted, but didn’t necessarily have the proper experience for,” Franklin says. “Not everyone gets the opportunity to become something like a master distiller. You don’t always get the right education. You weren’t born into a family that has that history. As people of color, we haven’t had that within American whiskey distilleries, and I’m excited to see that changing.”

The Pink Boots Society New Mexico State University Course for Brewing & Distilling in Belgium and the Netherlands
Founded in 2007, the Pink Boots Society aims to elevate and assist women in the beer world through education, including seminars and scholarships; through September 2020, the Society had awarded 129 scholarships. While the primary focus is on the brewing industry, the Society recently awarded 11 women with a scholarship to the New Mexico State University’s course for brewing and distilling in Belgium and the Netherlands, where the students would learn about both types of alcohol production. A variety of scholarships are offered four times a year and are open to members only ($25-$45 a year or $350 to be a lifetime member). Recipients are required to pass on what they learn through articles, presentations, or seminars within six months of course completion. This “Pay It Forward” component is often performed at chapter meetings.

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