Our group recently had the privilege of participating in a Q&A with Jim Rutledge; Master Distiller at Four Roses distillery. I found Jim's answers to be very informative and detailed. I thought it would be interesting to share some of his answer to the questions we posed. Jim brings a long history in the distilling business so I hope you enjoy these posts as much as I enjoyed participating in the Q&A.
Q: Can you tell us what your early years were like? Where did you start at Seagrams? How did they teach you the trade? What is the education process like now for young people getting into the craft of distilling whiskey?
JR: My first day at Seagram was November 14, 1966. I can still recall to this day the emotions I felt as I walked through the gates and headed back to Seagram's R and D Department. Most new hires got their start in the control lab - analyzing fermenters at different ages for sugar and alcohol content, learning the methods to propogate yeast.
My first job was running mini-gin stills. I distilled all the botanicals used in gin production. After distillation I began to learn to use my organoleptic senses to analayze and accept/reject botanicals based on smell and taste. (I think everything back then smelled and tasted the same to me - at first - but it was the beginning.) I later worked under experienced managers and supervisors in various operating departments. In my stints as a distillery shift supervisor I learned under Jules Kahn (distiller) and two of his key supervisors eventually became master distillers - Bill Freil (Barton) and Ed Foote (United.) It was crazy back in those days and I think about 70% of new hires left the business within the first year, and most of them moved directly into supervisory positions at other distilleries. I fell in love with Seagram and the Bourbon business and knew I'd found a home - hopefully for a lifetime. As with most of life a lot of luck and being in the right place at the right time seems to have been my good fortune. I was Very Fortunate when I was transferred back home to Kentucky in 1992 (from New York corporate office) and I've been living a dream come true ever since. Seagram hired numbers of people and hoped to find and keep the ones they believed had potential. Today a "person" is hired based on qualifications to fill a specific position. Often times these people are bogged down in one area. I don't agree with the Seagram philosophy back in the `60's but the ones who survived the initial training and assingments in operating departments generally had a good chance at success. By the early `70's Seagram had slowed down the numbers of people hired to move into training slot.