In December 2022, we welcomed Cáit Baxter to Ahascragh Distillery as Distillery Manager. Cáit has been working in the industry since 2014, starting her whiskey journey at Teeling Distillery, Dublin. Since then, Cáit has worked in nearly every facet of the industry; bar, tours, retail, sales, bottling & distilling. Her most recent role was Senior Distiller at Dingle Distillery. To mark International Women’s Day, we chatted to Cáit about her time in the industry and what it’s like to be a Woman in Whiskey.
Tell us about your journey to becoming Distillery Manager at Ahascragh Distillery?
I studied Gaeilge agus Gnó in DCU. When I left college, at the time, there were very few jobs in my field. My brother was working in the automation side of distilleries and breweries. He mentioned that there was a job in a new Dublin distillery, Teeling’s. I had never drank whiskey before and didn’t know the first thing about it. However, I had such a passion for all things Irish including the language, that it’s not surprising how fast I fell for Irish whiskey. I loved the history and wanted to be part of the renaissance.
I worked my way up to Tour Manager at Teeling but I was constantly sneaking out the back, chatting and learning from the distillers. I soon realised that I wanted to be part of the distilling facet of the industry. I contacted Dr Jack O’Shea, an Irish Whiskey veteran and a tutor at the Institute of Brewing and Distilling. I completed the course and received my certification. From there, I worked as Manager in Celtic Whiskey Bar, Killarney, and L Mulligan Whiskey Shop, Dublin, until I finally started my first real distilling job at Dingle Distillery. I worked for 4 years in their manual distillery, learned the pipework, digging out the mash by hand. It was great experience. I heard about Ahascragh Distillery and the role through a friend of mine and here I am! I’m really grateful and excited for the opportunity.
Ahascragh Distillery is doing things differently, using renewable energy and a heat pump system. How will this impact your job as Distillery Manager?
This will elevate my knowledge to a whole new level. The system has been used in other industries but it has never been done in the distilling world. I’m excited to get to work with such a modern and innovative system. It’s very different from what I am used to but that makes it all the more exciting. I really hope it will inspire other distilleries in Ireland to follow suit.
What are you most looking forward to in this role?
I am looking forward to getting stuck in. At the moment, we’re gearing up for commissioning but I can’t wait to start distilling. I’m responsible for every drop of liquid that comes from the distillery so I’m looking forward to our first distillation. I’m really excited to get to share what we’re doing. The first visitor tours should walk through the doors this Summer and we get to show off our gorgeous stills and the exciting technology. It’s also great to see some vibrancy in the village of Ahascragh and I’m looking forward to watching that grow when we welcome visitors.
Will there be any challenges along the way?
The heat pump system is completely new to me and everyone. I don’t have a science or engineering background, but I learn on the job. What’s great about the whiskey industry is that you’re only ever a phone call away from someone who is willing to help. It’s a very supportive community so I know I’m not alone.
What are the challenges and opportunities available to a female distiller?
I think attitudes have really changed in the whiskey world. We know that female distillers can do the job but we are also becoming more aware that we bring different skill sets and perspectives to the industry. Working as a distiller has certainly given me a thicker skin. People still find it funny when they see me bopping around in a fork lift or heaving casks around. I can see the changes happening and would encourage more women to look at it as an exciting opportunity. Regardless of gender, background, size or whatever, it’s about seeing something you want to do and just going for it.
What’s your favourite style of Irish Whiskey?
Pot Still and Peated Whiskey.
What’s your favourite expression from Ahascragh Distillery’s Family Bond series?
I love the Clan Colla 11.
The wisp of smoke on the tip of your tongue, reminds me of my granny lighting turf fires, even in the summer. It has a lovely mouthfeel and long finish.
What would be your desert island dish and drink?
Drink: Clan Colla 20 Year Old PX
Meal: A lamb ragù… with a side of mayonnaise.