Known as a groundbreaker and badass Master Distiller, Nicole Austin has co-founded two craft distilling trade organizations and is making strides by helping put Tennessee whiskey back on the bourbon map.
Having gained her degree in Chemical Engineering from Manhattan College in 2006, her initial goal was to become the next Erin Brockovich – saving the environment and taking down evil polluters. Turns out though, her heart wasn’t in massive waste management infrastructure or scaled engineering projects. While out on a date, the bartender started talking about distilling, and her attention was immediately captured. Austin speaks on how it was a momentous shift in her mindset as “it was completely obvious that was what I was meant to do.”
It was in 2011 (at 27yrs old) that she landed her first industry job – as Kings County Distillery’s Master Blender. She distilled a rye that won double gold at the 2015 San Francisco World Spirits Competition and was one of the first to prove that craft producers could make quality product. She then went on to work with the “founding father” of craft distilling, Dave Pickerell, which she likened to a “crash course” in American craft distilling. It held her in good stead, as in 2016 she joined William Grant & Sons as the commissioning engineer for Tullamore D.E.W. Irish whiskey.
She helped found the New York State Distillers Guild and the American Craft Spirits Association. Not only that, but she has worked to get the federal excise tax (FET) reduced as part of the Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act. Her work has saved the industry hundreds of millions of dollars…WOW!!! Looks like she got her Brockovich moment after all – carving out the FET by a 5th. She even has the bill number tattooed on her arm.
In 2018 she moved on to Cascade Hollow Distilling Company – home of George Dickel, where her first innovation, a George Dickel Bottled-in-Bond (BIB) 13yr Old Tennessee Whiskey, won both Whiskey of the Year from Whisky Advocate and “Best Buy” in Wine Enthusiast’s Top 100 Spirits of 2019. Her decision to do a BIB stems from her roots in craft distilling – she’s bringing her craft way of thinking to industrial scale distillation.
Nicole Austin is an impressive figure in the distilling world, and her focus on community, collaboration, and sustainability are inspiring, to say the least.