Heather is the owner of Syntax Spirits, a craft distillery in Colorado. she made the transition from engineer to distillery owner over the past few years, and sat down with me to talk about her journey and what inspired her to pursue this career.
What is your job title?
You know, that’s funny. That’s changed a lot. Over the last couple years, when we first started I wasn’t actually comfortable saying that I own the company, or I run the company, but now that I’m kind of settled into the role, I usually say owner. And that’s how I feel about it these days. But it’s kind of funny to me though that I wouldn’t have thought that was much of a thing, but it was in my head at the time.
That takes a lot of responsibility.
Exactly. It was a kind of a like, okay, I really do do this for a living.
Well, tell me a little bit about it. How would you describe what it is that you do?
You know, I hardly ever do the same thing twice. And that’s one of the cool things about the job, and that’s one of the hard things. I started out basically being a construction worker for the better part of a year, and then I had the transition into figuring out how to run a business, how to do marketing, sales. Kind of just do everything around here, ‘cause it’s really just two of us, at the distillery full time, just me and a junior partner, the distiller, Ryan. We pretty much have to wear all the hats. We can be making vodka one day, tending bar that evening, going out and doing sales later, manning festivals. It’s kind of crazy. But there’s all the phone calls and getting materials in, getting pricing for labels. It’s so many different things all the time.
So you wouldn’t say that you have a typical day.
The only typical day I felt like I had lately was a day where something stupid happened again, just when I thought I was going to get a break.
How much of the time do you think you spend actually making the vodka vs. all of the marketing and things like that?
I spend actually virtually no time anymore making the vodka. Ryan has pretty much taken that over completely. It’s to the point where I help him out if he wants to go somewhere or do something else – I still know how to do it, but I don’t do it day to day anymore.
Would you say that your job is solitary or collaborative?
Very collaborative. I think [because] I’m doing so many things all that time that I’ve never done before, that it’s really important for me to go to Ryan or my partner Jeff and talk things over, because I have to make so many decisions every day. A lot them I’ll make myself, but it’s really important to me to get that sanity check on a lot of this stuff, because I’m always worried that I didn’t think it through in every way. And they often come up with great ideas or great compromise positions. I tend to be doing so many things at a time that I don’t always have the bandwidth to think everything through as well as I could. So that’s where those guys help me out.
What’s the best part of your job?
There are one or two really good parts. One is never doing the same thing every day. I used to get really bored in my corporate life when things got routine. So that’s really cool. Another thing that’s really cool is actually making a product that people like. That’s the big gratification; talk to people,and [they say], this stuff is really good, your branding’s really cool. That’s the external good part. And the internal good part is just that I’m always learning and doing new stuff.
What’s the worst part?
It’s the constancy of it. It’s never being able to take a break, because if I’m not sitting here doing it, it’s not getting done. I would dearly love right now to have two weeks off, but it’s not going to happen any time soon.
Is there something in particular that you think someone in your type of job has got to enjoy doing, and that if they don’t enjoy doing this thing they should just avoid this job?
Paperwork. You can’t hate paperwork and records and numbers in this job. I think a lot of people go into it like, oh, I want to start a distillery because I like booze and I like making it, it’s fun. And that’s great, but it tends to be a very small part of the actual running of the business. You have to be willing to send 30 emails a day, and make a lot of phone calls, or talk to lots of different people.