DISCUS Academy, training leaders in distilling

A collaborative effort between the James B. Beam Institute for Kentucky Spirits, the Gatton College of Business and Economics at the University of Kentucky and the DISCUS Academy is an opportunity for stakeholders in the distilled spirits industry to reassess their business leadership skills. The James B. Beam Institute is housed in the Martin-Gatton College of Agriculture, Food and Environment.

The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) is a group of professionals dedicated to advocating legislative, regulatory and public affairs issues impacting the distilled spirits industry. In 2021, DISCUS developed the DISCUS Academy to give more people the opportunity to learn what it takes to run a distillery.

“The Institute is grateful for the opportunity to bring more distilling education to the heart of the industry, Lexington,” said Seth DeBolt, director of the Beam Institute. “Understanding more about production and the artisan nature of this work is very important in meeting your consumer where they are.” 

DISCUS Academy participants can take courses ala carte or earn a specialty certificate in various subject domain areas of the spirits industry. The Gatton College of Business and Economics offers the leadership development portion of managing organizational culture, strategic planning, competitor analysis, change management and motivation at work.

Hector Martinez, lecturer at the Gatton College of Business and Economics, leads the course Managing Organizational Culture, and has specifically tailored it to the bourbon distillery/spirits industry.

“We have an advantage as we are located right here in Lexington, which is in the bourbon capital of the world,” said Martinez. “We create the course content by going on-site, interviewing, and highlighting real distillery and spirit professionals and their organizations. The course focuses on having students craft a cultural conversation by providing onboarding interactions with newcomers from their first day on the job -- up to 3 months.”

DISCUS Academy students learn from across the United States, and the content is relevant to their industries. Students that have participated in the program are employed by companies including Jägermeister, McBride Sisters, Song Dog Spirits, Banff Hospitality Collective, Diageo, Drizly, Hotel Tango Distillery, Campari and Beam Suntory.

“I am thrilled to strengthen our relationship with the James B. Beam Institute for Kentucky Spirits and our partners across campus,” said Brad Patrick, Executive in Residence for the Gatton College of Business and Economics. Beyond our support for people in the distilleries and brands, our collaboration that extends to suppliers and vendors is noteworthy. Business education and practices play a critical role in successfully operating a distillery. Our researchers and educators enjoy supporting spirits industry leaders.”