The distilling dream

Drexel grad Travis Scott reflects on his first year at his dream job at local distillery

By Samantha Bambino

The Times

For most millennials, graduating college is stressful. The race to find a job before student loans kick in is all too real, but young people don’t want any old 9–5. They want something they’re passionate about, something that makes them feel they’re making a difference in the world. When Travis Scott graduated from Drexel University last year, luck was on his side, and he’s now living the whiskey dream at Dad’s Hat Rye in Bristol.

A perfect mix: Travis Scott, who graduated from Drexel University with a degree in chemical engineering, now works as a “distillery assistant” at Dad’s Hat Rye in Bristol. PHOTO: MIKE PRINCE

At 8 years old, Scott was introduced to the world of alcohol production as he watched his dad launch the business Fermentation Station, which sold home brewing equipment and provided him the opportunity to witness how beer and wine were made. The interest blossomed throughout the years, and when it was time for Scott to choose a major at Drexel, he selected the accelerated BS/MS in chemical engineering, which combined his strengths of math and chemistry.

Once Scott turned 21 and was able to legally consume alcohol, he knew he was meant to be in the field. While enjoying the drinks, he couldn’t help but wonder how they were made. During his five-year program, he completed three co-ops to give him exposure to different aspects of chemical engineering, including one with the Philadelphia Water Department as a water-quality monitoring instrument technician, another with AGC Chemicals working with industrial paints as well as six months at Arkema working with fluoropolymer fibers.

When senior year arrived, Scott still had that love for alcohol production in the back of his mind, and decided to apply for a “distillery assistant” position with Dad’s Hat Rye which he found on the job board Dragon Jobs. While busy completing his senior design project, he was offered the job.

“At first I thought, what’s the point in stressing over the project? But then I remembered the job is contingent on graduating,” he laughed.

Though Scott is a resident of Point Breeze, his dad is from Bucks County and his aunts and uncles live in Bristol, so the borough was already like a second home. Dad’s Hat was founded in 2010 by Cooper and Herman Mihalich, fraternity brothers and graduates of the University of Pennsylvania. Their products have gained a multitude of awards over the past few years, and they were excited to bring Scott on board. Despite the fact that his co-ops weren’t specifically in alcohol production, he was able to apply those experiences to the field.

“We liked Travis’ enthusiasm and the fact that he possessed the skills necessary to be a distiller the moment we met him,” Mihalich said. “I was distilling by myself most days, so gaining an assistant who possesses a master’s degree in chemical engineering was a dream come true. Travis has progressed very nicely since joining us, and the fact that he loves what he’s doing comes through in our whiskey.”

Working at a distillery is far from your average desk job. Each day, Scott is directly involved in the production of the whiskey, grinding the grains and working to keep up with the fast pace of production. Though he is constantly busy and on his feet for the most part, he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I never thought I’d be working in producing liquor or beer, but in the back of my mind I hoped that I would,” he said. “So much of this is physical and so much is mental. There’s a lot of math and chemistry involved. There’s a bunch of heavy lifting. The best part is that with my previous jobs, I never got to see the results. With this job, I get to see and taste everything.”

When Scott tells people what he does for a living, the reactions range from excitement to disbelief that his employer won Whiskey Advocate’s Craft Whiskey of the Year. The conversations immediately turn to discussing the distilling process and asking for recommendations on if the whiskey should be drunk straight or mixed into a cocktail. While Scott personally always enjoyed whiskey, it didn’t take much to get his family and friends on board.

“They love it,” he said. “I can’t remember ever hearing anything negative from a first-timer.”

Though Scott has grown tremendously during his first year with Dad’s Hat, there is still room for growth and new goals he wants to tackle, including a certification in distilling from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling in the United Kingdom and education on other types of alcohol, including beer, wine, rum, vodka and gin.

If someone told Scott a few years ago that he would be a distillery production supervisor for an award-winning craft whiskey brand, he would’ve called them crazy. But he was able to turn his dream into a reality, and is grateful to be living out his passion at only 24 years old. As for current college students who may be trying to figure out their career path, Scott recommends testing the waters with as many internships or co-ops as possible.

“I had time to try all different types of jobs to see what I liked,” he said. “Once you graduate and get a full-time job, you’re stuck there until you get a new one.” ••

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com