Becoming a Whisky Communicator

Last week, I enjoyed my first visit to Leiper’s Fork Distillery, a beautiful facility located only 15 minutes away from my home in Franklin, Tennessee (if you’re ever visiting TN and want to make distillery visits, LFD is a must-see!)

How does a whisky distillery work? Well, to over-simplify the process – raw materials (grains, water, yeast) are mixed together and ferment in large tanks or tubs (Leiper’s Fork goes old school with large wooden tubs, seen at left in the photo). Then, the resulting “mash” is distilled at high temperatures in order to extract the purified alcoholic spirits (typically in an elaborate still like the copper setup in the middle). Finally, the spirits are aged in barrels for a period of years to smooth out the rough edges and impart unique flavors.

There are other details and steps, but that’s the basic sequence. A master distiller refines a large, bubbling cauldron of mash into a clear, high-proof liquid.

I often mention to people that great communications – sales, marketing, referrals, internal comms – is all about distillation. Taking the raw materials of ideas and words, and refining them to 100-proof clarity. Anybody can throw a load of raw materials into a tub. They may even be really good ingredients. But they’re not human-ready until they’ve gone through a process of filtering and distillation.

I met recently with a company that has a long track record of business success. That’s the “mash.” Our challenge was distilling all that great raw material down to a succinct message. That’s clarity. It didn’t take a few minutes – it took an entire day!

The great writer Mark Twain was all about brevity and clarity in writing. He understood the work that goes into distilling: “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a longer one instead.”

Much of our writing, and speaking, is stuck at the mash level. Good stuff; but not ready for human consumption. People can’t really get our message unless we distill it for them. High-proof words, well-seasoned, stand out in a noisy marketplace.

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