From Scientific Researcher to Master Blender: My Journey in the Global Drinks Industry

Luís França

Production And Quality Manager at Destilatum - Destilaria Portuguesa S.A

Winner of the Scotch Whisky Association Award for the General Certificate in Distilling in 2017.


Discover Luís França's journey into the drinks industry after 10 years as a scientific researcher. The transition across careers has been facilitated by his dedication to continue learning, all underpinned by a solid technical knowledge acquired with the IBD qualifications.    

Tell us about your professional journey: your background and main responsibilities in your current job. 

With a Bachelor Degree in Biochemistry, a Masters in Cell Biology, and a PhD in Biochemistry with a specialisation in Microbiology. I started as analytical scientist in water, food, and environmental quality control analysis and then I worked for 10 years as a scientific researcher in different research institutions. My expertise was on microbial systematics, taxonomy, and molecular ecology. After, I joined Destilatum – Destilaria Portuguesa S.A., a portuguese company dedicated to the production of a wide range of alcoholic beverages, as a production director with the main role of coordinating the development and production of every product. 


Why did you join the drinks industry and what you’d like to achieve in your career in the sector? 

I joined the drinks industry because I wanted to apply the knowledge I gained in scientific research in a productive company. I also wanted to join a market where I would still feel challenged. The opportunity came up and the drinks industry still has me learning every day.  


How would you describe your main professional achievement/s? Can you explain it in a bit of detail? 

As a researcher, I was involved in the isolation and in the phenotypic and genomic characterization of several new microbial species, discovered mainly from extreme environments. My PhD research, which resulted in a dissertation entitled Microbial Diversity and Dynamics of a Groundwater and a Bottled Natural Mineral Water, allowed me to acquire technical and theoretical knowledge on culture-dependent and -independent methods and analysis of large microbiomes. At that time, this study was the most exhaustive investigation on community shifts on natural mineral waters that combined high-throughput culture-independent methods with large-scale culturing. 

As a distiller and/or master blender, I was involved in the creation of several beverages now on the market, most notably a Gin under the brand The Foxtale and an Aperitif named Per Se, which won the 2021 Ultimate Spirits Challenge for the Aperitif category.  


Why did you choose the IBD to take your brewing/distilling qualification? 

I chose IBD because of its certified technical programs and the international recognition of its programs. I wanted to make sure I would get high-quality training and that I had the opportunity to meet experts in the field. 


How did you manage to balance your job and studies at the same time 

My participation on the IBD course was done with the full support of my company and this training was seen as an important part of my job that demands I am updated in terms of knowledge and technical skills. This said, it was only a matter of adapting my work schedule so I could have some time to study. To balance a job and studies at the same time does mean you will add some extra hours to your regular work schedule. But it does pay off. 


What did it mean for you to win the Scotch Whisky Association Award for the General Certificate in Distilling award?

It did mean that my efforts and enthusiasm within this area of knowledge were recognized and that is important.  


What is the most important lesson you have learnt during the preparation of your IBD technical qualification/s and how have you been able to apply it to your daily job? 

Beverages, particularly alcoholic beverages, can be complex to produce, with numerous steps from the processing of raw materials, the production of ethanol by yeast metabolism, the distillation using different equipment and techniques, the blend of different batches and/or the addition of food additives to achieve the right taste, aging and/or storage to the packaging and logistics processes. Through my IBD technical qualification, I have come to understand that attention to detail and quality control throughout each of these steps is essential for a predictable flavour profile and for a successful product. I have been able to apply this to my daily job by ensuring that I pay close attention to all the details of the production process and by enforcing a food safety policy to guarantee that a solid quality control is followed by everyone involved in the production.  


How have your company benefited from the technical knowledge you acquired with the IBD qualification? 

The IBD qualification helped me to take the theoretical knowledge, mind-set and other key skills that I gained through my research experience in academia and apply them to practical scenarios. It helped me understand how things work in real life settings, as well as develop an appreciation for the various operational challenges associated with business. As a result of this training, I was able to bring new insights and approaches into our organization which has allowed us to become more efficient and effective at achieving our goals.  


How has this qualification helped you progress in your career?   

This qualification is a good curricular mark for me since it helps placing me as an expert, within my company and in the market. 


From your personal point of view, which are the main challenges and opportunities that you are facing in your career?  

Personally, some of the biggest challenges include staying up-to-date with new technologies and industry trends. On the other hand, the company is confronted with other challenges that include an increasingly stringent regulatory landscape for the alcohol business and the need to use more and more environmental sustainable raw materials with a great decrease in plastic incorporation. Some of the key opportunities include exploring online resources to gain networking, new knowledge or skillsets.  


Would you recommend to your peers to take an IBD qualification? If yes, can you explain why?

Yes. The course does improve your knowledge of the area and the training is also quite practical and applicable to our job routines. It also allows you to get to know other people from the industry and to establish a few connections. 


Which piece of advice would you like to give to any professional starting now in the industry? 

As a professional starting out in the industry, it is important to always be curious and open minded. Gain knowledge from those who have come before you and learn from their successes as well as their mistakes. Stay up to date on trends, research what your competitors are doing, and read articles related to your work. Problems are the best way to learn something new.  

General Certificate in Distilling

This qualification is for anyone working in technical areas of the spirits industry. You will gain a solid grounding in the science and technology of distillation and develop your knowledge of distilling best practice - vital to becoming a qualified professional distiller.