Late last month the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States announced a new initiative called DISCUS Academy. If you count yourself as a casual consumer, you could be forgiven for not having heard of this organization before. After all, DISCUS performs much of its work behind the scenes. Yet you surely have been affected by some of their work. The Council represents the biggest brands in the liquor industry. Most of the time, they’re lobbying politicians on the state and federal level to modernize outdated laws—say, the inability to purchase liquor on Sundays—and to adopt favorable tax policy.
With DISCUS Academy, they’re veering in a more public-facing direction—actively courting prospective entrepreneurs into the sector. For those looking to break through in the spirits industry, it promises training and support in key subject areas including leadership development, sales and marketing, laws and regulation, as well as safety and risk management. The online curriculum was developed in partnership with Cornell University and will be available to DISCUS members and non-members alike.
A brief survey of upcoming courses reveals a litany of necessary know-how: Fire Protection Best Practices; Foundation on the 3-Tier System; Developing a Understanding Financial Statements & Cash Flow Management—to name but a few. It’s a first-of-its-kind service for the industry. And it comes at a time when when craft distilleries are facing unprecedented challenges. To learn more about the initiative and why it came together now, I sat down with Sarah Fitzmaurice, who heads resource planning and management for DISCUS. Her answers are below.
Where did the idea for DISCUS Academy originate?
When we were looking for the next opportunity to unite the spirits industry, we noticed there was a lot of education around the production of spirits but not a lot of education in key areas that support the success of the overall industry.
Why is it happening now?
With the challenges the hospitality industry is facing with the pandemic, it is important now more than ever to provide spirits businesses with the resources they need to be successful.
U.S. restaurants and bars lost more than 5 million jobs at the start of the pandemic, and by the end of 2020 more than 2 million jobs still have not been recovered. This is a devastating loss for the hospitality industry. We think DISCUS Academy provides an opportunity to grow the talent pool for the industry with displaced on-premise workers looking to enter the spirits sector.
Why is now the right time for success?
Over the past year, people have become increasingly comfortable with bringing the classroom into their homes as a result of the pandemic. This expansion of virtual learning has made education more accessible and convenient for working professionals.
Is DISCUS planning an accreditation program as part of DISCUS Academy in the future?
While there is nothing in the works yet, we will be considering accreditation in the future. Our primary goal is to continue to improve and grow DISCUS Academy to develop an innovative workforce for the spirits industry.