From Student to Instructor: Meet Craft Brewing and Distilling Graduate Luke Jean

Thursday, October 1, 2020

After spending time in the Army, Luke Jean started his career journey at Starbucks, but quickly learned he wasn’t chasing his passion. While he didn’t stay in the coffee industry, one thing he took away from Starbucks is sensory analysis skills. He’s tweaked what he learned in their Coffee Masters program and now applies it to spirits. “I’ve since learned how to lead tastings, how to do pallet cleansings, and other things that are useful in distilling,” said Luke, a graduate of SPSCC’s inaugural Craft Brewing & Distilling program.

He was drawn to the coffee company because he’s always wanted to experience the best products possible. The idea of tasting the best coffee—or the best spirit he could find—quickly morphed into wanting to learn how those products were made. Then once he went down that path, he branched off into other areas.

“I felt if I’m seeking out the best, then how do I get into learning the process of making it?” Luke recalled.

He found that opportunity when he landed a job at Heritage Distilling Co. in Gig Harbor. He spent nearly two years at Heritage and, in February 2020, he left his sales role and ventured into the entrepreneurial space. He’s now in the planning stage of beginning his own distillery—Balance Distilling Company—as well as doing consulting work for other brands’ product development.

Homesteading in the heart of bourbon country

During his time at Heritage, Luke moved to Kentucky to be closer to family; he traveled to the Olympia area for quarterly in-person classes and labs. He lives with his wife and daughter outside of Bowling Green, Kentucky, in the tiny town of Smith’s Grove and consider themselves homesteaders. They have a farm full of animals, including seven horses, seven chickens, nine ducks, four dogs, four cats, and a cow.

Besides distilling, an additional hobby he’s getting into is craft home brewing. Luke says it’s not something he wants to pursue professionally but sees the value in developing transferrable skills to stay sharp as a distiller. Ultimately, he knows he wants to be on the creative, production, and operations side of the business.

“I loved working in sales, it’s a great learning piece of the business, but I have more of a heart for creating and distilling.”

Returning to SPSCC

These days, that heart for creating looks like equipment and logo design—and finding funding for his distilling business. Luke is also passing his industry and distilling knowledge along through teaching.

For the Fall Quarter, Luke has returned to SPSCC to co-teach Hops and Spices, one of the core ingredients classes for the program, as well as assisting in the instruction of distilling craft spirits.  Another role he’s filling is through facilitating growth in the distilling side of the program by seeking out other professionals in the craft spirits world to speak to SPSCC students.

For now, he’s teaching remotely, but he’s excited for the day when he can instruct from a more hands-on approach.

 “In the future I hope to be able to lead hands-on instruction as a part of the weekend instruction sessions, as well as mentoring students through their capstone product development projects.”

Luke in front of distilling tanks
Alumni Luke Jean began his distilling career at Heritage Distilling Co. in Gig Harbor, but left the company in Feb. 2020 to pursue entrepreneurship and teaching.