Professional News

UK alumna named 1st head distiller of James B. Beam Institute for Kentucky Spirits

Glenna Joyce
Glenna Joyce is the first-ever head distiller at UK’s James B. Beam Institute for Kentucky Spirits. Photo by Matt Barton.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (May 13, 2024) — The University of Kentucky James B. Beam Institute for Kentucky Spirits has named its first head distiller – Glenna Joyce.  As head distiller, she will oversee all aspects of spirit production at the Institute.

Joyce’s career in distilling began immediately after receiving her undergraduate degree in biochemistry from Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. A professor referred her to Upstate Distilling Company, a craft distillery not far from her school.

Joyce worked at Upstate Distilling for over two years, soaking up knowledge like a sponge. Craft distilleries, like Upstate Distilling, not only put out a smaller number of spirits than their larger counterparts, but also have much smaller staffs. Joyce was involved in shipping and receiving, loading grains, checking fermentations, running the still, making batch notes and even running their tasting room as a tour guide.

“I was thrown into the deep end, but it made me learn a little bit of everything,” Joyce said. “It helped me learn not to get overwhelmed when things go wrong. No task or detail is too small for us to look into, and every piece of the puzzle matters.”

Food science and nutrition always interested Joyce, but it wasn’t until she began applying for graduate programs that she realized her passion. She applied to UK in 2018, excited about the possibility of learning more about distilling through the Distilling, Wine and Brewing certificate program in the Martin-Gatton College of Agriculture, Food and Environment.

“UK was attractive to me because the focus wasn’t just on brewing or wine, which is what a lot of other universities offer,” Joyce said.

Joyce was accepted to UK and began to work in the lab of Rachel Schendel, assistant professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences. Finally, she was able to fully devote herself to food and beverage science.

At the time, Beam Institute Research Director Brad Berron was teaching his bourbon engineering class. Joyce appreciated the accessibility of the course, as she was not required to be an engineering student to participate.

After the semester finished, Joyce did her best to stay in touch with Berron and Beam Institute Director Seth DeBolt. While she felt her commitment may come off as bothersome, it had the opposite effect.

In early 2021, Berron offered Joyce the role of education coordinator. This entailed running the Beam Institute’s apprenticeship program, designed for employees of Suntory Global Spirits distilleries (formerly known as Beam Suntory) to create the best possible work environment for employees, and to learn from professionals across several categories, As employees progress throughout the training, they are eligible for wage increases.

“Glenna flourished in her coursework at UK and in her subsequent education role at the Beam Institute,” said Berron. “We're excited to see her bring her technical training together with all of her prior distilling experience to lead the production at the Beam Institute Distillery.”

Joyce is now the first ever head distiller at UK. She looks forward to collaborating with the Institute team on future projects with fewer financial limits looming overhead.

“Glenna is an excellent communicator and educator; she connects with students and truly listens to them,” DeBolt said. “Not only that, but she has worked with many across the industry, from the distilling team at Suntory Global Spirits to many craft producers. She is the perfect person to be the Beam Institute's first head distiller and inspire the next generation.”

“I give craft distillers so much credit, because they do so much with small staff and small budgets,” Joyce said. “Being at the Beam Institute is exciting because we aren’t necessarily limited by making a profit; the work we do is driven by passion and a desire for innovation.”

As education coordinator at the Institute, Joyce was focused heavily on building curriculum. As head distiller, she is looking forward to increasing the number of batches coming out of the Institute, but also diving back into research.

“We’re the largest teaching and research distillery in the world, so I’m thrilled for the opportunity to learn from the large-scale results and findings we gather,” said Joyce.

This summer, Joyce plans to employ several interns to work with her in the distillery and the lab. To keep up with Beam Institute news, visit

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