Open that Bottle...with George Teichroeb
Growing up in the St. Thomas area of rural South Eastern Ontario, George Teichroeb’s dream was to be a motocross racer. His dad had a full-time job and also ran a little farm, with cows, pigs, and chickens. “I started riding motorcycles at the age of five and being on a farm, you had access to a lot of great terrain for off-roading, so I've been riding ever since,” he says.
But life had a different plan for Teichroeb. His parents moved west to Manitoba, and at college in Winnipeg he took a business course with a minor in economics, before moving into the finance realm. “I did a great internship with Canada Safeway in Winnipeg, and then they relocated me to Calgary in ‘93 to their corporate office.”
In 1997 he saw an ad for a ‘bulk analyst’ at a distillery, and was curious. He discovered it meant looking after all the maturing assets and being responsible for the barrels. “There's almost 600,000 barrels, and the concept of aging alcohol just fascinated me,” says Teichroeb. At the time, Alberta Distillers (ADL) were primarily producing bulk alcohol, and he worked with people that traveled the world selling it on the spot market, gaining valuable analytics and inventory management experience.
Teichroeb credits his career success to his mentors. “You surround yourself with people that give you a feeling of not only security, but that you can achieve more.” One distiller took him under his wing, and every Friday spent two hours taking him through operations. “If you have an interest and you’re willing to learn, and if you're a nice guy, they're willing to take the time,” he adds.
When ADL owners, Fortune Brands, were negotiating with Pernod Ricard, Teichroeb joined the mergers and acquisition team. ”We acquired Canadian Club, Maker's Mark, and other companies that overnight took us from eighth in the world to third. So it's a huge jump up - the experience was more valuable than I ever imagined.”
He relocated with the company to Louisville, Kentucky in 2007, and worked for seven years at various Jim Beam facilities. “I loved Kentucky,” says Teichroeb. “The people were great. The weather was great, and being at a facility that size and that old was an entirely different world.” Fred Noe (seventh generation Jim Beam master distiller) was across the hall. “What a generous man to show me the ropes and introduce me to people, and the Samuels family from Maker's Mark was the exact same. There's so many people willing to teach if you're a sponge and want to absorb it.”
Now, ADL are celebrating 75 years, and Teichroeb has been reflecting on the history and heritage. “As general manager I have the luxury of being able to see where we go and how we want to evolve,” he says. ”One goal is a safe environment for employees but it has to be a safe psychological space as well. And it’s inspiring ideas that we never knew people had; we're seeing things happen from people stepping back and going, ”Hey, this is great. My ideas matter.”
So what bottle Teichroeb is saving for a special occasion?
When he was looking after the material inventory in 1978 and 1980 bond, ADL decided to do a special release for Alberta's centennial in 2005. “So this is where for the first time I worked with our sales people, with the lab, with procurement as they're sourcing a special label, and trying to get a sense of how can we put it all together,” he explains.
“What do we want to put out there? What are we looking for when we want to do this? And to watch the 25-year old Alberta Springs come to this stage was fantastic. I felt I was part of the journey. Don't get me wrong, the specialists are the people in the lab and the blenders that formulate it, but to be involved in each of those steps is so valuable. And I said, 'I'll have it on my last day when I leave the whiskey business - or I'll have it on my 25th anniversary.' So next year I'll be having this bottle.”