alumna’s new job captures “spirit” of love for chemistry
emma miller, ’22, came to rockhurst prepared to pursue an undergraduate degree on her way to medical school.
but, like many, the covid-19 pandemic led to soul-searching about whether that was the path for her. a biology major and career in medicine, she said, might not be her calling. but, still loving science, she wondered — what is?
miller said mixology, the production of alcohol, and how flavors interact on the chemical level has long been an interest, something she learned a little more about when she worked on the restaurant side of a distillery. but it was her experience as a chemistry major at rockhurst that really pointed her on the path to later joining one of the largest distilleries in the world.
“i had an incredible internship that paula morehouse, (ph.d., instructor of chemistry) led me to at the brewkery (a kombucha facility) in north kansas city,” she said. “that really solidified how much i enjoy the process of fermentation and what can come of it. it wasn’t until that organic chemistry lab that the spark really ignited for distilled spirits.”
interest in all things ethanol only grew from there. she would take a chemistry and economics of beer and wine course at rockhurst and begin working for j. rieger and co., a kansas city based company, a role in which she was directly involved with the production of the company’s range of spirits.
“working at j. rieger really propelled me forward in my career,” she said. “it was all hands-on, physical work, so you really had to understand what was happening and when for everything to flow smoothly.”
outside of the classroom or work, she said, she dabbled in brewing her own beer and kombucha. all that work and practice opened up paid off when miller was on contacted on spring break by diageo, one of the world’s largest producers of alcoholic beverages, asking if she would be interested in a position at the company’s lebanon, kentucky, facility making bulleit bourbon. after a trio of interviews — phone, zoom and in-person — she was hired as a bourbon production expert with the company.
it's a job that requires new skills and the use of new technology. and it has miller drawing on every bit of science she learned at rockhurst — not just the chemistry classes.
“i joke that i have three-fourths of a degree in biomedical physics and that partial degree has come in handy more often than i ever thought it would in the distillery,” she said.