500 Barrels … In One Year

Distiller and Mash Men: Alan, Pedro and Mibbs

Distiller and Mash Men: Alan, Pedro and Mibbs

Monday, May 1 was a big day for me and my crew.  The previous Saturday our oldest barrels turned one-year old and on Monday we got to barrel number 500.  500 barrels in one year.  This might seem a large number to some but it is honestly pretty modest, though a fair number, for a small pot-still distiller in its first year of production.

To give you some idea of the statistics in the barrel room as of the end of year one: about 50% is Bourbon of some type, 25% is made up of our two unique rye whiskey mash bills, and the remaining 25% is comprised of other types of whiskey (oat, wheat/potcheen), Apple Brandy, Grape Brandy, Blackberry brandy and a scant few barreling of Aquavit and Absinthe.

Of course, those 500 barrels were not the only spirits produced in our first year.  In fact, far from it.  We also made all of our 6 white spirits, several thousand gallons in fact, of additional unaged spirit.  But those barrels, well truthfully each one of them, means something.  Each barrel represents a lesson learned, another hard-earned dollar and lesson at the end of a hard-fought day.  Each one represents something that I and my team learned about ourselves, each other, our equipment and our ultimate goal in this endeavor.

Despite the length of time I’ve been distilling (since I was 15) and despite the number of gallons I have distilled (here and elsewhere), I can confidently say, I am still learning.  Not only am I still figuring out the eccentricities of my current equipment but I continue to be humbled by the art of distillation itself, I continue to find new and interesting methodologies and production methods.  Each of those barreled spirits has its own color and vibe and its own identity but they also keep evolving as I learn more about my skills and my art and apply what I have learned to the process.

None of this would be possible without my two still hands; Josh (Mibbs) and Stephen (Pedro).  They have become reliable “mash men” over the past year.  Both have started getting a bit of hands on distillation experience and they will one day make fantastic distillers.  Together we persevere in hopes of attaining Ambrosia.

We have also started sampling barrels. It is amazing what just one year in the barrel shows us regarding our whiskey.  Already the transformation from raw spirit to finished product has advanced in leaps and bounds.  It is interesting to note how differently the spirits age in this “Chai” (or cellar-like) room compared to a rickhouse:  soft and subtle and yet powerful and elegant.  That’s what we wanted and intended, to blend and balance barrel with distillate, with grain.  This is our art:  that we don’t rely so much on the barrel to make a good spirit but on the spirit to make a good marriage with the barrel and on the art of the distillation and maturation process to contribute evenly.

We most certainly Respect The Grain

Christopher Lien