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“There are only two distilleries in Scotland, I believe, that still use fire, and the rest of them have become steam powered,” he explains. “At a certain level you just have to consider that as an option.” Aside from distillation, Spiegel says their open-top fermentations are also inspired by traditional whiskey production. Rather than adopting a sanitary closed-top brewing model for their fermentations, Sonoma County lets the natural yeasts in their building contribute their own signatures to the whiskey. Spiegel says that while distillers who want to make consistent products may not like this technique, he’s a fan of having flavor variability as long as it is intentional and controlled. In the same vein, they also never boil their mash. “We don’t want to make any of the sugars unfermentable,” tells Spiegel. “When we’re cooking our mashes, we’re not trying to make a clean, sterile, universal product, we’re trying to make each batch slightly unique from one to the other.” Spiegel says he and Farber use similar proofing and blending techniques, as well. Both distillers proof their spirits down from barrel to bottle strength gradually, and both have water resting in barrels that they can use for reduction. “We make our fortified water blend by taking a fully-aged whiskey, proofing it down to a much, much lower level, then barreling it again,” Spiegel explains. “You can use that water to proof down the same type of whiskey from barrel strength to bottle strength. This is a very old, kind of Cognac mindset, but what that does is it gives you a much easier way of actually integrating the water into the spirit to proof it down. It doesn’t shock the spirit as much. We have some water resting for two plus years, but usually blend in much younger water.”

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Looking to the Past for the Future When choosing their techniques and equipment, it’s important for distillers to remember how rich and long the history of distillation is, and understand that traditional, trusted techniques have been accepted because they work so well. “You can’t really improve very much on these techniques which have been iterated on and studied and improved over the centuries,” explains Farber. “Those techniques have arisen from centuries of experimentation and they come about because that style is highly appreciated and those techniques are the best techniques by which we can achieve that.” But adopting those classic techniques doesn’t trap the distiller in the past. Instead, by leveraging that long history of experimentation and understanding, Farber believes the possibilities for innovation can actually be increased. “I do think that there’s a huge potential to sort of build on a lot of these classical methods and apply them to our fruits and grains and other things to produce products that are in that same family and of that same quality, and still have a unique regional character,” says Farber. “The more we understand about why these products are the way they are, and have evolved that way over the centuries, the better and easier it is for us to sort of understand how the products that we make differ subtly, and importantly.”

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Profile for Artisan Spirit Magazine

Artisan Spirit: Spring 2017  

The magazine for craft distillers and their fans.

Artisan Spirit: Spring 2017  

The magazine for craft distillers and their fans.