Kath, owner and distiller of Proof Artisan Distillers, has had a complicated relationship with potatoes—he knows the fights and flourishes of them. However, there are definitely regional benefits to using potatoes—they are abundant in the area and the utilization of this produce supports local farmers. Still, there are caveats when it comes to potatoes, as Kath explains: “Potatoes are painful.” In the fresh state there is a lot of potential bacteria. And they can gel up and become impossible to work with—It’s like ballistic gel,” he groans. “You can start from flake, but that’s expensive. There are a lot less potato flakes out there from processing plants. We’re hooked up with some plants that have a potato starch product. Timing is key. We get the product fresh, the day of production. At 20% plus moisture content, it can go rancid in a hurry and that unpleasant flavor will carryover. It’s like a cornstarch if you will, but it’s a potato starch. We cook it, enzyme it, and ferment it in a 600 gallon tank—and it’s a slow and painful four week fermentation.” And that’s not the only issue. When you ferment something that long, there are potential hazards: “If it goes bad, it’s going to carry over into the vodka. We have to use the same sanitation as the breweries.” This is a lot of work. Distilleries can often be more forgiving about their sanitation than breweries and wineries— but not so when distilling potatoes. With something fermenting for multiple weeks, lots can go wrong if you’re not careful. Beyond all the headaches that come with using potatoes, Kath is happy with his decision to be unique, to support local farmers, and to do something not quite as normal in North America when it comes to craft distilling. He also has seen the benefit of using a different type of produce as it appeals to the taste of those that may not be attracted to grain alcohols. “We often get ‘I don’t like gin, but I like this.’ We’re forming new fans of new American style gin. People get very excited about seeing this and tasting this.” Kath has taken this enthusiasm and crafted classes that teach consumers how to distill—which has the added benefit of building a self-sustaining consumer base and fan club. Proof Artisan Distillers is not just crafting potatobased gin. They distill a coffee and a cream liqueur, aquavit, cinnamon flavored whiskey, an Old Tom, bourbon, a newly released 2 Year Blended Bourbon Whiskey, and American Malt Whiskey. The botanical base, which is flavored with orris root, juniper berries, and other traditional herbs and spices, is very sweet and citrusy: “We’re not intending for a London Dry or a martini gin.”
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