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WRITTEN BY JEFF CIOLETTI PHOTOGRAPHY BY BREANNE FURLONG
t’s not often that you hear distillers say they started producing whiskey as the more economical alternative to their core spirit. But when that core distillate is fruitbased, that’s quite often the case. From a supply-chain perspective, most fruits are far more fleeting and volatile raw materials than grain. Sure, you often have to wait years for your grain-based spirit to come of age in barrels before it can qualify as more marketable styles of whiskey, but from a procurement perspective, there are fewer headaches associated with sourcing grain. “The thing that really surprised me is that [making brandy] is challenging in just about every aspect,” says Andy Garrison, head distiller at Stone Barn Brandyworks in Portland, Oregon. As you’d probably surmise from its name, Stone Barn Brandyworks opened, in 2009, as a maker of eaux de vie — particularly German-style spirits made from 100 percent fruit. In 2011, Stone Barn started making whiskey, mainly due to the restrictive seasonality of fruit. “To make fruit brandy, it’s essential that it has to be fresh fruit, just for the sake of quality and volume,” Garrison says, who distills brandy from apples, pears, cherries, plum, quince and other fruits. “If you get processed fruit, it’s not going to make the best brandy, plus it’s really expensive. You’re usually going to get something that’s going to be a glut or surplus and that means processing it at the height of the seasons.” He notes that, despite the bountiful fruit crops in the Pacific Northwest, nothing’s being harvested between January and May. WWW.ART ISANSP IRITMAG.COM
When compared with grain spirits, the raw material, production, and supply chain needs are immense for brandy makers.
You could get apples and pears out of cold storage, but, while stored, their quality and aromatics start to degrade over time. “Whiskey is just easier to manage, the volume of materials, the processing of it,” he says. “It takes between 500 and 800 pounds of grain to make a barrel of whiskey,” Garrison points out, but it takes anywhere from about 6,000 to 10,000 pounds of fruit—depending on the type of fruit—to make brandy. Fruit is also on the low end as far as sugar content goes. Most varieties of fruit are between 10 and 20 percent fermentable sugar, while grain, once saccharified, can pack between 55 and 82 percent sugar. “If you imagine eating a pound of apples, it would be boring, but you can still do it and probably eat dinner afterwards,” Garrison notes. “If you eat a pound of
bread, that would be it, you’d be satiated and full.” A ton of cherries, he explains, yields about 42 liters of pure alcohol (LPA), whereas, a ton of barley yields about 450 LPA for the average Scotch whisky distiller. There’s also an incredibly narrow time window to get fruit into fermenters once it’s been harvested. Scott Blackwell, cofounder and head distiller of Charleston, South Carolina’s High Wire Distilling Co. recalls one of his early forays into brandy distilling. “A friend approached us about using
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