people I shared it with said it was too polarizing, that most people weren’t going to like it, so it was so satisfying when it got the response it did. I feel deep pride about creating that whiskey, but it wasn’t just me, of course.
OK, how about a low point that you overcame? Oh boy, there have been so many. The week I quit my day job was the week of Hurricane Sandy, and we had two feet of water at King’s County distillery. It ruined a lot of equipment. As I’m cleaning all of this water out of distillery, I remember wondering if this business was even going to exist later, and wondering what I’d done with my life. I still didn’t know how the consulting work was going to go. It felt like a huge amount of uncertainty. The two years after that were probably the hardest time for me in this industry. There were months I couldn’t pay my rent. I had to borrow to cover my living expenses, at a time when most of my peers are collecting a salary and contributing to their 401ks. That was scary.
Can you tell us a little about how you approach the challenges of balancing your vision for product quality with market demands and commercial realities? I don’t think any distillery is exempt from having to manage those challenges. You have the ambition to create a whiskey you care passionately about, but you can only work with the whiskey you have. Part of sustainability is keeping the doors open. Quality is first when you’re making a decision, but it’s not the only consideration. You also have to consider broader ambitions about ethics, your legacy, whether a choice is good for the brand, whether it’s sustainable for the business, and whether it helps to improve profits. You have to consider all the elements. It doesn’t matter how perfectly beauti-
ful your whiskey is if you can’t stay in business. And I don’t resent that. That’s just the real world. There’s no business exempt from those conditions unless your source of money is endless. Most of us are not that lucky.
You’ve been really involved in legislative efforts. Why is it important to you to engage on that level? I’ve always believed that people negotiating in groups are stronger than people negotiating separately. This industry is very heavily regulated, and faces a lot of legal challenges. Legislative work seemed like the most impactful area I could focus on to help the industry be healthy and have the potential for longevity. And part of it is just selfish. I want to work in this industry forever. I need there to be an industry for that to work. If I’ve learned
anything from the past 10 years, it’s that you have no idea where you’re going to end up, so it’s in our best interest to make this industry healthy. With the Federal Excise Tax, there were moments that we weren’t sure that would ever be remotely possible. But the day it happened, there were literally thousands of distilleries that went from being not profitable, to being profitable. I know the minutia of stuff like rulemaking and TTB labeling feels really wonky, but it’s areas like that that can have a massive impact on what we’re allowed to sell, the information we can communicate to consumers, and the idea of regional styles or designations.
What do you like so much about being a distiller? I like that it really sits at the crossroads of rigorous hard science and
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