Artisan Spirit: Summer 2023

Page 27



Summer 2023






A LeTTer FrOm THe eDITOr 10 QuArTerLY GuILD & INDuSTrY rePOrTS 13 Updates from guilds and associations within states, across the nation, and beyond! YOur BrAND & rTDS 27 Brand Buzz with David Schuemann DuNGeONS AND DISTILLerS 31 From the Good Guy Distillers mADe WHere? 35 The complications of using “Made in the USA” on your spirit THe STATe OF THe CrAFT DISTILLING INDuSTrY 38 Part 3: The community viewpoint AmerICAN PeAT 41 Part one: Sustainable traditions COPPer CrOW DISTILLerY 46 Beyond the Bottom Line DeLTA DIrT DISTILLerY 51 of Helena, Arkansas A DuAL PurPOSe 56 Southern Distilling Company is much more than they may seem GIN AND JerKY: A CruCIAL COmBO 62 Big Gin and Neptune Snacks’ collaboration proves there’s nothing fishy about sustainability TeN YeArS OF CrAFT SPIrIT 66 Adapting to growth SHAPING AmerICAN SINGLe mALT AT CeDAr rIDGe 71 Finding the right finish SNAKeS, BOurBON, AND TATTOOS 76 How marketers are introducing an ancient spirit to modern drinkers WHY AN SBA LOAN IS A SmArT CHOICe FOr YOur DISTILLerY PArTNer BuYOuT 81 Exploring exit strategies SeNSOrY THreSHOLDS 83 Do you know yours? OLD-SCHOOL CrAFT 88 Family-owned Vallein Tercinier has independently produced Cognac for nearly 200 years TAKe YOur SPIrITS TO FLAVOrTOWN 93 A closer look at the business of flavored spirits FIre DePArTmeNT ACCeSS 96 Fire and Life Safety Corner ST. PeTerSBurG’S urBANe reNeWAL 98 A growing city and its namesake distillery boost each other’s profile A WHOLe NeW WOrLD 103 FDA regulations for alcohol manufacturers ASTOuNDING ABSINTHe 106 Finding a friend for the notorious spirit SOCIeTY OF SPIrIT 109 A new kind of distilling organization COmmON INFeCTIONS 112 The Destilador Enmascarado shares knowledge and solutions to common challenges in their first appearance THe BIrTH OF BArreLS & BILLeTS 116 The first WoodCraft Bourbon Blender franchise ADVerTISer INDeX 118
from the COVer Black Button Distilling in Rochester, New York. Image by Brian Christensen. See the story on page 66

ISSue 43 /// Summer 2023

PuBLISHer & eDITOr Brian Christensen

CreATIVe DIreCTOr Amanda Joy Christensen


Carrie Dow

Reade A. Huddleston, MSc.

Jason Barrett

Kris Bohm

Jana Caracciolo

Corey Day

Sailor Guevara

Doug Hall

Jake Holshue


Reade A. Huddleston, MSc.

Paul Hughes, Ph.D.

Amanda Joy Christensen

Brian Christensen

Carrie Dow

Eliesa Johnson

Timo Marshall

Nikolai Morse

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Gabe Toth, MSc.

Devon Trevathan

Megan Patz

Rich Manning

Jeff Quint

Michael T. Reardon, P.E.

David Schuemann

Gary Spedding, Ph.D.

John P. Thomas, II

Bao Vu

Margarett Waterbury

Flavio Pagani

Miguel Ramos

Tracy Sheppard

Margarett Waterbury

Liz Zabel

SALeS & mArKeTING Ashley Monroe

ArTISAN SPIrIT is a quarterly publication by Artisan Spirit Media.

ArtisanSpiritM ArtisanSpiritM

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All contents ©2023. No portion of this magazine may be reproduced without the written consent of the publisher. Neither Artisan Spirit Media nor ArTISAN SPIrIT magazine assume responsibility for errors in content, photos, or advertisements.

While ArTISAN SPIrIT makes every effort to ensure accuracy in our content, the information is deemed reliable but not guaranteed. We urge our readers to consult with professional service providers to meet their unique needs.

At ArTISAN SPIrIT, we take the opportunity to enjoy many different craft spirits and adult beverages. However, it’s also our responsibility, and yours, to always drink responsibly. Know your limit, and never drink and drive.

ArTISAN SPIrIT’s number one goal is to share and celebrate the art and science of artisan craft distilling. But please remember to follow all the laws, regulations, and safety procedures. Be safe, be legal, and we can all be proud of the industry we love.

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Our mission at Artisan Spirit Magazine is to share and celebrate the art and science of artisan craft distilling. We are humbled by the support of our sponsors. With their help, we can further our common goals of supporting creativity, innovation, and integrity within the industry we all love so much.

The American Spirits Exchange is a national importer and distributor serving the alcoholic beverage industry (spirits, wine, and beer). We provide domestic and international companies with access and support to the U.S. market. Regardless of your size — from micro, craft distiller to publicly traded multinational — our focus fuels your growth. Our flagship Foundations™ program provides companies with access to the U.S. market. We handle your business-to-business functions from start to finish: permitting, brand approvals, purchase order processing, invoicing, and compliance.

BSG is focused on supplying craft distillers with the best ingredients from around the world. The craft distilling market trusts BSG to deliver the finest ingredients at competitive prices, without sacrificing customer service. With distilling malts and grains from Rahr Malting Co., Weyermann®, Simpsons, Crisp and Malting Company of Ireland, as well as a full range of yeasts, yeast nutrients, enzymes, botanicals, and finishing products, we have a wide range of distilling ingredients to help you create high quality, artisanal spirits.

Cage and Sons Distilling Systems build premium distillation systems and equipment for premier distilleries. Every element of Cage and Sons equipment is designed and crafted to provide you with the very best distilling experience at an affordable rate because we know that bottom line matters, but so does function. At Cage and Sons, adequate is never an option, and we continue to develop and design new high functioning, cutting-edge distillation systems that enhance the distillation industry. Cage and Sons works every day to bring you the very best distillation systems for the very best value.

For nearly 50 years, CF Napa Brand Design has set the standard for alcohol beverage branding. Led by Owner & Creative Principal David Schuemann for the past 22 years, we focus on translating brand ethos visually, never using a one size fits all approach for projects. The result is a bespoke solution rooted in strategy and, most importantly, a design that sells.

CF Napa’s expertise lies in the intricacies of our process — from project conception to conclusion, our team brings a strategic yet thoughtful eye to every detail. We understand the market and target audiences on a global stage. We balance listening with leading to execute a design that the client loves, and the consumer buys again and again.


The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) is the leading voice and advocate for distilled spirits in the United States. Representing producers and marketers of distilled spirits, DISCUS advocates on legislative, regulatory, and public affairs issues impacting the distilled spirits sector at the local, state, federal, and international levels; promotes the distilled spirits sector, raising awareness and opening markets in the United States and around the globe; and encourages responsible and moderate consumption of distilled spirits as part of a healthy adult lifestyle based on evidence-based research and policy. DISCUS also powers Spirits United, a grassroots platform for the distilled spirits industry. Spirits United is comprised of a community of advocates united with a common goal: to ensure adult consumers can enjoy distilled spirits where they want, how they want, and when they want. Learn more at and

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Lallemand Biofuels & Distilled Spirits is the industry leader in supplying fermentation products and valueadded services to the distilled spirits industry. We specialize in the research, development, production, and marketing of yeast and yeast nutrients as well as a solid belief in education of the distilled spirits industry.

A vital part of the alcohol production process, fermentation products from Lallemand Biofuels & Distilled Spirits have been designed and selected to create value by tailoring objective solutions to distillery needs.

Standing out in a crowded marketplace is an ongoing challenge for wine and spirits producers today. MCC’s experienced team of label engineers take a consultative approach, helping guide your project from inception to finished label. Whether it's an existing design, or a highly embellished new project, we are poised to give your brand the look it deserves. Housing many different printing technologies under one roof allows us to match our passion and expertise to your project, each and every time, without compromise. This ensures that your final packaging always achieves the desired look. With MCC and Fort Dearborn recently joining forces, we are poised to provide all spirits customers with amazing service and quality products.

Moonshine University is located in Louisville, Kentucky on the Beverage Campus with its sister company, Flavorman. Moonshine University offers a variety of classes for enthusiasts, entrepreneurs, industry professionals, and those seeking careers in the distilling industry. Our distillery was designed as part of our classroom, and all classes incorporate hands-on learning and sensory evaluation in order to provide a complete and comprehensive education. In addition to its knowledgeable instructors, Moonshine University hosts a range of renowned industry experts for specialized instruction and training.


Founded in France in 1897 and based in the USA for more than 30 years, Saverglass provides for the premium & super premium spirits and wines. Over the years, the Saverglass Group has distinguished itself by its undeniable quality of glass coupled with innovative decoration techniques. Today, one of Saverglass’ main asset lies on its product offer: 110 original designs and 425 references which represent the largest selection on the market! Thirsty for genuineness, Saverglass has created exclusive bottles dedicated to Artisanal distilleries: The Craft Spirits collection is designed to convey the image of authentic, locally sourced and rare high-quality products. Recently, the Group has strengthened its presence and service offering in the U.S. by opening an ultra-modern bottle manufacturing and decorating plant in North America.

Southern Distilling Company is one of the largest artisan distilleries in the nation. We offer product development, contract distilling (standard and custom mash bill whiskeys, rum, and agave spirits), barrel warehouse aging, batching, blending, bottling, and co-packaging of award-winning products. We also keep an extensive inventory of aged bourbon and rye whiskey available year-round.

Our spirits are distilled in top-of-the-line Vendome Copper & Brass Works continuous column stills. Our product development services include working with you to perfect an existing recipe and consultations to help you create your own recipe. We can barrel and warehouse age your product to meet both short and long-term goals. At Southern Distilling Company, you get standout spirits that make brands unforgettable.

For over 60 years Tapi USA has produced cork stoppers and a wide variety of bottle closures. Family-owned and operated since its inception, our company continues to develop new products and enter new markets. Tapi USA is proud to support the growth of the artisan distillery industry and is honored to be the Bottle Closure Sponsor for Artisan Spirit Magazine.

Founded in 1999 in Thousand Oaks, California, the Thousand Oaks Barrel Co. manufactures a wide selection of products for distillery gift shops. We work with large and small distilleries and wineries, marketing and catalog companies, retailers, and web-based e-tailers. Our craftsmen provide made to order products or distilleries can select from our tried-and-true products such barrel heads, quarter barrels, flasks, and barrel key chains, to name a few, each with your distillery logo and branding. We look forward to providing you some of the best promotional products on the market and are sure they will be top sellers in your product line.

Total Wine & More is the country’s largest independent retailer of fine wine, beer, and spirits. Our strength is our people. We have over 5,000 associates, who must demonstrate comprehensive beverage knowledge before they are invited to join our team. After coming on board, all of our team members undergo an extensive initial training program. We believe that an educated consumer is our best customer. We want to demystify the buying experience for our customers so they will feel confident in choosing the bottle that is perfect for them. Total Wine & More works closely with community and business leaders in each market it operates to support local causes and charitable efforts.


D isti la B a c t


for the
® ©20 23 L al le mand Bi o f u el s & D i s t i l led Spi r it s Vi e w ou r e x t en s i v e o e r in g of c ra f t distilling inp u ts a t
acid bacteria
sour mash production.

A L e TT er F r O m TH e e DITO r :

I admit, the last couple letters from the editor have been a bit gloomy regarding the industry. There are hard times now, and potentially more on the horizon for distillers and other alcohol beverage folk. However, I'm a sucker for an optimistic viewpoint. In fact, more than that I’m a sucker for a challenge.

It’s hard to just sit back and watch businesses and individuals in the industry struggle. So we decided not to just sit back. Instead, a group of distillers and other industry pros got together and built a new organization to help each other survive, and thrive. This group has taken the form of the Society of Spirit (SOS). Apt, I know.

SOS isn’t another competing trade association. That field is well tended by groups like the American Craft Spirits Association, American Distilling Institute, and Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. Those organizations are fantastic and they are the main reason initiatives like the federal excise tax reduction succeeded. Seriously, go join all three of those associations, they are the rockstars of our industry.

SOS, on the other hand, isn't driven by business advocacy, political lobbying, or conventions. Instead we are focused on individuals building a community where anyone can ask questions, share knowledge, network, and offer much-needed peer support. Perhaps more

importantly, we also want to begin helping the industry authenticate reliable distilling education. We are creating a network of member-approved workshops, classes, books, journals, papers, and more. If it's quality education, it goes on the list.

This is our way of meeting the challenges facing the industry head on, and unifying the distilling community's diverse and exceptional minds. We can’t build it on our own, but luckily we don't have to. A growing number of SOS members are already coming together to make this a reality. If you want to learn more and become a member, turn to page 109 for FAQs and board interviews.

Speaking of this issue, there is A LOT here. Need to know about “Made in America” labeling? Got that (page 35). Worried about the silent terror of bacterial infections in your facility? Oh boy, we have that covered (page 112). Distillery franchises? That's a thing (page 116). American peat and innovative new applications? You betcha (page 41). That just scratches the surface of the Summer 2023 issue of Artisan Spirit.

I can't thank you enough for supporting Artisan Spirit Magazine, the Journal of Distilling Science, the Still Talking Podcast, and now the Society of Spirit. We only get to do this because you let us. With

greatest appreciation,
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Trusted Partner to Distillers Everywhere.

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Collaboration is key. This crop of guild reports highlights the value and importance of reaching across state lines, industry borders, and between trade groups. Examples include the work California is doing to team up with agriculture while at the same time becoming more welcoming to distillers of all license types in their state. In addition, Illinois is working with multiple trade groups to bring home DTC, and reaching out to the great state of Kentucky to learn from the well older and more experienced state guild. In South Carolina you can learn about how the state is reaching out to a wider audience of potential new distillers who may need help on their journey of becoming DSPs. Read on to learn about that and more in this Summer edition of our quarterly state guild reports


The American Craft Spirits Association has elected a new Board of Directors and officers for the new year. I am incredibly excited to welcome the new executive committee team of Gina Holman of J. Carver Distillery (MN) as the President of the Board of Directors, Kelly Woodcock of Westward Whiskey (OR) as Vice President, and Jessica J. Lemmon of Cart/ Horse Distilling (PA) as Secretary/Treasurer.

THE 2023 BOARD OF DIRECTORS, Elected from and representing independent craft spirits producers nationwide, is comprised of the following individuals: EAST

Becky Harris*

Catoctin Creek Distilling Co. (VA)

Jessica J. Lemmon

Cart/Horse Distilling (PA)

Tom Potter

New York Distilling Co. (NY)

Colin Spoelman**

Kings County Distillery (NY)

Jaime Windon** Windon Distilling Co. (MD)


Alex Castle**

Old Dominick Distillery (TN)

Gina Holman

J. Carver Distillery (MN)

Colin Keegan

Santa Fe Spirits (NM)

Amber Pollock

Backwards Distilling Co. (WY)

Mark A. Vierthaler

Whiskey Del Bac (AZ)

Thomas Williams**

Delta Dirt Distillery (AR)

*re-elected **newly elected continued ‒›



Lucy Farber

St. George Spirits (CA)

Jake Holshue

Spirit Works Distillery (CA)

Jeff Kanof

Copperworks Distilling Co. (WA)

Kelly Woodcock

Westward Whiskey (OR)


Thomas Jensen

New Liberty Distillery (PA)

The national digital election was administered over the past month with the help of the Election’s Chair, Renee Bemis, Driftless Glen Distillery (WI), and Jeff Wuslich, Cardinal Spirits (IN).

We are incredibly thankful for the service of our departing board members, Dan Farber, Osocalis Distillery (CA), P.T. Wood, Wood’s High Mountain Distillery (CO), and Thomas Mote, Balcones Distillery (TX).

I have been honored to lead the board since 2020 and am excited to sharpen my personal


The American Distilling Institute is looking forward to our 20th anniversary conference this summer in Las Vegas, Nevada. It’s hard to believe that it’s been 20 years since our first conference in California, which brought together a few dozen distillers and a handful of suppliers. This year, join thousands of attendees and hundreds of exhibitors for an exciting two days of learning, networking, and

fellowship at the Mirage Casino and Resort in Las Vegas on August 23-24. Workshops, masterclasses, trainings, and symposia before and after the conference are confirmed. All conference information, including host hotel, schedule, and registration pricing can be found at

We’re also celebrating the successful conclusion of ADI’s 16th annual International

focus on the advocacy work, which is near and dear to my heart. At a time when the economic headwinds we are all facing have led to even more challenges for craft producers, I plan to continue to challenge the beverage industry to modernize and give small producers access to their customers in the many ways that wineries in the U.S. enjoy. I hope I can count on all spirits fans to join me in advocating to keep our sector as exciting and vibrant as it has been since the craft spirits movement really began to gain momentum.

Spirits Competition. The quality of entrants was extremely high, and a full list of winners can be found online at All entrants to the International Spirits Competition receive written feedback from expert judges, maximizing value for competitors. If you didn’t get a chance to submit this year, mark your calendar to submit in the winter of 2024.


Cheers to 50 Years: DISCUS Celebrates Five Decades of Advancing the Spirits Industry

The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) is raising a glass to a special milestone — 50 years of effective advocacy on behalf of the spirits industry and adult spirits consumers. This anniversary comes in a historic year for the industry with DISCUS recently announcing that for the first time U.S. spirits supplier revenues surpassed beer in 2022. To mark this momentous occasion, DISCUS is launching a yearlong celebration including a commemorative logo, #Cheersto50Years social media activation,

special recognition and events at the upcoming DISCUS annual conference, and a grand celebration this fall at the new DISCUS office at 101 Constitution Avenue in Washington, D.C.

First Quarter 2023 State Government Relations Accomplishments

While state legislative activity is still in high gear in 37 states, the DISCUS State Government Relations Team has already secured key wins across nine states in the first quarter of the year. In Arkansas, off-premise retail sales of 50 mL spirits containers were

authorized and the off-premise retail tastings law expanded to increase sample sizes, halve permit fees, and allow participation by manufacturer representatives. In Colorado, the team defeated a Breckenridge Town Council ordinance to ban plastic beverage alcohol containers less than a half gallon. In Kentucky, the barrel tax phase-out was signed into law. In Massachusetts, cocktails to-go, including delivery, was extended for one year to April 1, 2024. In Maryland and Mississippi, the team defeated wine in grocery stores proposals. In Nevada a Clark County ordinance was adopted allowing on-premise beer and


wine licenses to sell “spirit based products” (not over 17 percent ABV). In New Mexico, the governor line-item vetoed provisions of an omnibus tax bill that would have increased the excise tax on spirits, beer, and wine by 20 percent. Finally, in West Virginia the omnibus alcohol bill included expanding off-premise tastings to increase sample sizes and allow mixers and also allows distillers to offer tastings and off-premise sales at fairs and festivals.

DISCUS Earns ENERGY STAR® Partner of the Year Award

DISCUS received the 2023 Energy Star Partner of the Year award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Energy for its partnership in sharing best practices and resources on energy-saving tools for distilleries. DISCUS partnered with the EPA to launch and disseminate the EnergyStar Guide for Energy Efficiency and Cost Saving Opportunities for Distilleries. The guide, which included nearly 180 energy savings and efficiency opportunities designed specifically for distilleries, was developed based on experiences from distilleries and the wider industry. Each year, the Energy Star program honors a select group of businesses and organizations that have made outstanding contributions in the transition to a clean energy economy. DISCUS was selected from a network of thousands of Energy Star partners.

Spirits United Forms New Advocacy Team with Top-Tier Leaders from Across the Industry

We are thrilled to announce the formation of the Spirits United Advocacy Team (SUAT). This team will provide strategic guidance to expand our growing platform further and increase engagement and impact on policy issues at the federal and state levels. The inaugural team is made up of thought leaders from across the spirits industry with diverse professional backgrounds and includes Chrissy Beaudette, general manager at Sassenach Spirits; Michael Bender, president of wholesale at Ole Smoky; Elizabeth Conway, director of brand and external communications at Brown-Forman; Brian Facquet, founder and CEO at Do Good Spirits; Katharine Jerkens, chief business officer at Uncle Nearest; and Philip McDaniel, CEO and co-founder at St. Augustine Distillery. Their expertise will help propel Spirits United forward and build upon the successes we have achieved through our grassroots efforts. We are grateful to the entire advocacy team for being strong Spirits United ambassadors.

Ship My Spirits Launches in Illinois

We worked with the American Craft Spirits Association (ACSA), American Distilling Institute (ADI), and the Illinois Craft Distillers Association to launch Ship My Spirits, our grassroots coalition with the common goal of modernizing the spirits marketplace by allowing direct-to-consumer shipping of distilled spirits in Illinois. We know adult consumers want distilled spirits


After taking a year off in 2022, the National Honey Board’s Honey Spirits Competition is back! This free competition recognizes the best spirits in the United States that use honey in 12 categories: vodka, gin, bourbon/ whiskey, moonshine, rum, tequila/mezcal, liqueurs/specialty spirits, brandy, spirits

distilled from honey — flavored, and packaged cocktails.

Registration for the National Honey Board’s Honey Spirits Competition is open now through Friday, June 30. This is a free competition, and all entries will receive

shipped straight from the distillery to their doorbell, and that’s the goal of the Ship My Spirits campaign. Together, we generated more than 1,250 letters to legislators in the first week of the campaign, but we still need your help to keep the drumbeat going. Be sure to make your voice heard! Urges Consumers to Summer Responsibly

As we start thinking about warm summer days and vacations, it’s important to reflect on balance and mindfulness when it comes to alcohol consumption. Responsibility starts with each of us, so remember that if you choose to drink, do so with the following tips in mind:

> Alternate water or non alcoholic beverages with your cocktails

> Understand what’s in your drink, what a standard drink is, and how that will affect your blood alcohol concentration or BAC

> Always plan for a safe ride home, and never drive drunk or impaired

> Eat before and during your social occasion

> Never serve or supply alcohol to anyone under the legal drinking age

Have a safe and responsible summer! For more info, visit

judge’s notes. To qualify for the competition, entries must be commercially available in the United States and use honey or be distilled from honey/mead.

This year’s competition is expected to be our biggest ever due to the

Join the Ship My Spirits campaign
Register for the Honey Spirits Competition


A barrel should be more than an aging vessel, it should be a partner in achieving your desired flavor profile. Using science-based research and experimentation, ISC barrel experts collaborate with world-class distillers to create innovative barrel solutions for their unique spirits.

continued growth of the honey whiskey category and RTD cocktails with honey.

The National Honey Board also is seeking distillers interested in attending our Honey Alcohol Summit in October 2023. The event is a gathering of craft brewers and distillers for an intensive two-day seminar on honey,

an all-natural sweetener that offers a variety of functional and flavor benefits when used in beer and distilled spirits. This educational event will include general sessions on honey and honey bees, with breakout sessions specifically for brewers and distillers.



California is still working on compromises on our current legislation. There are two main bills on our agenda: AB #1088 direct-to-consumer shipping and SB #269, a craft distilled spirits manufacturer’s licensee that also holds a beer manufacturer’s license, or a winegrower’s license, to have alcoholic beverages that are authorized under those licenses at the same time anywhere within the premises, and to maintain a designated area where retail sales and consumption authorized under those licenses can occur. This can give relief to multi-license DSP’s in their tasting rooms

and retail spaces. There are other bills being tracked, but the focus is on these two. Our name change for the association is happening in 2023. The original name California Artisanal Distillers Guild, is being changed to California Distillers Association (CDA). This name gives a clear definition of what the group represents and it is hoped is more inclusive of all license types. CDA represents all types of licensee’s working in the distilled spirits space. We are looking to all DSP’s in our state to join and become supporting members.

At its core, distilling is agriculture manufacturing. Sustainability has been a part of many distilleries, but in California we are

The National Honey Board will cover expenses for attendees. To express interest in attending this year’s event, go to www.

proactively reaching out to others in the agricultural community to utilize the bounty of grown in the state. Many distillers in California farm their own, or use locally sourced, fruits, nuts, grains etc in our products and it is a part of our story. The CDA board is working on initiatives to bring the California-grown part of our story into focus. Our state is made up of many diverse agricultural areas and incorporating those products into our bottles is a natural partnership. As we forge these partnerships, it is anticipated that greater messaging can be achieved. This is an expansion of what CDA plans to do as an association. We urge all California DSP’s to give input on their efforts and tell us your stories.


The Illinois Craft Distillers Association (ICDA) has been pushing hard on the legislative front by working with representatives in the Illinois House and Senate to introduce direct-to-consumer (DTC) shipping bills (HB 3160 and SB 2069). To this end, we’ve teamed up with the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. (DISCUS), the American Craft Spirits Association (ACSA) and the

American Distilling Institute (ADI) to launch the “Ship My Spirits” Campaign in Illinois to build grassroots support for DTC. The campaign, which draws from digital assets and consumer engagement at local distillery tasting rooms, collected more than 1,100 letters of support to Illinois legislators in just one week, and continues to build momentum as an important proof point as we continue to push to make DTC reality in our state. Whereas Illinois craft distillers have had to choose between multiple distilling licenses,

each with their own privileges and limitations, we’ve recently introduced an amendment to create a new class of distiller’s license that would combine the two designations and expand limits on production and retail sales as well as make limited self-distribution available to all license holders.

Members of the ICDA also had a memorable visit with the Kentucky Distillers Association (KDA) in April where we continued building relationships with one another as well as the KDA, visited a variety of

Express interest in attending Honey Alcohol Summit

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impressive distilleries and gleaned number of insights on how to be increasingly effective in achieving our various legislative agendas.

Lastly, we’re partnering with Binny’s, DISCUS, and the United States Bartender’s

Guild (USBG) to bring back the much-anticipated Distillinois event on June 13 at the Binny’s flagship store in Lincoln Park. It will coincide with the DISCUS conference in Chicago to showcase the amazing variety of

spirits being produced throughout Illinois. The following evening June 14, DISCUS will be hosting a Chicago Cocktail Hour featuring Illinois craft distilleries for its members at the Marriott Marquis Chicago.


The New York State Distillers Guild held its annual meeting in the state capital for the first time this year. We took advantage of the Albany venue to execute our first-ever coordinated Lobby Day, for which we scheduled nearly 30 meetings for the 60+ distillers we had in attendance.

Our distillers met with legislative leaders and many of their own elected state senators and assembly members. They made the case

— both objectively and passionately — for the need for public policy support for the industry, just as the state has provided to other beverage sectors in recent history. The guild’s major priorities this year are direct-to-consumer shipping and an alcoholic beverage production credit, an important parity bill. The production credit language made it into state budget legislation, which is nearing a vote as of this writing.

The guild continues to fight for parity with other beverage producers and recognition of our special role in support of Empire State

agriculture, tourism, and small manufacturing. Distillers deserve the same production credit treatment and market access as our peers in other beverage sectors.

The guild meeting also provided fantastic access — featuring extended Q&A — with our top regulators at the New York State Liquor Authority, and education on marketing and agricultural opportunities from our partners at the State Department of Agriculture and Markets and Empire State Development. And we enjoyed robust trade show participation by our sponsors.


The Distillers Association of North Carolina (DANC) held its Annual Business Meeting on March 20 at Cultivated Cocktails in Asheville. We had 55 people attend the meeting, including representatives from 24 distilleries and nine vendors who showcased their services and products for distillers. Representatives from the NC ABC Commission and the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services also attended.

During the meeting, principal members voted to elect four members to DANC's Board of Directors to serve for the 2023-24 term. Per the bylaws, the board of directors then elected officers.

Thanks to Richard Chapman of Bogue

Sound Distillery for his service as vice-president and board member for the past four years, and thanks to Jonathan Blitz of Mystic Farm and Distillery for his service as a board member during the 2021–2022 term!


Leah Howard

Cultivated Cocktails, Asheville


Bruce Tyler

Weldon Mills Distillery, Weldon


Ashlee Ellis

Old Nick Williams Company, Lewisville

DANC's initial 2023 legislative agenda was presented during the annual business meeting. The legislative priorities were based on the survey responses received from DANC distillery members. Our priorities include taxation reductions, distillery regulation, and further parity with


Rhonda Glass

End of Days Distillery, Wilmington

Shannon Childress

Bogue Sound Distillery, Bogue

Angelique de Buhr

Southern Distilling Company, Statesville

Matt Simpkins

Oaklore Distilling Company, Matthews

Chad Slagle

Two Trees Distilling Company, Fletcher

Pete Barger

Immediate Past President

Southern Distilling Company, Statesville (Ex-Officio)

breweries and wineries. The North Carolina General Assembly will be in session through July, and DANC will be working with legislators to get our priorities enacted into state law.

Leah Howard President, Distillers Association of North Carolina CEO, Cultivated Cocktails




Currently, the Ohio guild is working hard on planning another notable guild event this fall. The event, created in tandem with Helmick Farms, is positioned to raise funds for the guild and our activities and efforts overall. Situated on dozens of beautiful acres, the event will undoubtedly be memorable. More than a thousand spirits lovers are expected to be in attendance.

We also continue to work hard on House Bill 86. This bill, once passed, will allow us to increase our production to one million gallons. What that means to all of us is that, once passed, the bill will allow Ohio restaurants to continue to house and expand distilleries inside of their locations — and will impact such brands as Midwest, Watershed and more. These are big hurdles, but we’re confident we’ll be able to overcome them.

We’re proud to announce we were very successful in launching our new bottle in

conjunction with 451 Spirits, Cleveland Whisky and Echo Distribution. In fact, we’re currently distributing around the entire State of Ohio. This, for sure, is the crown jewel for our guild.

As well, we’d like to announce that we’re working hard to put together another powerful event in Greater Columbus in August 2023. Although our location is still undetermined, the event will essentially be a local spirits event, one which we know will be a big win for spirits brands throughout Ohio. More details will follow on that, shortly.

In Ohio, we’re investing, we’re growing, we’re hiring, and we do pay our fair share of taxes. The problem of course is that there’s a cap on our growth, and that, quite frankly, doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

Under current law, once we exceed production of 100,000 gallons, we automatically lose our rights to sell bottles at our facility. That would change the financial equation as it pertains to any distillery tours or on-site events. When people visit our distillery, whether

local or more than often out-of-state, they want to buy our bottles, it’s part of the customer experience.

And for anyone who’s ever been on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, it’s expected. If we can’t do that, we lose money, we lose customers, and the State of Ohio loses tax revenue. It’s that simple. It's an artificial cap on how we do business, an artificial cap on how we grow. House Bill 86 would fix that.

The second part of HB 86 is repealing the fee that customers have to pay when sampling our spirits at an Ohio liquor store. If you sample wine and beer, there’s no fee. If you sample a spirit, there is a 50-cent fee.

Finally, we’d like to celebrate just how much our guild has grown. Currently, there are 100 distillers licensed in the state of Ohio. Each year we grow by leaps and bounds, which in turn, of course, positively impacts agriculture in the state of Ohio. These farms deserve to be recognized alongside the Ohio Distillers Organization. They’re truly amazing.


The single biggest issue Oklahoman distilleries are facing at this time is with HB1682. This is a bill which, broadly speaking, would



The South Carolina Craft Distillers Guild (SCCDG) has been thinking of more ways to help all members in different stages of their distillery journey. In order to expand

allow distilleries to:

1) have offsite tasting rooms

2) sell their spirits as cocktails in tasting rooms and at offsite events/festivals (rather than just as a sample or neat pour)

The bill has passed out of the House and is headed to a floor vote in the Senate. The bill was written with emergency measures so that if it passes in the Senate, the Governor’s signature would make it effective immediately.

guild resources to more potential members, SCCDG has introduced two new membership opportunities, Distillery-in-Planning and the Emerging Distillery Scholarship. The Distillery-in-Planning membership was created for distillers planning to start the distillery process but who may not know

how to begin. For $400 per year, member benefits will include an invitation to the annual meeting, weekly policy updates during the SC legislative session, invitations to guild events, and much more. The membership will remain effective from the date of signing up. Our guild looks forward to offering this

Andrew Lix President, Ohio Distillers Guild Cleveland Whiskey Seth Warren Vice President, Ohio Distillers Guild Buckeye Vodka Fred Wisen Treasurer, Ohio Distillers Guild Lake Erie Distillery Joe Bidinger Secretary, Ohio Distillers Guild Echo Spirits Distilling Co.
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membership tier as a way for more distilleries to open across South Carolina, thus increasing our economic impact statewide.

When discussing how new distillers in need of extra funds can receive help from the guild to advance their distillery journey, the Emerging Distillery Scholarship was created.

Each interested distiller will be required to submit an application, and the recipient will be selected by the SCCDG Board of Directors.

If you can dream it, we can find a way to achieve it | IS YOur GuILD Or ASSOCIATION mISSING? Don’t miss out on this opportunity to reach a national audience of distillers and suppliers! Share your latest victories, recruit supporters, request suggestions to solve your latest challenges, and inspire fellow groups. emAIL BrIAN@ArTISANSPIrITmAG.COm TO GeT INVOLVeD!


Does it make sense? Should you extend into RTDs? Here are some key considerations.

So, you’re looking to get into the ready-to-drink category, and you’re probably wondering where to begin. Maybe you have spirits aging in barrels and need to gain revenue while they mature. Maybe you’re ready to appeal to a different segment of the market. What should your design look like? Well, before you dive into branding, you will need to ask yourself a few more questions to make sure an RTD expression of your brand makes sense.



Have you built a Branded House or a House of Brands? This is an important distinction to make as you expand into alternate packaging methods such as RTDs. A quick refresher:

▶ Branded Houses utilize a single-brand strategy and have a uniform brand expression across all products. An example of this is Jose Cuervo: the family-owned tequila company uses the same overall branding to maintain brand recognition and credibility across their product mix. This includes various styles of tequila, RTDs, seltzers, and margarita mixes. They have the esteem and pedigree to carry quite a bit of weight with the consumer, who is likely to reach for a Jose Cuervo RTD rather than one named and packaged differently, even if it was the same product.

▶ The House of Brands model is a multi-brand strategy; all the products in your company arsenal bear their own unique brand names and look completely unrelated. An example of this is Brown-Forman, who owns Jack Daniel’s Whiskey, Herradura Tequila, and Finlandia Vodka — three standalone brands within their respective alcohol beverage categories.

There are pros and cons to both strategies which largely depend on your company’s exit strategy, production volume, and marketing budget. Still, once you’ve determined which strategy makes the most sense for you/which one you are, you are closer to determining a direction for your RTD. See our article “Branded House vs. House of Brands” in the Summer 2017 issue of Artisan Spirit Magazine for more details on these two brand strategies.



If you have a luxury whiskey that commands $200 a bottle, creating an RTD with the same name and look may not make sense for your brand. At best, it can cause confusion in the market, and at worst, it can possibly degrade the success and diminish the pedigree of your core brand. If you have a more everyday whiskey, for example, one that is priced at $50 a bottle, RTDs could work symbiotically with your brand promise and offer an entry point into your brand while providing additional cash flow while the product ages in barrels.

Read Branded House vs. House of Brands




These questions may seem overly simple. Their answers, however, can have complicated implications.

For example: If your core product is bourbon, will your RTDs all be bourbon cocktails?

▶ If yes, which cocktails will you choose, and who will make your formulas? Will it be your own product in the RTD, or would it be more cost-effective to utilize bulk spirits? How will you manage logistics with filling and transporting the RTDs, and how will you price them in accordance with your portfolio?

▶ If no, will your RTDs include clear spirits like vodka? Which cocktails will you choose, and who will you source from? And how will you introduce this packaging and product extension into the market? How will your consumer react to these different offerings?



The proclivity of many companies to extend into a different product category within the same brand isn’t always the best decision, as it can lead to diminishing the core brand’s success by diluting the brand promise. Extending your main line into an RTD can often be a cost-effective way to scale your business and provide cash flow, but this is not without its design challenges. Labels and packaging from a 750ml format don’t often translate easily to smaller RTD bottles or to cans that utilize fully-wrapped graphics. The best RTD extensions of core brands build on their brand universe; making their RTDs unique while part of their brand rather than simply being a cut-and-paste exercise. Creating a successful extension can many times prove to be similar in time, money, and energy to creating a standalone RTD brand.

Assessing and analyzing all factors at play as you start to delve into another expression of your brand is always of the utmost importance. While there will be many other aspects to consider for your specific brand, if you begin your strategic planning by answering the previous questions, you will be on the right path to determining if an RTD extension is the next step for your brand.

David Schuemann is the owner and creative director of CF Napa Brand Design. For more information, visit or call (707) 265-1891.

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It is a dark and stormy night. You find yourself in a tavern. The barkeep comes over to the table and offers you information about a legendary quest. A scourge has befallen the land. You form a pact amongst your table mates, and start off on a wild adventure with a ragtag crew of magical wizards, barbarians, and warlocks to defeat the great scourge and the magic behind it. As the journey progresses you realize the real treasure may just have been the friendships formed along the way.

This is the common trope to hook players into a game of Dungeons and Dragons, a game that has been in existence since its first iteration in 1977. D&D has experienced an impressive resurgence over the last few years. (I sometimes feel as if we are living in a bizarre Revenge of the Nerds 5 direct-to-video sequel.) The game has greatly evolved since its inception, now in its fifth edition, and we’re even starting to playtest the new “One D&D” rules. Now, what does any of this have to do with distilling, or the distilling industry? Well, bear with me because this story isn’t about the tabletop system itself, it’s about a very particular game I played with a very particular group. Let me introduce you to the “Dungeons and Distillers.”


exploring Peer Support and unorthodox forms of Therapy

In a not-too-dissimilar story, we found ourselves in 2020 with a scourge affecting all of us — COVID-19. Work stopped, our industry stopped, and the world basically stopped. The collective of all humanity watched as people died every day. Desolation and fear took over as we all ran to the stores for way too much toilet paper, the toxic political climate, and hand sanitizer … the damn hand sanitizer … I was being crushed by the world and I didn’t really have an effective coping mechanism. The D&D game idea came about on May 4th, 2020, when a post went up on a community distilling group, checking in on everyone. The idea was put forth by one of my best friends, colleagues, and mentors for many things, John Wilcox, who a couple years prior had moved to Ireland to distill at Blackwater Distilling. He had seen the rise in online D&D pickup games (at the same time we all as a society figured out how to use Zoom for the first time) and we wondered if there were enough distilling industry professionals interested to play a game.

We posed the question to the group and found some interested players, people I didn’t know that well at the time. I mean, we knew each other, at least professionally, we might have even had some drunken shenanigans at a conference or two — but I didn’t really know them. I would soon learn

far more. Like their hopes and dreams, their fears, their insecurities, their humor, and their dark (dark) (so very dark) sides. We also talked about distilling, and business, and the industry as a whole. We posed questions about equipment problems, shared articles discussing TTB enforcement, and marveled at the rise of RTD’s. However, the work stuff was just the tip of the iceberg. We also talked about our personal lives. We talked about depression, we talked about our families, loneliness, the failures, and the triumphs. We talked, and we listened.

Our ragtag crew consisted of John Wilcox, our Dungeon Master (DM), controller of the game and story. I’ve known him since 2015 when I took over a distilling job from him in Oregon. He is a nerd’s nerd. Knowledgeable about all things in the nerdom. Then there was Brian Christensen, an editor of a popular distilling magazine (you’ve probably never heard of it). Brian and I have known each other since 2012 and I’ve always admired him. If you’ve never met him in person, he beams straight rays of empathy and warmth wherever he goes. Brian played (brilliantly) the lovable warlock to the Great Old Ones, Ordo the Ordinary, (definitely nothing suspicious about that name). Then there is Timo Marshall, co-founder of Spirit Works Distillery in Sebastopol, California. He is such an enigma of a human, he truly is a compelling person who has seen the world several times over (by boat, blimp, and submarine, I shit you not). You always end up learning

John Wilcox, our Dungeon Master, controller of the game and story.

about some new crazy story he has every time you BS with him. Timo played the swashbuckling cleric Tali Holsworth, and of course his trusty sidekick Polly the parrot. Then there is Reade Huddleson (f’ing READE as we called him). Reade is a spirits geek beyond our comprehension, he’s forgotten more than some people will ever know. He loves to play difficult to get along with characters, and yet wonders why we give him such a hard time. Reade played the Oedipean sorcerer, Durge the Successor, of the House Redscale. Then there was Jeff Rasmussen. A still salesman out of Florida, who manages his hectic personal and professional life so well he always seems to have enough time to forget to do his D&D homework. Jeff played the indomitable Grogthander the Barbarian, who through terrible influences from Ordo took several levels in warlock too. As for me, I started the campaign as a monk named Jacobi, but through circumstances outside of his control he spiraled into a hole I couldn’t roleplay out of (he may have accidentally murdered a child, allegedly). So with some help from our DM, I pivoted and created Carrick Amikir the half elf bard of House Redscale. Our party was complete.

I’m fully aware that a lot, and I mean a lot, of those names, terms, and D&D phrases will be absolutely foreign to many of the distillers and assorted industry professionals reading this right now. Yet, for a small intimate peer group the above paragraph carries more weight than all the prose of Tolkien. Those characters were proxies for pushing past disappointing profit and loss statements, managing double

shifts, producing yet another damn tanker of sanitizer, or missing a loved one’s birthday. We were those characters, and they became our peer support system. Their story became our therapy.

Our first game was set in the module (a pre-build collection of questions and plot hooks), The Lost Mine of Phandelver. This beginners adventure is set a short distance from the city of Neverwinter in the Sword Coast region of the Forgotten Realms. From our initial encounter with a goblin raiding party, to the Triboar Trail, to the Old Owl Well, our party set forth to find the location of the mysterious Spellforge.

One of the big things I learned early on is you need zero experience to play, just a willingness to learn and be receptive to the story. Dice will always fall where they may, so just roleplay a character you enjoy playing and go with it! The early days of this campaign were pure bliss; it was fun and light-hearted. We made fools out of ourselves, made deals with powerful wizards, and even planned to franchise a cider orchard across the magical lands of Faerûn (much to Timo’s chagrin).

After successfully completing the Lost Mines of Phandelver over the course of many real world months we took our characters to the Underdark, in an adventure named “Out of the Abyss.” The Underdark is a series of caverns, caves, wyrm holes, vast cities, and kingdoms ruled by creatures who have never seen the light of day. A place where demon lords vie for supremacy, where fungus is the only thing that grows wild, and a place where darkvision is helpful but still does not guarantee you can see what is right in front of you.

Through this adventure we literally altered the timeline of existence, saw characters die, watched friends betray each other, lies, suspicions, and drama abound. After two years of perseverance, we completed the quest. Even our epilogue of the adventure had some epic conclusions. Life-changing, planar-shifting, time-altering conclusions. We had become Heroes of the Spellforge, Honorary Sons of the High King Bruener, Privateers and Helmsmen of the Indigo Cormorant, Bloodletters of the Demogorgon, Guerilla Marketing Team for Edermath Orchards, Landholding Barons of the Duchy of Phandalin, and Banishers of the Demon Lord Yeenoghu from the Material Plane!

These days we are on to our next adventure, with new characters, but the lasting impression of the more than two-year game revealed much to me about myself and my friends. While we did spend a ton of time playing this game together, we spent even more time talking and interacting outside of the game on a Discord channel. It was in those moments that we opened up to each other about how we were handling the pandemic, and our own collective mental health. Perhaps the villain that brought us together (COVID-19) could be defeated, and the support and community I so longed for was right in front of me, making the real treasure the friendships formed along the way. We experienced a microcosm of life together, which gave me the tools to fight our own scourge.

Now, I implore every reader to go on your own quest. While I admit D&D isn’t for everyone, it is now more accessible than ever for first-time users. The Dungeon’s and Distillers group is expanding. We have a Discord server and DMs willing to take anyone on their first adventure. Whether it is a one-shot that can be completed in an afternoon, or a years-long struggle against the forces of good and evil, adventure waits for those who are willing to accept the challenge!

Jake Holshue has worked in craft spirits since 2012. He has worked with and consulted for more than 20 distilleries and brands worldwide. Jake is currently a consultant at Big Thirst Consulting and an advisor for Spirit Works Distillery. He is also a board of directors member of the American Craft Spirits Association, and volunteers for STEPUP. Email him at for more info.
LeFT-TO-rIGHT: Timo Marshall, Reade Huddleson, Jeff Rasmussen, John Wilcox, Brian Christensen, and Jake Holshue.


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The Complications of Using “Made in the USA” on Your Spirit

TheFederal Trade Commission (“FTC”) — the agency responsible for, among other things, regulating marketing to consumers — has long regulated business usage of the phrase “Made in the USA” on product packaging.1 To further that effort, about two years ago the FTC issued a final rule governing the use of “Made in the USA.”2 As discussed below, rather than issue a bright line rule3 on when businesses can list their products as “Made in the USA,” the FTC elected to create a less than definite standard. Much like the classic description for obscenity rendered by United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, the FTC’s standard boils down to: you’ll know it when you see it. Specifically, under the rule you cannot use “Made in the USA” on your product (without a qualifier) unless:

(1) Final assembly or processing of the product occurs in the United States;

(2) All significant processing that goes into the product occurs in the United States; and

(3) All or virtually all ingredients or components of the product are made and sourced in the United States.

In so doing, the FTC has set the floor for what it takes to label your product as Made in the USA. The rule expressly allows states

1 This article focuses on use of “Made in the USA” in products sold to United States consumers. The terms use outside of the United States requires additional considerations, including the law of the country in which the product is purchased and relevant trade agreements.


3 For example, California’s Business and Professions Code section Section 17533.7 allows a product to be labeled “Made in the USA” when up to 5 to 10 percent (depending on the circumstances) of a product comes from a foreign country. The FTC was asked to simply adopt that clear cut standard, and decided against doing so. Accordingly, it is possible to have a product that is allowed to be labeled “Made in the USA” under California law, but deemed to violate the FTC.

to issue more draconian standards.

While the FTC has a lengthy guide on pitfalls of making “Made in the USA” claims,4 this new rule has opened the door for consumer-plaintiffs to bring suits alleging a business’s use of “Made in the USA” is deceptive. Those suits are typically filed under state law and have a range of penalties from monetary damages to having to pay the consumer’s legal fees. As a result, though those cases are often frivolous in nature, businesses should carefully evaluate any source designation claims on their products, including “Made in the USA.”

The first step in that risk assessment, and the focus of this brief article, is determining if the FTC’s rule governs your product. In its rulemaking the regulator did not address the alcohol industry. Though relevant for our purposes, it specifically analyzed the effect of the new rule on beef and shrimp. The FTC explained in its rulemaking, that “Section 323.5(a) of this rule makes clear that the rule does not supersede, alter, or affect the application of any other federal statute or regulation relating to country-of-origin labeling requirements, including but not limited to regulations issued under the FMIA, 21 U.S.C. 601 et seq.; the Poultry Products Inspection Act, 21 U.S.C. 451 et seq.; or the Egg Products Inspection Act, 21 U.S.C. 1031 et seq.” In simple English, the FTC’s new rule does not change any existing federal statute passed through congress, or regulation issued by another federal agency that requires listing country-of-origin on product labels. The FTC specifically identified the USDA and the FDA as two entities with primary jurisdiction of labeling issues for certain food products, and that the new rule did not supersede their jurisdiction. Accordingly, the FTC explained that the new rule does not apply to Beef or Shrimp, as both fall under specific regulations of the USDA. It follows that the same should be true about the TTB and certain alcohol products.


Written by BAO Vu & COreY DAY

But there’s the rub. While there are very particular regulations relating to appellations of origin, what certain spirits can be called, and terms relating to where and how the spirit got into the bottle (i.e. “bottled in,” “blended in,” “distilled in”), the TTB does not have an express rule on the use of “Made in the USA” for spirits. Common sense would dictate that if the TTB allows you to write on the label, for example, that your gin is distilled in California, that you could say it is “Made in the USA.” Many legal principles support such a conclusion too. But the lack of an express governing regulation suggests careful evaluation of claims like “Made in the USA” before you put them on the bottle or in your advertisements.

In conclusion, you should carefully consider whether the juice is worth the squeeze when it comes to listing “Made in the USA” on your product. When in doubt, leave it out (or consult an attorney).

Bao M. Vu is a Partner with the law firm Stoel Rives LLP. He regularly advises clients on compliance with complex consumer protection and environmental statutes and regulations. He can be reached at or 415-500-6572. Corey Day is an alcohol beverage attorney and litigator at Stoel Rives LLP and can be reached via email at or by phone at (916) 319-4670.
DISCLAIMER : This article is intended to be a source of general information, not an opinion or legal advice on any specific situation and does not create an attorney-client relationship with our readers.

The COVID-19 pandemic officially ended in the U.S. on May 11, although most of society moved past it much earlier. Now is a good time to check the pulse of craft distilling in a postpandemic world, from the people making the juice to the organizations and communities supporting their efforts. In this third and final part of our series, we look at the craft distilling industry from the perspective of the wider community built around it.





Covington, Kentucky, is a small city that plays a big role. Home to some 40,000 people, the skinny, talon-shaped town isn’t exactly Louisville or Lexington. Yet its waterfront location just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati makes Covington and its neighboring communities the de facto gateway to bourbon country for those traveling by car from Ohio and other states bordering the Great Lakes. While a known commodity in the greater Cincinnati area, it’s a community that will surprise outsiders with its collection of craft distilleries and bourbon-centric bars and restaurants. It may even compel some visitors, intent on checking out the major brands deeper in the state, to stay and find out what’s happening here.

Hospitality is indeed Covington’s lifeblood, and bourbon is its DNA, whether the juice comes from local craft distilleries or unique and rare expressions of statewide behemoths poured at trusted on-premise accounts. However, this industry was particularly vulnerable during the pandemic, at least on paper. “It was such a scary time when everything was shut down,” explained Brad Wainscott, owner of Libby’s Southern Comfort in Covington. “We’re thankful that people were sympathetic and came up with creative ways to support the hospitality community.”

The gate has swung open once more. According to the convention and visitor’s bureau, MeetNKY, Covington and the surrounding northern Kentucky area have experienced an 11 percent growth in visitation from 2021 to 2022. There are also indications that the greater Covington area will eventually bounce back like a rubber ball in low gravity due to its hospitality ties — the very ties the pandemic threatened to sever. “There’s a lot of development happening around here now, so things are looking up,” said Matt Robinson, co-owner of Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar in Covington.


Covington’s comeback wasn’t guaranteed even with their Kentucky location. Its recovery, while robust, is moving at

a slower pace compared to the state’s bigger bourbon hubs. There are also some signs of stress amidst the growth. “Plenty of places haven’t fully bounced back,” said Jay Erisman, global brand ambassador for New Riff Distilling. “It takes a lot of resources to reopen, and some places have struggled with this. Part of it is trying to get customers in, but it’s also a matter of trying to hire employees.”

Even as the area grows, it’s understood that such expansion would have been better, given the pre-pandemic momentum they’d been enjoying since the region’s first craft distilleries and

bourbon bars opened in the early 2010s. “Our recovery depends on how you view it,” explained Julie Kirkpatrick, CEO and president of MeetNKY. “If we’re comparing where we are now compared to where we were in 2019, we’re there. If you compare where we are to where we should be at this point without the pandemic, we’re getting there.”

Still, any wistful sentiments about what may have been tends to be supplanted by what may be in store. “I don’t think we’ve reached peak visitation,” Kirkpatrick said. “The double-digit growth demonstrates that we haven’t capped growth.”

“There’s a lot of development happening around here now, so things are looking up.”
mATT rOBINSON, co-owner of Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar in Covington, Kentucky
Photo courtesy of MeetNKY


During the pandemic, New Riff bottled and sold a couple of barrels’ worth of 15-year-old bourbon. It wasn’t for their profit or edification — all proceeds went directly to local tourism boards and the families of struggling on-premise accounts. The bottles sold out in about an hour. According to Erisman, the idea of selling off special juice to support others was an easy call. “All of these places valued us over the years, and we’re beholden to this community,” he said. “Not to slight Cincinnati, where most of our staff live, but we felt we needed to concentrate our support efforts to northern Kentucky. It was important for us to make sure our neighbors were taken care of.”

It's not surprising to hear stories like this. It’s what the hospitality industry does. These stories still matter in the post-pandemic landscape because they strike a familiar chord to anyone attached to either making, distributing, selling, or serving distillate. In Covington, a community built around attracting visitors, these stories feel cathartic. At the same

time, they’re treated as reflections of the past because of what’s happening in the present. “It’s no longer about the community rallying around each other for survival’s sake,” Robinson explained. “It’s now a matter of enjoying everything. In Covington, that means enjoying local.”

This sense of locality starts with the region’s burgeoning craft distilling scene. Covington is the hub for the scene’s five craft distilleries, located within an hour or so of downtown: New Riff Distilling in Newport; Second Sight Spirits in Ludlow; Boone County Distilling Co. in Independence; The Neeley Family Distillery in Sparta; and The Old Pogue Distillery in Maysville. A few new distilleries are also preparing to launch in the area. Their central

nervous system is the northern Kentucky B-Line, a part of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, which connects tourists to distilleries and the restaurants that support them. The trail also allows the region to show off a side of the distilling industry overlooked by the big boys. “These craft producers are awesome because they’re all about showing off the real craft behind the bourbon,” stated Kirkpatrick. “Guests coming here aren’t going to see some staged tour. They’re going to really dig in and see how things are made.”

reADY FOr THe reSurGeNCe

Covington’s bourbon-kissed hospitality industry seems poised for the next level. One of the reasons for this could be attributed to an odd pandemic-related side benefit for these new distilleries. “These newer distilleries were stagnant during the pandemic, waiting for their bourbon to age,” Wainscott said. “They could get away with just waiting around and allowing bourbon to do its thing.”

When these new places open and potentially join the B-line, they could add another reason for people to stop and explore this gateway to bourbon

country instead of driving straight through. That’s certainly a scenario local hospitality businesses would embrace because they embrace the community so tightly already. “Everyone around here is all friends, and we do what we can to work together. That goes for the distilleries too, and I know that for a fact,” said Robinson. “We all love the community, being part of the neighborhood, and connecting with other businesses.”

Of course, through all this community support and growth, there is one constant that drives the Covington area — and the state of Kentucky — forward. “People may drive here from an hour away or across the country, and they’ll do it for the bourbon,” Wainscott said. “They’ll sit down at a place like Libby’s, order a glass, and engage in conversation with others. It’s great, and bourbon brings all of that together.”

Rich Manning is a freelance food and drink writer based in Fountain Valley, CA. He lives about 15 minutes south of Disneyland, but he hasn’t gone there in ages — he’d rather visit the nearby breweries and distilleries instead. You can check out some of his other written hackery by visiting richmanning. He can be reached at

“These craft producers are awesome because they’re all about showing off the real craft behind the bourbon. Guests coming here aren’t going to see some staged tour. They’re going to really dig in and see how things are made”
JuLIe KIrKPATrICK, CEO and President of MeetNKY
“All of these places valued us over the years, and we’re beholden to this community. Not to slight Cincinnati, where most of our staff live, but we felt we needed to concentrate our support efforts to northern Kentucky. It was important for us to make sure our neighbors were taken care of.”
JAY erISmAN, Global Brand Ambassador for New Riff Distilling of Newport, Kentucky

American PEAT

Part One: Sustainable Traditions

When I think of peat, I find myself thinking of Scotch whisky and Scotland. However, as it turns out the United States has peatlands in spades, and distilleries are beginning to use that American spirit of innovation to utilize peat in their whiskey-making process.

As a point of reference, Scotland has two distinct topographic regions, the Highlands in the north and west and the Lowlands in the south and east, which also gave birth to two kinds of bogs. In the Highlands' harsh climate, not many trees can grow. In the 19th century, while people living in other parts of the world could simply gather branches or chop up wood for fuel, the Highland crofter needed to cut his fuel out from the ground; thus, peat became a traditional fuel in Scotland. On the southernmost island in the Inner Hebrides, barley is dried over a peat fire, infusing it with a distinctive aroma and taste.


Now back in the United States, we are beginning to see more smoked and peated whiskies coming to the market. It’s exciting to see distillers begin to utilize what grows naturally in their geographic region, whether it be a specific grain or the method to dry their grains.

Two distilleries immediately came to mind as I sought more information on this subject, and as I dug further in the enormity of it became clear, so this will be a two-part story.

First, I will share the story of one distillery at the forefront of a new whiskey-making approach in the American Great Plains.

I traveled the snowy roads of Minneapolis, Minnesota, to meet with Phil Steger, the founder of Brother Justus Distillery. Brother Justus was a Benedictine monk who lived in Central Minnesota during Prohibition and The Farm Depression of the 1920s. Justus believed that no earthly power could take away their right to make a living from their labor and the fruit of the land.

The Brother Justus Distillery is a stunning facility built with vision. As I walked through the distillery, one big question held my focus: the flavor of their cold-peated whiskey. I wanted to know more about Minnesota

peat and understand Steger's process for this whiskey.

The vast peatlands of northern Minnesota are some of the most exciting landscapes in the US and one of the state's most extensive ecosystems, covering more than 10 percent of the state.

Steger gave me some background on Minnesota peat. “Minnesota peatlands were formed approximately 8,000 to 10,000 years ago when the glaciers covering the state melted at the end of the Ice Age and left behind vast shallow lakes with no outlets to the sea. As they slowly soaked into the earth, they

“Minnesota peatlands were formed approximately 8,000 to 10,000 years ago when the glaciers covering the state melted at the end of the Ice Age and left behind vast shallow lakes with no outlets to the sea.”
— Phil Steger

stripped the waterlogged soil of oxygen and turned them highly acidic. The seeds of reeds and sedges and the spores of mosses blown in on continental winds took root and grew, taking carbon dioxide out of the air and turning it into their carbon-based bodies. When they died at the end of the growing season, they didn't undergo the quick rotting that takes place in ordinary, oxygen-rich, pH-balanced soils. Instead, they slowly dissolved over centuries, with their complex, solid carbon mostly intact. Minnesota peat is generation after generation of these plant communities laying their bodies down to form this spongy organic turf, which yet contains a physical record of every plant that grew in that spot since the end of the Ice Age when wooly mammoths walked the Earth.”

At over six million acres, Minnesota has more peatlands than any other state except Alaska. The extensive, mostly unaltered peatlands of northern Minnesota are recognized regionally and internationally for their expansiveness and spectacularly patterned landscape.

Steger said his motivation to create a peated whiskey and his chosen methods reflected his desire to conserve peat as a millennia-old carbon sink, and to taste the subtle details reflecting the local ecology that are layered into the peat

“The traditional method of peating burns peat to smoke the grain during malting at the very beginning of the whiskey-making process,” he said. “All peated whiskeys in the world, except ours, are made this way. I respect the historical reasons for using this method in Old World single malts, but it was one tradition I believed didn't need to be — and shouldn't be — replicated in the DNA of American Single Malt whiskey.”

Steger went on to explain why utilizing Minnesota peat was so important. “I wanted to use Minnesotasourced peat in our whiskey to experience the taste of our terroir. I also felt a very powerful responsibility to the land itself. Because we were the first to use this resource in whiskey, I knew we would establish an important precedent.”

We discussed the ecological impact of utilizing American peat as well. “Traditional peat-smoking turns up to 10,000 years of carbon sequestration into greenhouse gas and air pollution. It also reduces the unique, organic history and flavor of the land to smoke, literally. “I didn't want that precedent to set Minnesota's ancient carbon sink and ecological chronicle on fire. It was imperative that the first single malt made with Minnesota peat keep peat's carbon in solid, organic form so it could go back into the ground and not into the air. It was also imperative that it preserve and impart into the whiskey the unique herbaceous and earthy signature of the plant communities that


built up the bogs over thousands of years.”

Brother Justus utilizes a unique process and approach to peating their whiskey, infusing the peat directly into the whiskey as a finishing element, Steger explained.

“Oak-finishing and maple charcoal infusion are traditional to whiskey, going back a few centuries. Using peat in whiskey predates that by many centuries, perhaps a thousand years. But peat-finishing and infusion were never done until we did it,” he said. “That's because the spongy, super-absorptive properties of natural peat make it nearly impossible. We had to invent our way to it by working closely with an ingenious Minnesota peat supplier, American Peat Technologies.”

Steger believes this approach represents a change all distillers could benefit from. “I think the future of peated whiskey in America — and the world — is cold-peated, or peat-finished, whiskey using the method we invented and the improvements that are sure to come. A remnant of traditional burned-peat, or peat-smoked, whiskey will, and I think should, survive in the

venerable distilleries of Scotland that have kept this tradition alive. But it shouldn't be widely replicated elsewhere, and I don't think it will be. Traditional peat-smoked whiskey is already under significant regulatory and consumer pressure. New craft distilleries, including in Scotland and industry observers, openly question whether peat has any future in whiskey.”

I echo Steger’s sentiments as I travel West to another distillery that has been at the forefront of American peated whiskey for some time now. In the next part of this story, I learn about Washington’s Westland Distillery and how their partnership with Skagit Valley Malting has created innovative malting while crafting a product uniquely Western Washington.

Sailor Guevara,

a veteran of the spirits and hospitality industry, the 2020 winner of the World of Whiskey Icon award and an author and contributor to several spirits publications. As acclaimed podcast host and published mixologist Sailor enjoys sharing her passion for spirits and music with the world.
“I wanted to use Minnesota-sourced peat in our whiskey to experience the taste of our terroir. I also felt a very powerful responsibility to the land itself. Because we were the first to use this resource in whiskey, I knew we would establish an important precedent.”
— Phil Steger



provided by Copper Crow Distillery

Tapping into the Wisconsin dairy industry, using local fruit and regional grain, nestled among the Lake Superior pines on a Native American reservation: Copper Crow is a distillery with a strong sense of place.

Curtis and Linda Basina founded the distillery in 2018 to give visitors to the area a taste of that place, and along the way became the first distillery to be located on a reservation.

The couple frequently enjoyed stopping at local breweries, wineries, and distilleries whenever they went on vacation, and after winding down previous careers — in the state highway patrol and education, followed by a stint running a family-owned gas station — they decided to take the leap into distilling.

“We were talking one day, and I said, ‘You know, we’re here in northern Wisconsin, on the shores of Lake Superior with the Apostle Islands National Park right at our doorstep,” he said. “We’re a very heavily touristed community. We’ve got local wineries. We’ve got local breweries, but nobody is doing any distillation. I think there’s an opportunity here.”

Starting a distillery where they did, though, was a tenuous proposal.The facility is located near Bayfield, Wisconsin, within the reservation of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, located on the northernmost shores of Wisconsin, making it subject to a variety of federal alcohol-related prohibitions over the years. Dating back to the 23rd United States Congress and Andrew Jackson’s presidency, a federal law enacted in 1834 regulated trade and conduct on reservation land banning the exchange or manufacture of “ardent spirits” (a prohibition that, Basina observed, was repeatedly violated time and again, particularly by the U.S. cavalry).

The law remained in place until the 1950s, when a portion of it was lifted to allow for the possession and consumption of alcohol on tribal lands, resulting in the occasional reservation bar or supper club, but the proscription on distillation itself remained in place until 2018.

“When we made our application to the TTB, I had a really solid suspicion that we were going to be the first Native-owned distillery in the U.S.,” Basina, a Red Cliff member, said. It

helped that their reservation is one of a group known as “checkerboard” reservations meaning at one time, part of the reservation was divided up by the federal government under the Indian Allotment Act into private parcels that individual reservation members owned.

“The government decided, hey, you’ve got this reservation that encompasses this many

acres. Here’s your membership. We’re going to give every one of your tribal members, say for example, a 40-acre parcel,” he explained. “Individual tribal members were given a parcel of property, and Native Americans, historically, had no concept of ownership of property, so once the property came into private tribal members hands, some of them

“When we made our application to the TTB, I had a really solid suspicion that we were going to be the first Native-owned distillery in the U.S.”
— Curtis Basina

saw an economic opportunity and sold their property either to other members or to nonmembers. Some didn’t understand the taxation responsibilities associated with property ownership, so the property then became tax delinquent and was subsequently surrendered to the local jurisdiction, and purchased by nonmembers or, in some cases, logging companies.”

As a result, the reservation, like many in Wisconsin, contains a lot of squares that are privately owned by both tribal and non-tribal members. “A lot of the real desirable pieces on the shores of Lake Superior were bought by non-tribal members who erected vacation homes and things like that,” he said. Basina said the tribe has been working to buy some of that property back.

The Basinas were able to secure parcels for their own home as well as a separate plot for the distillery. Because the distillery is technically on private land that’s no longer held by the tribe, they were able to circumvent the then-standing prohibition on distilling. Of

course, as Basina noted and many distillers have experienced, that depended “on how our TTB application was received and how it was reviewed.” (The ban has since been overturned due to the lobbying efforts of Washington State’s Chehalis Tribe and others, a campaign the Basinas followed closely.)

While Copper Crow’s location on a reservation carries meaning for the Basinas, including the company name, they prefer not to push that part of the narrative. “We have gotten so much local, regional, state, and national attention for who we are and what we’ve done, and yet there’s still lots and lots of people who come to experience our facility, and they have absolutely no idea that we’re native,” he said. “There are local people from our community that have no idea that there’s a distillery in their backyard and have no idea that my wife and I own it and are registered members of the tribe.” They’d rather be known for quality products, and are tapping into local resources to meet that goal.

Like many small distilleries, they started

with vodka and gin. However, alongside their wheat-based house vodka, Copper Crow has a unique vodka and gin crafted from whey. The idea came about while Basina was learning how to distill. He attended a course that distillery consultant Rusty Figgins put on several years back. Basina said Figgins pulled him aside almost immediately and told him, “Hey, Curt, you’re from Wisconsin, and Wisconsin is the dairy state. You really need to look at doing something with dairy, primarily whey, because it’s generally considered a waste product. If you can make that work, you can take a waste product and turn it into a value-added product, so I accepted Rusty’s challenge.”

It was indeed a challenge, because whey — the liquid byproduct of the cheesemaking process — contains a small amount of milk sugar (lactose) that can be converted to fermentable sugar, but not enough to conduct an efficient fermentation or distillation. However, Basina found a dairy a couple of hours away that’s producing a concentrated version called whey permeate. Other distillers have struggled with the low lactose content in whey, but the dairy they work with filters out the protein, concentrating the whey, and then re-pasteurize it so it’s fairly stable and doesn’t encourage lactic-acid fermentation.

They figured out how to ferment and distill the whey on their own, but the Basinas’ younger daughter, Rebecca, went to school locally at the University of Wisconsin –Stout and was eventually hired to manage a lab at the university. The family distillery came up in a casual conversation with the dean one day, and led to a partnership focused on optimizing the process.

“We have gotten so much local, regional, state, and national attention for who we are and what we’ve done, and yet there’s still lots and lots of people who come to experience our facility, and they have absolutely no idea that we’re native.”
— Curtis Basina

“The next thing you know, that relationship blossomed and one of the professors down there said, ‘I want to work with you to help you find more efficient means of fermentation, which ultimately should help you get more volume out of the product you’re using,’” he said. They began working closely with the university in 2020, through COVID-19, and continue to maintain a collaborative partnership with the faculty there. “For a couple of years, we did a lot of closely monitored tests with the university. They came up with some means to assist us in fermentation.”

Copper Crow also produces a rum and a brandy in partnership with local apple orchards in the fall. “We’re able to secure quite a quantity of fresh-pressed apple cider that we turn into a locally-produced apple brandy,”

“We’re able to secure quite a quantity of fresh-pressed apple cider that we turn into a locally-produced apple brandy.”

Basina said. The Basinas knew when they started the business that they wanted to release some aged whiskies, and were recently able to release four-year-old bourbon, rye, and wheat whiskies from regionally sourced grain. They’re also storing a limited number of American single malt barrels. “Hopefully those hang around in barrels a little more than four years,” he said.

They’re currently working to expand the product line for the whey supply after receiving a state grant for manufacturers to develop and market new dairy based products y. The state funding allows them to buy additional equipment and work towards further developing and marketing new products such as aquavit, amaretto, and a Campari-style amaro, all using whey.

— Curtis Basina

In terms of their facility, the distilling equipment consists of a 1,000-liter mash cooker, some stainless steel bulk dairy tanks for fermentation, a 1,000-liter hybrid still, and a 50-gallon still. The building is about 3,500 square feet with a quarter of it dedicated to the tasting room, another quarter as warehousing and shipping/receiving, and the remaining half taken up by the distillery. The distillery and tasting room is set back just off of the local highway, State Highway 13, with a 500-foot driveway and a parking lot that comfortably holds 12 to 15 cars. Often during the summer, he said, the lot will be full and both sides of the road lined with cars out to the highway.

“It’s a small facility, but we make it work,” Basina said. “We crank it out, and we’ve developed an incredible reputation. Most of our advertising comes from word of mouth.”

Some aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic seemed to actually boost business at the distillery, he added. Copper Crow had very strict protocols, and he said their customers seemed to appreciate that. Many of those

visitors were coming from populated areas such as Chicago, Madison, and Minneapolis, eager to get away.

“They came to these small areas and they were not afraid to open their wallets,” Basina said. “People wanted to get out of the city and out of the congestion, and to be able to breathe, essentially, and they came north, just to be able to get out and be somewhat free.”

Despite the success, they’re not interested in growth at the cost of the forest that surrounds the distillery. They would have to

destroy or alter the pines to expand the facility, and have plenty on their plates already.

“When we started, I was in the distillery 80, 90 hours a week sometimes. After a while that has a tendency to take a toll,” Basina said, noting that he and Linda are already in their early 60s. “We’ve gotten to the point now where we’re quite comfortable, we’ve got a number of employees that handle a lot of things for us. At some point in time, I’d like to retire, although I’ve retired twice already. The next time I retire it’s going to be for good.”

Copper Crow Distillery is located in Bayfield, Wisconsin. For more information visit or call (715) 779-0275.
“It’s a small facility, but we make it work. We crank it out, and we’ve developed an incredible reputation. Most of our advertising comes from word of mouth.”
— Curtis Basina


The Williams family has deep roots in the Arkansas Delta, going back more than a century to some of the most ignominious chapters in American history. But now, the family is trying to use their new and well-acclaimed craft distillery, Delta Dirt, to help create a rising tide in their longtime community of Helena, Arkansas.


It’s the only black-owned farm distillery in the country, a fourth-generation farm that Harvey William’s great grandfather, Joe Williams, worked his whole life as a sharecropper. His grandfather, U.D. Williams was eventually able to buy it outright. Harvey and his wife, Donna, had grown up in the area, went away to college, raised a family, and moved back in 2017.

“So many people in the Delta leave for opportunity, go to college and get a job, and we did just that,” he said. “Lived in places all over the country, raised our family, and always had this longing to come back to the family farm, [or] at least the area.”

The farm was passed to his father, Harvey Sr., who changed the focus of the farm from row cropping (soy, corn, and wheat) during a difficult time in the 1980s, and Harvey’s brothers Kennard and Andre stayed to help work the land.

“A lot of farmers got out of farming. Some of them were able to expand by leasing additional land. Some, like my dad, were able to diversify,” he said. “That’s how he ended up in the whole vegetable farming operation and farming sweet potatoes.”

He said he and Donna didn’t know exactly what they wanted to do or what kind of business they wanted to get involved in when they moved back. His father and brothers would attend vegetable farming conferences around the country, and that particular year they came back excited about what they had learned about sweet potatoes.

They were sharing with Harvey about an experience meeting someone in North Carolina who had sweet potato vodka, and the pieces started to fit together.

Photos provided by DELTA

“From that point, I got really excited about, man, we have been growing sweet potatoes since the ‘80s, and this is a new way of looking at and doing something with what we’re already growing,” Harvey said.

They started visiting distilleries large and small, doing research, connecting with the American Craft Spirits Association, and meeting people in various stages of their companies’ life cycles. They knew of the distiller in North Carolina who was doing it, but couldn’t find many others around the country or any sort of established procedures for processing and distilling sweet potatoes.

Their son Thomas, now the fourth generation of the Williams farm family, graduated college with a degree in kinesiology and came back to help get things off the ground. “My plan was to pursue something in the medical field,” he said. Instead, he moved to Helena and started applying some of that scientific background to unlocking the process of producing sweet potato vodka. Harvey and Donna’s other son, Donavan, also moved back to Helena in 2021 to help with the distillery, and is now working as operations manager with a growing role on the sales side.

Once they settled on a formula for the sweet potato vodka, they settled on an odd proof, 86, as an homage to the year that he and Donna graduated high school (1986), as well as another important number. The original farm was 86 acres.


His grandfather farmed cotton, as well as some corn that was diverted to nonfood products. When U.D. was finally able to buy the farm, in November 1949, it was a result of working outside the established system. He took his cotton to a different ginner, or cotton processor, instead of his landlord that year. “What that meant was that he was able to get what that cotton was worth,” Harvey said. “Year after year, you’d go and you’d never have enough, or he’d never give you enough for your cotton to pay off the land.” It was a system that nominally replaced slavery, and finally earning your way out “was not meant to happen. For him to be able to do that was a big deal.”

Doing so didn’t come without its risks. Well into the 20th century, black farmers largely remained under the thumb of the sharecropping system, which kept them perpetually in debt and unable to leave a farm. When black farmers near Elaine, about 30 miles from the Williams’ farm, began to organize to get what their cotton was actually worth in 1919, “The white farmers and businesspeople learned of that, and it turned into one of the most deadly black massacres in the history of this nation,” Harvey said. An unknown number of black sharecroppers, with estimates ranging well into the hundreds, were massacred and many others tortured, with US soldiers participating to support white residents and landowners.

To help get to the point where he could purchase the farm, U.D. grew corn to sell, use for feed, and presumably use as a base for the moonshine that Harvey learned was part of the family history. “It wasn’t easy to get out of sharecropping at that time, and my grandad didn’t take a straight path to do that, either,” he said. “He was able to buy the farm with the money from cotton that year, and moonshine.


“It wasn’t easy to get out of sharecropping at that time, and my grandad didn’t take a straight path to do that, either. He was able to buy the farm with the money from cotton that year, and moonshine.”

My dad told us that. When Donna and I were doing this project, he comes in one day with this jug, and says, ‘Your grandad did moonshine, and this is the only evidence that we have left of him doing that.’ It’s this jug with a hook around the neck of it, and it’s got a number inscribed in it, the number five. I’m sure that meant something to my grandad. We didn’t know that was even in our background.”

His father also has a variety of old documentation, such as the deed to the property, information on who it was purchased from and when.

“I had no idea how deep the roots were here in the family,” Harvey said. “This project has lended itself to fulfilling the whole story of the family background, and now everyone in the family is learning more about our history, our heritage, and how we ended up with the farm. I hope and believe that my grandad is proud, my ancestral community is proud of what we’re doing, with the farm and holding on to it, taking it to the next generation.”


The farm now grows some corn, sweet potatoes, and wheat, but is primarily growing yellow and zucchini squash — 80 acres of it in 2022. Supplying the distillery with sweet potatoes and wheat is a side project as far as the farm is concerned, but Harvey said he “would be ok if we converted that land to supporting the distillery.”

Alongside their flagship vodka, made from corn and sweet potatoes from the farm, W&W Produce, and distilled on a hybrid 20-plate pot/column still, they also have a gin made from corn and wheat. Thomas said the gin is distilled with juniper, coriander, orange peel, angelica, cassia, and orris root, and is a more juniper-forward gin with coriander on the back end and orange on the nose.

They’ve also produced a bourbon with sweet potatoes, sourcing rye and barley elsewhere, that they hope to release later in 2023 or early 2024. Harvey said they’re tasting it every couple of months and are excited about how it’s progressing.

“At this point, I don’t know of anyone making bourbon that has sweet potatoes in the mashbill,” he said. “It wasn’t my idea. That was Donna. After the vodka turned out to be such a delightful product, she said, ‘Why don’t you guys try a bourbon that has sweet potatoes in it?’ We checked the regulations and actually called TTB and confirmed that, yeah, as long as that mashbill is at least 51 percent corn.”


It took some time to dial in the supply-and-demand aspect of the operation — too much corn coming from the farm, too many sweet potatoes, not enough corn, not enough sweet potatoes.

“Things just don’t happen exactly the way you expect them to happen. It was trial and error, and are you even going to get a product that you’re going to like?” Harvey said. “There was a lot at risk there. It’s a huge leap in a lot of ways.”

Part of that risk is the money itself that went into the venture. Because the local financial institutions were unfamiliar with the industry and not interested in supporting the effort, Harvey, who left his previous career in 2022, and Donna, who is still working outside of the distillery, wound up going it alone and investing their savings into the distillery. Potentially adding to the risk is the area that they’re investing in. The Arkansas Delta isn’t a highly populated area, and it has a long history of social and economic difficulties.

“It’s just been a challenged community. In rural America in general, but in rural America in the Delta it’s been doubly challenging, whether it’s race relations, economic opportunity, jobs. There’s just a lot going on in terms of disparity,” Harvey said.

To help draw in customers, they’ve created a warm, open space in downtown Helena, restoring the storefront, which is listed on the historic register, and updating the interior with a large tasting room, expansive bar, as well as a skylight that was original to the building. There’s also a large glass window to see into the distillery operation, including the still, stainless tanks, and bottling line.

“There’s transparency to the operation, which allows people to see what’s behind the curtain,” Harvey said. “Because this is the Delta, not many people have seen a real-life distillery in operation before. They’re fascinated by the whole concept of it. Their exposure to alcohol has been strictly retail. You go to the store and you buy your spirit of choice. This is kind of the attraction that helps them to see that, man, this is made here at the distillery, and you guys are using your own grain and sweet potatoes.”

Delta Dirt is distributing in four states, focusing on select markets such as Memphis versus the whole state of Tennessee, and finished 2022 with more than 1,000 cases sold, a lot through the distillery before they moved into distribution in October. They’ve recently secured support from Pronghorn, an investment company focused on providing black-owned spirits businesses with capital and industry expertise. As a result, they’ve been able to transition to a more data-driven approach to marketing and have purchased a semi-automatic bottling line to be installed this summer.

Harvey said the increasing support for their venture started with customers, initially visitors to the area or former residents who were excited to see something happening there.

“People are coming from across the state and even surrounding states, which is pretty amazing,” he said. “The other thing that’s happening, too, is that people who used to live here in Helena that have moved on and live across the country, when


they return, they have heard about us and say, ‘The next time we come home, we’re gonna stop by.’ We get quite a bit of that, too.”

They’re hoping to spark something, lifting spirits in a way “that allows people to have an imagination about what is possible,” Harvey said.

“The distillery itself, I think it means a lot to this community. I had no idea that it would mean so much to the community and spearheading life and revitalization in this downtown area, just giving people more hope that there’s a lot more possible in this town than we thought there was. That means a lot, it means that you’re doing something beyond just for yourself.”

Doing something that goes beyond oneself is a point that resonates with every member of the family. Harvey said the distillery means an opportunity to continue writing the Williams family history on the farm, “an opportunity to carry on to the next generation.”

Thomas said it meant hope for revitalization in the community, “and bringing in some new life. I share in that same vision and passion for this community,” he said. “For the family, it means a legacy, it’s something that you’re building not only for yourself, but hopefully for generations to come. It means something beyond yourself.”

Donovan, Harvey and Donna’s second son, called them “just a proud family in the Delta, just trying to make a difference, an impact, and I think we see that every weekend with conversations we have with people who come through. We’re just doing what we can and hopefully inspiring other people with what we do, with what we have.”

Donna said the distillery represents hope for the community. “Hope for the past, present, and future,” she said. “Like our tagline, raising spirits in the Delta. To me, that’s about giving hope. Hope of what can be done. With hope, you can do a whole lot of things, you can see something beyond yourself and see bigger things.”

“Like our tagline, raising spirits in the Delta. To me, that’s about giving hope. Hope of what can be done. With hope, you can do a whole lot of things, you can see something beyond yourself and see bigger things.”


Southern Distilling Company is Much More Than They May Seem

Thereare two sides to Southern Distilling Company. There’s the side that consumers know about, the one producing craft bourbon, rye, and liqueur under the Southern Star label. This is the side that wins medals at known competitions like the SIP Awards, the New York Wine & Spirits Competition and Fred Minnick’s Ascot Awards. All while promoting the importance of treating distilled spirits as a joyful conduit that brings friends and loved ones together. Then there’s the side that consumers don’t know about, the one where they’re using their grain-to-glass distilling mindset to help roughly 120 other brands as a contact distiller.

Both exist harmoniously, because they grow from a common core philosophy of using the best ingredients to make spirits that matter. The stories emerging from this root radically diverge under the watchful eyes of Pete and Vienna Barger, the husband-and-wife duo constructing the narratives that drive the Statesville, North Carolina, distillery they founded in 2013. On the contracting side, they’re ghostwriters that deflect acclaim to others. For their brand, they’re orators perched on a hilltop, drawing attention to a history that languishes in obscurity.



Southern Distilling Company sums up its contracting work with a simple motto: “Your product made your way.” They execute the motto’s sentiment by building mash bills from scratch with the spirit brand, as opposed to selling barrels of juice. There’s nothing wrong with the latter option, of course — many quality products are sold this way. Yet Southern’s approach provides burgeoning distilleries a more controlled opportunity to develop their spirits and ultimately their brands. According to Pete Barger, it’s a model that ideally aligns with the craft sector’s explosion. “Ten years ago, there were only about 370 distilleries in the U.S. There weren’t 2,000-plus craft brands like there are now,” he said. “The industry changed, and we’re growing with these changes. We feel like we’re Johnny on the spot, and by taking a craft distiller’s approach to contracting, we can offer a level of authenticity to our customers.”

Southern’s “grain to glass” approach to contract distilling also gives their clients a little more wiggle room to experiment, which may lead to line extensions as their craft partners grow.

“I have a client right now that’s playing around with a malted rye with a threegrain mash bill of heritage corn, malted rye, and malted barley,” Barger said. “We’re excited to see how it turns out. We’re also excited to see how it may scale to larger production if things go well.”

The brand working with Southern to produce this malted rye is a mystery. So are the other brands contracted to Southern. The Bargers keep all their clients in strict confidentiality, and requests for information will be met with a polite but firm no. It’s a policy that can slightly sting on occasion, even if it is for the greater good. “It’s tough to see brands win medals and we can’t disclose that they work with us,” Barger admitted. “Then again, we don’t want the focus on us. Creating quality products is more important.”

While Southern’s adherence to silent partnership keeps their contracting efforts out of the public eye, the spirits industry is a different matter. They’re a reliable presence at industry conferences. Even as they’ve become a known commodity behind the scenes, there’s no rush to change how they attract new business. “We’ve spent a decade growing through word of mouth and reputation, not through Google,” said Vienna. “It fits who we are. We’re not some conglomerate that has to answer to shareholders. We’re just a family-owned business beholden to the needs of our clients.”

“It’s tough to see brands win medals and we can’t disclose that they work with us. Then again, we don’t want the focus on us. Creating quality products is more important.”
“We’re not some conglomerate that has to answer to shareholders. We’re just a family-owned business beholden to the needs of our clients.”

When Pete and Vienna are talking about their Southern Star labels, the megaphone comes out. When it does, the quality of the finished product doesn’t necessarily lead the conversation. It doesn’t have to, thanks in part to Southern Star cleaning up on the awards circuit in 2022. This allows the Bargers to focus on other key parts of the brand narrative. While they keep mum about the brands that contract with them, they’re transparent about their own products. Go to their website and click on their Southern Star Bottled-in-Bond wheated bourbon, for instance, and you’ll find out it’s built from a mash bill of 70 percent corn, 16 percent wheat, and 14 percent malted barley. The creation of their spirits line also fortifies the Bargers’ strict adherence to the “grain to glass” style of distilling they provide others as a contract distiller: Trusted partnerships with area farmers that grant them access to top quality local grain investing in state-of-the-art distilling and fermentation equipment. Turning to innovation to ensure consistency and not to take shortcuts.

These elements organically evoke the essence of craftsmanship. They


also lay the foundation for necessary conversations about the size and scope of the craft distilling process. It’s a conversation the Bargers are uniquely qualified to lead, given the other side of their business.

“Craft should be about tasting better, and about focusing on the terroir and barrel provenance,” Pete said. “These can be achieved on a large scale. If you’re producing 90,000 barrels but are still using the same grain, the same yeast, and treating the spent grain the same, you’re still making a craft product. There shouldn’t be any malice or shame about making craft on a large scale.”

Pete also states these conversations are coming at a time where the consumer is increasingly aware that exceptional bourbon doesn’t just come from Kentucky. This organically provides ample room for the Bargers to advocate for North Carolina spirits and Statesville’s forgotten history as a distilling epicenter — “There were 458 Federally licensed distilleries within 50 miles of Statesville before the Temperance movement descended on the South,” Pete notes.


Southern’s website for their Southern Star labels promotes four core beliefs — Stay True to Self; Give a Damn; Dare to Win; Be Grateful. Collectively, these beliefs tie into a much more personal side of enjoying spirits. To Pete and Vienna, the spirits they create under their own label function not just as reasons for people to get together, but also for

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“Craft should be about tasting better, and about focusing on the terroir and barrel provenance.”

people to deeply appreciate the connections and moments they have with each other whenever time allows them to occur. They strive to create juice that reflects the joys of the personal moments from their own lives. “The best memories of my father come from “bourbon Thursdays,” which was this little ritual we had,” Barger said. “We’d just sit on my back patio with a glass of bourbon and ‘watch the tide,’ as he’d say, even though we’d be looking at the lake by our house which had no tide. These are the type of moments we want to celebrate through our spirits. It’s personal. It’s important because my home is important.”

This personal sentiment is a prominent driving force behind Southern’s own spirits line, and it’s an expression that feels more valuable than the awards they’ve earned. In a sense, it also feels like a key element to the craft spirits Southern helps create as a contract distiller, particularly since they insist on anonymity in the process. In these cases, they aren’t just helping to build up brands. They’re helping to create legacies.

Southern Distilling Company is located in Statesville, North Carolina. For more info visit or call (704) 978-7175.



A Crucial Combo

Big Gin and Neptune Snacks’ Collaboration Proves There’s Nothing Fishy About Sustainability

When a distillery and a food producer collaborate on a product, there’s usually a barrel involved. Seldom do the raw materials used to make distilled spirits get into the mix. This is what makes the collaboration between Seattle’s Big Gin Distillery and Neptune Snacks so intriguing. Neptune uses the spent juniper berries processed after Big Gin’s distillation to season their award-winning Sea Salt & Juniper fish jerky, a partnership they’ve engaged in since Neptune hit the market in 2019. The collaboration’s story would be intriguing if it stopped there, particularly since both products are delicious. But it doesn’t. Dig a little deeper and you’ll see a shared commitment to genuine sustainability, one that’s not marred by PR buzzwords or outside accusations of “greenwashing.” It’s a partnership that works like a good food and beverage pairing.

Northwest Product, Southwest Roots

The partnership between Big Gin and Neptune Snacks is about as Pacific Northwest as it gets. The region is a vital producer of American seafood and an essential source for Neptune’s fish. It’s also a leader in the country’s sustainability efforts. This context makes it somewhat surprising to learn that the collaboration’s roots began some 1,400 miles away in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

“I grew up on a cattle ranch in New Mexico, but ended up becoming a marine scientist for Stanford, and I wanted to make a positive impact on sea sustainability,” explained Nick Mendoza, Founder and CEO of Neptune Snacks. “A few years ago, I went back to New Mexico, and I was invited to go on a distillery tour in Santa Fe. During the tour, I asked them what they did with their spent berries. It gave me an idea. I grew up with juniper berries in New Mexico, so I was already familiar with them, so I took some home and started experimenting with them.”

Photos provided by NEPTUNE SNACKS & BIG GIN

Mendoza’s curiosity dovetailed with his ongoing interest in creating sustainable seafood options. After some extensive research and development in his home test kitchen, he created the juniper glaze that would eventually go on Neptune’s first fish jerky to be sold. It was a great product — awards and a ringing endorsement from internationally renowned chef Massimo Bottura would confirm this sentiment — but Mendoza needed a supply partner that not only could spare enough juniper to meet his needs, but also shared his same values on sustainability.

Enter Big Gin. “We’ve always looked for good collaborations,” explained Alex Myers, Big Gin’s head distiller. “We’re also always looking for opportunities to upcycle. When Nick reached out and asked about our juniper, we knew we could supply him with around 30 to 60 pounds of spent juniper. Now, we can give him whatever he needs.”

Today, the two companies enjoy a close partnership driven in part by cross-promotion. Big Gin carries Neptune Snacks in their distillery. Neptune Snacks is in the process of promoting the collaboration through upcycled stickers on their packaging. They’re also less than four miles apart, which helps them stay connected. “Going to Big Gin’s tasting room to have a cocktail and a bag of jerky is something I regularly do,” Mendoza said.

For Myers, the partnership allows Big Gin to uniquely penetrate the local market. “Neptune is a popular brand in Seattle,” he said. “In turn, our partnership with them can serve as an introduction to gin for some people in some ways. This can expand our popularity and open minds to new pairings — and it is a nice pairing.”

A Bigger Purpose

Neptune Snack’s website provides a window into the making of their sustainable products, which also includes spice Cajun, cracked pepper, and sweet citrus ginger flavors. They make jerky from imperfect, “underloved” fish cuts that are flavorful, yet not aesthetically pleasing enough to sell at the grocery store — an upcycling tactic that fits well with their use of Big Gin’s spent juniper berries. Other data includes a “Find My Fish” system enabling customers to track the fish’s geographic origin, what fishery it came from, and how it

“We’ve always looked for good collaborations. We’re also always looking for opportunities to upcycle. When Nick reached out and asked about our juniper, we knew we could supply him with around 30 to 60 pounds of spent juniper. Now, we can give him whatever he needs.”

was caught via a QR code. There are also plenty of graphs, statistics, and info built around sea sustainability, food waste, and climate change. The brand walks the walk, but Mendoza also realizes that not everyone wants to talk the talk.

“Sustainability may be number one on the list of what I want to talk about, but it’s probably number five on what people want to hear,” Mendoza said. “They’ll first want to know if it tastes good, if it will make them feel good, if it’s healthy, and where it can be bought.”

This reality highlights the common ground Neptune Snacks and Big Gin share. Both know making delicious products that the public enjoys provides them with the foundation needed to pursue other sustainable goals. According to Myers, these goals turn into a list that keeps expanding. “Sustainability is kind of like getting a tattoo,” Myers said. “Once you get one tattoo, you want more. With sustainability, once you start with one sustainable practice, you start to see what other sustainable practices you can do.”

While people may buy Neptune Snacks and Big Gin for their respective tastes, this doesn’t mean that opportunities to discuss sustainability don’t arise — particularly given the brands’ location. “Sustainability is always on the back of people’s minds in the Pacific Northwest,” Myers said. “There are plenty of ways for people to bring it up, like talking about the region’s wildlife and agriculture. Since distilling’s a product of farming, the sustainable practices that we do at Big Gin, like recycling cooling water and upcycling our spent juniper, naturally ties into these types of conversations.”

When these conversations do occur, they can carry enough clout to change people’s perspective thanks to the way they taste. “If people are skeptical of imperfect cuts of fish and spent juniper berries, the flavor of the jerky will change their mind,” Mendoza stated.

A Bigger, Brighter Future

Like most businesses, Neptune Snacks and Big Gin both hope to grow within their respective categories. However, there is a caveat. “As we get bigger, we don’t want to be less of who we are now,” Myers said. “While we’re not leveraging our sustainability practices to sell more bottles, I do feel it’s important that we keep doing the things we can and need to do at any size.”

No matter what the future holds, the bond between Neptune Snacks and Big Gin is poised to remain strong. “Nick’s found a great niche of sustainability through his jerky, so it’s very easy to say yes to a partnership,” Myers added. “Honestly, even without the juniper process, we’d find a way to work with him.”

Big Gin Distillery is located in Seattle, Washington. For more information visit or call (206) 557-4599. Visit for more info on Neptune Snacks.



Adapting to Growth

Last year, Black Button Distilling celebrated ten years of crafting grainto-glass craft spirits. This year, we embark on the next decade of our craft spirits journey with the opening of a new and expanded tasting room and distillery, which will more than quadruple our physical space from 5,000 sq. ft. to 28,000 sq. ft. With our upcoming expansion, our average annual spirits production will increase from 1,000 barrels of spirits per year to as much as 4,500 barrels in the first few years. And our retail tasting room space will grow from 700 sq. ft. to 4,900 sq., allowing for significantly increased seating capacity, private event space and expanded hours of operation for the public.

As the size, scale, and scope of our operations has increased dramatically, we have had to learn and adapt to changes in the way we work.

Getting to this point — a decade of not only survival, but growth — in the craft spirits industry hasn’t always been easy. Here are some of the challenges we’ve faced, how we’ve adapted to them, and what we look forward to in the next ten years...

SCALING A BuSINeSS: We have experienced a huge amount of growth in ten years — not only in production, but in staff. What works for three people does not work for 15 and doesn’t work again for 50. We now have 87 staff members. A lot of the processes that we used when we were small are now a contributing source of a lot of stress. And we are growing so fast that often by the time we iron out a process we have to start to update it again because something else has changed. This can range from how we order grain, to how we train salespeople to how we recruit. At 87 staffers, it’s a whole different situation.

Written by Jason Barrett Photography by Brian Christensen
As the size, scale, and scope of our operations has increased dramatically, we have had to learn and adapt to changes in the way we work.

The same goes for maintaining quality in production while scaling, from storage tanks to spent mash, with growth comes change and new challenges in spirits equipment and processes. For example, we now have seven 6,000-gallon storage tanks. They can’t just be dropped into any building. They have to go into a containment room so if they spill, the sewer isn’t flooded. The fire suppression system has to be foam and the training for the staff has to be airtight because the consequences are even more dire than it was at a small scale. At this scale, steam jackets are no longer effective, so we need steam injection which has upstream implications with stainless steel boilers and clean steam instead of cast iron.

ONGOING eDuCATION: Interestingly, because of the size of our new boilers our staff now have to be certified boiler engineers due to local ordinances. The process, while unexpected, was fairly easy. We bought the two distillers who took this on the book The Best Boiler Operator Exam Prep Course: Get Your Boiler Operator License in 30 Days (Boiler Plant Prep) by Dan Ringo and gave them time off to study. The test is offered by our city quarterly and pretty soon they were certified. But that took time away from production and was a hurdle we had to overcome.


KeePING Our VISION IN mIND: Another challenge I often face is “can we vs. should we?” For a long time, if we could do it, we did. But now that we have 45 products we are straining under the weight of all our ideas. Trying to keep 87 people on the same page when you have so many products just leads to lots of confusion. So, going forward I am trying to be more judicious about how and where we dedicate our time and efforts. I’m constantly asking, “How does this help our vision?” And I’m putting more emphasis on “should we do it,” not just “ can we.”

Our expansion also provided us with the opportunity to make exciting changes that realign with our vision and improve our workflow. I think one of the worst things I have done as a CEO was move the offices out of the plant. For the last few years, we had production in one space, and everyone else in another office. I never could have foreseen how complex it would be — even just having our office 500 feet down the road from the production plant — but it really impacted workflow and has made communication, trust, and team planning so much more difficult. It’s the same challenge we have with working from home now. Conversations that would happen if you could just pop your head over the cubicle wall don’t necessarily happen in the same way (or at all) if we’re not in the same location. What about the spontaneous conversations in a hallway that result in great ideas? They don’t exist if our team is split up.

Now, for the very first time, we will all be in a space large enough to have everything except barrel storage on one site. By combining four smaller facilities into one, our staff will be much more efficient and cohesive. Being together is an important part of any team framework and building a culture.

A CASH-INTeNSIVe BuSINeSS: As everyone in the whiskey world knows, it’s hard to grow a brand where the product has to be made four to six years before it comes to market. This is always a struggle.

To adapt to this, as we gain a lot more warehouse space with our move, we can now buy larger amounts of raw goods to get better prices and make our supply chain more efficient. And, the increased production has resulted in cost savings, as well. Prior to the move, our total cost to make a barrel was about 40 percent direct inputs and 60 percent overhead. But when you increase production by five times while the fixed costs only rise about three times, each unit gets cheaper. So now it's 60 percent/40 percent the other way and we’re saving more than 30 percent on every barrel we make. Meaning: the same cash

Another challenge I often face is “ can we vs. should we?” For a long time, if we could do it, we did.

can make 30 percent more whiskey. Not only did the input costs go down by a bit since we can now buy in bulk but with the same labor we can now make a lot more barrels, which means we can start to compete for larger contracts.

Another exciting development for us is that technology has evolved over the past decade. Ten years ago, there were very few providers of craft scale continuous whiskey stills. Now that this technology has advanced, we’re able to get a still that will make in an hour what our two original stills make in an entire shift.

But, this increased volume has resulted in a byproduct we have to address: spent mash production. The volume of spent mash we produce has increased from 1,500 gallons per day to 6,000. At this scale, the same technology no longer works. We’re testing to see if we can send our spent mash across a screw press and take most of the water out, then convey it to drop the damp grain directly to 18-wheelers to be hauled away. Assuming we get our moisture content right, we may be able to sell it rather than pay to have it hauled away. Though even then it barely breaks even, but it’s an important part of our business. In fact, we will likely spend more on our mash dewatering equipment than our still. It will be a seven- to 10-year payback, but it’s the right way to do it. And in the long run, it’s more environmentally friendly.

Finally, one of the most exciting things for me, and I’ll geek out a bit here — is that the tanks are just so big. Seriously, they are like 22 feet tall. How is it that my little company at just 11 years old is now making whiskey at this scale? The day we open our new facility we will be the largest independent bourbon production site in New York — and we can triple this facility as we grow. We used to make 20 barrels each week. And not too long ago it’s what we made in a month. Now we will be able to do that each day.

To see this dream become a reality is just so incredibly exciting.

To see this dream become a reality is just so incredibly exciting. Over the years as Black Button Distilling has grown, one thing has remained constant: we have been blessed with great support from the community and fantastic employees. And none of these exciting changes would be possible without them.

Jason Barrett is the Founder/Master Distiller of Black Button Distilling, the first craft distillery in Rochester, NY since Prohibition. This summer, Black Button Distilling is celebrating a decade of crafting grain-to-glass craft spirits. A New York State Farm Distillery, Black Button Distilling is the first distillery in New York to obtain the New York State Grown and Certified status for commitment to locally sourced ingredients and high standards of quality. Named New York Distillery of the Year (2016 & 2021) at The New York International Spirits Competition, Black Button Distilling has produced more than million bottles of spirits and has been named to the Inc. 5,000 list of fastest growing privately owned companies four times. To learn more about Black Button Distilling, visit | 585.798.6695 Medina, New York ClearSource is a premier supplier of high-purity alcohol products specializing in grain neutral spirits made from New York corn. Distilled 7X through nearly 600 feet of distillation, our world-class distillation system produces alcohol products that contain virtually no impurities and no detectable organoleptic characteristics. Contact us today for a sample. The Clear Choice for Your Grain Neutral Spirit Needs


Written by MEGAN PATZ Photography by LIZ ZABEL

Before opening Cedar Ridge Distillery in 2005, Jeff Quint had been an avid Scotch drinker. “I love good single malts, always have,” says Quint. “So, from the beginning, I was a bit torn between my appreciation for single malts and the fact that we’re corn farmers here in Iowa, and bourbon whiskey is a logical focus for us.” For most of the first fifteen years, Cedar Ridge did focus primarily on selling its Iowa bourbon. By the end of 2019, they had surpassed their three remaining competitive brands (Jim Beam, Makers Mark, and Bulleit) to become the number one 750ml bourbon in Iowa and have continued to grow their margin lead.

But, this whole time, Quint had not lost an ounce of interest in single malts. Everything changed for him after a solo distillery tour through Scotland, where there were two brands that really struck a chord with him. “I was super intrigued by what The Balvenie was doing with their DoubleWood, with the two unique barrel finishes, and what their neighbor Glenfiddich was doing with their solera treatment on their 15-year-old product. But I found myself wondering, why can’t we do both? I mean, a second cask finish can add tons of unique notes and finishes, and then these can all be brought together in a solera marrying vat to create a super-interesting, super-complex single malt.”

In 2012, Cedar Ridge introduced its earliest version of this single malt. To save costs, they released it in the same bottle, and with a similar label profile, as their bourbon. But, as they continued to invest primarily in their bourbon distribution, they left their single malt to fend for itself through most of the

2010s, with little marketing investment. By the end of the decade, they finally made time to revisit the promotion of their single malt.

“By 2017 or 2018, while the term ‘American

Single Malt’ was just gaining traction, it had become apparent to us that both whiskey consumers and whiskey retailers were confused about what to do with these new single malts

“We knew we wanted to go heads up against Scotch with this product and not be stuck on the shelf next to our own bourbon. So, we re-designed our packaging entirely.”

coming from American distillers. We knew we wanted to go heads up against Scotch with this product and not be stuck on the shelf next to our own bourbon. So, we re-designed our packaging entirely.” The resulting product was then given the name The QuintEssential American Single Malt. “We wanted the retailer to put it in the Scotch section, and we wanted the consumer to notice it when shopping for Scotch.”

While Jeff was developing his bourbon business and continuing to hone his single malt strategy, his son, Murphy Quint, worked at Stranahan’s Distillery in Denver, Colorado. During his time there, Murphy really cut his teeth on single malt production and was intrigued by the emerging category in general. As he describes it, “Up until that point in time, I had a lot more experience producing bourbon and clear spirits. Once I was introduced to single malt, I became fascinated with the artistic freedom that this category presents to producers.”

Eventually, in 2014, Murphy returned back

to Iowa and re-joined the family business there. Today, he manages a production team of eleven (they run around the clock to fill over 200 barrels of whiskey each month) and carries the title of Head Distiller. Murphy’s passion for single malt is every bit as strong as his dad’s, and he has taken this project to the next level.

“When we rebranded from our Cedar Ridge Single Malt to The QuintEssential American Single Malt, that’s really when I developed the flavor profile of our Solera Edition that we’re building off of still to this day. Our solera vat never goes empty; it’s always a continuation of the original “Mother Batch.” A lot of time was spent developing and shaping

Batch 1 because it laid the groundwork for every batch to come.”

Cedar Ridge starts its process by crafting their American Single Malt from two-row pale malted barley, sourced completely from Prairie Malt in Saskatchewan, Canada. They then twice distill to 148° and cut to 120°. “We really use the same process to make all of our single malt, but the uniqueness in flavors really comes through in the aging process and how we’re able to manipulate and shape the single malt.”

Cedar Ridge then starts aging its single malt in ex-bourbon barrels for about four years before transferring all of the whiskey into a variety of finishing casks. Murphy explains,

“Once I was introduced to single malt, I became fascinated with the artistic freedom that this category presents to producers.”

As Murphy continues to build and expand the unique finishing casks being utilized, their solera “Motherbatch” evolves with each QuintEssential batch created.

“The goal is to utilize as many unique finishing casks as possible as they eventually become individual components that can help shape the flavor profile of the final product.” Cedar Ridge routinely sources one-of-a-kind finishing casks, including Sherry butts shipped directly from Jerez, Spain, Port casks, Madeira casks, wine casks, brandy casks, and rum casks, among a variety of others. “One of the coolest parts of my job is finding all of these unique finishing casks from around the planet and discovering how they contribute to our single malt program.” They also take advantage of their combined winery onsite and often use freshly emptied barrels from their estate, such as wine and port, as well as brandy and rum. “We have the ability to empty those barrels in the morning and then by afternoon refill them with American Single Malt. The inside of these barrels are still wet and freshly coated with what they held previously, which is an advantage we have here at Cedar Ridge.”

After letting the whiskey age in its secondary cask for 1-2 years, it’s up to Murphy

to then strategically marry those casks into the solera vat when preparing a new QuintEssential batch. “Since there’s always whiskey in the solera vat when I’m starting this process, I’m looking for barrels that have strong enough notes that will carry through

once in the vat. The interesting thing here is that a lot of the time, I’m looking for barrels that are one-noted or even a little off-balance because when married with what’s already in the vat, they can add unique elements that remain present in the final batch.” It might not

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When mapping out their original single malt program, Jeff built this to visualize how they would use different types of finishing casks to create specific notes in the final QuintEssential flavor profile.

be obvious on the final flavor profile, but one of the most imperative types of barrels that Cedar Ridge is consistently adding to their solera vat is ex-brandy barrels. The reason is they build a nice fruit-forward base for Murphy to build off of that strongly contributes to the depth of the final product.

When creating a new QuintEssential batch, Murphy’s process takes about 3 weeks. “I need time for the whiskey to integrate together to tell me which direction the flavor profile is going to head in.” When new barrels are added, they initially shock the system, and all those flavors try to compete with each other, so this time is crucial for the flavors to fully marry together and become one.

“By the end of it, and my team can attest to this, I’m usually going insane. Something that I find to be both beautiful and tortuous about the process is that it is extremely difficult to label a batch ‘done’ as there’s always more I can do to tweak or shape each specific batch.” To help guide his process Murphy says “with each batch, I have an end goal in mind, and so far I’ve always been able to hit that goal, but it usually

comes down to the wire before it all comes together.”

Clearly, Murphy and his crew have managed to get it right. Cedar Ridge’s The QuintEssential American Single Malt has received high scores and top reviews. Aside from a 95-point score and inclusion in Wine Enthusiast’s “Best of 2022 Buying Guide” and “10 Top-Rated Single Malt Whiskeys That Aren’t Scotch,” it has recently received numerous Gold and Double Gold medals in competitions, including Double Gold and Best American Single Malt of 2021 and 2022 by John Barleycorn Society.

For Cedar Ridge, Murphy sums it up perfectly, “Is it the most efficient way to make a single malt? No, but the process behind it is what allows us to create such a great and unique product — and really, it’s fun. It’s something we really enjoy doing and that we’re truly passionate about crafting.”

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Cedar Ridge Distillery is located in Swisher, Iowa. For more information visit or call (319) 857-4300.


How marketers are introducing an ancient spirit to modern drinkers

At first glance, American craft distillers and Armagnac producers don’t appear to have very much in common. Widespread, small-scale spirits production in the U.S. only dates back about 30 years (in the post-Prohibition era, at least), while some Armagnac distillers have been operating from the same property for more than three centuries. American craft distillers are animated by a spirit of exploration and unhindered by all but the most minimal limitations regarding what they can produce. Armagnac operates within a long and established tradition, with

strict rules about not only where it can be made but when, how, and out of what.

And yet despite their differences, distillers in the U.S. and Armagnac share many of the same concerns, challenges, and opportunities. Most Armagnac houses are tiny, producing just a few hundred cases a year. They lack the huge marketing budgets and massive distribution networks enjoyed by legacy producers in places like Scotland, Cognac, and Kentucky, which means they, too, need to be scrappy and creative to thrive in modern markets.

Photo by Flavio Pagani


Armagnac is an aged grape brandy made in Gascogne, a rural part of Southwest France. Ten different grape varieties are permitted, but in practice most Armagnacs are distilled from four different grapes: folle blanche, baco, ugni blanc, and colombard. Grapes are generally harvested early and made into low alcohol, high acid wines for distillation, which mostly takes place on a unique continuous direct fire still during a legally defined season that begins after harvest and must be completed by the end of March.

Extended maturation is pretty much the norm in Armagnac, with an enormous amount of attention paid to blending and elevage, the French practice of manipulating spirits in the warehouse. Brandies are routinely moved from cask to cask, generally from newer to older oak, to develop nuanced flavors and

limit excessive extraction. Aeration, blending, and the very slow addition of water are also key components of warehouse operations. When they’re finally ready, Armagnacs are often released as age-stated blends, but vintage releases made entirely from grapes harvested during one year are also common.

Armagnac is often compared with Cognac, which makes a certain amount of sense on one level: They’re the two most prominent protected designation of origin (PDO) French grape brandies, and both are made from similar grapes in regions not terribly far apart from one another. But the structure and scale of their industries is radically different. Cognac is dominated by multinational brands that offer primarily blended products that target consistency over expressiveness and terroir — think Hennessy, Rémy-Martin, and Courvoisier. No such thing exists in Armagnac. The scale is simply too small. According to the Spirits Business, about five

million bottles of Armagnac were produced in 2019. Cognac churned out 216.5 million bottles — about 43 times more. It is said that the amount of Armagnac distilled each year is less than the amount of Cognac that evaporates annually as angels’ share.

Unlike Cognac, which is popular the world over, there’s also very little established market for Armagnac. Nicholas Palazzi, owner of PM Spirits, is unequivocal about the challenges of selling Armagnac in the United States. “There’s no market for it,” says Palazzi. With relatively accessible pricing and good access to older stocks, Armagnac could offer drinkers that elusive feeling of getting a deal on something “undiscovered.” The category has begun to attract a small amount of attention from American whiskey drinkers, but it remains a niche category for connoisseurs. For Armagnac producers, just like for craft distillers, the question is how to get consumers to care enough about their product to want it. PM Spirits imports five different Armagnac brands to the United States. It’s also created a handful of its own brands focused on introducing the category to people who would never dream of themselves as French brandy drinkers to tackle just this problem.

It is said that the amount of Armagnac distilled each year is less than the amount of Cognac that evaporates annually as angels’ share.
Photo by Miguel Ramos


Armagnac’s centuries-old history offers the spirit many advantages: prestige, experience, and some extremely old stocks of brandy, some dating back to the 1800s. Yet that long legacy is also a liability that keeps French brandies from becoming everyday beverages for American consumers. Nicholas Palazzi describes this as “baggage.” “People need an occasion, a snifter, maybe a candle because of the weird things they were told — you need to be by the fire, it needs to snow maybe,” he said. “So nobody drinks the stuff, because no one is just thinking about it as an alcohol that will taste good and could be drunk anytime.”

One of PM Spirits’ clients is Domaine d’Esperance, a producer in Bas-Armagnac. While the property itself has been associated with Armagnac production for a very long time, when the current owners Claire de Montesquieu and her husband, Jean-Louis de Montesquieu, bought the property in 1990, neither had any firsthand experience making brandy. After it “quickly became clear” the estate would not support them both, Jean-Louis returned to his full-time job while Claire dedicated herself to distillation. Thirtythree years might sound like a long time to American craft distillers, but many Armagnacs mature for 20 years or longer. “Armagnac

needs to age, and you will age with it,” chuckled Claire.

From the beginning, Domaine d’Esperance has focused on quality at every step of the process, including the winemaking. Because of the unique configuration of the Armagnac still, in which the vapor is in contact with the undistilled wine until nearly the last few moments of distillation, Claire felt it made sense to work with better quality wines. She now waits to harvest her grapes until they’re truly ripe, developing richer flavors in the wine. She also asks her mobile distiller to distill to a low proof — about 52-54 percent alcohol — and many products are made without further additions of water. Export markets are important for Domaine d’Esperance, including the United States, where its products are imported by PM Spirits.

In addition to representing the brand’s core expressions in the United States, PM Spirits also proposed the creation of a new U.S.-only brand called Cobrafire. The catch? It’s not Armagnac — at least, it’s not described that way on the label, which features a hip line drawing of a cobra reared up and ready to strike. The first Cobrafire expression was an unaged Armagnac, a category called blanche d’Armagnac in France but marketed as eau de vie de raisin in this case, bottled at a still strength of 51.3 percent ABV.

Why sell a product that meets all the requirements of Armagnac as something else in a bottle that wouldn’t look out of place tucked into the saddlebag of a motorcycle? Because it helps open new doors. “Armagnac is not well-known, and blanche d’Armagnac is

“Armagnac needs to age, and you will age with it.”
DE MONTESQUIEU, Domaine d’Esperance Photo by Margarett Waterbury

even less so,” said Palazzi. “So trying to peddle something that nobody knows about, and nobody cares for, in a bar that doesn’t look like anything, is kind of an uphill battle.” Most Armagnac is sold in very traditional bottles covered in French words, perhaps with no graphics at all, or perhaps with an old-fashioned etching of a chateau or maison on the front. That’s not a very meaningful look for many English-speaking American consumers, and it can come across as stodgy or snobby rather than inviting.

Rather than asking consumers to already know everything about the various complexities of Armagnac — to have “a Ph.D. in French,” as Palazzi puts it — before they can understand a label or feel invited to enjoy a bottle, Cobrafire is taking the opposite approach. “It looks cool, somebody tells you it tastes good, you taste it, and there’s a high chance you’re going to like it. It decomplexifies the drinking experience.” The product has been a success, developing enough of a fan base to launch a second expression, Cobrafire Evil Force, an aged Armagnac containing casks between six and 20 years old and sold as “cask strength brandy.” And after consumers have decided they like it? They might be inspired to learn more about Armagnac, including Domaine d’Esperance, which produces the spirit in that snake-y bottle.

Another PM Spirits-created label designed to introduce Armagnac to American drinkers is the L’Encantada Tattoo series, which

finishes Armagnac in ex-bourbon barrels from Kentucky’s Willett Distillery. That extra finishing step means it loses its appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) status, so it’s described on the label as “Grape brandy finished in ex-bourbon casks.”

“If you’re a bourbon drinker who knows nothing about brandy, or you’re not necessarily interested, here’s something that could be a bridge between you and Armagnac and brandy in general,” said Palazzi. Chateau de Laubade, a producer in Bas-Armagnac, has also begun collaborating with Bardstown Bourbon to supply casks for a series of Armagnac-finished Bardstown Bourbons, the first release of which won best in class for finished bourbons at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

So, what are the lessons for craft distillers? First, remember that while formal categories, rules, tradition, history, and geographic designations remain important within the industry and shape much of how it operates, consumers don’t necessarily know or care anything about them. Rather than wring your hands about that, see it as an opportunity to

give consumers a new experience, free from preconceptions.

“There are a million brands that pay to be on back bars. We’re competing with that with no money, no brand power, the category is dead, people know nothing about it, so we need to first get them to try the product. We tell the story once a person has accepted the offer to taste the stuff,” said Palazzi. While he’s talking about Armagnac, the same sentiment applies to small craft distillers making all kinds of products.

Second, no matter how compelling your personal or brand story, the consumer is always the protagonist of their own story. If your key marketing messages are all about you and how great you are, consumers will tune out. “It’s about the customer,” said Palazzi. “It’s not about you. You’re competing for the customer’s attention. If you start with a first-person approach that’s all about you, you’ve lost the

Margarett Waterbury is a drinks writer who lives in Portland, Oregon. Her first book, Scotch: A Complete Introduction to Scotland’s Whiskies, released in fall 2020.
“There are a million brands that pay to be on back bars. We’re competing with that with no money, no brand power, the category is dead, people know nothing about it, so we need to first get them to try the product. We tell the story once a person has accepted the offer to taste the stuff.”

icture this: After many years of running a successful distillery, you and your business partner have come to a crossroads in your professional relationship. It’s time to part ways. You’d like to buy your partner’s share of the business, but you’re unsure how to go about it. Securing the funds for a business partner buyout has been a common hurdle for many — until a few years ago. The Small Business Administration (SBA) adjusted their business partner buyout financing rule in April 2018, and now offers a loan product with partner buyouts in mind — ultimately benefiting all parties involved in the transaction. To understand why the SBA’s business partner buyout loan can be advantageous, we need to step back for a moment.


Let’s start with a quick overview of what the SBA is. The Small Business Administration is a government agency that serves as the main resource for government-backed business loans. A portion of SBA loans is guaranteed by the government and these loans allow small business owners to obtain capital with less equity than a conventional loan requires. To clarify, the federal government does not lend you the money, the bank does. The SBA just guarantees a percentage in the event of a default on the loan. The SBA 7(a) loan is the most common SBA loan product, offering flexibility on terms and business uses. These loans can be used to set up a new business, assist in an acquisition or expansion of an established business or buyout a partner. There are many benefits of SBA loans, and the specific terms can be negotiated between the borrower and an SBA-approved lender. When considering an SBA loan, it’s ideal to work with an SBA Preferred Lender (PLP). PLP status with the SBA gives lenders authority to make final credit decisions without having to get SBA approval and is typically a sign that the lender has more experience with SBA loans, resulting in a smoother, faster process.




Before the rule change in 2018, financing a partner buyout with an SBA 7(a) loan was difficult. The old SBA rule said that to qualify for a loan to buy out a partner's interest in the business, the balance sheet had to have a minimum of 10 percent equity based on the business’

total assets after the sale. Also, partner buyouts had been accomplished through a stock purchase, which would be applied to the balance sheet often resulting in negative equity. This made securing SBA loans improbable without the buyer investing personal funds to meet the


post-transaction equity requirement, an obstacle for many.

Now, a partner can qualify for an SBA 7(a) loan without an equity injection as long as the following criteria are met: 1) the buying partner has been an active partner and has held the same or higher ownership percentage for more than two years and 2) the business has a debt-to-net-worth ratio at or below 9-to-1 at fiscal year-end and the most recent period.

How is debt-to-net worth calculated? In simplest terms, this is total liabilities divided by total equity.

Assets: $4,500,000

Debt: $2,000,000

Equity: $2,500,000

Debt-to-net worth ratio: 0.80x

The debt of $2,000,0000 divided by the equity or net worth of $2,500,000 is .80 or 80% ($2,000,0000 / $2,500,000 = .80). This results in a debt-to-net worth ratio of 0.80x.

In this example above, the debt-to-networth ratio is below 9-to-1, eliminating the need for an equity injection. Instead of the buyer putting down cash, they can leverage the equity of the balance sheet. This can be hugely beneficial to both the buying partner and the selling partner, as it removes one of the largest barriers in the transaction. If the previously mentioned requirements are not met, then the buying partner will have to inject 10 percent of the purchase price in equity to qualify for the loan.

Regardless of the reason for parting ways, no one wants a partner buyout to drag out and have negative consequences on the health of the business. Business partner buyouts are historically complicated, but with the SBA’s revised rule, existing partners can purchase the business in a straightforward transaction. There are a few things to consider when using an SBA loan for a buyout: 1) the seller cannot remain involved with the company as an owner, officer, director, or employee and 2) if a transitional period is needed after the sale, the seller may serve as a paid consultant for up to 12 months post-sale.

Let’s consider a likely partner buyout scenario. Married couple Arthur and Elizabeth have owned and operated a successful distillery for five years. The couple has decided to divorce and since Elizabeth is leaving the business operation altogether, Arthur needs a loan to purchase her share of the business. The business has $1,000,000 in assets and $325,000 in liabilities, so the debt-to-net worth ratio is 0.48. Because Arthur has been active in the business and has held the same ownership position for more than two years and his debt-to-net worth ratio is less than 9-to-1, Arthur can leverage the equity of the balance sheet instead of putting cash down to buy Elizabeth’s 50 percent share. In other words, he does not have to contribute any cash towards the loan. After mutually deciding on a purchase price and securing an SBA loan, Arthur is now the sole owner of the business, and each party can move on with their life.

If you’re considering a business partner buyout and want to pursue an SBA 7(a) loan, the SBA will require a comprehensive business plan which demonstrates how the business will benefit from the transaction. These are typically considered lower-risk transactions when compared to complete changes of ownership, as the buyer is already deeply familiar with the business at hand. Consult with your CPA or attorney to discuss all your options and determine if a partner buyout is suitable for your situation. An experienced distillery lender can help determine the best path forward for your partner buyout from valuations to structuring the deal and ultimately, making the transition of ownership possible.

Tracy Sheppard is a vice president for Live Oak Bank's Wine and Craft Beverage Lending Division. For more info visit or email
If you’re considering a business partner buyout and want to pursue an SBA 7(a) loan, the SBA will require a comprehensive business plan which demonstrates how the business will benefit from the transaction.



Do You Know Yours?

Do You Know Yours?

n interesting question was raised recently regarding the sensory evaluation of bourbon and rye whiskies with there being a lack of discrimination via sensory descriptive analytes. This topic was raised via the release of a publication by Lahne et al., (2019). Without going into too much detail about any contention of such findings, this begets the question; “Do we know enough about the chemical and sensory complexity of distilled spirits?” The simple answer is no. We do not (yet) have details such as the (accessible) threshold values whereby we can assess the relative amounts of many of the key components in our favorite spirits. Though the current research is helping to clarify the situation, at least with respect to the chemical component aspects, distillers still lag far behind brewers and enologists when it comes to full sensory evaluation of their products.

The training of sensory evaluation teams is a complex topic and often starts with the spiking of products with known amounts of pure chemical components to elevate the actual flavor impression in order for them to learn how to describe and identify such flavors or for aroma purposes only — spiking such components into “sniff” bottles containing water- or spirit-soaked cotton

balls. Following such trainee evaluations, the sensory descriptors are discussed and, when possible, more technical, rather than simple hedonic descriptors, are learned, memorized, and applied to subsequent tastings. It is best if all members of a panel are on the same page and know the basic chemical names of components. This makes life easier for the sensory panel team leader. Sensory biases must be avoided, and an understanding of the sensitivities of individuals to specific components needs to be understood as some individuals are sensorially “blind” (having anosmia1) to certain compounds. Individuals thus vary greatly in detecting and identifying many different aroma components. While we use the term or concept of taste to describe food and beverages, taste or rather overall flavor perception is a combination of all the senses; smell (olfactory), taste (gustatory), trigeminal sensations (pain/irritation, warming, cooling — mouthfeel “touch” and viscosity) and even sight (color) and sound (effervescence for carbonated products). Flavor impressions are, however, disproportionately olfactory (smell) based. Moreover, synergistic and antagonistic interactions are at play in how the human senses and brain interpret flavor information with such implications described

1 What is Anosmia?

recently by Barwich and Smith (Barwich, 2020; Barwich & Smith, 2022), with the complex nature of flavor and both machine and human sensory evaluations covered by Chambers and Koppel (2013). Further details are not described here. (See Artisan Spirit issues 12, 16, 22, 28, 29, and 39 for more on general sensory and descriptors — the latter concerning the sensory training tool and memory jogger — The Flavor Wheel.) The basis of this article is to go beyond the basics of establishing flavor descriptors and to allow tasters, or taste panel leaders, to better understand the sensitivity of individuals in defining appropriate flavor attributes. Ultimately leading to their learning of the relative concentrations of such components and to be able to quantitatively determine with some degree of accuracy the amounts of various components present in a food or beverage. This will enable a better characterization of the differences and similarities in products and provide better overall profile descriptions of a brand, a new formulation, or competitive product. This then allows for an understanding of the origins and controls of both off-flavor notes and desirable qualities and for better discrimination of those bourbon vs. rye whiskies alluded to above.




A grasp of threshold data allows for the:

• Determination of the level of substances that begin to affect the acceptability of products.

• Selection and training of panelists (and sensory judges).

• New product development.


Threshold determination is the only method by which:

• Several flavor problems can be investigated.

• The determination as to which aroma/ flavor components, from within a matrix of hundreds of substances found in a product, will influence its flavor.

• The magnitude of such activity for substances found to be flavor active may be estimated.

• Determinations of the point at which known contaminants begin to reduce acceptability.


Spiking of spirits and changing concentrations of the spiked components can be used to:

• Determine the relative sensitivity of individuals to a given flavor active substance.

• Detect those with specific anosmia(s).

• Determine low and high sensitivities.

• Train on flavor descriptors to be used by a panelist.

• Note any flavor perception changes associated with increased substance concentration.

• Determine saturation concentrations (see definitions below).


• For the formulation/development of new products the threshold of added desirable substances may be used as a research tool in the formulation of foods and beverages, etc.

Several threshold terms need to be understood. These four key terms are:

1) Absolute (or Detection) Threshold

> The lowest stimulus (energy) capable of producing a sensation.

> Initial detection — “something is different,” but not yet defined/identified. Example: the weakest taste (lowest concentration detectable). Below this, no effect on the sensory system.

> Sometimes also called the stimulus threshold.

2) Recognition Threshold

> This is the level of a stimulus at which the specific “stimulant/component” can be recognized and identified.

> It is usually higher than the absolute threshold. In other words, it is the lowest concentration for positive identification. For example: When tasting pure water +/- sucrose, a transition occurs from “water taste or pure water” to “a very mild taste.” Then as the sucrose concentration increases, a further transition from “a very mild taste” to “sweet” is noted.

> The level at which the second transition occurs is the recognition threshold.

3) Difference Threshold

> The extent of change in the stimulus (energy) necessary to produce a noticeable difference or the smallest change in the concentration of a stimulus which can just be noticed. One changes the variable stimulus by small amounts above and below the standard (sample) until the subject notices a difference.

> This is called the just noticeable difference (JND).

4) Terminal Threshold

> The magnitude of a stimulus above which there is no increase in the perceived intensity of the appropriate quality for that stimulus: above this level, pain often occurs.

> The saturation level! Pain indicates that damage is or might be occurring.


Intuitively a threshold is the transition point between no detection and detection. The transition point is not, however, constant. Responses are affected by psychological and physiological inputs, so shifts occur. This issue is overcome by treating thresholds as a statistical quantity. The detectability of a stimulus does not jump from 0 percent to 100 percent at some particular value. Rather, the probability of detection increases gradually as the intensity of the stimulus increases, so thresholds are defined as that “Concentration (stimulus intensity) which (elicits a response) that can be detected or recognized 50 percent of the time.” Or that concentration which can just be perceived by 50 percent of the population. Or that difference in concentration which can be resolved 50 percent of the time. See Figure 1. Detailed information on such concepts can also be found in several key works (Lawless & Heymann, 2010; Lawless, 2013; Meilgaard, Civille & Carr, 2016).


Thresholds are classically thought of as determinants made in individual subjects. No two human observers are alike; furthermore, a given observer varies in sensitivity from instant to instant.

Therefore, the problem of determining thresholds is a problem of handling variability among and within human observers after the data are collected. A practical consequence of this variability is that those thresholds must be considered only as approximate. They will be found to vary somewhat from one determination to another.


FIGURE 1. Flavor Threshold Models

Figure 1a shows the conventional notion of an absolute threshold whereby the tipping point for detection/change or identification of a component would occur at a specific amount noted by all “normal” subjects (assuming no anosmics). It is an all-or-none mechanism! Figure 1b illustrates the variability in the threshold determination for the personal threshold level. Panelist/subject variation may occur due to ambient conditions, the temperature of samples, variation in sensitivity of the sensory detection systems, physiological (health) issues, and sometimes due to certain biases (not further discussed here). This means the threshold is not a fixed point, instead, it is a value on a stimulus continuum. In essence and theory, the mid-point determines the value which will become known as the personal threshold value and means that this value is the concentration value detected 50 percent of the time. A panel leader will use it to determine generally how sensitive each panelist is to an attribute. Panelists will need to be retested periodically. This value


In dealing with thresholds and statistics, we can view three models. Figure 1 shows the “Ideal model.” This would indicate the “all or none” situation. At some concentration of any substance, it would become detected and potentially identifiable. However, Figure 1b shows the variability in threshold determination for the personal threshold level. Finally, Figure 1c in the set shows the threshold distribution for a group. The figure legend covers the full detail on these concepts. Details are derived from a course lecture (Spedding and Aiken) with the adapted figures based originally on details from Meilgaard, Civille & Carr (2016).


The Best Estimate Threshold (BET) is the geometric mean of the highest concentration

depends upon the matrix, so if the product for evaluation changes (or a different distillery is moved to), further training/evaluation will be needed. Finally, the Figure 1c histogram illustrates the issue with respect to group threshold values. Statistically, these group values or Best Estimate Thresholds (BETs) are more reliable than individual BETs. Such values are used as “midpoint anchor” values in the design of threshold test protocols. The group threshold value is determined from the personal BETs (see text and Figure 2) from the characteristic and familiar “Bell curve” data. There is an unequal distribution — shift to the right, which is representative of the number of individuals exhibiting low sensitivity to the stimulus. Unlike many of the subjects here, they miss the determination/detection until a higher concentration of the stimulus compound is presented to them. A few panelists will detect the stimulus change/ identify the component at lower concentrations showing a higher sensitivity than the overall group. Significantly though, due to the shift away from a centralized tendency, the best measure of the group BET is the geometric mean, as it gives less weight to the highest thresholds.

not sensed (A), and the next higher concentration (B). Thus, the BET = Square Root (A x B). See Figure 2 for a summary.

Panel Flavor Threshold Calculation:

reshold Level = Log -1 Σ =N =1 Log (BET) N

For N Panelists.

The maximum likelihood threshold is the geometric mean of individual thresholds. This can be calculated without the need for accurate determination of each individual threshold. (Statistics smooths out the data!)


1. You need to start with a value that you expect will be at about the threshold level (may need prior experimentation).

2. Use this concentration as a “middle ground” value. Pick two values below and

two values above this value (e.g., for acetic acid could use 50, 100, 200, 400, and 800 ppm). Note, values are reduced by half and half again below the 200 ppm concentration and then are doubled and doubled again above 200 ppm. Concentrations and delivery of the “spike” needs to be known/done as accurately as possible. Chemical stocks of high purity and of food grade and safe to use, but may need to be diluted.

3. Set up a row of samples of increasing concentration (with or without a control “zero” to account for the concentration of the component in the base spirit — unless known)

4. Ask panelists to pick the sample in which they can identify (recognize) the compound of interest.

5. Apply the math to determine their (BET) actual (geometric) threshold (at this point in time).

6. Determine a group threshold value.

1a 1b 1c “Ideal model” Variability – personal threshold levels Threshold distribution for a group of subjects 100 50 0 Proportion of Positive (YES) Responses Part per million (ppm) 0.2 1 5 25 125 reshold level x x x x x 100 50 0 Part per million (ppm) 0.2 1 5 25 125 reshold level x x x x x x x 16 14 12 10 8 6 4 2 Number of Subjects Part per million (ppm) 0.2 1 5 25 125 x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x 100 50 0 Proportion of Positive (YES) Responses Part per million (ppm) 0.2 1 5 25 125 reshold level x x x x 100 50 0 Part per million (ppm) 0.2 1 5 25 125 reshold level x x x x x x x 16 14 12 10 8 6 4 2 Number of Subjects Part per million (ppm) 0.2 1 5 25 125 x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x 100 50 0 Proportion of Positive (YES) Responses Part per million (ppm) 0.2 1 5 25 125 reshold level x x x x x 100 50 0 Part per million (ppm) 0.2 1 5 25 125 reshold level x x x x x x x 16 14 12 10 8 6 4 2 Number of Subjects Part per million (ppm) 0.2 1 5 25 125 x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x


Lahne, J.; Abdi, H.; Collins, T.; Heymann, H. bourbon and Rye Whiskeys Are Legally Distinct but Are Not Discriminated by Sensory Descriptive Analysis. J Food Sci 2019, 84 (3), 629-639. DOI: 10.1111/1750-3841.14468.

Barwich, A.-S. Smellosophy: What the Nose Tells the Mind; 2020. DOI: 10.4159/9780674245426.

Barwich, A.-S.; Smith, B. From Molecules to Perception: Philosophical Investigations of Smell. Philosophy Compass 1903 2022, 17. DOI: 10.1111/ phc3.12883.

Chambers, E. t.; Koppel, K. Associations of volatile compounds with sensory aroma and flavor: the complex nature of flavor. Molecules 2013, 18 (5), 4887-4905. DOI: 10.3390/molecules18054887.

Lawless, H.; Heymann, H. Sensory Evaluation of Food Science Principles and Practices. 2nd Edition, Ithaca, New York. 2010 DOI:10.1007/978-1-44196488-5.

Lawless, H. Quantitative Sensory Analysis: Psychophysics, Models and Intelligent Design. 2013. DOI: 10.1002/9781118684818.

Meilgaard, M.C.; Civille, G.V.; Carr, B.T. Sensory Evaluation Techniques. 5th ed. Boca Raton: CRC Press/Taylor & Francis Group. 2016 DOI:10.1201/b19493.

Meilgaard, M. C. Testing for Sensory Threshold of Added Substances. Journal of the American Society of Brewing Chemists 1991, 49 (3), 128-135. DOI: 10.1094/ ASBCJ-49-0128.

Lee, K.; Paterson, A.; Piggott, J.; Richardson, G. Measurement of Thresholds for Reference Compounds for Sensory Profiling of Scotch Whisky. Journal of the Institute of Brewing 2000, 106. DOI: 10.1002/j.2050-0416.2000.


Barnes, Q.; Vial, J.; Thiébaut, D.; De Saint Jores, C.; Steyer, D.; Contamin, M.-A.; Papaiconomou, N.; Fernandez, X. Characterization of Flavor Compounds in Distilled Spirits: Developing a Versatile Analytical Method Suitable for Micro-Distilleries. Foods 2022, 11, 3358. DOI: 10.3390/foods11213358.

Miller, G. Whisky

Science: A Condensed Distillation; 2019. DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-13732-8.

Spedding, G.; Aiken, T. 18Sensory analysis as a tool for beer quality assessment with an emphasis on its use for microbial control in the brewery. In Brewing Microbiology, Hill, A. E. Ed.; Woodhead Publishing, 2015; pp 375-404.


Test Method

A more involved method for flavor threshold determination involves a series of triangle sensory tests, see, for example, American Society of Brewing Chemists (ASBC) methods and the key references noted earlier for complete details (Lawless & Heymann, 2010; Lawless, 2013; Meilgaard, Civille & Carr, 2016 and Meilgaard, 1991). Such methods are based on the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). This method also covers training on new compounds and gets the threshold value for an individual.

Here is a considered example: six (6) triangle tests — each with two reference beers (lager with no addition) and one test beer (e.g., isoamyl acetate) are set up for presentation to a team. For a test beer sample, the concentration of the ester was increased each time by a factor of 2 in each subsequent triangle set; triangle tested in increasing concentration of spike (e.g., 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, and 32 mg/L). In each triangle set the question is asked: Which sample differed from the others?


The data are worked through similarly to that described above for the simpler method and although a bit more involved, simple programs can speed up the work. For example, in one study (see above) after training, the isoamyl acetate threshold in beer was shown to decrease (dropping from 7.8 to 3.9 ppm). This showed performance improvement for panelists as a whole and illuminated any need to recalibrate any individual palate. Distillers need to get up to speed with such methods and training, but be aware of the impact of high ethanol concentrations. Groups and organizations such as FlavorActiv, Aroxa (Cara Technologies), and the author of this article can assist here, but it is important to start looking at this type of training. An important note deals with the question of where to begin with the concentrations to use for such threshold testing. Threshold values are being increasingly reported upon in the literature and by suppliers of sensory stocks (FlavorActiv and Aroxa). See the article by Jeffrey & Spedding in Artisan Spirit issue 12 for some key values for starters. The American Society of Brewing Chemists member-accessible website has details of many component threshold values for beer, which also form a good base to launch from. A key starting point for whiskies is the early work of Lee et al., (2000). With an extensive list of many whiskey-related and other components provided by Miller (2019). A recent work by Barnes et al., (2022) is of current note.


With some repetition of the details from above, a simple example here will serve to illustrate the process and calculations. This example is from the spiking of beer samples with dimethyl sulfide (DMS). Some caveats to note: Most tests are run on beer/spirits where the concentration of the substance being tested is not actually known as it exists in the sample prior to the addition of the spiked test component. Thus, BET values are noted as concentrations (quantitative amounts) on top of that already present in the sample. Typically, a set of samples would be presented starting with a zero addition to the sample (a “control”), then Y ppm (or ppb) of the known/ test/training compound is added to the next glass, followed by successive doublings of the concentration (Example, 0, 12.5, 25, 50, 100, and 300 ppb) of the compound would be present in successive glasses. Such values are usually determined based on the known or estimated group BET as a central starting concentration. Here 50 ppb (anchor) is halved and halved again and doubled and doubled again. Noting here that the terminal value was set at 300 ppb, not 200 for this actual example — not a print error here. The assumption is that no one will selectively identify the component in the first non-zero (control) concentration sample glass (12.5 ppb) and certainly not in the control. Otherwise, the concentration that exists in the beer/spirit sample might need to be determined (as it is already at a detectable level, and that might reflect a naturally high presence in the base spirit). In that case, some thought on redesigning the experiment may be needed. Some people are eager to please — a natural bias — and want to “show off” a bit. For very low threshold detectable compounds (those with high volatility that vaporize quickly) we have found that biases occur based on smelling the compound in the air from the higher concentration glasses (diacetyl a prime example). The volatile is released into the surrounding air and sensory booths or stations as others perform the assessment. So, we suggest that closed bottles be provided with instructions for a group to open each bottle at the same time and then in successive order and assess the sample (by pouring a small amount into an acceptable sensory evaluation glass or cup). Then all participants are instructed to close their current test sample bottle (pour back the remaining sample from glass to bottle or have the glass covered and set aside or perhaps removed by the panel leader before moving to the next sample). Panelist stations should be well separated if possible, and testing performed under suitable taste panel room/environment conditions,


see cited references for details on setting up full sensory programs, including the sensory chapter by Spedding and Aiken (2015 — second edition now in preparation) for details and many key references cited therein. After one spiked-level sample has been evaluated, move to the next higher-concentration spiked sample, and so on until all are assessed. No one must talk or emit noises or present any signs that might bias others during the exercise (See Scientific Thinking and Sensory Biases in AS issue 28, 2019.). Discussions can occur after all have completed the task. Anyone not positively identifying the component in any glass is eliminated from the set. Retrain them on the flavor note or decide if they are indeed taste blind to this component. A quick example with four panelists assessing a beer spiked with DMS shows the overall calculation here, Table 1. It is quite easy to set up a program to run the calculations on much larger sets of data. Data can be collected quickly, and the calculations done in a few minutes at quick instructional convention events/seminars, etc., with a calculator or computer at the ready, and honest replies from the audience!

TABLE 1. Panel Flavor Threshold Determination Quick Example


Panel Threshold = Log-1 (7.49/4) = 74.5 ppb DMS.

Column A is the concentration of the spike missed (no recognition), and Column B is the concentration where identification was made. The process is outlined nicely and succinctly in Figure 2.

Relevant literature is appearing with greater frequency to assist in establishing full sensory programs for distillers. Problems such as the one addressed at the beginning of this article can only be addressed by human sensory assessment, where trained panelists understand flavor descriptors and can assess relative concentrations of key flavor notes present within the complex matrix forming

the complete flavor profile for a spirit. Machine-based sensory evaluation can only go so far in proving the acceptability of a product. A chemically “perfect” product can be rejected based on its actual taste/ flavor impression at the time of consumption. It is after all, humans, not machines, who consume their chosen favorite spirit brands. The flavor profile arises from (though is not in) the component matrix, but is generated in the mind of the beholder. How the molecules work together and stimulate the senses is all interpreted in the human brain!

FIGURE 2. A Summary of Flavor Thresholds and Their Estimation

It has been shown here that there are numerous ways in which threshold data can be obtained. Consult the cited works and publications such as the full-scale ASBC Methods Manual (latest edition) for full details of the more involved, though more reliable, methods such as Ascending Method of Limits Test, which uses the multiple triangular taste tests with increasing spike concentrations to get to threshold values.

An understanding of flavors, flavor descriptors, and how to assess relative concentrations of key flavor profile attributes including off flavors, will allow for better assessment and profiling of spirits and add to the quality control program for the modern distillery. In addition, it will enable better judging at spirit competitions. Distillers have much to learn from brewers and enologists in this regard.

All sensory stimuli have a level below which they cannot be detected even by the most sensitive person. The level at which a substance can just be detected in a media is called a Threshold Level. There are several types of threshold and two that are of importance to us here.

Detection Threshold: The lowest level of substance that can be sensed by a taster but not necessarily identified.

Recognition Threshold: The lowest level of a substance that can be sensed and positively identified by a tester.

To calculate the threshold levels the following formula applies:

The Best Estimate Threshold (BET) is calculated for each tester.

To do this the data obtained from each individual taster are evaluated. The BET is: the geometric mean of the highest concentration missed (in a series of spiked samples of increasing concentration — here “A”), and the next higher concentration (i.e. the concentration at which a Positive Identification was made — here “B”).

Geometric mean of A and B = SQUARE ROOT [SQRT] (A x B)

As an example, if a taster could not detect (identify) 100 ppb of a certain substance but could detect it at 200 ppb, their BET for that substance would be:

BET = SQRT(100 x 200) = SQRT(20,000) = 141 ppb

This is what can be figured out based on a taste session described in the text.

Group Threshold: The "maximum likelihood threshold" value for the substance for the goup as a whole (which is statistically more relevant than each BET) can be determined as follows:

1) The LOG10 (BET) values for all panelists in the tasting group are determined and then added together

2) The resulting sum is then divided by the number of panelists.

3) The antilog of the quotient from above is determined and this is the threshold level of that substance for the panel in the study.

Panelist A B BET LOG (BET) 1 25 ppb 50 ppb 35 ppb 1.55 2 50 ppb 100 ppb 71 ppb 1.85 3 50 ppb 100 ppb 71 ppb 1.85 4 100 ppb 300 ppb 173 ppb 2.24 TOTAL 7.49
Gary Spedding, Ph.D. is a brewing, distilling, and sensory analytical chemist, and owner of Brewing and Distilling Analytical Services, LLC — with two facilities (Lexington, KY and Denver, CO).


Family-Owned Vallein Tercinier Has Independently Produced Cognac for Nearly 200 Years

It’s a cold, gray day in January, and I have spent an hour touring a distillery. I strolled the rustic, unfussy grounds, got up close to the equipment, and asked the distiller a few nerdy industry questions. As we make our way to the tasting room — or, more accurately, the dining room in the owner’s home — we’re greeted at the door by the owner’s mother. I walked by a drawing of Jesus framed by pistols and settled into a daytime treat of select pours, accompanied by flaky croissants and freshly brewed coffee. It felt like a craft distillery: homespun, authentic, transparent. I was at a craft distillery. However, I wasn’t in the United States.

I’m at Vallein Tercinier in Cognac, France, roughly 3,600 miles away from the U.S. and somehow even further away from the big, branded cognac houses that typically engulf the consumer’s mindset. It’s the first stop on a four-day trip through the city. Subsequent visits to the area’s famous brands will provide the sparkle and sheen one might expect from labels with large reputations and larger marketing muscle. While they were terrific experiences, Vallein Tercinier, however, feels easy and comfortable like home, and not just because the tour of the family-owned distillery finished in a residential dwelling. It also feels like what American craft distilling could be decades into the future.



The craft distilling industry in the United States has a relatively short history. Distilling’s place in American history traces back to the founding fathers, of course, but the craft sector’s resurgence has been going for about 20 years, save for a handful of early pioneers that stretch things way back to the early 1980s. However, even on the international stage the legacies of brands in the category are still being shaped.

Georges Vallein founded his namesake distillery in 1850. The company’s history spans six generations and the endurance of severe obstacles. They survived the infamous French phylloxera epidemic, which wiped out nearly 75 percent of their vines. They endured two world wars. They made it through an economic crisis in the 1990s that shredded the cognac industry and forced the closure of many small brands. They cleared these hurdles on their own merit while keeping all aspects of cognac production within the family, which is a bit of a rarity in the cognac market. “Very few family businesses have survived various regional or global crises, wars, or the absence of succession for five generations, while remaining totally financially independent,” explained Stephane Roudier, Vallein Tercinier’s sales manager and husband of current owner Catherine Tercinier. “It is very difficult today for an independent family business to be visible

LEFT: Catherine Tercinier, Vallein Tercinier’s current owner.
BOTTOM: Guillaume Tercinier recently took over operational reins, adding a sixth generation to the brand’s 180-plus year legacy.

in a spirits market dominated by a few large companies.”

This difficulty gets amplified periodically, when bigger corporations call the distillery with offers to scoop them up. Vallein Tercinier would be a prize — their cognacs have earned several prestigious awards from the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and the International Wine & Spirits Competition. According to Roudier, the distillery is wary of entertaining thoughts of acquisition, and the wide range of support they’ve received over the years positions them to reject such offers. “Being acquired can be tempting or even necessary, but it can come with the risk of losing your identity and philosophy,” he said. “But thanks to the development of social networks, the help of magazines that don’t publish in exchange for a strong remuneration, and the support and confidence of our partners and distributors, we’ve been able to sufficiently share the quality and character of our bottles with people beyond our village.”


A craft cognac producer may have their contemporary American craft counterparts beat in terms of history and legacy, but they also have a disadvantage when it comes to the U.S. market. While big American brands carry considerable clout in terms of consumer consciousness, the craft sector’s explosive rise in the last decade has allowed it to garner a decent share of the spirits spotlight. The cognac category, on the

other hand, is still largely defined by the “big four” Cognac houses: Hennessy, Martell, Remy Martin, and Courvoisier. The quartet account for anywhere between 85 and 90 percent of cognac sales in the U.S. depending on the data source.

While the data seems discouraging for a smaller cognac house looking to penetrate the American market, Vallein Tercinier leans into hope. Specifically, the hope that the discerning palates of American craft spirits drinkers will turn their interests toward smaller cognac brands such as theirs. “Some lovers of brown spirits look for products with character they may not find in mass-market products,” Roudier said. “Smaller houses like ours can attract their curiosity for their character and authenticity.”

According to Roudier, there are various components that help them connect with American craft spirits aficionados. The bevy of awards won by Vallein Tercinier provides their distribution partner, the Napabased wine and boutique spirits importer The Sorting Table, with extra

“Being acquired can be tempting or even necessary, but it can come with the risk of losing your identity and philosophy.”

promotional leverage. Roudier also cites the educational efforts of the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC) as crucial to not only boosting brand awareness in the United States, but also growing appreciation for cognac and the cognac production process. “The BNIC website is great for gaining basic knowledge of the different crus, double distillation, and the art of aging and blending,” he said. “It helps people have a better understanding of the cognacs they’re tasting, and it encourages greater discovery of the diversity of styles and characteristics.”


Vallein Tercinier’s focus on staying independent isn’t changing any time soon. If anything, it’s been fortified. Catherine Tercenier recently passed the operational reins to her nephew, Guillaume, thus adding a sixth generation to the brand’s 180-plus year legacy. It’s a position he’s been preparing for his whole life, and this preparation provides a healthy measure of long-term assurance. “Guillaume was baptized in Cognac by his grandfather Robert Tercinier, raised with the family’s

values and philosophy of life, and trained for years by our master blender who is still providing him the knowledge and secrets inherited from previous generations,” Roudier stated. “We are therefore certain that under the sixth generation, Vallein Terciner will remain an independent artisanal house for a few more decades, with the same objective of offering quality cognacs that provide people pleasure.”

Roudier’s sentiment of tradition, lineage, and craftsmanship carries considerable gravitas, given how long Vallein Tercinier has existed. The American craft and small-batch spirit sector does not have an equivalent to this yet and won’t until the mid-to-late 22nd century, long after we’ve passed. Yet this gap between craft cognac production and American craft spirits production gives us something intriguing to ponder. Each harvest, each bottle, and each shipped case produced now could end up being the foundation of a multi-generational, independent legacy celebrated tomorrow. When viewed in this manner, the future looks exceedingly cool.

Vallein Tercinier is located in Chermignac, France. Visit or more info.

“We are therefore certain that under the sixth generation, Vallein Terciner will remain an independent artisanal house for a few more decades, with the same objective of offering quality cognacs that provide people pleasure.”

Take Your Spirits to Flavortown

A Closer Look at the Business of Flavored Spirits

Take a moment the next time you are in your local watering hole to see what flavors of spirits you can spot behind the bar. If you look closely, there is a particular type of spirit that I guarantee you will find. I'll give you a moment to take a guess what that spirit is. Here is a hint, the answer is not whiskey, nor rum, vodka, or tequila. The bottles you will always find are some type of flavored spirit. Whether it is a lemon-flavored vodka or an apple-flavored whiskey, there is a variety of flavored spirits to be found. Take a turn down the vodka aisle at a liquor store, you will see a literal rainbow of flavored spirits on the shelf. The spectrum of flavors is massive and sells well for many distilleries. Many successful manufacturers have found that flavored spirits can be sold in volume and can be cost-effective to produce. Let's look closer at flavored spirits and then talk about how you can take some of your plain old products and take them to flavortown.

The appeal of flavored spirits

There are thousands of varieties of flavored spirits. From spiced rums to honey whiskey, and vodka in a rainbow of colors, there are flavors galore. The process of manufacturing flavored spirits can vary immensely. Some processes that add flavor to a spirit are expensive, labor intensive, and can be subject to seasonality of ingredients. Other methods of manufacturing are as simple as adding a TTB-approved extract to flavor a spirit. Here is the question you are likely asking yourself:

From spiced rums to

What kind of flavored spirits should I make at my distillery?

Written by KRIS BOHM
honey whiskey, and vodka in a rainbow of colors, there are flavors galore.

This is a tough question because no two distillers have the same answer. We’ll answer this question by looking at the way consumers perceive flavored spirits.

The average consumer will often choose to drink flavored spirits because it can simplify making a mixed drink. A consumer may view products like a lemon-flavored vodka as a way to simplify the process of making a cocktail. Let’s build an example by exploring the humble vodka soda. The vodka soda, a not-so-complex cocktail, is commonly served as vodka, plus soda water, with a lemon or lime added to it. In making this cocktail, if we substitute a delicious lemon-flavored vodka for regular vodka, the result is an easier process by not requiring the addition of fresh fruit to the drink.

For consumers the appeal of choosing a flavored spirit over a traditional spirit is both flavor and drinkability. Drinkability can be a bit fickle so let's attempt to define “drinkability” for the sake of this article. Spirits even at 80 proof can be perceived as hot or labeled as a spirit that “has bite” or that it “burns.” These descriptors may not be terms used by producers of spirits as adjectives to describe their spirits, but regardless the adjectives are often used by the average consumer. Many flavored spirits have sugar or other sweeteners added to them that mask the detectability of the alcohol in the spirits. The addition of flavor and sugar to a distilled spirit is sometimes also done to cover up negative flavors. This is a huge factor as to why flavored spirits are sold in such massive volume. Consumers who might not otherwise enjoy drinking distilled spirits find flavored spirits to be more pleasant and palatable to drink.

How to Make a Flavored Spirit

There are many ways to go about manufacturing flavored spirits. Here are two different methods which we can compare and contrast.

Distilling with Real Ingredients

Small craft distilleries will sometimes use fresh ingredients to produce a flavored spirit that is deemed more authentic. One example is

a fresh lime vodka made by a distillery in California. This spirit is produced by macerating fresh locally-grown caviar limes in a neutral spirit then redistilled into a flavored vodka. This method is quite effective and results in a flavorful lime vodka. However, this method is labor intensive and subject to the seasonality of the fruit. Not only will there be variations in flavor from season to season, this can create limitations in production capacity.

Extracts for Flavoring

Another method employed successfully by large distilleries is the use of extract-based flavors. There are several flavor companies in the US and abroad that manufacture extract flavors that are TTB approved and meant specifically for flavoring of distilled spirits. Extract flavored spirits are built in a tank where a measured amount of neutral spirit has water, sugar and extract flavor added to it to create a flavored spirit. This method is simple, scalable, and economical. These extracts are easy to work with and can fast track the production of flavored spirits.

Quality Assurance Process

Quality assurance, also known as QA, is the testing of a product before it is released to the market. Quality assurance is a way to navigate through any potential pitfalls prior to a product’s release. Once a concept has been created for a new product like a flavored spirit, it is essential that rigorous quality assurance testing takes place. Testing of the spirits for faults, flaws, or problems is essential to the success and commercial viability of the product.

Let’s look at an example of a failure when there is no quality assurance process prior to launching a product. A distiller once hit upon the idea of a strawberry-flavored vodka and quickly rushed to take the product to market. The product was manufactured by soaking freshly picked strawberries in vodka, then filtering the vodka and bottling the product. The result of this process was a vodka that had a beautiful light pink hue and an aroma of fresh strawberries. An instant success, the distillery sold lots of bottles through their tasting room and pallets of the product went into distribution. Not long after, the complaints began to roll in. Customers said that their bright pink vodka turned an unsavory shade of yellow. Liquor store owners demanded refunds for the ugly yellow vodka. Upon tasting the discolored vodka, there were no flaws to be found in flavor or aroma, but the color was downright off-putting. In the end the distillery recalled the product and shortly thereafter discontinued the production. This expensive disaster could have been avoided if they had a better QA process.

Consumers who might not otherwise enjoy drinking distilled spirits find flavored spirits to be more pleasant and palatable to drink.

Legal Considerations

There are legal requirements that must be followed when it comes to manufacturing flavored spirits. The TTB requires a formula to be submitted and approved before that spirit is allowed to be sold. Part of the TTB formula process is to review the ingredients used in the manufacture of a flavored spirit. Ingredients used in a flavored spirit must be approved by the FDA as an ingredient that is “GRAS” (generally recognized as safe). The FDA has an online database that lists all GRAS ingredients. It is important in product development to make sure the ingredients used are approved by the FDA and TTB for use in distilled spirits. In the case of using extract-based flavors, these extracts should be TTB approved. Ask your flavor manufacturer in advance if the flavors they are providing are approved by the TTB. Some flavor companies have thousands of TTB approved flavors. This multitude of options creates the opportunity for a distillery to make a flavored spirit of almost any idea they can dream up.

Let’s Go to Flavortown

Now that you have an understanding of a few methods used to make flavored spirits, along with some of the guidelines and restrictions on how to do it, you have the basic tools needed to produce flavored spirits at your distillery. There is a large market for flavored spirits, so be sure to consider the potential. Flavored spirits are the gateway to flavortown and it's a place many successful distilleries go. – 973-584-1558
Kris Bohm is the owner of Distillery Now Consulting. When Kris is not talking about distilling you can find him sipping pale ale and telling lame dad jokes. Contact for more info.
Flavored spirits are the gateway to flavortown and it's a place many successful distilleries go.


Fire department access to your facility is an essential element during emergency operations. Specific design criteria are specified in local building and fire codes in order to provide an effective and fast response by first responders. First responders must be able to access all areas of a building as fire or other emergencies can occur anywhere

both inside and outside of your facility. Local jurisdictions typically adopt the International Building Code, International Fire Code, NFPA 1 Fire Code, or a combination thereof. These codes have specific criteria that must be met and will be reviewed during the permitting and construction phases of your facility. Your local fire marshal’s office or fire department should be contacted as many jurisdictions have additional or modified code requirements in order to meet their specific operational capabilities.

Types of fire apparatus and fire department capabilities vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Typically, fire departments will have fire engines, which contain various supply hose sizes and lengths. Code criteria will stipulate distance requirements from fire hydrants, fire department connections, access doors, and hose lay distances both inside and outside of your facility. These maximum distance allowances coincide with the strict requirements fire apparatus must meet with regards to minimum amounts of supply and attack hose lines. Another type of fire apparatus is the ladder truck. A ladder truck typically contains a long mounted ladder which can reach long distances along with various portable ladders. The length of a mounted ladder varies but is typically 80120 feet in length. Location of fire department access roads from your facility account for these limitations.

Fire department access roads may consist of public streets, alleys, parking lots, or dedicated access roads. Fire apparatus not only need to be able to travel to their destination, but they need to be able to get close enough to any building to effectively deploy hose lines, access


fire hydrants, access exterior doors, and access fire department connections. Fire department access roads must be provided so fire apparatus can drive within 50 feet of at least one exterior door that allows access to the interior of the building. The fire department access roads also need to be located so that any portion of the building or facility is not more than 150 feet from fire department access roads as measured around the exterior of the building or facility. This requirement ensures that first responders can reach most parts of the building with their hose lines. This 150-foot distance can be increased to 450 feet in buildings that are protected with an automatic sprinkler system because the fire risk and endangerment to occupants and fire responders is significantly reduced. This requirement allows for fire departments to deploy preconnected hose lines and access any area of the first floor from the outside of the building without having to extend hose lines and cause delays in operations.


Access roads need to allow adequate access to the building and to allow for fire apparatus to set up and perform emergency operations. Fire department access roads require 20 feet of unobstructed width, 13 feet, six inches of unobstructed vertical clearance, and an appropriate radius for turns in the roads and dead ends for the vehicle’s apparatus to turn around. The minimum width allows for two-way vehicular traffic and for one fire apparatus vehicle to pass while another is working at a fire hydrant or conducting aerial operations while the vertical clearance ensures that fire apparatus can safely pass under power lines, bridges, and other obstructions. Local jurisdictions require fire department access roads to be marked and these marked portions of the fire department access roads are called fire lanes. Fire lanes may be required to be marked with signage and/or painting along curbs and roadways.

Your local jurisdiction should also be contacted with regards to requirements for accessing your facility during off-hour operations. Building key access may be required and many fire departments require Knox Boxes (small, wall-mounted safes) to be installed at specified locations on the outside of your building. This allows for faster access into your facility and helps prevent additional damage to doors and windows. Knox Boxes may also contain other keys for elevator controls, access to specific rooms, card access information, etc.

Fire department access criteria should be discussed during the early stages of your building design, specifically during the civil and landscaping design phases. This prevents issues later on as adding access roads or changing landscapes may be costly and may impact other utilities and building designs. Access roads on properties that have significant grades need to be carefully designed as additional slope limitations are required and may create additional challenges for clear access to buildings.

Michael T. Reardon, P.E. is a fire protection engineer and president of Reardon Fire Consulting, P.C. For more information visit
Fire department
criteria should be discussed during the early stages of your building design, specifically during the civil and landscaping design phases.

St. UrbanePetersburg’sRenewal

St. Petersburg, Florida, has seen rapid growth over the last few decades. This once-sleepy beach town has recently attracted world-class art museums, high-rise condos, and a redeveloped bay-front pedestrian pier shifting the city’s focus from the gulf’s relaxing retirees to an active cosmopolitan downtown. Recently Formula 1 reinstated the St. Petersburg Grand Prix, showing off this city to an international audience. While growing pains always accompany growth, this influx of new settlers and businesses brings with it new ideas that can transform the ordinary into something unexpected. In that regard, St. Petersburg Distillery is much like its home city.

“We love to experiment,” said Master

A growing city and its namesake distillery boost each other’s profile

Distiller Warren Gardener. “We never stick to one procedure, especially in the craft industry. You have to think and see things with an open mind because you never know where you’re going to get the right answers from or your inspiration to do something.”

The Jamaican-born Gardener — a 20-year Floridian — and Assistant Distiller Adam Mitton, who came from Chicago, are a part of a younger generation infusing new energy

into St. Petersburg. However, both men have been around long enough to see the effects of St. Pete’s changes both good and bad. That is why the distillery’s flagship products are made under the label Old St. Pete.

“It’s really a reference about the history of St. Pete,” said Gardener. “Everybody understands that changes are going on now. If you live here, you have experienced the changes.”

“It’s our way of saying that we’re part of


the old school St. Pete,” added Mitton. A part of that old St. Pete vibe is using Florida’s best-known product — oranges — for their Tippler’s Orange Liqueur.

“Florida oranges, no artificial colors or flavors,” said Mitton. “It’s one-to-one, so one pound of oranges per pound of finished product.”

“And that’s the most labor-intensive product that we have,” added Gardener. “We juice the oranges ourselves. You’re talking about

5,000 pounds of oranges at a time. It’s buckets. It’s the peels; it’s the juice; it’s the pulp. Everything is thrown in there.”

“Something else we do with it that makes us different,” he continued, “is we distill everything in there. So when we’re distilling for six or seven hours, we’re cooking the juice, the pulp, everything. It tastes more like an orange jam at a higher concentration, so it changes the chemical make-up of it because it’s just like cooking.”

Gardener and Mitton then age the spirit in ex-bourbon barrels at a high proof before blending with additional bourbon to retain more of the jam-like flavor. That attention to detail and intense orange flavor makes Tippler’s one of the distillery’s best selling spirits. But they don’t rest their laurels on one product.

“Here, we’re definitely more diverse,” noted Gardener. “We came out with a wide range — whiskey, rum, gin, vodka, and our orange liqueur — so that we were able to capture more

“We love to experiment. We never stick to one procedure, especially in the craft industry. You have to think and see things with an open mind because you never know where you’re going to get the right answers from or your inspiration to do something.”
— WARREN GARDENER Master Distiller, St. Petersburg Distillery

people. Bring them here and let them know the story and the process with each product.” Rum is another example.

“We’ve got two rums,” said Mitton describing their Old St. Pete Righteous Rum & Spice and premium brand Oak & Palm Coconut Rum. “The base on both is distilled from Florida-grown cane sugar from Okeechobee. The coconut rum is natural coconut.”

“One thing when you’re dealing with extracts,” noted Gardener expanding on the rum, “you definitely have to understand your base spirit. When you think of rum that’s distilled from raw cane sugar and rum that’s distilled from molasses, if you think that extract is going to give you the same results, it’s not. It’s going to be like the base rum is the canvas and the extract is the paint. Raw cane sugar is naturally light, smooth, with a hint of grassiness, but you get more vanilla notes from it than molasses. Paired with a coconut extract

turns it into more of a vanilla coconut.”

“Our Righteous Rum & Spice, that’s one of our signature products,” Mitton continued. “Heavy on the baking spice, nuttiness, and raisins. We use natural vanilla extract and we use cassia bark, which is bougie cinnamon.”

“We use the cassia bark instead of cinnamon sticks or extract,” Gardener explained, “because the cassia bark gives it a deeper taste. You could almost think it’s mixed with aged rum. It’s not. It’s the cassia bark.”

“We have two whiskies right now,” said Mitton, “a sweet corn whiskey and our Sunshine whiskey. The sweet corn was the original flagship. It’s a blend of fresh unaged corn whiskey and a seven-year aged corn whiskey. As the whiskey in our barrel house matured, we had an opportunity to improve upon that with the Sunshine Whiskey.” Sunshine whiskey is a blend of 4- and 7-year whiskey made with 11 percent rye. They add

smoked Appalachian oak chips to the barrel, which Mitton says gives it a little more finesse. He mentions that Sunshine originally developed as a bespoke whiskey for Tampa Bay’s historic Bern’s Steak House.

“[Bern’s is] really high end, very well known. They’ve got the largest wine cellar in the world. It’s over 2 million bottles. … They came in and sampled our barrels and hand selected two of them. We blended them out individually, so it was basically the same process.”

The distillery is excited to release its first bourbon later this year.

“The biggest thing for us now is getting out that bourbon,” said Mitton. “It’s a higher rye, 34–36 percent. I think it turned out beautifully.”

The distillery has also been making major capital improvements. They’re not just installing bigger equipment, but more efficient


and effective equipment. They just finished reconfiguring the distillery’s six 5,000-gallon fermenters and moving the condensers to make them more accessible.

“What we did was add a cooling tower and bought much smaller condensers,” explained Gardener. “We can double our production in the same amount of time.” The new custom cooling system will drastically reduce the time of temperature drop when mash comes off the boiler and they are currently installing two 64,000-gallon grain silos and a hammer mill.

“Having your own mill eventually pays for itself,” Gardener commented. “I think we’ll have the capability to do 10,000 pounds (per hour). It’s fast.” The distillery is also constructing a new 20,000-barrel warehouse on the expansive property, which once held both a timber and a steel mill.

Alongside production improvements,

there is even more going on to enhance the customer experience.

“These are spirit safes,” said Gardener, showing off a large metal box with an opening at the top. “I believe it started in Scotland because the feds were a little different over there.” To keep alcohol from being dispersed before the government received its share, spirits in Scotland were locked away in special glass boxes after coming off the still. Distillers could see the product but weren’t allowed to touch or taste their own spirit until the taxes were paid. “We took that concept and built this box,” continued Gardener. “We then had a glass designer — this is what I’m excited for

— design a globe and a pair of hands out of glass. That is going to fit over here and we’re going to recycle liquid in this box to come through the orb and through the hands.” It’s designed to amaze distillery tour visitors, but Gardener can barely contain his own excitement to see the finished apparatus.

“It’s going to be cool,” he said rubbing his hands together.

Capitalizing on St. Petersburg’s well-established art scene, the distillery tapped into the local art community commissioning murals


inside and out. That includes a large mural depicting an underwater shipwreck (complete with a giant octopus pilfering rum barrels) along 31st Street created by the art students at Jonathan C. Gibbs High School across the street. Mitton showed off the outdoor artwork along with the many other projects they have going on.

“Where we’re standing now is going to become a big open green space and park. We’ll have a stage for music. We go right up to the [Pinellas] Trail so we’re going to tie into that so you can visit us. Eventually, the other side of the garage there is going to be a boutique hotel.”

While the distillery’s equipment changes are driven by Floridians’ increased enjoyment of their products, the outdoor changes are about supporting the community they love.

“What we do is about passion,” said Mitton “but having that passion is meaningless if you don’t find ways to share with the community. That’s a big part of this build out. Our expansion is to find ways to interface with them and be a part of the community improvement.”

“One thing about St. Petersburg is we’re young, we’re unique, we’re diversified,” added Gardener. “We are the perfect destination to bring people together.” While he’s talking about the distillery, the sentiment applies to the entire city.

“That’s what life is about,” said Gardener. “Especially when you’re creating something beautiful. You want to keep doing those types of things.”

St. Petersburg Distillery is located in St. Petersburg, Florida. For more info visit or call (727) 914-0931.
“What we do is about passion, but having that passion is meaningless if you don’t find ways to share with the community.”
— ADAM MITTON Assistant Distiller, St. Petersburg Distillery
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FDA Regulations for Alcohol Manufacturers

Many distilled spirits manufacturers have recently begun exploring different avenues to boost their profit margins and increase sales of their main distilled spirit product. These different avenues include everything from offering non-alcohol versions of the spirit to selling complementary products to pair with it, such as mixers. However, all distillers should be forewarned: Federal regulations applicable to these adjunct products differ from the federal regulations that apply to their traditional distilled fare.

Under the Federal Alcohol Administration Act,1 the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) has regulatory jurisdiction over distilled spirits containing seven percent or more alcohol by volume (ABV) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has regulatory jurisdiction over alcohol beverages that contain spirits but are less than seven percent ABV, with several exceptions. While distilled spirits products typically fall well over the seven percent ABV threshold, distilled spirit manufacturers looking to expand their business into low-alcohol ready-to-drink beverages, including spirits-based seltzers and pre-mixed cocktails in a can, should be aware of FDA’s regulations pertaining to permitting, ingredients, and labeling.


The Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002 requires the FDA to take steps to protect the public from a threatened or actual terrorist attack on the United States food supply. In response to the Bioterrorism Act, the FDA promulgated regulations that, among other things, require food facilities to register with the federal government.2 Not only must food and beverage facilities register under the Bioterrorism Act and the related FDA regulations, but so must bonded wine premises, breweries, distilled spirits plants, alcohol beverage distributors, importers, warehouses, and wholesalers.3 Distilled spirit manufacturers wishing to expand their business into low- or no-alcohol products already should be registered with the FDA. Therefore, additional registration at the federal level should not be needed. However, such distilled spirit manufacturers should contact their state regulators to see what additional state regulations and registrations apply.

1 27 U.S.C., Chapter 8, §§ 201-212.

2 See 42 U.S.C. § 262a; 21 C.F.R. §§ 1.225-245.

3 See Public Law 107-188, Alcohol & Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau (May 2, 2018),


The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act defines a “food additive” as “any substance the intended use of which results or may reasonably be expected to result, directly or indirectly, in its becoming a component or otherwise affecting the characteristics of any food.”4 Excluded from the food additive definition are foods that are “generally recognized as safe” or GRAS, and foods proven to be safe due to their use in the food system prior to 1958. These laws and regulations apply regardless of whether a product is regulated by the TTB or FDA.5 Stated differently, distilled spirit manufacturers should be familiar with the FDA’s definitions of food additive and GRAS, because the ingredients used in TTB-regulated distilled spirits must be FDA-approved food additives or GRAS.

If an ingredient is on the FDA’s GRAS list, then a food or beverage manufacturer may use that substance. However, if an ingredient is not on the FDA’s GRAS list, the food or beverage manufacturer should research whether the FDA has an authorizing regulation for it. If there is not an authorizing regulation, which states the food ingredient may be used in the way the food manufacturer intends for the ingredient to be used, then the food manufacturer must go through the FDA’s ingredient petition process.6 However, if a food manufacturer believes that a substance should be GRAS, the food manufacturer can submit a GRAS Notice to the

4 21 U.S.C. § 321(s).

5 See Determine If and How Ingredients May be Used in Your Beverage, Alcohol & Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau (Aug. 16, 2016),

6 See Determining the Regulatory Status of a Food Ingredient, Food & Drug Admin (Sept. 20, 2018),


FDA in which the manufacturer provides the FDA with generally available and accepted scientific data, information, or methods that show the scientific community recognizes the substance is GRAS.7

The FDA does not conduct pre-market recipe approval. Instead, if an FDA-regulated food or beverage product contains an “unsafe food additive,” or a food additive that is not FDA approved, then the FDA considers the product adulterated.8 However, the FDA will only become aware of the adulterated product after it is on the market. This differs from the TTB. Although the TTB does not conduct pre-market formula approval on all products, it conducts pre-market formula approvals for those products that contain flavoring and coloring.9 The TTB conducts recipe approvals on alcohol products that contain flavoring and coloring regardless of whether the product is regulated by the TTB or FDA. If a product does not contain any alcohol, however, the only regulator involved is the FDA, and the TTB does not need to approve the formula.


Both the TTB and FDA have regulations on product labeling. However, knowing which agency regulates a product is important because each agency requires labels to contain different information. Although certain information, such as the product name, is required regardless of who regulates the product, each agency has specific requirements for each label component. For example, the FDA has a regulation that the size of any text on a label cannot be smaller than 1/16 of an inch.10

There are certain label components required by the FDA that are not required by the TTB. One important component of an FDA-regulated label, which is not required on a TTB-regulated label, is the nutritional facts panel. Most Americans are familiar with the nutritional facts panel because it appears on most foods sold within the United States. The panel outlines certain nutrients and shows how much of each nutrient is present in the food. Although the FDA’s labeling requirements apply to the alcohol beverages that fall under its jurisdiction, these beverages must also adhere to the TTB’s government warning labeling.11 Stated differently, if a product contains alcohol, its label must include the TTB government warning regardless of whether the product is regulated by the TTB or FDA.

Additionally, the TTB and FDA do not conduct product label reviews in the same manner. Unlike the TTB, the FDA does

7 See About the GRAS Notification Program, Food & Drug Admin (Jan. 1, 2018), about-gras-notification-program.

8 Id.

9 See Formula Approval Basics for Domestic Products and Importers of Alcohol Beverages, Alcohol & Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau (Sept. 18, 2018),

10 See 21 C.F.R. § 101.2(c).

11 See 27 C.F.R. Part 16.

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not conduct pre-market label reviews. Before a TTB regulated product can hit the market it must obtain a Certificate of Label (or Bottle) Approval (COLA) from the TTB.12 The FDA, on the other hand, does not look at or approve food labels before manufacturers can market them. Instead, the FDA has mandatory recall authority which allows the agency to require the manufacturer to remove the product from the market if it is misbranded.13 However, the FDA tends to first send warning letters if the agency becomes aware of a misbranded product.


When a distilled spirits manufacturer decides to explore new ways to sell its products, either by offering no- or low-alcoholic beverages or selling complementary products to be consumed with the distiller’s higher-proof products, the manufacturer should understand that the new products may be regulated by the FDA. Although there is some overlap between the TTB’s and FDA’s regulations, manufacturers should understand the different permitting, ingredient, and labeling regulations that apply to various products.

The laws and regulations that apply to alcohol beverages and food can be confusing, so seeking guidance from an experienced alcohol beverage lawyer can help ensure a manufacturer’s business is compliant with the law.

John P. Thomas, II is an associate in GrayRobinson’s Tampa office and a member of the firm’s Nationwide Alcohol Industry Group. John works with all three tiers and all three segments of the alcohol industry, including substantial work experience with distillers. Prior to joining GrayRobinson and while in law school, John served as a Senior Judicial Intern at the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida for the Honorable Amanda Arnold Sansome. Subsequently, he became a Gubernatorial Fellow for the Florida Gubernatorial Fellows Program where he served within the Department of Management Services. Call (813) 273-5046 or email for more information.

Jana Caracciolo is an associate in GrayRobinson’s Tampa office and a member of the firm’s Nationwide Food Law Group. Jana provides an astute knowledge of food labeling regulation and interpretation and counsel related to food safety-related issues. She also provides legal counsel and compliance guidance to farmers, ranchers, producers, processors, distributors, and retailers on compliance issues with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Department of Agriculture (USDA), and various state agencies’ requirements on food safety, food and beverage labeling and packaging, and product development. Prior to joining GrayRobinson, Jana served as a staff attorney at the National Agricultural Law Center, researching and analyzing food safety and food labeling issues. Call (813) 273-5124 or email jana.caracciolo@ for more information.

12 See Certification/Exemption of Label/Bottle Approval (COLA), Alcohol & Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau (May 12, 2022), alfd/certificate-of-label-aproval-cola.

13 See 21 U.S.C. § 350I.



Finding a Friend for the Notorious Spirit

Being of a certain age, absinthe was a mystery for me as it was banned in my early adulthood. Learning of this almost mythical beverage, I was delighted to finally try it during a conference in Prague in 2005. (I have the remnants of the bottle, which proudly boasts 35 mg/l thujone, that I purchased at the airport; it’s still in my bar.) My mischievous Belgian friends told me that the way to consume absinthe was to add a sugar cube, set the spirit alight, and then consume it in one shot. The only saving grace was that, as I had succumbed to peer pressure and consumed as suggested, they had to follow suit. One of our party lost part of an eyebrow I seem to recall. In another incident, several years later, I was in the 4th arrondissement in Paris and wandered into a cozy bar selling cocktail variations. One of these, an AK-47, was actually a Long Island with a double shot of absinthe on top. A second led to a curtailed evening…


The point of these admissions is that, if the consumer does not look out, absinthe can get them into trouble. (For a detailed insight of the potential downfalls associated with drinking absinthe, look no further than Nathan-Maister’s Absinthe Encyclopedia.) Now, it is widely legalized after an ill-informed decision to ban it in the early 20th century, and today it is enjoying a revival.

The creation of “good” absinthe is challenging (Fig. 1). There are three broad components that need to be considered:

> The spirit base (often GNS).

> Botanicals for maceration prior to distillation (spirit flavor).

> Botanicals for maceration post-distillation (flavor and color).

The botanicals profile for the initial distillate and for flavoring and coloring after distillation are distinctly different. Duplais (1871) includes several absinthe recipes in his detailed text (see Table 1). Commonly, traditional formulations relied on an initial room temperature botanical maceration for 12-24 hours in high-proof spirit (85% ABV). After the maceration is deemed complete, the volume is increased by around 50 percent with water to attain a strength of around 57 percent ABV and two-thirds of this volume distilled. Half of this colorless spirit is






used to infuse the ground botanicals, at 60°C to accelerate flavor and color extraction. The colored and colorless liquids are combined and proofed to the desired strength.

Now as most people know, wormwood is the classic botanical associated with absinthe. It’s also worth noting that the distinction between greater wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) and lesser wormwood (Roman wormwood, Artemisia pontica) should not be dismissed lightly. Using the former to color and flavor an absinthe post-distillation will create a product that is, in my view, more bitter than the purported 100 IBU beers that can occasionally be found. The culprit is principally absinthin (Fig. 2), which has been shown to bind to a range of known bitterness receptors and is considered to be one of the most bitter compounds known.

A. pontica on the other hand is generally considered to contain lower levels of absinthin. This is critical. Absinthin will not distill and so the use of the more commonly available A. absinthium will not risk over-bittering when applied before distillation, whereas macerating it

Written by PAUL HUGHES, PH.D.
Fig. 1. General scheme for the production of absinthe. Note that the initial high proof that favors extraction of flavors from botanicals is then diluted, which enhances the recovery of volatiles from the botanicals during distillation. ETHANOL (85% ABV)
Wormwood Anise Fennel

post-distillation will result in significant and unacceptable levels of absinthin in the final product. Some bitterness is desirable though, as it helps to balance the sweetness of the initial distillate.

The distillate and the colored product will though have appreciable bitterness from another source, not least because of the presence of αand β-thujone, major components of wormwood oil. Thujone has often been maligned as the source of absinthism in consumers. Thujone does have some negative health connotations, exacerbated by the questionable claims of Dr. Valentin Mangan in the mid-19th century. Dr. Mangan, a keen student of alcoholism, tested pure wormwood oil on animals and noted that it caused seizures, over and above the effects of alcohol, due to its inhibitory effect on GABA (γ-aminobutyric acid) receptors. He therefore drew the conclusion that absinthe was more deleterious to health than other alcoholic beverages. However, the doses required are generally far in excess of what might be consumed via absinthe and so this work also is widely disregarded.

The discussion of the adverse effects of thujone were revived for a while when Nature published an article highlighting the similarity of aspects of the three-dimensional structures of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis) and thujone. The three-dimensional structures of compounds are important features for binding to receptors, thus implying potentially similar binding of thujone and THC to the cannabinoid receptors. This has now also been refuted.



Artemisia absinthium (25) Artemisia pontica (10)

Green anise (50) Hyssop (10)

Fennel (50)

Lemon balm (5)

Coriander seeds (10) Veronica spp. (5)

Angelica seeds (5) Mint (3)

* Numbers in parenthesis are typical quantities of grams of botanical used per liter of final product, based on recipes listed by Duplais (1871) and Nathan-Maister (2009). Note that the amounts of botanicals typically used for absinthe is an order of magnitude greater than those used for gin production.

Nevertheless the levels of thujone are limited in various pieces of legislation. In the EU, for example, for drinks produced using Artemisia species, a limit of 35 mg/kg is applied, whilst in the US a nominal level of 10 mg/kg is applied. But there have been some historical widespread discrepancies regarding the quantification of thujone. Based on the more specific application of GC-MS, 10 mg/kg does not seem to be overly restrictive and therefore should not preclude the production of authentic modern-day absinthes.

Absinthe should not be consumed as is. At its high proof, it is difficult to imagine it as an enjoyable experience. One common way to prepare absinthe for consumption is to trickle ice water through a slotted spoon that supports a cube of sugar, and this cold sugar solution drips into a glass containing absinthe (Fig. 3). This is in effect the trifecta to cause the formation of oil-derived haze in absinthe — known as louching (Fig. 3). Water, a reduction in temperature, and the addition of sugar (which increases the polarity of water) all contribute to reducing the

Table 1. Common botanicals used for the production of green absinthe. Fig. 3. An absinthe fountain. The initially green, transparent spirit is placed under one of the small taps. Opening the tap releases icedwater from the reservoir above. Here, a slotted spoon, on which a sugar cube is placed, can be used to sweeten the final product. Note the thin surface layer of the less dense absinthe, which disappears as it becomes emulsified in the cold water. Photo by Autopilot/CC BY-SA 3.0 license.
Fig. 2. Absinthin, a complex sesquiterpene dimer.

solubility of the oils in the absinthe, leading to phase separation of the oil content as an extremely stable emulsion.1

Following on from the theme of “absinthe needs a friend”, it can be an extraordinary contributor as an ingredient to mixed drinks. Perhaps most famously, absinthe is used in the construction of an authentic Sazerac cocktail. Born in Louisiana, the Sazerac is based on either rye whiskey or rye in combination with Cognac,2 topped off with a soupçon of absinthe, citrus zest, and — which for me is strictly optional — some form of syrup. Oh, and lest we forget, Peychaud’s bitters is essential. In my view no other commercial bitters work nearly as well in a Sazerac. My personal modifications are to swap out the conventional syrup for agave syrup, and rather than a hint of absinthe, adding in a third of the alcohol volume relative to the main spirit or spirits in the form of absinthe. This is a personal choice and, in any case, care should be taken to ensure that the flavor of the resulting cocktail is not overburdened by absinthe additions.


Duplais, P., translated from French to English by M. McKennie, A Treatise on the Manufacture and Distillation of Alcoholic Liquors, facsimile (2008) of the original (1871), Oxygenee Press.

Nathan-Maister, D., The Absinthe Encyclopedia, Oxygenee Press, 2009.

Some absinthes that are currently available are difficult to force into louching, presumably because they contain lower levels of oils in solution, and indeed many do not reach the heady heights of 70 percent ABV or higher. This is not intended to condemn the lower proof absinthes, after all 55+ percent ABV is hardly alcohol-free, but nonetheless could perhaps herald a “nouveau absinthe” category, perhaps adapted to enjoy neat? With the rise of low- and non-alcoholic “spirits,” perhaps we will see the canned Sazerac in the future.

Paul Hughes, Ph.D. is assistant professor of food science and technology at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon. For more information visit or call (541) 737-4595.

1 A modestly controlled experiment in our lab showed that an absinthe louche remained visibly unaltered after four months when kept sealed at room temperature and out of direct sunlight.

2 It is rare to find a reputable drink that combines grape and grain…

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Society of Spirit

A New Kind of Distilling Organization

When I first started working as a professional distiller, I was lost. Although I was a graduate of Heriot-Watt and had a master’s degree in Brewing and Distilling, I had very little actual hands-on experience in a distillery. As most other distillers will tell you, there is no real one size fits all manual on how to distill, and since most of my knowledge came from books, I had very little practical experience to fall back on. What is more, I knew very few other distillers, so I didn’t really have anywhere to turn to for help. This meant that a lot of the time when problems arose, I was on my own and had to learn on the fly. Nevertheless, I persevered, learned from my mistakes, and after a while, even made some friends that were willing to teach me some things that books just can’t.

For many distillers, my story probably sounds familiar. On the whole, distillers have always been a pretty self-reliant bunch, in part because we had to be. Unlike other professions, such as accountants, architects, and even morticians, there is no centralized body or group that is designed to connect individual distillers and disseminate best practices. Even one of our most closely related professions, brewing, has an organization called the Master Brewers Association of the Americas (MBAA), whose goal is to help individual brewers connect and learn new skills.

True, there are organizations like DISCUS, the ACSA, and ADI, which have all worked in their own ways to bring knowledge and community to the industry. Still, their focus and scope have mostly been about the companies or politics involved in the distilled spirits industry and not the individuals that actually make the spirits. It is high time that our industry fixes this oversight, and it is for this reason that I have decided to help spearhead the creation of a new organization. The Society of Spirit.

When I started in this industry 15+ years ago, there was only one organization, and it served an amazing purpose, putting us in one place once a year to network, learn, and become friends. Eventually, it became obvious that there was a need for a member-directed alternative, and so one was created by a group of amazing people. I did what I could to support it, serving on the board and many committees. That is a mature entity and community now and has done amazing things that I’m grateful for and proud to have been a part of. There are others that play a variety of roles as well, some more oriented toward craft and some toward bigger companies.

I still see a need. While the organizations that serve the industry and the many bodies that offer education are providing excellent opportunities, there is little organized evaluation and feedback and no certifications for either education or members of the industry. I would suggest no way of gathering feedback about any of the available education for people entering the industry other than word of mouth. As a co-creator of an informal information-sharing group, I’m deeply aware of how important resource sharing is and how valuable peer review can be and I think it is a good time to formalize it.

The Society of Spirit will fill this critical gap. We will tap membership to build formal rating and evaluation systems and work toward certification of operators and employees who seek recognition for their expertise. This will be created by volunteer members willing to contribute, and anything we create will be approved by the membership. We will build databases of introductory information for people entering the industry. We will provide forums for information sharing that exist to provide an archive of questions and answers and troubleshooting. We will create something together that fills a gap in the industry and make it a better place to work and build businesses.

I’ve always been willing to admit that I didn't know much about distilling before joining the industry. What saved me, and many others, was the informal gathering of industry peers that went out of their way to welcome new people in, mentor them, and point to a reliable education. Years later, it's still those small groups of individuals and friends that continue to provide the best knowledge, support, and resources to the industry as a whole. The only downside of these peer groups is that unless you meet the right person, you may not even know they exist. So, it's our goal to be the ones to invite you in and, as a community, identify the best education opportunities available to our industry. We aren't a trade group like ACSA, ADI, or DISCUS (you should join them, though, they are awesome) instead, we are a member-focused society of individuals. A platform where you can ask questions and feel supported by your peers. The Society of Spirit is for us all. Sometimes we play Dungeons and Dragons too.


My first few years as a distiller were a full-on “trial-by-fire” experience. Literally. I learned the basics on a direct-fired, foothills-fabricated potstill. Sink and swim were my only teachers; my operations manual was a fistfull of posts from home distillation forums.

I was slightly in over my head.

Thankfully, there were some very helpful (and patient) distillers I met when I started attending industry conventions. Connecting with other distillers bridged knowledge gaps, and opened doors for invaluable mentorships. I learned a lot through these connections, and looked forward to spending time with both mentors and peers at annual conventions — there is always so much to learn, and so much to share!

The existing industry organizations are incredible facilitators for connecting distillers and providing education opportunities, but their main missions feel more industry-focused at the macro level, with emphasis on government relations, business development, and marketing strategies. There isn’t yet a formal collective that directly serves the labor pool of our industry, but Society of Spirit is poised to meet that need. Together, we will be building a culture of support, knowledge sharing, and community development. We hope that this will foster a strong, healthy community of craft distillers ready and able to meet the demand of an ever-expanding industry.

Society of Spirit: FAQ

1) What is SOS?

The Society of Spirit is an organization dedicated to the advancement and success of individuals engaged in the production and business of spirits. Our goal is to create a member-focused platform for the sharing of scientific knowledge and the cross-flow of ideas within the distilling community. To learn more, please check out our mission and vision statements.

5) Can I invite other distillers/industry friends?

Read SOS's mission and vision statements

2) Why are we using Discord?

We chose Discord because it was a readily accessible way to create a strong and engaged community. As this society grows and matures, we will consider other methods for the organization. For now, Discord is an easy, safe place for all of us to get together and communicate; also, it's fun!

3) Is SOS affiliated with any other industry organizations?

No. SOS is its own organization, completely separate from other existing organizations, But we love making friends!

4) What are the benefits of being a member?

Becoming a member of SOS comes with many benefits. First and foremost is that you become part of a genuine community dedicated to the sharing of distilling knowledge and ideas. As the organization grows, benefits will include special access to events and learning opportunities, as well as in-person meetups.

Yes! As we continue to grow, we welcome everyone that is involved in the distilled spirits industry or ancillary industries. Visit

6) How do I invite people? Who can I invite, and how do I do that?

Please use this link to invite people to the discord server:

7) Can anybody join SOS?

Anybody that is involved with the production or business of distilled spirits is welcome to join.

8) Can I volunteer to help build the SOS?

Yes, please join our volunteer chat to get involved

a) How do I participate?

First and foremost, simply being active within the discord chat and forum will help us grow our body of knowledge and engagement. If you would like to be even more active, please consider volunteering. You can check out our volunteer channel to learn more about what is going on as well as to become a volunteer.

b) How can I contribute?

Post! Our goal right now is to create an active discord community that encourages the cross-flow of ideas and knowledge. Quality posts about real distilling issues are an easy way to do that. If you would like to be even more involved, check out our volunteer channel.

9) Who is in charge here?

Who do I complain to?

Right now, we are run by a small interim board of volunteers. However, if you would like to participate (or maybe stage a bloodless coup for control), we welcome you. Please reach out to one of the board members through direct message on Discord.

Reade Huddleston

Brian Christensen

Johnny Jeffery

Emma Crandall

John Wilcox

Bryan Jennings

Sydney Jones

10) Who’s crazy idea was this organization?

You can thank (or blame) Reade Huddleston and Brian Christensen for the initial thought, but it really became a team effort from the interim board.

11) Is this a political action group?

No, we are not a political action group, and we do not have any plans to get involved in politics.


12) Are there membership dues?

Not yet! Though in the future, we may ask for a small membership fee to help us attain some of our goals.

13) How is this group different from other groups, associations, or guilds?

Most organizations that deal with distilled spirits focus on either companies’ needs or politics. The Society of Spirit focuses on individuals that either work directly with or in the business of distilled spirits. We make no distinction of the size of the organization that someone works for or political affiliation. Our only goal is to provide individuals with the knowledge and tools that they need to be successful when producing distilled spirits.

14) What’s the organizational structure of SOS?

Currently, we are led by an interim board of seven individuals. However, as we grow, we hope to formalize positions. If you would like to help please reach out.

15) There are roughly 60 organizations dealing with the alcohol beverage industry, will they be allowed to have a presence on SOS?

Anyone involved in the production or business of distilled spirits is welcome to join the Society of Spirit regardless of their affiliation; however, at this time we do not allow organizations or companies to join. The purpose of our organization is to highlight individuals, not companies or groups.

Vision & Overview

The goal of the Society of Spirit is to serve as a professional organization dedicated to the advancement and success of individuals engaged in the production and business of distilled spirits through access to continuing education, scientific research, discussion groups, journals, industry publications, and seminars.

Mission Statement

To provide a setting for the certification of knowledge, advancement of research, and fostering of interpersonal relationships within the distilling industry by leveraging the collective resources of the distilling community.

Strategic Goals

▶ CONNECT : Individuals within the distilling industry to better facilitate the cross-flow of ideas.

▶ KNOWLEDGE : Consolidate knowledge related to the distilled spirits industry

▶ EDUCATE : Provide individuals with the educational tools and certifications required to advance within the distilling industry.

▶ SUPPORT : Provide access for members of the industry seeking emotional support resources.

Position Statement

The Society of Spirit is for the betterment of the distilling industry. It is committed to the belief that diversity of thought and practice are the cornerstones upon which our ever-evolving industry is built upon. The Society of Spirit is an organization of professionals in all industries related to the production of distilled spirits. We make no distinction between the size or scale of the various organizations each member belongs to, and we understand that obstacles exist at all levels of distilled spirit production. Our goal is to provide access to answers and help all members on their path to creating better spirits and excelling within the distilling industry. In doing so, we hope to build an inclusive setting where all members can share their viewpoints while respecting each other and furthering our industry dialogue.

Organization Goals

Apart from our organization's Strategic Goals, we have a number of short-term goals that we would like to accomplish. Below is a short list of these goals.

▶ Establishment of a vibrant Discord Community that encourages the crossflow of ideas and education among its members.

▶ Establishment of a continuing education program so that members can further their industry knowledge and growth.

▶ The writing of a General Distillery Best Practices Manual that will be available to all members.

▶ Establishment of an accreditation program to formally certify members as distillers.

▶ Creation of regular regional meet-ups where members can interact and trade ideas in person.

Member Benefits

Members of the Society of Spirit receive a number of benefits. Below is just a short list of what is available.

▶ Access to the community Discord where distillers can freely discuss topics related to the distilling field

▶ Access to educational events put on by the Society of Spirit to further member's industry knowledge

▶ Access to whitepapers or other documents created by Society members

▶ Invitations to in-person meet-ups and other special events

As the organization grows and formalizes we expect these membership benefits to grow as well.

Reade A. Huddleston, MSc. in Brewing and Distilling, is a beverage industry consultant based in Tampa, Florida. He is fascinated with all things drinkable and is always searching for strange and forgotten spirits. If you would like to contact him about said spirits, or anything else, please email him at


stilador Enmascarad o

D e

T h e M a s ked Dis t i ller The Masked Distiller



Welcome to the first appearance of the Destilador Enmascarado (Masked Distiller) — an occasional column dedicated to sharing knowledge and solutions to common challenges within the distilling industry that are maybe just a bit too taboo to publicly attach your name to. Written under a pseudonym, but full of good info. We’ve all dealt with it. Now let’s talk about it!

Is there something we don’t talk about that we should? Email and let us know.

“Every one of you reading this page, look out! Because soon — VERY SOON — the most horrifying monster menace ever conceived will be oozing into this distillation. It crawls! It creeps! It eats your fermentation alive! From then on there’s no stopping it as it spreads from ferm to ferm. How can it be stopped?! Mob hysteria sweeps one city. Before long, the nation! And then the WORLD could fall victim to the blood-curdling threat of… THE INFECTION.”

— Parodied from the trailer for 1958's “The Blob”

It’s happened to the best of us, even if we’re loath to admit it.

If your quality assurance is up-to-snuff, you should catch it relatively quickly.

Perhaps it starts out a slightly savory meaty note on your new make. Or maybe you catch it even sooner than that, noticing that your pH in your fermentations have been dropping a bit too precipitously.

It may be something visual — a chalky, skin-like growth growing across the top of your fermentation. Or a slimy bit of beer or wine, hanging like so much mucus from your sample port.

No matter how you may have discovered it, the truth is it’s here. An infection. But the good news is if you follow proper remediation procedures, you can eradicate your infection and get your production back on track.

B u T, FI r ST — WHAT CA u S e S AN INF e CTION?

Infections occur when fermentation-spoiling bacteria or wild yeast make it into your fermentation and start competing with cultured yeast for the sugars you've worked so hard to create.

Distilleries (as well as breweries, vineyards, meaderies, kombucheries) are full of sugar. Full of proteins. Chock full of carbohydrates. Positively brimming with vitamins and minerals. It’s warm. It’s moist.

All of these things create an ideal habitat for bacteria to set up shop.

It’s often said that distilleries typically don't have to adhere to as strict sanitization regimens as wineries and breweries do. There are a couple of reasons for that. A little bit of wild yeast can add complexity to aged distilled spirits. Maybe a bit of funk (from the correct and desirable bacteria) gives your spirits that bit of complexity you’re looking for. Having quicker, higher ABV fermentation also means the opportunities for infections to take hold are reduced.

It's one of the big reasons open-top wooden fermentation is so common in distilling.

However, this does increase the chance of an infection taking hold.

WHY DID YO u G e T ON e ALL OF A S u DD e N?

As mentioned above, in general distilleries don't typically need to adhere to the same sanitization level as (most) beer and wine production areas.

What that does mean is that we're naturally exposing ourselves to higher chances of infection. And it also means that by the time it's showing up in your sensory, the infection has sunk its talons into the process and it's a nightmare to unhook it.

You may then ask yourself: Why have you been able to consistently produce infection-free new make (other than maybe a couple of hiccups) for the past few days/ months/years without major issues? After all, you’re following the same cleaning regimen day after day after day.

Infection can set in anywhere: The mash tun. The heat exchanger. Hoses. Fermenters. Even your tri-clamps and gaskets. Infection can thrive in the humid nooks and crannies of our floor and floor drains. Splashing from the floor up into the production space could even be the source.

Climbing into the mash tun to rinse out left-over grain could bring it in on your clothes or the bottom of your boots.

The biggest reasons are what we’ll call the double Bs — Biofilm and Beerstone.



The American Society of Microbiologists defines biofilm as an organic structure that acts as a microbial catch-all. Biofilms form when a group of microbes sense a given surface and adhere to it. Bacteria then set up and begin propagation. The film is further solidified in a polysaccharide (sugar) matrix.

This matrix forms a channeled structure, protecting the bacteria from external environmental factors, while simultaneously forming a trough that force-feeds nutrients and waste byproducts to the bacteria, allowing for ongoing colonization and maturation of the embedded bacteria. It also works to protect the bacteria from attempts at cleaning and sanitization.

In super simple terms — think of biofilms like the lamination on a piece of paper. The paper is the bacteria that has set itself within your production space, and the biofilm is the laminate protecting the paper from any attempts to properly clean it. Because the bacteria can hide in the biofilm, traditional cleaning methods aren’t particularly effective in eradicating them.

Even more troubling — Early biofilm buildup is often invisible to the naked eye until it has aggressively built up. Which leads us to beerstone, a type of biofilm.

Contaminants Biofilm Matrix


Beerstone is “calcium oxalate” (C2CaO4). The build up of beerstone is largely due to a reaction between alkaline cleaners (e.g. caustic), hard water minerals (calcium and magnesium), and protein in the form of amino acids (from your feedstock and yeast).

The organic compounds found in the wort and beer will combine with metals in the water — i.e. calcium and magnesium. This forms

the oxalate. Bacteria can then find a home in the calcium oxalate, allowing the microorganisms to avoid any sort of interaction with your standard cleaning regimen. Use of caustic directly on the beerstone then exacerbates the issue, forming a cover by creating additional precipitate because the caustic agents react with the CO2 given off by the fermentation process.

You'll begin to notice this inside the fermenters and even inside the mash tun. The oxalate begins to build up over time, leaving an unsanitary surface that offers an environment that can harbor microorganisms.

Add in little nooks and crannies from the welds where infections can hide (and perhaps a huge shadow caused by the inside lip of a manway where a CIP process can’t reach), and that build up over time is like getting into the car and not buckling your seatbelt.

Sure, we may be able to go to and from our destinations without any major issues normally; but, the law of averages tells us it's eventually going to catch up with us.

Biofilm can build up over time. By the time it's visible, you have an even larger challenge on your hands. Some vessel designs also create "shadows" that your CIP system can't reach — such as this example from a beer fermenter where an inside lip prevented standard CIP processes from achieving full efficacy. These areas require special care during cleaning and ensuring sanitization — oftentimes requiring hand scrubbing and additional rinsing.

Beerstone can creep up suddenly, as biofilm buildup can initially be invisible to the naked eye. It takes time after time after time of failing to break down the biofilm layer before you can really see it. And by then, it’s a nightmare to remove.

Which it obviously can! Because here we are staring at sepia-toned stainless.

Vessel Surface
A visual showing how potential contaminants can be protected from standard cleaning procedures by biofilm buildup on your production surfaces.



Fermentation-destroying organisms that you'll most likely encounter are Lactobacillus, Pediococcus, and wild yeasts, including Brettanomyces. Each type of infection has its own favorite nutrients, temperature range, pH range, and growth rate.


Lactobacillus is one of the more common fermentation infections. It's part of a group of gram-positive lactic acid bacteria (LAB) that includes pediococcus.

Like the yeast we pitch for fermentation, lactobacillus consumes sugars as its main source of energy. One of the biggest issues is that lacto produces lactic acid instead of ethanol.

A lacto infection also produces off-flavors and sourness and is particularly nefarious in producing diacetyl (buttered popcorn) flavors. Beer with aggressive lactobacillus infections will often become hazy. However, this indicator isn’t much help when many American distilleries utilize on-grain fermentation and distillation.

Lactobacillus grows best in environments with a pH value of 4.0 to 5.0 and a temperature of approximately 85 degrees Fahrenheit.


Brettanomyces is a genus of yeast that is typically considered an unwanted wild yeast, although it is often purposefully used in certain styles of beer. If you’ve ever tasted a wild-fermented beverage and it has notes ranging from “earthy” to “wet horse blanket,” there’s a better-than-average chance that brett found itself into the fermentation.

In spite of what some may think, brett isn’t a souring organism. Lactic acid bacteria (like lacto and pedio) are required for a true sour beer. Brett can also produce ethyl acetate (sweet/fruity) and ethyl lactate (raspberry) in larger quantities than distillers yeast.

Brettanomyces can grow at temperatures as low as 50 degrees Fahrenheit and as high as 95 degrees, and can tolerate pHs as low as 2.3.


Pediococcus are gram-positive lactic acid bacteria used in the production of Belgianstyle beers where additional acidity is desirable. They are native to plant material and fruits and are found in spontaneously fermented beer as the primary source of lactic acid production.

It is also seen as a major source of beer contamination in commercial breweries due to its ability to adapt to and survive in beer.

Pediococcus causes high acidity and a meaty/ buttery aroma that becomes more concentrated during distillation.

Pediococcus has a high tolerance to ethanol compared to other bacteria, and can range from 10 to 25 percent ABV. It tends to grow between 77 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit and cannot survive pHs higher than 8.0.

SO, HOW DO W e G e T r ID OF IT?

Now that you’ve established that you have an infection based on your pH levels, stalled fermentations, organoleptic data points, or all of the above it’s time to eradicate it.

The Birko Corp developed a specific method (which we’ll refer to as the Birko Method) that can be used to break down biofilm and beerstone buildup and that is hosting your potential infection points. This is handy to keep in your back pocket moving towards the future, because you probably won't need to maintain brewery levels of sanitization (nor will you ever really be able to if you're just not designed for that level of sanitization) if you alternate this method with the more traditional caustic, acid, sanitizer routine.

I highly recommend visiting the Birko Corp website for a more in-depth focus on what beerstone is and how to combat it.

Simple cleaning methods won't work when attempting to tackle beerstone and other biofilms. Processes like the Birko Method work to soften the biofilm so the detergent can work on eradicating soil. After the non-caustic alkaline cleaning method, this biofilm was able to be cleaned off with a soft bristle brush.

To eradicate beerstone, via Birko Corp:

▶ Rinse out beer and yeast with ambient temperature water.

▶ Use a one to two ounce per gallon phosphoric/nitric acid mixture (maximum 140 degrees Fahrenheit) for 1530 minutes.

▶ Do not rinse.

▶ Use a non-caustic alkaline cleaner at one to two ounces per gallon of warm (120-140 degrees) to start. (FiveStar PBW, or Powdered Brewery Wash, as examples.) CIP for 15 to 30 minutes depending on conditions.

▶ Rinse with ambient temperature water until the pH of the rinse water is neutral (same pH as the tap water coming in).

When dealing with an infection, focus on eliminating the current infection by doing the full Birko Method on every single tank that touches your fermentation: Mash tun, heat exchanger, fermenters, etc. Every part of your equipment that can be stripped down and broken into pieces should be. If it can fit into a triple-bay sink set up, each piece should be scrubbed down with a non-caustic alkaline cleaner until no visible biofilm is present, followed by citric acid and finally a high-foaming sanitizer.

After that, whatever can fit into an autoclave — a $150 InstaPot makes an affordable in-process autoclave for sanitization — should be autoclaved before it comes into contact within your production space.

After eliminating the current infection, it’s


Vestby LK, Grønseth T, Simm R, Nesse LL. Bacterial Biofilm and its Role in the Pathogenesis of Disease. Antibiotics (Basel). 2020 Feb 3;9(2):59. doi: 10.3390/antibiotics9020059. PMID: 32028684; PMCID: PMC7167820.

Prinzi, Andrea Ph.D., MPH, SM(ASCP) , and Rodney E. Rohde. "The Role of Bacterial Biofilms in Antimicrobial Resistance." American Society for Microbiology, 6 Mar. 2023, Articles/2023/March/The-Role-of-BacterialBiofilms-in-Antimicrobial-Re.

Oliver, Garrett. The Oxford Companion to Beer. Oxford University Press, 2011.

Johnson, Dana. “How to Remove Beerstone.” Birko Corp., 29 Aug. 2017, resources/blog/how-to-remove-beerstone/.

Any place where there are nooks and crannies, there are safe harbors for infections. Like on this plate chiller plate — Soils build up over time where the caustic and acid circulation can't reach during daily cleaning. Equipment should routinely be taken apart to ensure proper cleanliness and sanitation.

important to switch your cleaning and CIP process.

I recommend keeping a waterfall rotation going: One fermentation in the vessel, do the Birko Method. The next fermentation in the same vessel, do the classic CIP routine of caustic to acid to sani. The third fermentation in the same vessel, use the non caustic alkaline cleaner to citric to sani.

Like other bacteria that enter our body, specific strains can build resistance within your production space, so focusing on switching things up is key to reducing buildup and focusing on ensuring no build up in the future.

For additional protection, do a full triplebay-sink cleaning cycle on all equipment and then autoclave the tri-clamps and gaskets at the end of the day.


A big challenge with any major food production process is knowing when you’ve adequately met the sanitary demands of your products. Obviously this is no different when it comes to your fermentations. Because distillation is a game of concentration, it really is a game of crap in, crap out.

But by taking time to be thoughtful, ensuring you’re following procedures from batch to batch, and utilizing the tools in your toolbelt to double-check your work, you can significantly reduce the chances of infections taking hold and creating less-than-spectacular spirits.

It causes its own headaches. How many times have we said, "It has to be X?” But it wasn’t… Each time you think you've finally nailed it down, the answer quickly squeaks away. But, that's science. Operate with the best information you have available and move forward eliminating variables until proven correct. Or if proven incorrect, then check that off the list and approach the next likely answer.

Rinse, repeat.

Destilador Enmascarado (Masked Distiller) is an occasional column dedicated to sharing knowledge and solutions to common challenges within the distilling industry that are maybe just a bit too taboo to publicly attach your name to. Written under a pseudonym, but full of good info. We’ve all dealt with it, now let’s talk about it! Is there something we don’t talk about that we should? Email and let us know.


The Birth of Barrels & Billets

The First WoodCraft Bourbon Blender Franchise

Barrels & Billets, a custom bourbon distillery in downtown Louisville, Kentucky, is located next to the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory building on West Main Street. The marriage of these two businesses — baseball bats and bourbon — can be summed up by words printed on the t-shirts they sell celebrating their signature item — it’s all about the wood. As with bats, wood is also important in the making of bourbon. As you may recall, 70 to 80 percent of the flavor of America’s native spirit comes from the interaction between the spirit and the wooden barrels used to store it.

How it all began

The idea for Barrels & Billets began in 2021 with a meeting between myself and John Hillerich, president and CEO of Hillerich & Bradsby (H&B) set up by a mutual friend. A fifth-generation family firm, H&B has been making

Louisville Slugger baseball bats since 1884. Today, the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory is the number one tourist attraction in Louisville.

When we met, he was looking for new experiences to offer customers on their campus. I shared what I learned from our experience running a company that guides customers through the art and science of creating custom blended bourbons. I explained we were working on turning it into a franchise business that could be scaled and reproduced across the U.S. and around the world. I joked that the concept of franchising a bourbon distillery was unique to say the least.

Hillerich was interested; however, he made it clear what he did not want. “I’m not interested in opening a bar, a restaurant, or a high-volume distillery,” he explained. “I’m interested in selling experiences. We are great at experiences. And, they are far more profitable.”

System Thinking Connected Us

The friend who connected us did so because he knew that we both believed in the “systems thinking” discipline introduced to Japan following World War II and in the U.S. in the early 1980s by Dr. W. Edwards Deming. To that end, I explained the systems which would enable the custom bourbon business to be both scalable and profitable.

1) There are six WoodCraft finished bourbons that are scalable and reproducible: American oak, European oak, 200-year oak, cherry wood, maple wood, and smoked oak.

2) The use of custom blending machines to create a custom bourbon bottle allowing customers to choose the brand name and the blend of the six bourbons in less than a minute and another machine for bars with a 12x12-inch footprint that can pour more than 100 individual custom bourbons each hour.

3) An artificial intelligence app called WoodCraft Bourbon Wizard where consumers answer 13 questions to create their personal custom bourbon recipe.

4) A 45-minute custom bourbon experience that helps customers create their own bourbon recipe in a captivating and engaging way.

I summarized the WoodCraft custom bourbon concept to Hillerich as “Build-a-Bear for adults.”

The Importance of Authenticity

Today’s consumers demand authenticity. Fortunately, like Louisville Slugger, the custom bourbon experience is rooted in 1800s Kentucky. At that time, most distilling was done by farmers as a way to monetize their excess grain. The raw spirit was bought by barrel blenders on “Whiskey Row” (aka Main Street) where the Louisville Slugger Museum is located. Consumers would then take their clay jug into the merchant and get their bourbon/whiskey blended to their taste preference. This went on around the world with the most famous being a grocer named John Walker, the man behind Johnnie Walker Scotch.

Creating The Distillery Branding & Facility

A few months later we gathered Hillerich’s team for an inventing session, led by my other company The Eureka! Ranch. The mission was to create a brand name for the H&B distillery, marketing ideas, and a design for the corner space that in another life had been a parking garage.

It was during the inventing session the name Barrels & Billets was born. “Barrels" being a nod to J. Frederick Hillerich, a German woodworker and barrel maker who immigrated to the U.S. in 1842. “Billets” was a nod to his son “Bud” Hillerich, who famously

Photos provided by Barrels & Billets

(A) The first WoodCraft Custom Bourbon franchise located at the Louisville Slugger Museum Building in Louisville, Kentucky. (B) Tables prepared for a large group attending a Custom Bourbon Experience where they learn the history of barrel blending, taste six bourbons, craft their personal bourbon and purchase a bottle to enjoy at home. (C) The Teaching Bar serves custom bourbon the way customers desire, after they have secured their recipe. (D) The Custom Bourbon Blender machine enables the team to quickly fill custom bottles of bourbon. It is essential in allowing franchisees to have low inventory, yet able to create unlimited product offerings on demand. (D) Customers provide their custom bourbon recipe and name, and the Custom Blending Machine makes a custome bottle — blending the bourbons in less than a minute.

created “billets,” the cylindrical pieces of wood he turned into baseball bats.

About a month after the session, COVID-19 shut the world down. Despite this development, Hillerich made the decision to keep moving forward. Plans were drawn to develop a space that was “inspired by the 1800s.” It was designed to be approachable, not stuffy or pretentious. The final distillery design is roughly 2,800 square feet and includes a 340-square foot bonded space where the custom bottles are produced along with a teaching bar, a bottle shop, restrooms, and two experience rooms.

During construction, General Manager Emma Chandler and her team went through training on the systems that Joe Girgash, COO of WoodCraft Bourbon Blender, developed for greeting and customer engagement, leading experiences, managing the teaching bar, custom bottle production, and the many other details of running a distillery.

The Opening

Barrels & Billets had a soft opening on a cold and wintery day during the last week of February 2022. The response was beyond our expectations. Many local TV stations did stories on

Note: Early on we decided to implement a “soft brand” approach to franchising to be able to leverage local connections and individuality as opposed to one national name. Each franchisee has its own identity and features its own brand name with the words “WoodCraft Bourbon Blender” in small print underneath it.

this unique addition to the Louisville Bourbon scene. It was especially encouraging to see how our fellow distilleries were supportive of what we were doing.

Emma did a masterful job developing her team. As she said, “It’s important that every member of the staff buy into the whole experience. We are not a bar, a 45-minute experience, or a bottling facility — we are all of them. The most fun for me has been seeing the staff grow and take ownership of the entire customer experience.”

One of the greatest compliments I received about the new venture came later that fall when I met with a team of executives who had visited Barrels & Billets. They told me they had visited in early April. When I explained that we’d only been open for about six weeks, the CEO responded, “That can’t be. The place ran so smoothly, I figured it had been opened for a couple years.”

It’s now been a year since we opened. I asked Hillerich how he felt about the project and he summed it up by saying, “ It brought a new energy to our company. The creativity inherent in the experience has been infectious across our museum and factory. It has brought everyone together.”

Doug Hall is the co-founder and CEO of Brain Brew Custom WHISKeY, WoodCraft Bourbon Blender Franchising and founder/ chairman of the Eureka! Ranch. He has spent 40+ years creating and commercializing innovations for companies such as Nike, Walt Disney, Diageo and over the past 22 years The Macallan of Scotland.

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Articles inside

Artisan Spirit: Summer 2023


The Birth of Barrels & Billets

pages 116-117


pages 114-116


pages 112-113

A New Kind of Distilling Organization

pages 109-111


pages 106-108


pages 103-105

St. UrbanePetersburg’sRenewal

pages 98-102


pages 96-97

Take Your Spirits to Flavortown

pages 93-96


pages 88-92


pages 86-87


pages 83-86


pages 81-82


pages 76-81


pages 71-75


pages 66-70


pages 62-65


pages 60-62


pages 57-60


pages 51-56


pages 46-50

American PEAT

pages 41-45


pages 40-41


page 39

mADe WHere? mADe WHere?

pages 35-38


pages 31-33


pages 27-31

SafSpirit™ C-70

pages 19-27


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pages 17-18


pages 14-16


page 13

A L e TT er F r O m TH e e DITO r :

page 10


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