Summer 2024

Page 45



WHeN PLANNING FOr THe WOrST IS good business


HOW TO blend

choice Make YOUR for Tequila

ISSue 47 /// Summer 2024

PuBLISHer & eDITOr Brian Christensen

CreATIVe DIreCTOr Amanda Joy Christensen


Carrie Dow

Reade A. Huddleston, MSc.


Jason Barrett

Jessi Bentley

Kris Bohm

Corey Day

Philip Gennette

Doug Hall

Taylor Harrison

Bryan Hawkins

Paul Hughes, Ph.D.

Johnny Jeffery

Matt Barton

Amanda Joy Christensen

Carrie Dow


Rich Manning

Gabe Toth, MSc.

Kristen Kuchar

Aaron Linden

David Schuemann

Nicole Shriner, Ph.D.

Gary Spedding

Haley Spurlin

Brett Steigerwaldt

Molly Troupe

Austin Yurt

Al Drago Sabrina Hounshell Sunny Martini

SALeS & mArKeTING Ashley Monroe

ArTISAN SPIrIT is a quarterly publication by Artisan Spirit Media. ArtisanSpiritM

General Inquiries (509) 944-5919 Advertising (509) 991-8112 PO Box 31494, Spokane, WA 99223

All contents ©2024. 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.


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.

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

We’ve been in this industry for over 100 years, during which time we’ve learned a thing or two about what makes a great barrel to age great spirits. Our R&D team and account managers have hundreds of barrels currently in experimentation. Partnering with distillers, we think outside the box to develop new products that push your vision forward.

Our Mission: To craft world-class oak barrels and other cooperage products so our employees, customers, and communities flourish.

With an impressive legacy spanning over 30 years in the printing and label domain, Jack Vogel stands as a respected authority in the Spirits industry. For the past 23 years, he has been a steadfast and trusted advisor, contributing significantly to the evolution of label standards and practices. Jack's journey includes leadership roles at top label printers within the Spirits sector. Having transitioned into an independent consultant, he continues to channel his wealth of knowledge towards empowering brands to achieve excellence. As an original founding sponsor and advisor to organizations such as ADI (American Distilling Institute), ACSA (American Craft Spirits Association), and Artisan Spirit, Jack has played a pivotal role in shaping industry standards. At the core of Jack's professional philosophy is the belief in industry education as a catalyst for stability and growth. By imparting knowledge and insights, he contributes to the overall advancement of the Spirits label landscape.

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.

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 longterm goals. At Southern Distilling Company, you get standout spirits that make brands unforgettable.

Stave & Thief Society was founded in 2014, and is the first bourbon certification program recognized by the bourbon industry and the only to be recognized by the Kentucky Distillers Association as its “Official Bourbon Education Course.” The programs were developed by professional distilling and spirits educators and advised by a panel of experts in the bourbon and hospitality industries to provide a premium, standardized bourbon education that is accessible and holds real value.

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.


Led by Director of George Dickel & Luxury American Whiskey, Nicole Austin, the team at Cascade Hollow Distilling Co. continues the tradition of producing award-winning whisky at our historic distillery with high standards of authenticity and craftsmanship. George Dickel is behind some of the most beloved whisky of our time including Dickel Bourbon, George Dickel x Leopold Bros Collaboration Rye, award-winning Bottled in Bonds, the Cascade Moon series, and a variety of luxury variants like the rare, premium offering — Dickel Bourbon Aged 18 Years. Learn more about the incredible history and creativity that lives at Cascade Hollow at

A LeTTer FrOm


I’ve always been kind of trash at self-promotion.

Despite helping to run trade publications, a podcast, distilling networks, charity programs, and education initiatives, I’m still hesitant to blast it to the masses (even writing that sentence physically hurts). I know, it’s dumb, but as I’ve gotten back on the road and visited distilleries around the country I more fully realize how counterproductive my hesitation is.

You know the deal by now, the distilling industry is struggling. Businesses closing, tons of juice starting to hit the market, high costs, higher interest rates, and the list goes on. However, what I see again and again is that the distilleries succeeding are those local powerhouses that never shied away from engaging their community and promoting the hell out of their brand and products. The old advice is new again: own your backyard, build a community, and listen to your audience.

With that throat clearing out of the way here is what we have been working on at ASM, and individually, to help support and grow the spirits industry.

What the Cuts, this is a big one.

I’ve been beating the drum for distilling education for over a decade now, and ASM was largely founded to be a source of quality education, but I’ve always wanted more. Specifically, it's been a dream to provide reliable and entertaining education in an easyto-follow online video course. I’m proud to say, it's almost here. Alongside longtime friend and industry badass, Johnny Jeffery, we are rolling out multiple

in-depth online education modules. A place where individuals or businesses can train and earn certifications. We are talking beginner-, intermediate-, and advanced-level distillation. From operators to front-of-house, we aim to provide comprehensive education from the comfort of your desk or phone. Read the article on page 107 to learn more about this homage to 80's-style learning, What the Cuts.

Society of Spirits, community building and more.

Last year Reade Huddleston and I, alongside an incredible board of directors, founded the Society of Spirit. An online network of distillers who regularly share their knowledge, ask questions, and provide peer support. It has grown more than 300 members and is one of my favorite places on the internet. We now do weekly online happy hours, monthly symposiums, and schedule frequent meetups as members travel the country or attend conventions. Become a member at: join-the-society-of-spirit.

Journal of Distilling Science, all online and all access.

Our greatest labor of love, the peer-reviewed Journal of Distilling Science. Now in its third year we are proud to announce that the journal is fully open access and publishing regular peer-reviewed articles, scientific posters, and reviews. As always, none of this would be possible without the incredible Gary Spedding, science editor, our sponsors MGP and Lallemand, and our peer-review board. You can find the latest on the JDS website: www.artisanspiritmag. com/journal-of-distilling-science.

That's not everything, but it's a damn good start, and all the self-promotion I can stomach for now. You all are the best. Talk soon, friends.

With greatest appreciation,


This summer the state distilling guilds are actively organizing to address numerous local concerns. In California, the recent in-person meeting facilitated productive legislative discussions, allowed them to hold board elections, and gave voice to distillery members who the guild serves. In Illinois, the guild championed important bills for licensing parity and DTC, while also planning events like Distillinois to showcase their state's products. Meanwhile, in New York the guild is focusing on legislative advocacy for DTC shipping and improved contract distilling opportunities, and taking advantage of innovative marking strategies like statewide digital passports. In Ohio, the guild is working on organizing festivals, supporting local charity initiatives, and expanding membership and industry outreach. Last but not least, Texas is gearing up for its next membership meeting, engaging in fundraising activities to benefit state farms and ranches, and collaborating with other industry stakeholders to address issues important to state distilleries. Read on to get the full details from each state and stay up to date on the latest industry news.


In April, ACSA announced the results of our latest Board of Directors election, with a slate of new officers taking the helm. Kelly Woodcock of Westward Whiskey in Portland, Oregon, a board member since 2022, was elected President. Meanwhile, Amber Pollock of Backwards Distilling in Casper, Wyoming, was chosen to take over Woodcock’s previous position as Vice President, and Jeff Kanof was selected as Secretary/Treasurer. Pollock and Kanof have been board members since 2018, and Kanof previously served as secretary/treasurer until 2022.

Newly elected to the board are Greg Eidam of Sugarlands Distilling Co. in Gatlinburg,

Tennessee, and Adam Polonski of Lost Lantern Whiskey in Vergennes, Vermont, both representing the East Region. Representing the central and mountain regions are newly elected board members Tom Bard of The Bard Distillery in Graham, Kentucky; Phil Steger of Brother Justus Whiskey in Minneapolis; and Oliva Stewart of Oxbow Rum Distillery in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Continuing their board terms are Jordan Cotton of Cotton & Reed in Washington, D.C.; Becky Harris of Catoctin Creek in Purcellville, Virginia; Colin Spoelman of Kings County Distillery in Brooklyn, New York; and Jaime Windon of Windon Distilling Company in St.

Michaels, Maryland, all representing the East Region. Continuing Central and Mountain Region board members include Pollock; Mark A. Vierthaler of Whiskey Del Bac in Tucson, Arizona; and Thomas Williams of Delta Dirt Distillery in Helena, Arkansas. Kanof and Woodcock continue to represent the Pacific Region, along with Lucy Farber of St. George Spirits in Alameda, California. Many thanks to election chair Renee Bemis

of Driftless Glen Distillery in Baraboo, Wisconsin, and Jeff Wuslich of Cardinal Spirits in Bloomington, Indiana, who helped administer the digital election earlier this year.

Please join me in congratulating all of the new officers and board members. The board election followed the conclusion of ACSA’s biggest and most successful convention to date with roughly 1,300 craft distillers,


The American Distilling Institute is gearing up for our 21st annual Craft Spirits Conference & Expo August 26-29 at the Baltimore Convention Center. We’re looking forward to four full days of workshops, tours, breakout sessions, panels, and the largest trade show floor in the industry. Highlights include a keynote address by Lisa Wicker, as well as dozens of panels on topics ranging from distillery finance and pitching to distributors and to technical nuances of spirits production. There will also be a Maryland Distillers Guild welcome tasting and a closing night party at the National Aquarium overlooking Baltimore Harbor.

We’re also excited about the many ticketed tours and workshops we’re offering before and after the conference this year. Full-day gin and whiskey summits are essential for producers of these popular categories. Each

one includes a packed roster of speakers, interactive events, and networking opportunities. Nancy Fraley will also offer two sessions of her popular Nosing for Faults workshop, and Caley Shoemaker will lead a technical vodka workshop. Lost Ark Spirits just outside of Baltimore will host a rum workshop with historian and author Matt Pietrek, and Dalkita Architecture & Construction will host a bring-your-blueprints full-day distillery startup bootcamp focusing on building and fire code issues. You can get conference and workshop tickets online on our website,, plus access our discounted hotel room block at the Hilton Baltimore Inner Harbor.

Beyond the conference, we’re also looking forward to a couple of exciting upcoming workshops. In December 2024, we’ll host Nancy Fraley’s ever-popular Blending,


It has only been a few weeks since I assumed the role of Executive Director of the Craft Maltsters Guild, and already I am deeply impressed by the remarkable tenacity, brilliance, and determination embodied by the farmers, maltsters, and educators who form the bedrock of this organization. This sentiment was vividly apparent to me at MaltCon2024 this

February in Davis, California. More than 100 attendees gathered, wholly engaged in three days of seminars and networking events, seizing every opportunity to refine their craft. The camaraderie exhibited during the 2024 Malt Cup, the world’s premier competition recognizing the highest quality malts, was inspiring and infectious. Congratulations to the

industry suppliers, and allies converging on Denver in late February.

Personally, it was a truly inspiring way to conclude my term as president and my time on the ACSA board. It has been the greatest honor to serve our dynamic craft spirits community, and I look forward to the amazing work ACSA will continue to do on behalf of our industry.

Maturation, and Warehousing Workshop at Ironroot Republic Distillery in Denison, Texas. In October, we’ll hold a reprise of the wildly successful Column Still Distillation Workshop at Savage & Cooke Distillery in Vallejo, California. Both offer opportunities to gain practical, hands-on experience with some of the most challenging aspects of spirits production under the guidance of some of the industry’s best talent. These workshops will sell out, so don’t delay your registration. We also have a packed roster of engaging webinars all year long — check out our events page for more.

Finally, we’re pleased to welcome a new supplier sales specialist to the team: Brandon Vineyard, who joined ADI in March. You can reach him at

Have a great summer, and hope to see you in Baltimore.

Distilling Institute

winners — who came from all over Canada, Italy, California, Colorado, Maine, New York, North Carolina, and Washington State.

The craft malt community strives for excellence, and I’m thrilled to see so many organizations and research institutions working together to ensure quality from the ground up. In early March, Hillary Barile and Joel Alex of

Gina Holman Founding Partner, J. Carver Distillery Waconia, Minnesota Outgoing ACSA President


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.

Blue Ox Malthouse traveled to Washington, DC with the National Barley Improvement Committee (NBIC) in support of new and continued funding for malting barley research. They joined a diverse committee of barley growers, small grains breeders, agronomists, maltsters, and brewers to secure funding for the Barley Pest Initiative. This year, the new Resilient Barley Initiative was introduced

with the goal of strengthening research capacity and collaboration to address increased resiliency of the barley crop through improved genetics and management.

In the remainder of 2024, our guild aims to make progress on several key initiatives including membership growth and value, amplified communication, and malting education. There will be ample opportunities

for craft distilleries to engage and participate more actively than ever before. I encourage craft producers everywhere to consider Craft Maltsters Guild membership and the Craft Malt Certified™ seal program.

Here’s a toast to the growing craft malt community! Cheers everyone.


DISCUS Wraps Up Successful 2024 Annual Conference in San Diego

The 2024 DISCUS Annual Conference and Women of the Vine & Spirits Global CONNECT! in San Diego was a sold-out success, providing a platform for more than 700 participants to connect, share insights, and celebrate achievements, all while fostering collaboration and building a sense of community. All are crucial for the growth and success of our great industry.

Devil’s Cask was named the grand winner of DISCUS’ Innovation Showcase Competition sponsored by The Spearhead Group, and a number of distinguished industry leaders were honored at a special awards dinner held on the flight deck of the USS Midway.

Award winners included:

> DISCUS LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD 2024: Jim Bareuther, Former Chief Operating Officer at Brown-Forman

> DISCUS IMPACT AWARD FOR EMERGING LEADERS: Arielle Pierre, Associate Manager of Inclusion, Diversity, & Equity (IDE) at Moët Hennessy USA


MEMBER OF THE YEAR 2024: Brooke Glover, CEO and Co-Founder of Swilled Dog

> DISCUS DEI LEADERSHIP AWARD 2024: Hillary Wirtz, Senior Director of Culture & Inclusion, Breakthru Beverage

> DISCUS TOP SHELF AWARD 2024: Senator Bill Dodd, D-CA

Spirits United Launches the Cocktail Party at DISCUS and WOTVS Conference Spirits United launched the Cocktail Party, a fictional political party with the goal of unifying consumers around key issues facing the distilled spirits industry at the kickoff of the DISCUS and WOTVS Conference. The Cocktail Party has four issue areas listed as part of its platform: expanding responsible consumer access to distilled spirits, increasing consumer convenience, advocating for fairer taxes, and supporting hospitality businesses.

As part of the Cocktail Party’s launch, the party’s fictional nominee, “Cher A. Spirit,” made a special appearance. Conference attendees were able to join Cher A. Spirit for a photo opportunity in the branded “voting booth” where they registered to be members of the Cocktail Party, ultimately signing up as Spirits United grassroots advocates. Missed your chance to register for the Cocktail Party at the conference? You can join today at JoinTheCocktailParty. com! Launched Alcohol Responsibility Month with Good Friends, Good Choices, Good Times April was Alcohol Responsibility Month, and we reminded Americans to celebrate by taking action, being mindful, and understanding what’s in their glasses if they choose to

drink. Throughout the month, Responsibility. org completed a social media activation reminding everyone that when good friends get together and make good choices, good times are had by all. Many activities took place throughout the month, including a Capitol Hill reception to educate staffers on responsible consumption and a summit with a diverse team of social media influencers to talk about underage drinking prevention and mindfulness to be shared with their communities.

The Ask, Listen, Learn underage drinking prevention program shared resources with parents and educators through partnerships with Classroom Champions and SHAPE America, and the We Don’t Serve Teens campaign distributed materials to organizations, retailers, and coalitions to prevent the sale of alcohol to those under 21. The organization also launched public service announcements made in partnership with 14 state attorneys general from across the United States.

Tourism Economics Report:

Texas Distillery Tourism Generates More Than $831 Million for State

Researchers at Tourism Economics, a subsidiary of Oxford Economics, released “Economic Impacts of Distillery Tourism in Texas,” a new study highlighting the significant economic impact tourism to Texas’ 188 distillers made in 2022 (most recent available data). The results of this study show the scope of the impacts of distillery tourism in terms of on-site and off-site spending by distillery visitors, as well as the total economic impacts of distillery tourism, including total business

Steve Kurowski Executive Director, Craft Maltsters Guild
See Cher A. Spirit in action
Join the Cocktail Party

sales, employment, labor income, and fiscal (tax) impacts.

Key findings from the study show Texas distillery tourism generated:

> A total economic impact of $831.7 million in the statewide economy

> 2,089,000 visits to Texas distilleries

> $459.4 million in total on-site and off-site spending by non-local distillery visitors

> 7,700 total jobs

> $42.5 million in total state & local tax revenues

The study estimates non-local distillery visitors spent $112.8 million on food and beverage, $106.9 million on lodging, $91.0 million on retail, $78.7 million on entertainment and recreation, and $69.9 million on transportation (including gasoline purchases).

This study makes clear that continued growth of the Texas distilling industry presents great opportunities for the state. The

collective economic contributions of these small businesses could be even greater if antiquated laws restricting spirits sales were updated. It’s time to modernize Texas alcohol laws to help support this growing industry as well as spirits consumers throughout the state.

DISCUS Earns 2024 ENERGY STAR Partner of the Year Award

We are honored to receive this special recognition from the EPA for the second consecutive year. The distilling industry recognizes the importance of protecting our natural resources, and distillers across the country continue to prioritize sustainable and efficient ways to use energy in the production of spirit products.

DISCUS received the award for partnering with the EPA to raise awareness within the industry about EPA’s new Energy Performance Indicator (EPI) tool developed specifically for distilleries.

The EPI compares a distillery’s energy


September is National Honey Month, and the National Honey Board is celebrating by educating consumers about the role honey bees play in the creation of honey as well as pollinating 35 percent of the foods we eat. That’s right, every third bite of food you eat in a day would not be possible without honey bees. This includes apples, avocados, blackberries, onions, coriander, and more! What better way to celebrate than to

promote National Honey Month at your distillery featuring spirits that use honey or ingredients pollinated by honey bees. If you make a gin, chances are several of your botanicals have been pollinated by honey bees. Make whiskey? Backsweeten a barrel with honey and conduct a special release this September.

Consumers love honey and honey bees. National Honey Month is a perfect way

efficiency to distilleries with similar characteristics. It can be used to help distilleries benchmark, improve their energy efficiency, and seek special ENERGY STAR certification recognizing distilleries that are best in class for energy efficiency. The EPI was developed between the EPA, Duke University, and a team of DISCUS members and other distilleries participating in the EPA’s ENERGY STAR program. The distilled spirits sector is the first in the beverage alcohol industry to have its own EPI.

Each year, the ENERGY STAR program honors a select group of businesses and organizations that have made outstanding contributions to energy efficiency and the transition to a clean energy economy. ENERGY STAR award winners lead their industries in the production, sale, and adoption of energy-efficient products, homes, buildings, services, and strategies. These efforts have saved more than five trillion kilowatt-hours of electricity over the past 30 years.

Chris R. Swonger President & CEO, Distilled Spirits Council of the United States

to celebrate honey bees and drive increased traffic to your distillery.


For more information, visit www.honeysaveshives. com or email alison@honey. com to learn how we can help you promote your National Honey Month celebration.

Keith Seiz Ingredient Marketing Representative, National Honey Board


The California Distillers Association convened its first in-person meeting since 2019 on

April 18, 2024, at Re:Find Distillery in Paso Robles. Attendees gathered for a productive

session and tasting reception. During the meeting, the executive board of directors was elected, with Alex Villacana assuming the role of President, Erica Steller as Vice President, and Mike Brown as Secretary/Treasurer. The board of directors comprises prominent figures in the industry, including Aaron Bergh of Calwise Spirits, Nate Randall of Hinterhaus Distilling, Paul Chakalian of Joshua Tree Distillery, Karl Andersen of Shelter Distilling, Greg Stark of Stark Spirits, and Tara Jasper of Sipsong Spirits.

Key agenda items included discussions on updates to the CDA bylaws, recent elections, and ongoing legislative matters such as SB

2069 (Soju), SB 1028 (Additional Type 47 licenses), and AB 3203 (DTC). The meeting provided a platform for distillery members to voice their perspectives and concerns.

Following this, on April 19th, CDA organized a meeting with members and representatives from the California Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) at Re:Find. Topics ranged from Social Media advertising regulations to Bottle Sale Limits and Shipping Restrictions, as well as pending legislation affecting the industry. Matthew Botting, General Counsel, and Alex MacIlraith, Deputy Director of Legislation & Government Affairs, addressed queries from attendees, providing legal



The Illinois Craft Distillers Association (ICDA) is currently championing two bills in the Illinois state legislature, an omnibus bill seeking to achieve licensing parity with Illinois brewers, and a bill to allow limited Direct-to-Consumer Shipping (SB 3358).

The omnibus bill (SB 2756 and HB5504) would mirror brewery regulations to build a third state distilling license allowing for

limited self-distribution as well as full on-site retail privileges, and would further create the framework for a Distillers Showcase Permit, a temporary permit enabling local distilleries to participate in off-site pop-ups, farmers markets and similar opportunities to build brand awareness. While the licensing bill is more local in nature, direct-to-consumer shipping dovetails with efforts in other states and on the federal level, and to that end the ICDA is working closely with the ACSA and DISCUS to build support and coordinate efforts.

Following last year’s successful return of



The New York State Distillers Guild’s 90 plus members are working together to advance the industry in the Empire State.

We had nearly 100 attendees at our annual meeting, which we held in our capital city for the second year in a row. The Albany location facilitated a strong push for manufacturer direct-to-consumer (DTC) shipping and a brand owner bill that will expand our members’ ability to contract distill.

The annual meeting featured a well-attended legislator reception at which we

honored one of our strongest champions in the Legislature. Our members held meetings with key legislative leaders and their own representatives. The annual meeting also featured a full day of sessions with our state regulators, including the new chair of our State Liquor Authority, who was very supportive, and our tax department, who shared information on implementation of a distiller tax parity bill that was enacted in 2023. By the time this is published, the Guild will have had a second lobby day focused on manufacturer DTC shipping. The annual meeting also featured presentations from our national partners at ACSA and DISCUS, and saw excellent

insights and practical examples.

The strong relationship cultivated between CDA and state regulators proved invaluable, facilitating constructive dialogue and mutual understanding. Despite the meeting exceeding its scheduled duration, participants found immense value in the discussions and networking opportunities. Moving forward, CDA remains committed to fostering collaboration and advocacy within the California distilling community.

Visit for more information on CDA's initiatives and membership.

Distillinois, the ICDA’s spirits festival showcasing craft spirits made throughout the state of Illinois, we will be taking the event to different parts of the state outside of Chicago. This year’s event will take place at Rush Creek Distilling in Hartford, Illinois on June 8th. Additionally, the ICDA is working to bottle an all-Illinois bourbon blend using whiskies distilled at our different member distilleries as a way to highlight the amazing spirits made throughout our state and raise funds for our lobbying efforts.

support from guild sponsors, who filled out a robust trade show area and shared their expertise.

On the marketing side, the guild is in the thick of several projects that will both boost individual members and strengthen NYDistilled as a brand. Those initiatives include a statewide digital passport aimed at consumers, a resource that will help retailers buy our members’ spirits — including those whose members self-distribute — development of an events database and a program to help our members get access to larger selling events that are now out of reach, and elevating our online presence.

Cris Steller Outgoing Executive Director, California Distillers Association
Ari Klafter President, Illinois Craft Distillers Association Head Distiller, Thornton Distilling Company

The guild is also undertaking a member survey aimed at getting a clearer picture of the state of the industry. This understanding of the condition of our individual members and the industry at large will help us make the case in Albany for DTC.

Teresa Casey Guild Executive Director, New York State Distillers Guild



Currently, the Ohio Distillers Guild is working hard on planning a notable guild event in the fall of 2024 at Henmick Farm and Brewery. Situated on dozens of beautiful acres, the event will undoubtedly be memorable again. More than 600 spirit lovers are expected to be in attendance. We're also currently working on a partnership with the Ohio Department of Liquor Control in regard to the SIP program.

We had an extraordinary beginning to 2024 with a release of a brand new event, the



The Texas Distilled Spirits Association (TDSA) will be having their next membership meeting at Wilson Valley Mercantile, Bell County’s first and only legal distillery, on May 7. At the meeting, we will be joined by representatives from the Texas Package Store Association and the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America to discuss issues impacting Texas distillers. TDSA members will also participate

first annual Buckeye Lake Whiskey Festival. New for 2024, we're focusing on the Ohio Distillery Trail, stretching from Cleveland to Toledo, and all the way down through Cincinnati. Already, we’ve got 45 distilleries taking part and more than 3,500 signups.

One of our main goals is to support local events and groups such as college and pro football, tailgating gatherings, and local charities that impact Ohioans.

Currently there are almost 100 distillers licensed in the State of Ohio. Each year our guild continues to grow, which in turn, positively impacts agriculture in the state of Ohio. We are always looking for new members to join, partaking in our events, supporting Ohio, and supporting each other as a whole.



Andrew Lix, Cleveland Whiskey


Seth Warren, Buckeye Vodka


Fred Wisen, Lake Erie Distillery


Joe Bidinger, Echo Spirits Distilling Co.

in numerous fundraising activities the weekend of June 22 to benefit Panhandle Proud. Panhandle Proud is a nonprofit spearheaded by Dan Garrison of Garrison Brothers Distillery. Panhandle Proud unites Texans to provide urgent relief and sustained support for farms and ranches devastated by the March wildfires. While Texas distillers, package stores, and restaurants and bars will be donating portions of their profits to Panhandle proud the weekend of June 22, numerous other activities

will be planned throughout the year to benefit Panhandle Proud. We encourage everyone to visit to learn of fundraising events and to donate to the cause.

Amber L. Hausenfluck

SVP Government Relations — State McGuireWoods Consulting LLC

Seth Warren Buckeye Vodka VP of Sales VP of Ohio Distiller’s Guild


Weathering Market Volatility Through Strategic Procurement

An uncertain start to 2024 left many customers limiting their discretionary spending, and distillers looking for ways to cut costs or postpone supply reorders until they understood the financial impact of the market shift. Luckily, finding purchasing efficiencies not only reduces your cost in the long run, but it also has the added benefit of allowing you more control over lead times.


Here are some strategies for incorporating purchasing efficiencies, their benefits, and potential watch-outs that you should consider before implementing:


▶ Digital printing is ideal for its flexibility and for shorter-run projects. It has the advantage of labels being easily edited during the print run. This allows you to adjust the year and batch number on press and print multiple years’ worth of labels at one time, greatly reducing your cost per label set.

▶ If you are not printing digitally, there are still ways to take advantage of the price breaks by purchasing multiple SKUs or years of labels at once. Consider standardizing your label sizes across your SKUs. This saves on cutting dies, simplifies setup for your printer, and creates some economies of scale when purchasing. Creating a standard label that is more evergreen by incorporating blank, write-in spaces for batch number, alcohol, and year allows for incredible flexibility.

▶ Cost savings for placing larger orders may allow you to include more premium features such as embossing, debossing, or hot foils. All these treatments are quality cues to the consumer and increase the overall price perception of your packaging.

▶ A word of warning: Speak to your label producer about how to properly store your labels if you order multiple years’ worth of inventory to ensure labels don’t age prematurely.


▶ While a custom closure is an amazing means of communicating the quality of your spirit, purchasing multiple years’ worth of stock at one time is not recommended for closures. Regardless of the shank material you choose, corks have a surface treatment that allows for optimal insertion and extraction, which will break down over time and cause the cork to become more rigid and brittle.

▶ Of course, storage is key to keeping your top of bottle in tip-top shape! It is imperative that:

• Closures are transported in vehicles that have a closed, clean, dry, and odor-free environment.

• Bags remain sealed prior to use.

• You only use food-grade disinfectants — and absolutely nothing containing chlorine!

• Once put into your storage, they remain in a clean, dry, well-ventilated, odor-free, and temperature-stable area free of sunlight and volatile chemicals.

▶ Here are several recommendations for how you can use strategic ordering to secure ideal pricing for your closures:

• Sign on for a multi-year commitment rather than purchasing and storing one large order for multiple years of closures.

• Similarly, a blanket PO allows you to take advantage of the price breaks of a larger order with a more gradual payment structure.

• Place your order prior to a new year to avoid any potential annual price increase.

• Enter a safety-stock inventory agreement. This allows for quicker response time for fluctuating demand.


▶ You won’t get too far in your bottling process if you don’t have the bottle. Although we do seem to be past the pandemic-era stock bottle panic of 2020, the experience is still fresh in everyone’s mind. More and more distillers are purchasing larger, multi-year orders to secure their stock well ahead of bottling deadlines.

▶ Keeping your bottles in a dry, temperature-stable environment will be key to successfully storing a large quantity of bottles. If not kept dry, moisture on the bottle can cause “bloom,” a phenomenon created by the continual condensation and evaporation of water on the surface of the glass. The interaction leaves behind a not-so-savory salt substance and if left unchecked can damage your supply of glass.


How much to purchase is only a fraction of the question — determining when to purchase is even more critical. Due to vendor workload, production timelines, and transport intervals, lead times can vary. Always check with your vendors for lead times specific to your product and quantities. Here are some general guidelines to reference. The key to buying in bulk is knowing your burn rate, managing your lead times, properly storing items, and knowing the lifespan of your various dry goods once stored.


With the advance of digital printing, lead times for labels have been significantly shortened. Lead times can be as short as a couple of weeks with some suppliers if they have extra bandwidth, but as a safe rule of thumb allow five to six weeks to get contracts in place, technical specifications locked down, and production sign-offs in place. Remember that most printers will not print labels prior to you securing your approval from the TTB, so it’s critical to work in that timing as well. Currently, the TTB is turning around applications within a few short weeks, but that timing changes regularly. In addition, be sure to build in time in your schedule to remedy any TTB rejections.


According to Talis, a leading closure company, production times are under five weeks for reorders and can be as little as one to two weeks if you take advantage of a safety stock commitment. Shipping times vary based on your location and whether you choose air or vessel freight. For air freight, you can estimate less than one week for the East Coast and seven to 10 days for the West Coast. Vessel freight is about four to six weeks for the East Coast and eight to 10 weeks for the West Coast. Keep in mind that for new orders, you will need to account for one to four additional weeks for tooling and that for more premium materials such as metal and glass, this timeline can be more like four to eight weeks.


learn more, visit us at


▶ Bottle lead times run the gamut. If you are sourcing a stock mold and it is in stock, lead times can be a matter of only a few weeks or less, but as a rule of thumb securing a steady supply of glass takes planning with your supplier, and it’s recommended you work several months in advance or more to make sure glass arrives long before your bottling deadline.

▶ Many shapes of bottles that are very similar can be found from different suppliers, so allowing enough time to check stock levels and pricing ahead of purchase can really pay off.

▶ If you are developing a custom mold, it's recommended to allow for a couple of months of design and engineering development and depending on suppliers’ production and delivery timelines can run anywhere from three to 12 months depending on whether the glass will be produced domestically or in Europe or Asia.


▶ Want the quick-fix solution to managing lead times? Keep items with longer lead times like closures and capsules consistent across SKUs — or at least across many SKUs. Not only does this mean that you are managing the lead time for fewer items, but you are also purchasing in larger quantities and securing price breaks.

▶ If you are working with a Chinese vendor, they are going to have shutdowns for Chinese New Year. The exact dates vary every year, but expect your vendors to be unavailable late January-late February.

▶ If you are working with a European vendor, be aware that many companies close for summer vacation the entire month of August.

▶ In the United States and in many other countries, you can expect various closures starting around Thanksgiving all the way through to the New Year, with many factories completely shutting down the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Component purchasing versus use-up rates is always a delicate dance that becomes even more complicated during years when your production and cash flow is less predictable. Keeping these tips in mind can hopefully help you spend more efficiently by taking advantage of purchasing efficiencies and take some of the headache out of managing lead times.

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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The Federal Trade Commission Announced the Banning of Noncompetes

WWithin about a month of publication, one of the most sweeping employment law changes of the last decade will take effect. While that sounds hyperbolic, it might be a bit of an understatement. In late April, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced its final rule banning noncompetes.1 For the uninitiated, noncompetes generally bar employees from seeking employment in the same or similar field, for a certain period of time, and within a set geographic distance and after the conclusion of their current employment. The thinking for employers is that if you are going to invest the time and money

to train an employee in your business, you don’t want that employee to turn around and open their own competing business or get poached by another business in your area. That said, noncompetes in many states (like California) were already limited by law in their enforceability. Even so, the FTC estimates that 30 million workers in America are subject to noncompetes in their employment agreements.

competitive conditions in product and service markets by inhibiting new business formation and innovation.”

While you may not be using noncompetes in your business model, that doesn’t mean you aren’t affected. Noncompetes in the alcohol industry have been in the news lately.2 With this new rule, it is possible that your talent pool may grow, as people — bound by noncompetes and thus not actively considering new employment — have that concern eliminated.

1 press-releases/2024/04/ftc-announces-rule-banning-noncompetes

The final rule not only bars use of noncompetes in employment agreements prospectively, but bars enforcement (with limited exception) of existing noncompetes retroactively. The FTC contends that noncompetes did what they said on the tin — they reduced competition in all areas of business. The FTC elaborates that “noncompetes tend to negatively affect

That said, the FTC went out of its way to explain what the rule does not do. The rule does not eliminate trade secret protections nor affect the validity of non-disclosure


agreements or non-solicitation agreements.

However, non-disclosure agreements, like noncompetes, have been the subject of intense scrutiny by state and federal regulators.3 So, you’ll want to ensure that your non-disclosure agreement is still valid in your respective state. Further, if terms in those other agreements have the


same “functional effect” as a noncompete, they also fall under the new rule.4

Moreover, the new rule does not apply to existing noncompetes for “senior executives” defined as “workers earning more than $151,164 annually and who are in policy-making positions.”

Finally, employers previously using noncompetes will be required to provide notice to employees that “workers other than senior executives who are bound by an existing noncompete that they will not be enforcing any noncompetes against them.”

This move by the FTC will have longterm implications and will likely be subject to various legal challenges. If you currently use noncompetes to protect your business, consider the alternatives discussed above.

4 noncompete-rule.pdf at pp. 77-78

Similarly, if you are seeking to recruit talent that was previously party to a noncompete, be aware of the additional clauses that may still be in effect and binding on those potential employees. And remember, when in doubt, talk it out…with an attorney.

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.

Bryan Hawkins is an employment law attorney and litigator at Stoel Rives LLP and can be reached via email at or by phone at 916-319-4648.

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.

Non-GN barley, assuring low levels of Ethyl Carbamate

Designed for all-malt whiskeys

Sweet & bready, with notes of honey

Available in whole kernel and flour



Written by Gabe Toth /// Photos provided by New Tides Distillery

Perhapsthere is nothing new under the sun, but New Tides Distillery may have found something new under the sea.

Inspired by the abundance of the ocean relative to the periodic scarcity of freshwater in southern California, founder and chief science officer Brad Abramson decided to find a way to leverage that bounty and create a yeast strain that could ferment in briny ocean water.

He had grown up in the Midwest, outside of Chicago, “where pretty much nobody ever talks about water usage or anything like that, because you basically have a mini freshwater ocean right there,” he said. He moved to San Diego near the peak of a drought for a job as senior scientist for a nonprofit science and technology company — government contractors — and like many people he enjoyed drinking and making cocktails, so he started digging into the production side of things.

“I’m like, well, why can’t we just distill the ocean? We have desalination plants, you can make freshwater by boiling the ocean and collecting the water. Why can’t we just couple that with ethanol production, too?” he said.

On paper, the idea that seawater could be swapped out for freshwater is appealing. Many states are landlocked and reliant on freshwater sources, but a large proportion of the U.S. population lives in a coastal state.

“In a month, in the United States, the amount of water used for production of distilled spirits could serve the city of San Diego three times over for the entire year,” Abramson said. “Even if we can offset some of that freshwater use in coastal areas, we can make a dent in the amount of freshwater used in the United States for an application that doesn’t actually need it.”

With a PhD in molecular biology and a strong familiarity with growing cultures and working with microorganisms, Abramson built a miniature lab in his garage, reaching out to professional journals to ask about strains of saccharomyces that have been purified from ocean water, culturing distilling and wild yeast strains, growing them up on plates, and propagating them.

“I’m like, well, why can’t we just distill the ocean? We have desalination plants, you can make freshwater by boiling the ocean and collecting the water. Why can’t we just couple that with ethanol production, too?”

“I tried initially to make a couple of mashes with commercial yeast strains and none of them really worked, or they made three percent alcohol, which wasn’t going to be enough for an economical distillery,” he said.

To encourage the yeasts to evolve, he started off using a low concentration of Reef Crystals, a refined product composed of sea salt and minute levels of other elements essential for a healthy reef aquarium, dissolved in the fermentation medium. He gradually increased the level of salinity and eventually

— Brad Abramson

began going out to collect seawater at Fiesta Island to use in his agar plates.

“You can actually drive your car right up to the bay, and I just got a pump and started pumping water out,” he said. He paired the cultivation on plates with testing in a liquid fermentation setting, using both sugar mashes and corn mashes, as well as boiling flaked corn and adding agar to solidify the mash for plating. “It’s a globby mess, and it’s hard to pitch a single yeast colony off of a plate like that,” he said.

He started the project a few years ago during COVID, taking about a year to let them acclimate. “I wasn’t trying to evolve them quickly, per se. Let [them] grow on a plate and sit for a month or two on a plate,” he said.

After sending a cold email to the San Diego Distilling Guild, he got a response from a local distiller at Shadow Ridge Spirits who had worked in desalination in the Navy. Abramson brought a five-gallon fermentation over, where he and Sean Hallman from Shadow Ridge ran a test distillation and found it came through similar to vodka. Hallman suggested applying for an ADI research grant, which effectively provided some startup funding and a platform to report his results at the 2023 ADI conference. Abramson said being a part of the spirits community and the enthusiasm around the concept has been refreshing compared to other sectors.

“I wasn’t sure if I was going to start a distillery around this idea, but everyone in the community has been like, ‘This is really interesting. I’d love to see something come out of

this,” he said. “It’s been amazing. Technically, other distillers should be competitors, but everybody’s been like, ‘Oh, that’s cool, you should try and bring that to market.’ It’s been a really great community.”

Some of the research results included a little bit of preliminary mass spectrometry data looking at the corn and sugar mashes in both freshwater and seawater, as well as a sensory panel. The results seem to point back to unique flavors from the yeast itself, or to the antimicrobial impact of a 3.5 percent salt concentration in seawater, or both.

“Part of the question around this is, are

there actually novel flavor profiles around this that are being created from the seawater?” Abramson said. “Some data that indicates that these chemicals are different, or might be in different concentrations. One thing I have noted is if I do a side-by-side freshwater versus seawater comparison, I really don’t get those acetic acid smells or flavors either when I’m tasting the mash or distillate.”

His approach has been a simple mash, fermentation, and distillation through a simple reflux still with one plate, collecting everything and not making any cuts. He said he’s not clear how much that might change by

“Part of the question around this is, are there actually novel flavor profiles around this that are being created from the seawater? Some data that indicates that these chemicals are different, or might be in different concentrations.”
— Brad Abramson

making cuts, but a lower level of secondary microbial growth and off-flavors could lead to increased yields.

“I’m not trying to make cuts for the optimal flavor; I’m trying to see if there’s anything different,” he said. “There’s definitely some changes in concentrations of various flavor chemicals.”

That data has been used as the foundation to file a patent for their yeast strain, and he’s been moving forward with a couple of partners in getting a product branded and a label approved by the TTB. He met nowCEO James Burdick through a program that puts MBA students together with scientists. New Tides was rejected from the program, but Burdick remained on to help form the company, and they brought in chief marketing officer Kasey Pinter for her expertise in branding, marketing, demographics, and the beverage market.

New Tides is still putting the finishing touches on their branding and labels, he said, given how essential that will be for them to differentiate their clear liquid from other clear liquids. “We’re really banking on the fact that this is a unique vodka made from seawater. So if the label doesn’t say that, it’s just another vodka on the shelf,” he said.

Once some of the branding and labeling questions are ironed out, they have verbal agreements in place with a local distillery to produce a small run of their initial base product. While Abramson has worked with corn in some of the trials, that’s not where they’re going to start, but plan to focus on a sugar wash, instead. “We can make a seawater whiskey at this point, but for financial reasons that won’t be the first product we make.”

The first batch will be in the range of about 100 bottles, which they can bring to sensory panels, competitions, and prospective investors as a proof of concept. While the salt is left behind during distillation, exactly what “vodka made from seawater” is supposed to taste like, he said, has been a matter of discussion and differences of opinion.

“We get a lot of different interpretations of what the ocean is or should taste like in a vodka,” he said. “Maybe to a distiller, a vodka just sounds like a neutral spirit and it’s not going to have any flavor at all. The average person out there, sometimes they’re like, ’Is it salty?


really banking on the fact that this is a unique vodka made from seawater. So if the label doesn’t say that, it’s just another vodka on the shelf.”

Is it going to have an ocean smell to it?’ Some people think the ocean is dirty, so is it going to be dirty tasting?”

Some tasters, he said, actually want the vodka to taste a little salty, “so we’re playing around with, how do we maybe dilute the final vodka with some amount of seawater, or add some amount of salt, so they actually get that flavor, or potentially releasing a second flavor profile of the vodka.” There could eventually be a standard and a briny version, or a seaweed-inflected gin.

“There’s actually a researcher at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in San Diego that basically studies seaweeds for their culinary

uses,” he said. “Obviously it imparts a very ocean flavor to it, so that might be a way to introduce this product to another customer base that wants the ocean side of it.”

Right now, though, they’re focused on figuring out the logistics for scaling up and creating a distillery that doesn’t fit into pre-existing boxes. For one thing, he’s not having any luck banking his saltwater yeast with an existing lab because the methods would be different from every other commercial yeast strain. “They all have their processes dialed in, and they’re based on freshwater,” Abramson said, noting that he’ll have to propagate his own yeast to ensure an adequate supply, possibly

relying on repitching once they reach a commercial scale.

When figuring out equipment and finding a distillery to partner with, they also have to look at equipment needs. The seawater yeast requires a steady 90 degrees F to ferment, and most distilleries don’t have the ability to heat their fermentation or otherwise maintain that environment.

A standard fermentation using freshwater would produce enough heat to maintain that temperature, but the New Tides yeast is a slow performer. It ferments at a leisurely but fairly constant rate, compared to the standard sharp initial drop and a finish that tapers off. Abramson isn’t sure if it has to do with a more stressful salt environment, if it’s his pitch rate, or if it’s simply a characteristic of the yeast.

“I still don’t know exactly why this is the case, but it takes about 20 days to ferment,” he said.

He also has to look at still design when it

“Our first batch certainly will not be economical, more of a proof of concept, trying to figure out how to make it economical, figuring out the costs associated with doing it this way.”
— Brad Abramson

first large-scale trial. He’s done 50 to 100 test batches on stainless equipment without seeing any damage or corrosion related to contact with sodium, which can be highly reactive, and is looking for a large-scale system that’s all stainless for liquid contact. The salt is left behind in the stillage, so the spirit can make contact with copper once it enters the vapor phase.

“I don’t know what the ramifications would be if you had a copper still,” he said, though he noted that copper also tends to be pret-

getting a large volume of seawater to a distillery that may or may not be close to the ocean. In some South American countries, Abramson said, seawater is used as their sewer water, and the architecture exists to supply seawater to buildings, but those particular buildings and other municipal infrastructure were constructed with that in mind.

“Our first batch certainly will not be economical, more of a proof of concept, trying to figure out how to make it economical, figuring out the costs associated with doing it this

There’s also the way that seawater is classified as an ingredient. It’s on the FDA’s GRAS (generally regarded as safe) list, as long as it’s tested for certain bacteria and heavy metals.

“Your normal tap water is tested for that; it’s just done in one large treatment facility,” Abramson. However, New Tides doesn’t have funds for that testing work yet (and like yeast companies, places that test water also won’t generally deal with seawater), and pathogenic bacteria or metals like lead or mercury won’t carry over in the distillation, anyway.

“It’s a complicated process, it’s not as simple as, ‘We can ferment seawater and distill it,’” he said. “Since distilled water is considered safe to drink, if the TTB recognizes the seawater as an ingredient will be distilled, it doesn’t need to go to the FDA. Ultimately it becomes distilled water and ethanol. I’m sure I have to do a bunch of FDA submissions and stuff like that."

“I thought it was complicated just starting a distillery. I can see why no other distilleries

have done this before. It’s certainly another layer of complexity to the already complex laws and regulations.”

They’ve been accepted into startBlue, a business incubator for ocean-focused startup businesses, and have been paired with mentors from successful businesses. The mentoring process hasn’t necessarily been focused on distilling, but they’ve gotten a lot of good advice on the business side. On the production side, Abramson has gone up from five gallons and done a 50-gallon batch as a proofof-concept that it can be scaled up.

A lot of hurdles remain before he has his idealized distillery right on the ocean, but one long-term goal would be to lobby the TTB for a designation that denotes seawater-distilled products as a unique, distinctive method.

Once the kinks are worked out, it’s a method he said can make a tangible difference. Abramson noted that there’s an enormous desalination plant just north of San Diego, a massive endeavor that still only supplies the

city with 10 percent of its needs. He looks at that demand for water, which continues to grow, paired with the increasing volatility in the water supply, and asks what the best way forward is.

“Is desalination the way to go? It certainly helps with getting freshwater. Should that freshwater then be used for the purposes of making a mash and making distilled spirits? Probably not,” he said. “That seems very energy inefficient and wasteful when we could just use the ocean water directly in that mashing process. Our main driver is going to be, Is this more sustainable than using freshwater? In our particular area, in southern California, I think the answer will be yes.”

New Tides Distillery is located in San Diego, California. Visit for more information.


Exploring the Origins and Modern Innovations of Barrel Ageing Science

Barrels have been used to store all types of fermented beverages for thousands of years. Originally, their cylindrical shape was developed to allow one person to move a large volume of liquid. When the Spanish put their sherry in barrels and transported them on ships, they noticed a positive flavor change. This traditional barreled product is called “oloroso” and is one of the first products to be traditionally aged in barrels with the intent to alter the flavor and aroma of the product. A barrel of beer or wine was an approved unit of sea trade in the 1800s.

Thankfully, our ancestors figured out that oak was an excellent type of wood to use for holding liquids. Oak is strong but malleable and resistant to bacterial contamination. Most importantly, the structure of oak itself allows it to hold liquids. The wood pores are plugged with tyloses as sap over time turns into heartwood. The

rings in the wood that you would see if you cut a tree in half are made up of xylem rays, which are dense structures that help prevent wine loss.

Oak trees harvested for barrels must reach a certain maturity and set of standards to be selected for cooperage. Once the tree has been cut, the tree is cut into sections and quartered. The sections must not have branching, or the staves will not be uniform or sound. The oak staves are then seasoned (dried) to remove excess moisture and to stabilize the wood. This process can take a few years before the staves are deemed ready for barrel construction. The cooper then carefully shapes the barrel by hand using individually selected and shaped staves in a circular fashion. Typically, a metal hoop is placed around one end, forming a flower-like shape. The heads are cut individually for each barrel to ensure a tight and seal-proof fit.

Compounds present in the unaged product are reactive with themselves as well as oxygen.
There are numerous reactions that can occur inside a barrel, and this is why some refer to it as a “black box.”


Evaporation – 3% per year

Ethanol Water


Color Pigments

Next is the toasting process. This is normally done with the barrel inverted over an open flame for a certain time and the flame burning at a certain temperature. The intensity of the toasting or charring is dependent on the cooper and to customer satisfaction and application. The time and temperature of charring will promote a certain degree of caramelization of the cellulose and lignin in the wood. These compounds as well as natural wood tannins will add complexity to the product it encounters.

So, what is actually happening during the spirit's aging process? The three general effects of barrel aging are extraction, evaporation, and reaction. Extraction refers to the extraction of flavor and aroma compounds from the wood itself. This includes extraction of flavonoids, which are compounds that will impart the traditional coloring to the spirit. Over time the spirit extracts more of these compounds, deepening the color. Tannins are also hydrolyzed from and imparted into the spirit. The tannins affect the mouthfeel of a spirit in a generally positive way. The slightly acidic pH of a spirit causes hydrolysis of the hemicelluloses in the wood, producing monosaccharides (wood sugars) that dissolve into the product,

causing the aged spirit to taste sweeter. These wood-derived sugars include xylose, arabinose, and even glucose [1].

Chemical reactions also occur in the barrel. Compounds present in the unaged product are reactive with themselves as well as oxygen. There are numerous reactions that can occur inside a barrel, and this is why some refer to it as a “black box.” The complexity of barrel aging can be seen in the diagram below.

Consider the following hypothetical example. A spirit has four different types of alcohols prior to aging. Each alcohol can be oxidized to form aldehydes and eventually carboxylic acids, resulting in 12 total compounds. If each alcohol then esterifies with each carboxylic acid, then we have 16 new compounds, totaling 28 compounds. The aldehydes may also form hemiacetal and acetals with alcohols, forming as many as 108 compounds.

Monosaccharides (xylose, glucose, arabinose)

Exterior of Cask
Interior of Cask
Phenolic acids (vanillic, syringic…)
Phenolic acids (gallic, ellagic)
Acidic pH

Oxidation of the original alcohol continues over time. It’s no wonder aged spirits are known to be very complex. Theoretically, the greatest complexity would be when the greatest number of compounds are present. The prediction of an aging spirit seems possible, but it’s less than attainable due to the inability to predict the specific reactions and their timing.

Lastly, there is evaporation occurring through the barrel. While the pores in the wood are small enough to prevent the bulk of the liquid from leaving, they are large enough to allow evaporation of small molecules. Water and ethanol as well as the aldehydes, ethanal, and acetal are small enough to evaporate from the barrel during aging, as demonstrated in the diagram above.

The volume loss from the barrel is referred to as the ‘angel’s share’. The rate of evaporation is dependent on factors such as humidity, temperature, and elevation. In a severely dry rick house, the concentration gradient of water is maximized, driving more water out of the barrel. The decrease in water causes an increase in ethanol concentration, increasing the proof of the spirit inside the barrel. On the flipside, in a humid area, more ethanol will evaporate, dropping the proof inside the barrel. Even location within a rick house will cause differences

in the aging of a spirit.

Independent Stave Company (ISC) published an article on a warehouse experiment showing the average changes from each floor of the rick house [2]. Each floor had a slightly different average temperature and relative humidity which resulted in different whiskey profiles determined by gas chromatography/ mass spectrometry (GCMS). The evaporation — whether it be water or ethanol or both — results in the concentration of the flavor and aroma compounds of the spirit. A slight change in concentration to a volatile compound can bring the concentration from below sensory threshold to above, resulting in a prominent sensory change to the spirit.

Besides rick house conditions, there are other factors that can alter the aging process of a barrel-aged spirit. The intensity of extraction depends on the ratio of the volume of liquid to surface area of the barrel. The surface area encountering the liquid is greater in smaller barrels than in larger barrels; thus, aging seems to occur faster in smaller barrels. This is also altered by the way the barrel is stored — on its side horizontally or standing up on one of the heads. Temperature, time, pH, and reactant concentration all affect chemical reactions and thus affect aging. In general, higher temperatures and longer times will cause more aging characteristics in the spirit. On a lab scale, these factors can be manipulated and studied, and with that comes alternative methods of barrel aging.

The prediction of an aging spirit seems possible, but it’s less than attainable due to the inability to predict the specific reactions and their timing.
The intensity of extraction depends on the ratio of the volume of liquid to surface area of the barrel.

Many technologies have begun to pop up all over the industry, from ultrasonic aging and barrel wrapping to reduce the angel’s share as well as the use of oak chips and spirals to age products. These products all impart their own touch on the aging process. As the whis key industry continues to grow, the use of new technologies to mimic traditional aging will continue to grow as well.

Dr. Nicole Shriner is an academic specialist at Michigan State University. She holds a BS and PhD in Chemical Engineering from Michigan State University and a Master Brewer Diploma from Siebel Institute of Technology and Doemen’s Academy in Munich, Germany. She teaches all courses in the Fermented Beverage minor which include brewing, distilling and winemaking. She manages the fermented beverage analysis lab at Michigan State through which she completes analyses and facilitates re search with industry members from raw materials to final fermented beverage product. Nicole has compiled a total of 11 years of experience working at, or with, distilleries, breweries and wineries.


[1] “A Review of Polyphenolics in Oak Woods” Zhang, Bo at al. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. March 2015.

[2] “Warehouse Experiments’ Wiehebrink, Andrew. ISC. warehouse-experiment/

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The Changing Insurance Landscape

The Changing Insurance Landscape


Good day to you, dearest readers of Artisan Spirit Magazine,

The insurance market can be a dark and dangerous place for the unfamiliar, so distillers need to take heed when wandering into this realm.

Insurance markets are finicky creatures that are cyclical in nature. In my 20-plus years of experience in the industry, these cycles generally last about three to five years, swinging from “soft markets'' to “hard markets” and back again. In soft market times, everything is great for insureds who purchase the actual insurance. They enjoy lower premiums, easier underwriting guidelines (appetite), and everything in Insurance-opolis is just hunky-dory. These are the times that should be treasured like an old friend, your dearest loved ones, or your favorite bottle of expensive alcohol, because at some point they may just be a fond memory.

Soft markets are usually driven by a strong economy, low loss ratios on a national scale,

and costs of goods and services being lower — all the good stuff that makes insurance companies happy, thus passing along the happiness to the insurance purchasers. In fact, the insurance market really wants to be soft, for the most part. If left in its natural state, it would remain soft and we all would remain pleased as punch.

Then we have the opposite end of the spectrum. The hard market. I just got “chicken skin” even typing that phrase. Just the mention of a hard market brings to mind the most horrible, terrible, dark, terrifying things that the brain can conjure up. Hard markets are what Dickens must have had in mind when he wrote the famous line about it being the worst of times.

Hard markets come with much more stringent underwriting guidelines, gigantic premium increases on new and renewal policies (property rates this year alone have seen increases anywhere from 15 percent to 35 percent), insurance carriers completely leaving certain sections of markets (like homes or liquor liability), and sometimes even leaving entire

Soft markets are usually driven by a strong economy, low loss ratios on a national scale, and costs of goods and services being lower — all the good stuff that makes insurance companies happy, thus passing along the happiness to the insurance purchasers.

Hard markets come with much more stringent underwriting guidelines, gigantic premium increases on new and renewal policies (property rates this year alone have seen increases anywhere from 15 percent to 35 percent), insurance carriers completely leaving certain sections of markets (like homes or liquor liability), and sometimes even leaving entire states.

states. As far as the carriers’ appetite is concerned, it is like asking them to consider eating something right as they just consumed an entire Thanksgiving meal; they could not be less interested.

Hard markets arise on the insurance landscape like a giant monster looming on the horizon. You can see it out there — you know it is there, lying in wait, only to draw nearer, getting bigger and bigger as it approaches, until it is right on top of you. The hard market cycle is driven by a myriad of factors, much like the soft market cycles, but in reverse. These cycles typically come from higher inflation rates and increased cost of goods and materials, but the biggie that really makes for a rough go is the dreaded “C” word: Claims!

A bit of a sidebar here, as I like sidebars. I like forward bars as well. Basically all bars are good, but I digress.

Many folks are of the belief that insurance carriers love hard market cycles, and thus, insurance agents also love these times because the premiums are higher, commissions are higher, and those “insurance buggers” are all just rolling around in piles of money. How disgusting they must be to be reveling in the pain and at the expense of the insureds. In reality, this is not entirely true. Yes, more money is being made in premium and commission, but it is often offset by fewer insurance policies being sold, insureds choosing to go without certain coverage or insurance at all, or the inability to provide coverage at a reasonable price, so the business goes elsewhere.

Ok, now to get back on track.

If you have been paying attention to the happenings around the country recently, you know that we have had some pretty significant weather events the likes of which we have not seen before: A tornado season that was incredibly long and powerful, massive flooding events, wildfires that have decimated vast expanses, super crazy blizzards with hurricane-force winds, and so on. All of these events paired with the normal tragedies that happen on a daily basis, coupled with the aforementioned hard market driving factors, end up landing us right smack dab in the middle of a hard market cycle.

What does that mean for you, dear insurance consumer? It means a lot. For example, up until recently, carriers did not care if your production area and the storage portion of your building occupied the same space. Then that morphed into a situation where operations and storage had to be at least 40 linear feet apart for vapor evaporation. Now the admitted carriers will not even consider underwriting anything that does not have a two-hour firewall separating production from storage or that has a completely separate location for the storage of aging or finished stock.

The impact of this one situation could mean tens of thousands of dollars to either put up a two-hour firewall into your already existing facility, engineer one into your plans for a new build facility, or the extra costs to ship your products to be stored elsewhere. Maybe it means a Conex container out back, but depending on where you are, try getting that one past the TTB.

Then we have situations where the admitted carrier underwriters used to consider any facility located in a PC 7 or lower, and now the highest they consider is a PC 5. I know, I know, you are sitting there reading this and wondering, “Insurance Man … What in the blue blazes is a ‘PC 5’?”

A “PPC,” which all the cool insurance kids just call a “PC” code, stands for Public Protection Classification, which is insurance-folk shorthand for “Protection Class.” The PC score for your location is a community fire protection scoring system that is based on the Fire Suppression Rating Schedule (FSRS) that is used by the Insurance Services Office (ISO) to score your location on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the worst. In this PC scale, one means that the community has fantabulous fire protection services and the fire department will be there lickity-split, whereas a PC 10 basically means that if a fire breaks out, it is going to be a total loss and most carriers will not even consider such a risk.

There were a lot of acronyms used there, but TLAs, or the three letter acronym for Three Letter Acronyms, are quite common in the Insurance-verse. Basically, this means that the protection class of your facility, is dependent upon your location, what it is constructed out of, where the closest fire hydrant is, if your fire department is volunteer or fully staffed, and what the gallon per minute (GPM) flow rates of the fire department equipment is as well as their response time. These all factor into your PC score.

It is becoming increasingly more difficult to get insureds underwritten due to their PC score. Many facilities do not reside in a downtown location right next to the fire station. The majority of the more than 500 insureds that I work with across all 50 states are in rural locations classified PC 5 and higher. What this all means is that the admitted carriers keep lowering their PC rates, which is forcing more and more alcohol manufacturers to

have no choice but to go to a non-admitted market for their coverage.

An admitted insurance carrier is one that has met the regulations set by the state’s Department of Insurance (DOI) to operate in that state and have filed specific rates to be used. Admitted carriers also pay into the state guarantee fund, which provides a safety net in case an insurance carrier may become insolvent and not be able to pay claims. In such a situation, the state guarantee fund would step in to ensure that all claims would be paid and the insureds made whole again. On the flip side, a non-admitted (E&S) carrier does not meet the regulations of the specific state, they do not have rates on file, nor do they pay into the state guarantee fund.

To understand how this underwriting of the PC classification impacts you, non-admitted carriers have a lot more flexibility to write in higher PC areas, but that comes with an increased risk to them, meaning an increased premium to you.

There it is…the bottom line. Yes, higher PC scoring manufacturers can still readily obtain insurance, but the cost can be double or more

of what it would have been with an admitted carrier. Not to mention that most non-admitted carriers do not have all of the fancy coverage forms and the “bells and whistles” of the admitted carriers. Plus, most E&S carriers come with a 25 percent minimum earned premium (MEP), and either expect the premium to be paid in full or financed. All these things come at an increased cost, including the premium finance agreement (PFA). Most PFA’s annual percentage rates (APR;) are between 15 and 24 percent currently.

The question remains, what should you do when faced with a soft or hard market? Hard market cycles are for battening down the hatches and preparing for an increased cost, so save up for a 25% increase on average. In a soft market cycle have your coverage shopped, shopped, shopped! More carriers in the marketplace equals more competition which leads to much better pricing.

As to hard market mitigation, there really is not much the consumer can do. They can shop the coverage in these times as well, but chances are that there will be very few carriers and the pricing will likely be much the same.

Aaron Linden is a professional purveyor of insurance policy products proposed to protect people proactively against perceived perilous perils and pitfalls, primarily. He has been in the insurance industry for 23 years, has specialized in craft spirits insurance for the last 15 years, and literally wrote the book (ok, the insurance forms) on spirits coverage for many insurance carriers.

There may be some carriers that allow for a more advantageous billing system that allows for you to break up the premium over a longer time with less of a fee, but that is about all that can be done.

Although we are in the throes of a current hard market cycle, nothing lasts forever, and things will look up in the future. It isn’t the insurance companies’ or underwriter’s fault; They are doing what they have to do to survive. When the soft market comes along, they will once again be our champions — we just have to wait it out.

There is a lot to understand, not just about insurance for your business, but the inner workings of the Insurance-verse as well. Until next time, dear reader.

Stay Vigilant,

Spirits United's Cocktail Party provides a unique way to directly engage with your legislators and help support the growing distilled spirits industry.


As a concept, blending seems simple. It’s putting together multiple things to make one thing. The elusiveness of a good blend is having those “things'' converge to where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. There is not a cookie-cutter way of achieving your goals for blending, as they can vary depending on your project. If the goal is to create a large-volume product that is consumed worldwide, your goals and how you achieve them will vary greatly compared to a one-off project that aims to just simply create amazing whiskey. While there is not a simple formula for blending, there are formulas for success. Pay attention to your starting materials, collect as much data as you can, and use this information to scale.


While there is not a simple formula for blending, there are formulas for success.

On tours for the general public, it is easy to simplify the distillation process as to what is done in a chemistry lab. However, spirit distillations are very different from the semi-relatable lab distillations of yonder. Prior to whiskey entering a barrel, the spirit is clear but complex and not simply a mixture of alcohol and water. We also, thankfully for the history of spirits, have flavor to contend with as well. Before whiskey enters the barrel, the entry sensory notes should be documented. This allows tracking for inconsistencies or potential flaws.

We are all working with agriculturalbased products that are consistent in that they are

We are all working with agricultural-based products that are consistent in that they are constantly changing. Because of this, blending starts in the stillhouse. Day in and day out, as the stills produce new-make, the job of a blender is to pay attention. Distillates can vary day to day, week to week, or month to month. Those variations stem from grain source and quality, yeast, bacterial infection, water quality, temperature, equipment failures or malfunctions, and differences in barrel. For example, say your coolant for the fermenter was down for a few days and your ferment ran hot and uncontrolled. This might produce higher levels of butyric acid. You will never forget smelling isolated butyric acid. I still remember a student dropping and shattering

what should have been their unknown sample of butyric acid in the lab. We all quickly evacuated the lab room, but the smell of vomit lingered for far too long. On a positive note, it was very easy to identify her lab assignment.

This fermenter should be flagged for extra cleaning and tracked through the process, and when it is distilled, the resulting barrels should be flagged as well. The smell of butyric acid will remain for a while, but thanks to the magic of ethanol and barrel aging, over time this component will be chemically transformed to ethyl butyrate, which smells of fresh pineapple. The blender will want to note how this whiskey progresses and when that transformation has occurred.


There are so many factors to consider with how whiskey ages that it can be overwhelming to think of the information needed to make solid selections. Barrels themselves are like snowflakes; there are no two barrels that are exactly alike, and that means each barrel will have a unique influence of the new-make whiskey inside. Combined with all the differences that result from the first stages of a whiskey’s life, there is a lot of information to track.

And then there are an immense amount of changes that happen during the aging process. Some reactions happen quicker than others, and all reactions are influenced by the warehousing. Temperature, humidity, and warehouse placement all matter. Depending on your warehouse structure, you may have some barrels that have so-called perfect placement, where the resulting whiskey has a high chance of being “perfect” or a honey barrel. Honey barrels have all the good characteristics that you want in your whiskey and may not require blending. However, as the blender you want

to know where you are most likely to spot the unicorn and potentially utilize their perfection in order to even out a blend or to make something ultra premium

Throughout the aging process, barrels are sampled and nosed, and data is collected and mapped. What to look for depends on the goal of the blend. Does this sample fit the profile we expect? Why or why not? Does this sample need more aging? Why or why not? And, of course, where does this barrel belong? If the barrels are ready to disgorge, the data collection is complete. If instead this barrel is still in its aging journey, it will need to be sampled until it is ready to be dumped in order to capture its evolution. Aging is cyclical, and a great-tasting whiskey that may not be quite ready for disgorgement can hit a rough patch. Thankfully, the whiskey in the barrel will continue its chemical evolution and should come back around to flavor town if allowed to rest. Once the barrels for the blend are ready, it’s time for — you guessed it — more data!


For some, this may be where the blending journey begins. When sourcing whiskey, there is no control over the starting material. You can select for mash bill and age, but you won’t have many details other than those, let alone any samples that highlight the aging process. This is fine! While that information is helpful, insightful, and — dare I say — fun, it can be overlooked as needed. At the heart of blending, we are looking at whiskey at the end of its aging journey and seeing how those whiskeys merge.

It’s time for more samples and more notes. At this stage in production, it is checking proofs and barrel volumes, putting small additions of whiskey together to test for cohesion, and determining total blend volume and proof. This will help inform how many barrels are needed to produce the volume of whiskey required. For instance, say you need to produce 5,000 nine-liter cases. For simplicity, let’s say average barrel proof is 120 and your bottle proof is 96.

In a world without losses attributed to angel’s share, you would need approximately 180 barrels. With 12.5 percent loss, you would need approximately 205 barrels. With 20 percent loss, you would need 225 barrels. The older the stock, the more significant the loss. Besides the fact that older whiskey requires more time and that alone is reason for it to cost more, when you crunch the numbers of a potential loss of three percent per annum for a 25-year-old barrel of whiskey, 50 liters is all that remains.

Now that you know approximately how many barrels are needed to hit your volume, you can map out your blend. Graduated cylinders and pipettes come in handy at this point for a laboratory scale sample. A blend prototype can be built pipette by pipette that closely reflects the final product. A notebook or a trusty laptop are crucial. The difference between science and fucking around is proper documentation. Not to mention the idea of coming up with the perfect blend and not having it written down should scare anyone enough to jot down great notes.

Ratios are really important at this stage. To create some simplicity, it may be a good starting point to use samples from a limited amount of barrels. You can group barrels together based on the month and year they were laid to rest. Once you have a working blend, add complexity by using samples from the actual barrels in question. Test against the conglomerate blend and see where there are similarities and differences.

Let samples rest and check again. Check morning and night to see if your perception changes as your palate drifts with the day. If you have a blend that works for the occasion, prepare it for a larger scale. Is there anything worth noting? What if, at a larger scale, it doesn’t translate in the same way? Do you have a plan to remedy those differences? It is important to have whatever tools on hand will eliminate some risk, such as extra barrels from a particular lot.

If you have had the privilege of watching your barrels for the entirety of their aging journey and have data, you may have a really good idea of what barrels you need to achieve your goal. This can shorten the length of time experimenting significantly. It can also help when planning out the consistency for future blends.

The difference between science and fucking around is proper documentation.

The art of blending is making the whole greater than the sum of its parts.


The art of blending is making the whole greater than the sum of its parts. At the very least, a good nose, time and patience can get you far. In order to scale and grow, intimate knowledge of the whiskey you are working with helps to paint a clear picture. Knowledge is the power to make decisive decisions, lessen the amount of experimentation needed to make a blend, and increase the level of consistency from batch to batch.

Molly Troupe attended Southern Oregon University where she earned a Bachelor degree in Chemistry. After SOU, she continued her education by attending Heriot Watt University where she earned a Master degree in Brewing and Distilling. In 2017, she joined forces with Jill Kuehler as Freeland Spirit’s Master Distiller and Partner. In 2018 she was featured on Forbes 30 Under 30 for Food and Beverage and, at 27, was the youngest woman Master Distiller in the United States.

Tepache Sazón Digs Into a Refreshing Mexican Beverage


San Pancho, Mexico, is roughly an hour north of Puerto Vallarta in the state of Nayarit. It’s a chill, compact village with a solid cantina scene and shops that are quaint but not kitschy. The locals blend in with whitehaired expatriates in linen shirts and travelers seeking to vibe in a coastal city not driven by rambunctious spring-breakers or all-inclusive activities. Each group gathers on the beach

at the town’s western edge every dusk to applaud the sunset.

Technically, I’m here for work, but I’m really here for school. Headquartered in San Pancho is Tepache Sazón, a beverage producer whose low ABV fermented pineapple drink has been at the forefront of the tepache category in the United States since its launch in summer 2023. I’m excited to be here because I know next to nothing about tepache. I’m aware that it’s another alcoholic category

from Mexico that’s been around for a while, but that’s where my awareness ends. After three days of walking pineapple fields, diving into the category’s history and culture, and drinking the juice firsthand (as one does on these excursions), I leave knowing the category is more complex than I anticipated. I also leave with the hope that Tepache Sazón’s burgeoning success in the United States may prompt unique experimentation in the distilling scene.


A Tepache Primer

Tepache is a low-alcoholic beverage made from fermented fruit or vegetables, spices, and piloncillo sugar (raw pure cane sugar also known as “Mexican brown sugar”). Grapes and apples are excluded from this category for obvious reasons. The beverage’s roots come from pre-Columbian Mexico, where indigenous people made a corn drink known in the Nahuatl language as “tepaitl,” which loosely translates to “drink of corn.” They’ve been making the more modern form of tepache in Mexico for roughly 500 years, most commonly from pineapple. There are no designation-of-origin restrictions in place, so the beverage can be made outside of Mexico without having to resort to being called “fermented fruit beverage” or something like that.

Dig in a little deeper, and you’ll find three different categories of tepache to explore. The first one, dubbed market tepache, is traditionally meant for the masses and has an ABV of around 2 percent, although it’s possible to see them check in at less than 1 percent ABV. The second type, ceremonial tepache, is reserved for various religious events — a tradition that ties back to Mexico’s indigenous culture. The third type, celebration tepache, is the relatively potent stuff at around 7 percent or 8 percent ABV; It’s made for rites of passage and life events, such as weddings and quinceañeras. This is the category Tepache Sazón lands in, although telling people this requires extra education. Market tepache dominates the knowledge space, leading those who don’t know about celebratory tepache to ask Sazón why they’re messing with tradition — even as Sazón honors tradition.

This educational process somewhat surprisingly starts in Tepache Sazón’s native country. “Whether you know about celebration tepache really depends on where you’re coming from,” explained Rio Chenery, Tepache Sazón’s founder. “Celebration tepache is more prominent in rural Mexico. In larger cities, market tepache is very strong. It’s the tepache my mom’s and my uncle’s family had when they grew up in Mexico City. Based on their own experiences, the people that grew up around market tepache come with a pre-conceived notion of what tepache is and what it isn’t. It’s crazy to think that we’ve had to educate Mexico about different tepache styles.”

The Joys of Fermentation

A bottle of Tepache Sazón looks like a beer bottle, but it’s heavier. The difference in weight immediately signals to your brain that you’re about to drink something distinct, not to mention natural and refreshing. Tepache Sazón’s main ingredient is local hand-harvested pineapples, crushed and fermented and not augmented by any additives.

According to Chenery, fermentation is precisely why the bottles pack extra heft. “We use a slightly different process of pasteurization because Sazón undergoes secondary fermentation in the bottle,” he explained. “The bottles we were initially using would explode during the heat treatment process. So we had to switch to sturdier glass, and the results now are great.”

Fermentation can also wreak havoc in ways beyond breaking glass, but the chaos it creates isn’t necessarily bad. If left unchecked, fermentation can push the juice beyond the desired ABV and make the tepache unsuitable to sell regardless of category. In this scenario, the producer has two choices: They can either toss it out, or they can just say “screw it,” switch gears, and make a distillate.

It’s a choice Chenery faced with a bad batch of tepache after they launched. They’d accidentally let the batch sit too long, and it began to over-ferment. So Cheney decided to fuck around and find out. Rather than destroying the 2,000 liter rogue batch, he pumped it directly into a copper pot. After two distillations, Cheney rested the juice in glass for a year to smooth it out. The result was a 90-proof spirit with a taste faintly reminiscent of corn whiskey but without the sweet breakfast cereal bite of, say Heaven Hill Distillery’s Mellow Corn. It’s not for everyone’s palate, but I must confess when we tasted it at the Tepache Sazón facility, I finished my neighbor’s glass after polishing off my own.

That Chenery backed his way into making a distilled spirit isn’t necessarily a shock. He’s also behind the raicilla brand Estancia, so he knows the ins and outs of the distillation process. He also knows enough to be diplomatic about bringing a tepache-cum-distilled spirit to the market if he ever decides to routinely replicate this act of fermentation gone wrong. “I probably wouldn’t go the route of calling it a ‘tepache.’ It may make too many waves and ruffle too many feathers,” Chenery said. “If we were to bring it to market, we could frame it like a tropical eau de vie or something.”

A New Experiment for Distillers?

Theoretically, tepache’s budding growth in the U.S. fueled by brands like Tepache Sazón and the category’s lack of naming restrictions could pique the interest of distillers prone to experimentation. Since tepache comes from fermented fruit, it doesn’t seem too farfetched to think of an enterprising distiller gathering up native or hyper-regional fruits, putting them in a small fermentation tank, and making their own version. Granted, there would be some legal hurdles to clear to get such juice to market, such as additional licensing. It would also require some patience. “Switching from distillation to fermentation isn’t as easy as it looks,” Chenery warned. Still, jumping through legal hoops and engaging in some skill-strengthening R&D could yield long-term rewards, such as penetrating the

ever-expanding RTD market with something more unique than a canned cocktail. Besides, we are seeing more winemakers jumping into the distilling game; If tepache is a fruit wine by TTB standards, why can’t distillers do the reverse?

Whether or not this scenario happens down the road — and again, it is theoretical — may depend on the success Tapache Sazón has with opening the door for the category. Fortunately for them, the response has been positive. Since hitting the American market, its reputation as a delicious alternative to the beer and White Claw set has gained steady momentum. This doesn’t show any signs of slowing down, particularly as more people learn about tepache.

As Sazón picks up more SKUs and gets

stuffed inside more refrigerators and coolers, Chenery does see the exact categorization of Sazón — and tepache in general — becoming a greater discussion point. “It’s something we’re conscious of,” Chenery said. “For us, we’re trying to figure out what is its closest cousin. It could be a beer, or a fruit wine, or a cider, or even a spritz. But we also know that at the end of the day, the consumer will be the one that makes that call.”

Whatever it ends up getting called, Tepache Sazón seems likely to remain a standard-bearer for a distinctive style of a category that’s simultaneously new and old. It may even be the impetus for inspiration for experimentation within the distilling circuit. Not bad for a product coming from a small coastal village town.

Tepache Sazón is located in San Pancho, Mexico Visit more information.

The Origins of the Flavor Profiles in Mezcal-Tequila Spirits Production



This article stems from the production of a new series of detailed beer and distilled spirits flavor maps from the team at Brewing and Distilling Analytical Services, LLC (BDAS). The main infographic appears on pages 56–57 and was also the feature of a recent presentation at the American Craft Spirits Association convention. The map is sectionalized and, with a few additional figures, forms a broad outline of mezcal (including tequila) flavor production. The map thus forms the basis for an understanding of flavor profiles and presents terminology for a best-practice approach to the sensory evaluation of the mezcal class of spirits. Such directional or flavor family-tree/hierarchical maps of late provide a better approach than the traditional flavor wheels now available for coffee, tea, beer, and all manner of distilled spirits and other beverages and foods.

Figure 1

A broad outline of mezcal-tequila production

A complex and lengthy growth cycle for agave, the fructan-polymer-based fermentable sugar source for mezcal production starts the cycle. The agave piñas, stripped of their leaves (pencas) are baked or cooked to hydrolyze the fructans (see other figures herein) and then milled/ground-up to release the fructose rich juices (mosto or “honeys”), readied for fermentation (yielding normally 4-7% but up to 10% ABV and flavorful acids, esters, etc.) which will then be distilled. Today, a stripping or ordinary still (ancestral variations on the theme) yields 25-30% ABV. The second stage distillate (rectification/rectificación) leads to tequila/mezcal rectificado at up to 55% ABV. This distillate will then be proofed down and bottled or sent on for varying periods of resting or maturation. Up to 1% additives such as caramel or oak extracts may be added according to rules for mezcals and, specifically for tequila, as discussed elsewhere (Spedding, 2023). Additional steps and ingredients may be used as also noted in the text.


The agave plant-based distilled beverages, known broadly as mezcals (mescal), form a vast varietal and complex class of distilled spirits. Only a brief outline is presented here to cover the origins of the vast array of volatile flavor components leading to the diverse spectrum of flavor profiles of the mezcals. Many agave species are to be found, and about 20-26 or so are often utilized either as single species or in a mixed (ensamble) format to add to the flavor diversity of mezcals. Tequila is a mezcal spirit but made with only one agave species, Agave tequilana, also called blue agave or agave azul. An example of a mixed agave (maguey) ensamble mezcal is Bozal Ensamble and is made with cultivated maguey espadín and wild maguey barril and Mexicano (i.e., with the agave species known as angustifolia (espadín) and karwinski and rhodacantha, respectively). It is noted as being slightly smoky with lots of herbal tones.

Unlike grain and maltose/glucose-based fermentations, the mezcals are fermented primarily from fructose as yielded from the hydrolysis of fructans (sometimes called inulins) and by mixed culture microbiota (bacteria and various yeast species). These features make for complex production and the resultant unique flavor (aroma cloud) profiles. Full details may be found elsewhere (Spedding, 2023; Cedano Nuñez, 2022; Zapata & Nabhan, 2003, and many articles on taxonomy and conservation of agave by Dr. Ana Valenzuela-Zapata). For now, just the basics on the origins of flavor are covered herein. Some details are derived from notes provided by Marco Cedano (of Tequila Tromba fame) and from the translation of a professional standard sensory training flavor wheel originally created by the tequila expert Ana María Romero Mena.

An Outline on the Production of Mezcals

A brief outline of the basics of mezcal production is presented in Figure 1. The core of the agave — called the heart or piña — is the part harvested to make agave spirits. The leaves of the plant (pencas) are removed to eliminate unwanted bitter and soapy components. The piñas are then cooked/baked, traditionally in underground pits or stone ovens, or in more modern “brick” ovens, autoclaves, or in fancy tennis court-sized machines called diffusers. For the more technical diffuser processing (fructan hydrolysis), sulfuric acid is often utilized in a manner similar to the process of breaking down sucrose into glucose and fructose — as for corn sugar (glucose) and fructose production.

Terroir — Agave, water, and bacterial activity contribute to mezcal flavor

Mezcal production begins with agave and its developmental stage of growth. The piña, freed of most leaf (penca) tissues, is the fructan carbohydrate storage resource for the fermentable sugars. Varied species, climate, and growth conditions lead to nuanced flavor volatiles during production. The quality of the water and treatment processes, plus the presence or absence of bacteria, are important considerations in mezcal production. It is to be noted that sulfuric acid is used in diffuser-based bulk tequila production by the major producers today. The diffuser process creates less overall flavor but ends up providing “cleaner,” more-vodka-like alcohol profiles to the resultant spirit. Afterwards, additive flavorings must be added back to give the more authentic tequila/mezcal aroma and flavor profile. In addition to the acids produced by microbes, yeast and bacteria (Pediococci and some species of lactic acid bacteria — LAB) can produce the buttery note of diacetyl (the ketone - 2,3-butanedione).


Reductones and dehydroreductones






FURANONES sweet caramel burnt


meaty roasted PYRROLES cereal-like nutty

PYRANONES maple-like vanillin-like warm,spicy fruity, jam-like

Nutty Caramel Candy-like Meaty Astringent


Smoky, burnt, spicy notes

FURANS meaty burnt caramel-like amino acid

ACYLPYRIDINES cracker-like cereal

Strecker reaction

Aldehydes + amnioketones acetain


Pyridines Pyrazines Oxazoles Thiazoles Pyrroles Imidazoles

ALKYLPYRIDINES bitter burnt astringent PYRAZINES cooked roasted toasted OXAZOLES green nutty sweet

Roasted Toasted Molasses Raw brown sugar



PYRROLES cereal-like nutty

IMIDAZOLES chocolate nutty bitter

Furfural Caramel Oak extracts & other additives allowed additions up to 1% total volume


Amino acids

Fatty acids


Various Growth Conditions

Insects, Plagues, “The Worm” Terroir Agave spps.

Technical or Rustic cultivation


Furfural 5-HMF (Hydroxymethylfurfural)

2-Acetyl Furan


Melanoidins Caramelization

MAILLARD COMPOUNDS incl. Heterocycles

Furan, Pyrrole, Thiophene, Indole, Benzofuran, Carbazole, Quinoline, Isoquinoline, Imidazole, Oxazole, Pyrazole, Pyridazine, Pyrimidine, Purine


[Sweet, caramellic, cotton candy, jammy fruity, burnt with bready nuances]

Furfural (brown, sweet, woody, bready, nutty, almond, caramellic, with burnt astringent nuance)

5-Methyl Furfural (sweet, brown, caramellic, grain, maple syrup-like)

2-Acetyl Furan (sweet, nutty, almond, cocoa, caramel, coffee, roasted with a sweet baked-goods like characteristic)

Figure 3

Maillard and caramelization flavor production for mezcals

Following conversion (hydrolysis) of fructans to fermentable fructose (and some end-branched polymer chain released glucose), the sugars are generally fermented with mixed-culture microbiota following nutrient supplementation of the musts (mosto). For mescals, these sugars are agave sugars, while for tequilas they are only agave-based sugars. For “mixto” tequilas, they are 51% agave sugars and 49% other sugar source fermentables. The juices released from the fibrous matter known as bagasse.

Stages of Production and Flavor Development

A series of figures (derived from an overall directional infographic mapping of mezcal-tequila flavor) now follows, briefly outlining the

origins and providing the characteristic descriptors for the multitude of flavors leading to the complex aroma/flavor profiles of the many variants of mezcals.

[1] Raw Materials

Complex cooking reactions and flavor production are involved in mezcal-tequila production. The key chemical components and flavor descriptors noted. The heterocyclic molecule diagram and Maillard reaction chemistry in spirits production are also featured by Spedding in Artisan Spirit (articles in Issues 18 and 19, 2017). Key notes (furfural, 5-HMF, and the 2-acetyl furan) can be used to characterize different mezcals and to see if these components are under the legal maximum permitted amounts. Firewood used in traditional baking/heating and charring of piñas can produce some phenols like guaiacols (with bacon and smoky/smoked notes).

A mapping of the regions in Mexico for the production of the most notable mezcals and the varied agave species distributions may be found elsewhere (Spedding, 2023) but it should be mentioned that many species of agave, grown in different regions, are used with different flavor characteristics and thus terroir or provenance is to be considered important in overall mezcal flavor production. Brief notes on this are to be seen in Figure 2.

Figure 2

Yeasty, oily, bready, sulfur (4-methyl-5-(-2hydroxyethyl) thiazole)

Smoky, guaiacol, leather (p-cresol)

Fruity, berry, mushroom, tobacco, musty, wine-like (methyl-2-furoate)

Caramellic, maple, bready, brown, coffee (5-methyl furfural)

Smoky, guaiacol, leather, bacon, ham (4-ethyl phenol)

Floral, fruity, raspberry (ß-damascenone)

Burnt, caramel (5-hydroxymethylfurfural)

Sweet, vanilla (Vanillin)


Oven Autoclave Syrup Use

Smoky, almonds (Furfural)

Floral, green fruit (ß-cyclocitral)

Roasty, nutty (2,5-dimethylpyrazine)

Spicy, clove (Eugenol)


Fibers (ultimately Bagasse) — precursor for more furfural formation.

Heavier fiber notes


Tahona Diffuser Roller Mill

Lighter fiber notes

Bitter, green notes from raw agave

Mezcal-tequila cooking and grinding processes and flavor production

[2] The Maillard and Caramelization Reactions

Cooking of foods or baking of agave piñas — adding thermal energy — leads to a complex cascade of reactions involving sugars and amino acids called the Maillard reaction (detailed in two parts in Artisan Spirit - Issues 18 and 19, 2017), which leads to many flavorful compounds, including cyclic structured molecules known as heterocycles. With higher thermal energy — hotter cooking temperatures — caramelization of sugars also takes place, leading to related compounds conveying sweet, burnt, coffee- and maple syrup-like and caramellic notes. Such flavors — mainly Maillard associated — are featured in Figure 3. As noted above, diffuser production of tequilas leads to less Maillard and caramelization reaction chemistry, and thus flavor additives are needed to get back a more authentic tequila flavor profile.






Wild Yeast


Fructophily Cultivated Yeasts (Autochthonous organisms)

Flavor Wheel








Black pepper



Pear, banana(isoamyl alcohol)


Coconut, fruity, waxy myristyl(Tetradecanol/ alcohol)

Pineapple (3-methyl-1-butanol)

[3] The Mezcal-Tequila Cooking and Milling Stages

The main details involved in cooking reaction chemistry outlined above, along with additional flavor volatile origins from the cooking of agave piñas and the subsequent extraction of the fructose-rich juices (mosto or “honeys”) from the fibers (also known as bagasse) are summarized in Figure 4.

[4] Fermentation

Key notes here pertaining to the cooking and milling processes involved in mezcal production. Cooked agave lends notes of the Maillard browning reactions. Terpenes lend flavor from agave (fruity, floral, pine, woody notes, and much more). Cooked pumpkin and overripe fruity notes are also flavor descriptors for mezcals, and some volatiles express some herbal-like qualities. Eugenol and wood-related compounds such as vanillin and syringaldehyde convey warmth and spiciness. Masonry oven construction materials may add mineral notes such as calcium and smoked wood (direct fires). Diffuser processing leads to more raw, clean agave notes. For milling/ grinding, wet earth/ground notes are possible, and there is a need to ensure all traces of the leaves of agave (the pencas) are removed to avoid soap formation (foaming issues during processing) and bitter notes.

Fermentations of the mosto (musts) require, as for other fermented beverage production, careful consideration and monitoring. The high fructose concentrations require fructophilic yeast — ones that can handle such fermentables. Nutrient additions are needed, and it is important to note that several microorganisms (bacteria and yeasts) are involved in both spontaneous fermentation systems and even in controlled culture. Further details are in a chapter by Spedding (2023) and in many references contained therein. Figure 5 presents a list of key factors for the process and the chemical classes, key aromatic components, and their notable flavor descriptors.


Floral, green/fresh, neroli, waxy, fruity, rose perfume (fragrance) nuances = Citronellyl propionate Earthy, woody (odor), mint (taste) = 4-Terpineol


Fatty, soapy(Octanoic acid)

Waxy, soapy, coconut, creamy(Tetradecanoic acid)

Other mid-chain length fatty acids add cheesy, goaty, dairy and rancid accents. Such acids combine with alcohols to form ethyl and acetate esters with the fruity and floral nuances.


Floral, roses (2-phenylethyl acetate)

Sweet, apple (Ethyl acetate and other esters)ethyl

Sweet, fruity, jasmine (1,3-benzenediol acetate)

Ethyl acetate: ethereal, solvent-like fruity, sweet, green, with a grape and cherry nuance.

Ethyl decanoate: sweet, waxy, fruity—apple/grape oily, brandy-like.

Ethyl lactate: tart, fruity, buttery, butterscotch, creamy, pineapple-like with a caramellic nuance.

Ethyl octanoate: fruity, wine-like, waxy, sweet, apricot/banana/ brandy/pear/pineapple, creamy, fatty, mushroom and cognac notes.

Ethyl dodecanoate: Sweet, waxy, soapy, and rum-like with creamy, floral nuances.

Fruity, sweet, grape, cherry = Ethyl acetate

White musk, green tea, lemon, floral = Farnesol


Ethereal, green, nutty, sweet (Diethyl acetaldehyde — an acetal)

Waxy, citric, orange peel, floral (Decanal)

Fatty, floral, orange, pineapple(2-undecanone)

Autolyzed yeast may provide soy/umami notes plus bacterial metabolites add tart, sour, cheesy/dairy and buttery notes.


Mint, eucalyptus (α-terpineol)

Citrus, herbal, terpenic, camphoraceous (limonene)

Citrus, woody, thyme, spicy (α-terpinene)

Citrus, orange, lemon, floral, waxy, woody (linalool) + others including floral, rose, spicy/clove, woody, mentholic, earthy, tropical fruit, pear, peach, cilantro, and resinous notes.

Ethyl butanoate: fruity, sweet, tutti-frutti, apple, fresh, ethereal.

Isoamyl acetate: sweet, fruity, banana, pear, solvent, with a green ripe nuance.

Ethyl propanoate: ethereal, fruity, sweet, wine-like, bubble gum, apple, grape.

Ethyl hexanoate: sweet, fruity, pineapple, waxy, green, banana (red apple and hints of aniseed).

Ethyl hexadecanoate: waxy, fruity, creamy, fermented, vanilla and balsamic.


Mezcal-tequila fermentation

The figure shows flavors associated with different production regions (terroir again). Small/craft operations for mezcal will rely on more spontaneous fermentation activities with inherent regional (ecological) variations. Even the implementation of controlled pure culture inoculations, for mainstream operations, will see the use of several microorganisms (some producers using mixtures of three to five different pure preparation yeast/bacteria cultures). Many examples of flavor components from all key chemical classes are shown in the figure.

Figure 4



Pot Still


Stainless Steel


Clay/Ceramic (Minero style)



Fat Separation

[Stillage/ Vinasses]

Heads (Cabezas)

Heart Cut (Corazon)

Tails (Colas)



Figure 6

Mezcal-tequila distillation

Laurel Artichoke

Alcoholic (Methanol)

Ethereal, whisky (Methyl-1-Propanol)

Ethereal, leathery, cocoa (2-Methyl-2Butanol)

Fermented, fusel, peanut, nutty (1-Propanol)

Floral, fresh bready, rose, honey (2-Phenylethanol)

Fermented bread, fruity, winey (Amyl alcohol aka. Amilyc)

Whisky, fruity, banana (Isoamyl alcohol)

Vinegar (Acetic acid)

Fruity, ethereal, green/bruised apple, musty (Acetaldehyde)

Nutty, almond, cherry (Benzaldehyde)

Baked bread, almond, caramellic (Furfural)

Solventy, ethereal, apple, pear, nail varnish remover (Acetone)

Sweet apple, paint thinner (Ethyl acetate)

Fruity, buttery, butterscotch (Ethyl lactate)

Fruity, creamy, milky, waxy (Ethyl hexadecanoate)

Fruity, winey, banana, pineapple, waxy (Ethyl octadecanoate)

Metallic notes: Copper, Iron, Brass

Solvent: Gasoline, Thinner, Varnish, Acetone, rubbing alcohol

Key notes associated with the distillation of mezcal-tequila ferments, along with a brief list of still types, control points, and waste components produced (stillage = vinasses). A typical elution profile list for components according to boiling points also provided — with the understanding that conditions can alter the cut points for such components due to azeotrope formation and noting that the controlled substance methanol elutes throughout the process (see text for details).


Canned pumpkin (2-Furaldehyde)

Cloves (5-Hydroxymethyl furfural) — Eugenol?

Smoky (Cyclotene)

Tobacco (Maltol? Nuances from ß-damascenone)

Vanilla, caramellic (Vanillin)

Burnt, bready (Syringaldehyde)

Burnt, guaiacol, smoky, burnt wood (Guaiacol)

Spicy, smoky, bacon, sweet, vanilla (Ethyl guaiacol)

Estery, fruity, winey, cognac (Methyl acetate)

Acidic (Citric acid)

Phenolic, plastic, rubbery (Phenol)

Medicinal, woody, leather, phenolic, pungent (ortho- and para cresols)

Spicy, woody, bacon, cinnamon, allspice (Eugenol)


% ABV Filled

Wood Type

New/Old BBLS


Prior fill content flavors

Light Toast 1

Medium Toast 2

Medium to Heavy Toast 3

Very Heavy Toast 4

CHAR 1–4 [Alligator]

1. Vanilla


Fresh wood


2. Burnt Candy

Fresh Bread


3. Toasted almonds

Maple Syrup

Roast Coffee



4. Black pepper


The maturation of mezcal-tequila

Typical flavors for matured spirits, as rested or aged in wood, are shown here. They are similar to other spirits and unique components in matured mezcal spirits. Sometimes the wood notes can overpower the typical blanco (white spirit) mezcal-tequila flavor profile perceptions. Thus, training or evaluation of blanco, reposado, añejo extra añejo, and even gold tequilas (flavored with caramel) is important and complex. Details on aged types (maturation periods, etc.) may again be found in the chapter by Spedding (2023) and are not further detailed here.

Figure 7

[5] Distillation

Typical distillation parameters (from ancestral to modern), key flavor notes/descriptors, and typical elution orders of components are presented in Figure 6. Some data from Marco Cedano, who is creating a well-defined flavor catalog for sensory training purposes and more hedonic terms from the flavor wheel originally created by Ana María Romero Mena.

One note that needs to be made here is the methanol issue. Agave plants contain pectic substances, which means that the control of methanol content is paramount. A confounding feature though is the formation of methanol azeotropes throughout the distillation process. Thus, as for fruit brandies, methanol is not only a heads component, but will come through in hearts and tails/feints fractions. Methanol specifications dictate 30 to 300 mg/100 mL expressed as at 200-proof ethanol. Such units cause some confusion for distillers in the U.S., where data is reported by laboratories as ppm of the submitted sample and as actual spirit proof of the mezcal (González Seguí, Giersiepen, & Hernández López, 2021).

[6] Maturation

It is mostly tequilas that will be found as rested or matured examples (typically in oak, though other woods can be used). Though it should be noted that mezcals can be matured in glass (see Spedding, 2023 for details of maturation conditions, stylistic production details, plus additives use and other ingredients allowed for incorporation in mezcal-tequila production). Then there is the cristalino type: spirit aged in wood and then stripped of color. Cristalino is an añejo, or extra añejo, tequila filtered with activated carbon with the goal of removing its color and enhancing its fruity and floral characteristics. This results in a clear tequila, similar to a blanco, which maintains some of the taste and aroma profile of a tequila that has been barrel aged. Typical maturation conditions and flavors are described in Figure 7

[7] Summarizing the Perception Notes of Mezcals

Mapping out the origins and providing flavor-descriptive terms for key flavor profile volatiles is important for understanding, evaluating, and judging any type and style of distilled spirit. A coverage of sensory evaluation would form an article unto itself. So, this article is now brought to a close with a few notes on flavors to seek out in mezcals and tequilas (including bacanora, raicilla, and the mineral “minero” types of mezcals) and noting the pechuga type (whereby meat and sometimes various fruits and other ingredients may be used and often in a third stage distillation to add interesting and distinctive flavors). And again, for now just a quick comparison of mezcal and tequila differences follows on. See Figure 8.

[8] Cutting to the Chase — Reducing the Terms

In a dissertation study, a total of 127 attributes were initially defined in tequila. This was reduced to 26 attributes to be evaluated in the three distinct types of tequila (blanco, reposado, and añejo).

The attributes were:

Color, film formation, tearing, and oily (in appearance).

Ethanol, sweet, citrus, fruity, wood, herbal, agave, floral, and almond (in smell — olfaction — aroma),

Ethanol, acid, bitter, dry, wood, sweet, cloves, agave, and freshness (in gustation — taste) and,

Burning, astringent, bitter, aftertaste, and numbness (in other sensations — mouthfeel — trigeminal stimulations).

This thus provides a starting point for building up an initial base vocabulary of sensory terms to look at your favorite and competitive mezcals (see also Figure 8). The important thing is to map the route. Smell the roses and

Typical sensory descriptors for mezcals-tequila

Some terms in two languages: Dulce = Sweet, Madeo = Wood, Amargo = Bitter, Seco = Dry, Quemante = Burning, Resabio amargo = Aftertaste-bitter, Adormecimiento = Drowsiness (essentially Numbing Linger), Almendra = Almond. While much more could be stated, a few closing remarks in this figure legend: White tequila — shows lowest citric character of the three types (White/Blanco, Resposado, Añejo) and lowest herbal and agave notes too. Reposados — highest citric and herbal qualities too. Reposados — show high variability in wood notes — with some similar to Añejos.



Land (tierra)



Wood (madera)

Smoke (humo)

Ash (olor ceniza)


Spices (especias)

Herbal (hierba)

Candy (caramelo)

Fruity (frutal)


Citric (citrico)

Agave – cooked (maguey cocido –olor a maguey cocido), burnt (olor a maguey quemado) notes

Tastes: Sweet (sabor dulce), sour (sabo agrio), salty, bitter (aftertaste sabor residual amargo)

Sensations: spicy (picante), hot (calor), unctuous (untuoso), rough (aspero), cool (fresco)

Other terms: fruity — strawberry, jelly (gelatin), green grass, cedar wood, petroleum, vitamins, musty, menthol, plastic, wet earth and leather.






Plastic/cherry Vanilla


Figure 8

other unfamiliar items that others state they smell or taste in a product you are both/all evaluating. Understand that all are not alike in their sense of detection — some more sensitive, some less so, and some aroma/taste blind (anosmic) to certain compounds. Learn the key players and their origins, a directional assessment across the process to guide you to the key points along the way. Flavor wheels and maps provide memory joggers or tools for sensory training. Use them! Assess if the notes are desirable or undesirable (off-flavors/notes), and build up a quality control system to ensure consistency of production or to better judge a flight of samples presented in an array at a bar or in a competition.

With practice, it is said that a sense of place can be defined from a sensory assessment — in other words, you may be able to pinpoint where and how a sample was made if not the actual producer of the spirit (though don’t guess or speak out “aha” in a competition judging — do not bias others or yourself in this way). The full set of compounds that arise into the headspace of a glass, and ultimately into your nostrils and olfactory space and that are interpreted/identified, is now defined as an aroma cloud — the entire aroma/flavor profile. Dive in deeper from here and enjoy the ride and the aromatic/tasty rush across your senses. The mezcal-tequila journey is a fascinating and worthwhile one.

Gary Spedding, Jessi Bentley, Philip Gennette, and Haley Spurlin are with Brewing and Distilling Analytical Services, LLC (BDAS). Our team at BDAS test, assess, and promote research into the vast world of beer and distilled spirits. Founded in 2002, the laboratory and the teaching classroom are in Lexington, Kentucky. Our motto: “The answer is yes, now what is your question?” Please contact us for additional references and information on the topic as presented here or on any other beverages of interest.


Spedding, G. Chapter 8 - Mezcal and Tequila. In Distilled Spirits, Hill, A., Jack, F. Eds.; Academic Press, 2023; pp 173228. DOI: 10.1016/B978-0-12-822443-4.00002-5.

Cedano Nuñez, M.A. (transl. by Cedano Ortiz, R.). Making Tequila. Art and Technology. Independently published. 2022. ISBN-13: 979-8431565397.

Valenzuela-Zapata, A.G.; Nabhan, G.P. Tequila! A Natural and Cultural History. The University of Arizona Press. 2003 ISBN-10: 0816519382/ISBN-13: 978-0816519385.

González Seguí, H.O.; Giersiepen, J.H.; Hernández López, J. Methanol in Mezcal: Is It Possible to Increase the Current Thresholds Allowed by Mexican Standards? [Metanol En El Mezcal: ¿Es Posible Aumentar Los Umbrales Permitidos Por La Normativa Mexicana?] Revista RIVAR. 2021: Vol. 8 No. 24; 56-75. DOI: 10.35588/rivar.v8i24.4886.

Additional key references are provided in the four articles cited here to guide you in the excellent adventure that awaits you — no matter how the spirit may carry you.


Written by Gabe Toth
Photos provided by Storm King Distilling

Storm King Distilling is as pure and undiluted a taste of Colorado as the distillery’s namesake mountain depicted on their labels.

Visible from all over town in Montrose, located on the state’s Western Slope, Storm King Mountain was selected by distillery founders and father-son duo Greg and David Fishering as a local icon that represented their ties to the area and their dedication to local flavor. “Trying to be true to where we’re at,” David Fishering said.

The seeds were planted for a distillery there when the Fisherings purchased another iconic location in town: the century-old former Potato Growers Association building as well as the adjacent building that had been a shop where the growers co-op would work on equipment.

David and his wife Sarah moved home to Montrose in 2014 to start a family, and he and Greg purchased the downtown property in late 2016. Once they had the property, the question came up. Fishering said, “What do we do with it?”

That question hearkened back to years

earlier when Fishering and his wife still lived in Washington, D.C. They had toured the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and “basically had my eyes opened.”

“That same winter, we were in England for Christmas and went up to Scotland and toured a couple of distilleries. In one year, we went to two Meccas of whiskey making,” he said.

“I used to have a two-hour one-way commute to work in D.C.,” he added. “There was a lot of time spent thinking about, ‘Why am I doing this?’ I want to be doing something different than driving four hours a day to not go very far. One of those thoughts was, ‘I really wish we could open up a distillery. That would be fun’.”

Around that time, Virginia distilleries were starting to open up. He visited Catoctin Creek in their original location and met with owners Scott and Becky Harris. They had opened their distillery after Scott’s 20-year career as a government contractor — a story that resonated strongly with Fishering, who asked, “If they can do it, why can’t we?”

So when faced with the question of what to do now that they owned a local landmark, he asked his dad, “What about making whiskey? What if we opened a distillery?”

That got the ball rolling with construction done in 2017 and the business opening in 2018 with a 1,000-liter hybrid pot-column still for whiskey production and a 100-gallon gin still. They wound up putting the distillery in the shop building because it was much more affordable to rehab that building first.

“We bought the property because the other building was cool,” he said. “It would have been awesome if that [potato growers building] could have been the distillery, but that would have been, I don’t know, probably a $5 million project to get that done.”

As they started operations, they realized that they needed a short-term income stream to keep the business afloat. “We don’t have any investors, nobody to answer to, and that’s great, but it also meant that we either had to source whiskey or we had to start making other stuff to pay for the whiskey to be made and wait for it to be good,” Fishering said. “We

chose the latter model.”

They began producing unaged spirits, including gin (which also has a barrel-aged iteration), vodka, rum, and agave spirit because he got a good deal on some agave nectar. The gin, in particular, continues to evolve toward his vision of a London dry gin with some local flair.

“I want it to be a Colorado gin, but I didn’t really know where to start when we first started,” he said. “It was just a sort of generic gin recipe, and little by little [I] tried to find ways to get Colorado botanicals in there.”

He only produces the product once a year, spending a week at a time on it and making tweaks each time. The current batch includes spruce, some locally foraged common juniper, and some Rocky Mountain juniper with a completely different flavor profile — less piney, more woody and earthy, with a slight cedar-y perfuminess. The recipe is rounded out with coriander, lemon peel, orange peel, and last year he toned down the angelica while adding a touch of licorice root.

“My first batch of gin, I went crazy. It had like 12 things in it,” he said. “You had two little grains of paradise in there, and it’s like, what’s the point of it? I tried to simplify it this year. From here we can try to build back complexity if we need to.”

He distilled some of the fresh, local common juniper on its own and found it to be dramatically different. “Way better than the dried crap that you buy,” he said. “The fresh stuff that I harvested was ten times as flavorful and sweeter. I just need to get 20 people to go out there and harvest it for me.”

Before settling on a program or lineup for whiskey production, he started by making several single-barrel, single-grain whiskeys to help guide their decisions.

“I went and got yellow corn, blue corn, red corn, rye, white wheat, red wheat, triticale, oats, and barley over the course of the first six months that we were open, and distilled batches of each of those things independently, 100 percent one grain and stuck it in barrels by itself,” he said.

These whiskeys went into a lot of 15-gallon barrels to help turn them around a little faster for tasting, with the goal of seeing how their unique local grains from Colorado grower The Whiskey Sisters, as well as Troubadour Malting, tasted when distilled on their equipment and with their methods.

“Just because I like ryes from Kentucky or bourbon from Kentucky doesn’t mean I’m going to like it if I just copy it and make it here,” Fishering said. “I like high-rye bourbon, but maybe when I make it it doesn’t taste good. Maybe a wheated bourbon tastes better.”

Prior to starting bourbon production, he was already making rye and wheat whiskeys in 25 and 30 gallon barrels, then started filling 53-gallon barrels of bourbon. Early batches were mostly 65/35 or 60/30/10 blends, different mixes of corn, rye, malt, oats, and red wheat. He even tasted a three-year, 25-gallon barrel recently that was filled with a fourgrain bourbon (60 percent corn/20 rye/10 red wheat/10 malt), and it was “ridiculous.”

Some of these will be single barrel Bottled

in Bond releases, and some of them will get blended with their mainstay whiskeys and what remains of their other experimental single-grain barrels to be bottled as part of their Side Gig blended whiskey brand.

“That’s where Side Gig started. We needed to have a home for things like triticale whiskey, or oat whiskey, because I wasn’t going to spend time marketing that,” Fishering said. They purchased a foeder last year to blend and store the whiskey, turning it into a sort of solera whiskey, a blend of straight whiskeys that’s depleted and replenished over time. “It contains a sample from every barrel we’ve ever opened,” he said.

In early 2023, Side Gig won Best American Whiskey at the World Whiskies Awards, sending demand skyward, one of the “good problems” Fishering said they’re running into these days. “We just didn’t have enough of it. The number of people calling and

asking for it far exceeded our supply,” he said. “It’s tough to repeat stuff like that, so we’ll see how we can continue to generate new interest in whatever it is we’re doing.”

It’s evolved into a whiskey that represents what they continue to make, rather than what they experimented with early on. There will still be experiments and one-offs, like triticale whiskey, but Side Gig has become more of a blended reflection of their bourbons, ryes, and wheat whiskeys. He’s also done some distilling for local wineries that want to fortify their wines for port-style products, on the condition that he gets the used barrels once they’re empty.

As for the cool building next door, it’s been listed on the National Register of Historic Places, along with state and local historic registries. They’ve already done considerable rehab on the exterior of the building, including windows and doors, rebuilding decks,

and repointing bricks. Construction has started inside to convert the space into a mixeduse food and beverage hall and marketplace, with retail operations for the distillery being moved into that space.

The basement will be available as a private events space once they move barrel storage from there back to the distillery. It’s for the better, since the old Potato Growers building wasn’t even airtight until about eight months ago.

Along with the expenses of renovating and growing the brand, Fishering started taking a salary last year to give them a more concrete idea of whether they’re making money or not. They did in 2023 and may have even been profitable in 2022. They’re also able to slowly add equipment that he’s been wanting, things like a second pump in case their primary one goes down.

“To be profitable as a distillery in four years, five years, that’s pretty solid,” he said. “We’re the only game in town, and we’ve done a good job of owning our back yard and

“To be profitable as a distillery in four years, five years, that’s pretty solid.”
— DAVID FISH er ING , Storm King Distilling

creating a following here.”

Storm King doesn’t rely on distribution — Fishering said 90 percent of their revenue comes from the tasting room, and they have a deep roster of local and regional regulars for their customer base. That’s been their model for the last five years, and he said he doesn’t understand the decision some distilleries make to move into distribution at that size.

“The guys that are doing it [distribution] that are our size, or maybe even a little bigger, I don’t know how they’re doing it,” he said. “Giving away all that margin to a distributor

doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Particularly if you can sell out of it in your tasting room, then why not do that?”

He said they have a small self-distribution footprint, mostly very local but also in a handful of other outlets in the state. What he really needs, he said, is DTC in Colorado and beyond.

“We get so many tourists that fall in love with what we are doing, but then can’t buy once they go home,” he said. “If I could add that revenue stream, we may not have to go to distribution any time soon.”

Storm King Distilling is located in Montrose, Colorado. For more info visit or call (970) 765-5606.


Navigating the co-packing landscape

Of all beverage sectors, spirits are showing the strongest current growth and popularity. This growth has led many people to enter the industry by starting new brands. Starting a new business and entering the beverage alcohol industry is challenging, to say the least. With a slew of regulatory, financial, and technical hurdles, starting a new brand is immensely complex and difficult.

By outsourcing the production of your product, you can focus on the two most critical aspects of a beverage business: sales and marketing.

A common path taken to start a new brand is by building a business that handles all aspects from manufacturing, branding, packaging, marketing, sales, and even distribution. For a new entrant to the industry, learning all these aspects of business and succeeding at them is a huge challenge. There is a much simpler alternative way to launch a new beverage alcohol business. This alternative is called contract packaging or co-packing. It is possible to work with an existing manufacturer who can make your product for you. By outsourcing the production of your product, you can focus on the two most critical aspects of a beverage business: sales and marketing. Co-packing at its essence is outsourcing the manufacturing of your product. Co-packing can mean different things depending on who you talk to. In a broad sense, a co-packer is a facility that currently produces beverages and offers services to manufacture products for other brands that are not their own. Co-packers are capable of packaging distilled spirits, ready to drink cocktails, liqueurs, or nearly anything else. Working with a co-packer creates the opportunity to launch a brand rapidly, with far less capital outlay needed, as you do not need to buy specialized equipment for manufacturing or learn how to operate it. By removing the capital-intensive aspects of manufacturing a product, the owners of a new product gain the freedom to focus on the marketing and sale of their product.

Co-packing at its essence is outsourcing the manufacturing of your product.

Let's explore the process step by step to bring a new brand of vodka to market through a co-packer.

1) The first step is to find a co-packer that is a good fit for you.

2) Search for companies that offer co packaging services, as not all manufacturers co-pack.

3) Take a break and have a drink. Now, while you are stopping for a drink, it’s a good time to consider the liquid in the bottle. You need to decide what the product will taste like and where it will come from.

4) Once you have found a company to work with (hopefully they are people you like), the next step is to find out the constraints of the co-packer.

5) Co-packers will have constraints on certain sizes and shapes of bottles, corks, and labels that they can work with. Understanding these constraints is essential to the design phase.

6) Determine what type of packaging will work with your co-packer.

7) Select packaging that works and fits for your brand and your co-packer’s equipment.

8) Design your brand, including logos, names, artwork, labels, and adornments.

9) Select the sources and recipes for the liquid that will become your product.

10) Sign a contract with your co-packer and put the pieces together.

11) Have your co-packer manufacture the product.

12) Launch your brand.

Just like that, you now have your very own brand-new, shiny bottles of vodka. A co-packer often produces large volumes, so you will likely now have several pallets of vodka to sell. These steps all sound quite simple, but there are many layers of work underneath this list. Beneath every step there are decisions and details that are critical to the product. Let's explore some of these key steps and how to best make those decisions.

The liquid in the bottle is important. However, and I know this will be controversial, more important than the liquid is the brand itself. Creating a professional-looking brand along with selecting a bottle shape, creating label artwork, and selecting design elements are all crucial steps. Unless you have extensive experience in beverage branding and marketing, the creation of a new brand is best handled by experienced professionals. The look and feel of your new product is the biggest opportunity to get consumers to consider tasting the product. If you take a minute and walk through your local liquor store, you will likely find a few bottles that do not look professional or polished. These not-so-great-looking products are often born out of someone starting a new product without any experience or professionals on their team. Hiring a professional at this stage is a good investment to help your brand put its best foot forward.

There is an abundance of distilleries that sell spirits in bulk that can be packaged up into your own brand. Whether it’s vodka, gin, rum, or whiskey, all types of spirits can be bought in bulk. Tasting a variety of bulk spirits and looking closely at cost is key to selecting your spirits.

There is an abundance of distilleries that sell spirits in bulk that can be packaged up into your own brand.

At this point, you should have all the pieces designed and selected, including the bottle, label, cork, case, spirits, and brand. With this all lined out, your co-packer can go to work and produce your product.

While there are strong arguments that co-packing is the smart path to launch a brand, some folks will say that co-packing is not the best choice. Let's compare and contrast the pros and cons of co-packing. You can make better decisions knowing the good and the bad to weigh your options and decide how to proceed.

Let's talk about the good first. It takes extensive time and financial resources to launch a brand. A large portion of the resources needed to launch successfully must be committed to marketing and sales to get a brand out to the world and onto store shelves. Co-packing allows new brands to conserve money, time, and energy that would be put into manufacturing and direct that energy into sales and marketing. This approach affords a new entrant into beverage alcohol the chance to learn the nuances of the business with much less overhead. Mistakes are expensive to make, and outsourcing the production work of a new brand ensures that you will make fewer mistakes when it comes to producing the product. The largest advantage of not producing your own product is that you do

The largest advantage of not producing your own product is that you do not have to carry the high overhead of funding and operating a manufacturing facility.

not have to carry the high overhead of funding and operating a manufacturing facility.

Now it's time to cover the bad. Co-packing is expensive. Co-packers markup the cost of producing a product to cover their costs of overhead, labor, and to turn a profit. When working with a co-packing company, you are paying them to manufacture your product. It will cost more per unit to produce a product with a co-packer than it would if you took the manufacturing process under your wing.

Another argument against co-packing is control. When a co-packer is producing your product, you will not have direct control over every aspect of the manufacturing process. It is easy to make mistakes that might not be made if the manufacturing is handled in house. A key step to mitigating

this risk is working with your co-packer to define their quality control in the manufacturing process to protect against mistakes.

It is time to ask the big question: What will you do? It is not easy to decide what is the best way for each individual business to create and launch a new product. Many factors must be considered to make an informed decision. While co-packing is perfect for some, it can be a bad fit for others. A consultant or person with extensive industry experience is the best way to make an informed decision on how to launch. Creating a new brand can be a challenging and also extremely rewarding business endeavor. Doing it the right way and finding success will make it that much more rewarding.

Written by Kris Bohm from Distillery Now Consulting. When Bohm is not helping new distilleries launch, you can find him defending his beer mile record and cycling the hills of Texas.

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Many people in the distilling industry no doubt attended one of the yearly ACSA and ADI conferences; indeed, these conferences are how I have met some of my closest friends in the industry. Recently, however, a new conference has begun to gain traction. Held annually at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, the James B. Beam Institute Industry Conference has been slowly growing in both attendance and recognition, and from March 11-13 I had the opportunity to attend its fifth rendition. It was a great three days, filled with lots of learning and connecting, and I would like to share some of my experiences and takeaways from the event.

The first official day of the conference


began with several workshops bright and early, at 8:15 a.m. These morning workshops were not technically part of the formal conference and required a separate registration and fee; however, they were held in the university’s student union where the conference took place. There were three total workshops offered each focusing on a particular topic currently concerning the distilling industry. I attended one titled “Bourbon and Barley 101,” which focused on malt barley and its importance to the distilling industry. I must admit that after sitting in a university classroom for some 1.5- to 2-hour sessions, I was reminded of some of my less-than-enjoyable early morning college classes (at least this time the topics were far more interesting!).

Once the pre-conference workshops concluded, attendees were allowed to check in and offered some much-needed coffee and light snacks. The first day of the conference had the rather lengthy title of “Business, Sales, Marketing, Hospitality, HR, Diversity, Climate and Culture” and was kicked off by a panel discussion hosted by senior DEI leaders about how to properly build an inclusive culture within organizations.

Following the opening panel, attendees were treated to lunch in the university student union dining hall, and I was reminded of just how essential the hot plate in my freshman dorm room had been (though, to be fair, I have yet to attend a conference where the food is the main attraction). After


lunch the education sessions began in earnest, with each hour-long session containing a minimum of three 15-20 minute presentations relating to a chosen topic. As could be ascertained from the day’s title, many of the sessions were focused on business and organizational topics; however, there were still a number of sessions that highlighted production matters. There was also a half-hour, rapid-fire session in which presenters were given a maximum of five minutes to speak about topics of interest. These were particularly interesting to attend because — as anyone who has ever presented can tell you — it is incredibly difficult to convey a coherent message in such a short period of time.

After Monday’s sessions ended, attendees were invited to an offsite social at a nearby music hall. At the well-attended social it was nice to finally speak to some of the presenters and conference goers in a less formal setting, though the band may have been a bit loud. After the social hour concluded, most attendees went their separate ways, with a decent number heading off to bed and some to find another nightcap.

Tuesday’s presentation sessions again began bright and early with his day’s title of “Technical Topics.” The list of presentations represented that in sheer number and scope. Indeed, throughout the day there were so many different talks that were of interest to me, it was often difficult to decide which to go to next. Some of my favorites included a presentation on different yeast strains and their associated flavors, a discussion of the sensory differences of corn and rye varieties, and a treatise on the esterification rates of spirits. There was also another rapid-fire session with even more participants that covered a vast range of topics.

Unfortunately, the downside of all these great presentations on the same day was that it was difficult to give each the proper amount of contemplation. As soon as one great presentation ended I was hurried off to another before I could fully digest the first. Also, as previously mentioned, it was difficult to pick and choose which sessions to attend, and there were a number of talks I missed out on because I was already

in another session. This issue was compounded by the fact that, due to inclement weather and other unforeseen circumstances, some presenters who I expected to see were unable to make it to the conference, and their presentations were scrapped with little notice.

Since Tuesday’s sessions ended with no formal happy hour to attend, I took the chance to explore some of Lexington’s food and drink scene and was rewarded with some great local sake and excellent food courtesy of The Void Sake Company. Wednesday, the last day of the conference, had the day’s topic as sustainability. Many of these presentations focused on matters concerning large-scale bourbon production, and it was sometimes hard to find takeaways applicable to smaller distillers. Nevertheless, there was still plenty of good information shared, and I was even able to find some time to finally wander the vendor trade show.

Wednesday’s presentations ended in the early afternoon with a final keynote in which the newly founded Estate Whiskey Alliance was announced. The Estate Whiskey Alliance, or EWA, is a new organization established by the University of Kentucky and whiskey distillers with the goal of promoting local sourcing and sustainable production practices. Members of the alliance will be able to apply to have their products certified as “Estate Whiskey” and be able to market their products with the EWA’s promotional sticker and take part in other member activities. The EWA is an interesting addition to the distilling industry, and I encourage anyone who is interested to visit their website to learn more about it.

Following the final keynote, attendees were invited for a final happy hour and ceremonial barrel filling at the Beam Institute’s newly built teaching distillery. This was the first time attendees were given the chance



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to visit any of the university’s teaching facilities, and I must say I was impressed with the organization and scale of the teaching distillery. Indeed, there are more than a few craft distillers who would probably wish that they had access to the tools available to UK students. After seeing the distillery and enjoying some refreshments, the conference formally ended and many attendees headed to either the airport, home, or just one last bar.

So, would I recommend that you attend next year’s conference? My answer is yes, but before you go you need to understand what you are getting yourself into. The main goal of the Jim Beam Institute Industry Conference is to highlight academic research that affects the distilling industry. This means many of the presentations are heavy on science and difficult to follow for someone with no formal academic training. This difficulty is exacerbated by the fact that the majority of presentations are only about 15 to 20 minutes, which makes it difficult to absorb all of the content in such a short amount of time. Furthermore, many of the sessions are geared toward large-scale Kentucky bourbon production, and it can sometimes be difficult to find actionable information that smaller distillers can use. Finally, because the conference is held on a public university campus, there are no onsite bars or lounges where attendees can grab a drink and mingle. Indeed, even the recommended event hotel did not have a bar for late-night carousing. Although this helps to keep the event professional, it does make networking somewhat harder, and if you attend you will have to be much more deliberate about meeting people.

Overall, I found the Beam Institute annual conference to be a well-organized, informational, and enjoyable event. The knowledge I gained from presentations as well as the connections I made during happy hours were well worth the price of attendance. I plan to return next year, and I hope to see you there.

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



A spirits bottle should tell a story, and it should also be functional. What’s most important may depend on whom you ask: the bartender or bar manager running an on-premise account or the proprietor of an off-premise account. In the second of this two-part series, we look at the off-premise side and why the right design shape for retail isn’t just about looking cool.

Abottle can act as a brand’s calling card. This was not lost on New Riff Distilling of Kentucky when they were ready to bring their bourbon and rye to off-premise accounts in 2018. “The team came from retail. We knew our packaging was our marketing,” explained New Riff CEO Hannah Lowen. “We felt that it had to be at the same level of the whiskey, so we wanted to make sure there was a connection to quality and consistency in the design.”

This quest for symbiosis led them to create one of the more distinctive bottles in the brown spirits category. The bottles,

which are produced by the international bottle producer Saverglass, earns its uniqueness from nuanced characteristics: the black-to-clear gradient color scheme, the embossed letters trumpeting how it’s bottled-in-bond without chill filtration, and the distillery logo separating light from dark. “I wouldn’t call the bottle elegant,” Lowen states. “I’d maybe call it handsome.”

All aesthetic descriptors aside, New Riff is tough to miss when you’re perusing the whiskey aisle of a liquor store or bottle shop. Its ability to pop out like it does provides insight into how effective bottle design works in the off-premise sector.


In a bar, a bartender can share the story of a new or unique bottle. In a liquor store or bottle shop, the bottle usually must speak for itself and tell its own tale. The bottle design is key to the narrative, as certain aesthetic choices can convey important information about the brand, its intended audience, and even its ethos. “A bottle can have several equities that go beyond its name and its liquid,” explained Michael Lowry, vice president of global spirits sources for Total Wine & More. “There’s a zillion different equities [qualities] to consider, such as its closure, its tamper-proof seal, or the typography it uses on the label. These equities form different ways to communicate with the consumer. “For example,

“A bottle can have several equities that go beyond its name and its liquid.”
Vice president of global spirits sources, Total Wine & More

look at the equities that shape a bottle of Macallan. It has rounded shoulders, and the label resembles a plunging neckline. These equities communicate a sense of high quality and elegance.”

Such qualities can sometimes set a design tone for an entire category, which can sometimes create unwritten rules that may narrow a new brand’s ability to tell their tale as uniquely as they may like. “Grand Marnier is an equity-rich brand, with its shape, typography, and ribbons,” Lowry stated. “If I’m going after some of their market share, and I don’t have a bottle design that doesn’t have similar equities that make the consumer think sophistication, consumers won’t look at my label.”

While there are certain codes that keep certain spirits and liqueurs within the parameters of specific design motifs, there can be room for flexibility in some categories. Occasionally, this can even make waves within the category and be a bit of a disruptor. “Look at the vodka category,” explains Joy Hallman, San Francisco principal for the brand packaging and design firm Stranger & Stranger. “Vodka bottles are usually tall, contain two colors, and tout purity. That’s fine, but it gives reason to do something different.”

In 2020, Stranger & Stranger created its own categorical disruption by designing the bottles for Kástra Elión, the Greek vodka produced with olives. Designed to look like a ceramic olive oil bottle, the vodka grabbed attention by aggressively breaking away from the norm and maintained attention by containing vodka that impressed those that typically shun the category. But the reason it worked in the first place was that it authentically told the spirit’s story, referenced its ingredients, and highlighted its provenance. According to Hallman, that’s the only way a bottle that colors outside the proverbial lines can work in an off-premise market — being disruptive for disruption’s sake will not equal success. “The objective is not to be loud but to be true to the position of the brand,” she said. “It’s never about how you stand out. It’s always about what you stand for.”


Just like in on-premise accounts, a bottle’s size and shape can be critical for off-premise success. The reasons why differ. While a bartender may dislike a bottle because it’s hard to handle during service, a retailer may have disdain for a bottle because it’s a pain to display. This could be due to the bottle’s height being too tall to fit properly anywhere but a top shelf or having an unnecessarily massive outer pack hogging up too much shelf space. Then there are the novelty bottles. “During the pandemic, we saw a whole bunch of weirdly shaped tequila bottles,” explained Toby Sharp, Creative Director at Hi-Time Wine Cellar in Costa Mesa, California. “We had tequila shaped like an AK-47, one like a baseball bat, one like a golf club. We had one bottle that came in that was a bit phallic — that maybe hurt its sales a little.”

Conversely, a bottle can get caught in off-premise limbo by going too vanilla with their own design or lazily riffing on an existing bottle without adding many unique properties. “A lot of people try to copy Grey Goose. That’s not a good idea,” said Jyll Vidal, director of sales for Western U.S. and Western Canada for Saverglass. “Not just because they’re infringing on intellectual property, but also because their bottles will just get lost on the shelves.”

For a new distillery pondering bottle design, the experts recommend scoping out several retail stores to get an idea of what lands in the range between the bland and the bodacious. Yet this knowledge just establishes the baseline. It’s up to the distiller to create a design that exudes

“It’s never about how you stand out. It’s always about what you stand for.”
— JOY HALLMAN San Francisco principal, Stranger & Stranger

character in a way that connects with the juice and, ultimately, the customer. “In a market where so many bottles are just fluff, it’s important to create a design that’s meaningful,” Vidal said. “If there’s no story, there’s nothing there. You won’t have any reason to want to know more.”


A great bottle doesn’t guarantee great spirits. Retailers know this, but when they see customers reach for a beautiful bottle with subpar juice, they tend to be diplomatic. “If a customer sees beauty in a bottle, we aren’t going to tell them that it stinks,” Lowry said. “But if the customer approaches us, we will try to use our knowledge to answer their questions and guide them appropriately.”

There are also times when great spirits suffer from lousy storytelling. In these cases, retailers may be a little more proactive. “We’ll promote the heck out of a bottle like that,” Sharp said. “We’ll tell everyone to ignore the fact that the bottle is dull, or boring, or even a little gross, because what’s inside will change their world.”

These sentiments provide a potent message to any distiller pondering bottle design for the first time. You can make the coolest bottle in the world, but it won’t matter nearly as much if it contains subpar juice. On the other hand, bottles that back up their story with quality juice like New Riff does will curry positive favor in the off-premise sector every time.

“If the juice is excellent and the bottle is great,” Sharp said, “well, that’s just the double whammy you’re looking for as a retailer.”

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 He can be reached at

Love, American Style

Durham Distillery’s founder reveals how her family’s love for gin combined with a unique distillation process turned Conniption into a national sensation


Melissa Green Katrincic set the scene: the late-1970s in Upstate New York. A four-year-old Katrincic and her sister sat at a table while their maternal grandmother prepared dinner. Their grandfather poked his head around the corner and asked her grandmother, “Are you ready for a cocktail?” When grandma excitedly answered yes, Katrincic got excited too because cocktails in her grandparents’ house meant martinis with olives.

“If I was over there, he knew inevitably that

when he put olives in his dirty martini,” said Katrincic, smiling, “they would disappear.”

Not condoning underage drinking, but even at that tender age Katrincic loved the taste of gin-soaked olives and said her grandfather would always put a few extra in his drink just for her. As an adult, she realized her grandparents’ daily cocktail break symbolized something grander.

“I just have very positive memories,” she reminisced. “That generation really focused

on what I like to call the ‘cocktail hour.’ It was this pause at the end of their day where they relaxed and reconnected while they were making dinner. (Her grandfather) would make a huge production out of it. He had a whole cabinet (of barware). He’d get everything spread out on the counter…It was a single cocktail that had this sense of closure.”

As an adult, she marked the seasons by sipping cocktails with her sister and mom. “It was martinis in the winter and gin and tonics in the summer.” She credits her family’s love of gin back to her grandfather. Her grandmother actually preferred scotch. “Which I never got into,” she shrugged. However, when she met her husband Lee Katrincic — they married in 2002 — he did not share that love for gin.

“He had that old-school idea that it was like licking a pine tree,” she said. But Katrincic could be persuasive — she had a 15-year marketing career with some major corporations like Pfizer and Burt’s Bees — so after 10 years of matrimony, Lee fell in line with the family’s favorite spirit. It eventually became their hobby.

“Whenever we’d travel, we’d try new gin cocktails, but we’d also go into liquor stores and see what new gins were on the shelf. We started our gin collection never assuming we’d make our own.”

It was returning from an anniversary road trip in 2013 that Katrincic had an idea. Her company at that time was facing a buyout and restructuring while she was raising two young boys. She didn’t want to stop working but wanted off the corporate treadmill.

“We’re driving home and I said, ‘Why don’t we make gin?’ And (Lee) started laughing! And he will tell you that. And while I’m sitting

in the car, I acquired and got all the socials.”

As her position at the company was being phased out, she still had to stay in the job for several months. She filled her lessening schedule with distillery research and business planning “to the point where the [person] I reported to at the company, her and her husband are investors.”

The final domino to fall was a weekend distilling class that she and Lee, a pharmaceutical chemist, took at Koval Distillery in Chicago to see if it was something they could do on their own. “One of the deals we made was we weren’t going to talk about the course that weekend,” she said. “We were going to digest it individually…Then when we were at O’Hare waiting for our flight home, we were like, ‘Let’s go for it!’ We incorporated in October 2013.”

Katrincic’s timing couldn’t have been better. Even though the spirits industry saw significant growth during the previous decade, American gins were few. “You had Brooklyn Gin, Greenhook Ginsmiths. Aviation was still part of House Distilling in Portland,” she noted. “There weren’t any distilleries in the South focused on gin. The fact that we were all in on gin from the start, and in North Carolina, talk about round peg in square hole!”

She and Lee then found their inspiration for distillation in the community around them. “As we started thinking about what styles of gin we wanted to do and how we wanted to produce it, it all comes down to the roots of Research Triangle Park,” she explained. “The fact that bio-medical, pharmaceutical…we’re the city of medicine with Duke [University Medical Center] in our backyard.” Lee’s chemist background and her undergraduate

degree in physics also came in handy.

“We’re the first distillery in the country to introduce cold vacuum distillation,” Katrincic said. “[Our] focus was — and still is — how do we have that process that is all about flavor authenticity and complexity that you cannot achieve through an extract. You can’t put those delicate botanicals in a heat source without destroying them.”

While their facility in downtown Durham was being built, they experimented with botanical flavors at home. However, they couldn’t run their rotary evaporator in the house because of the electricity requirements, and they didn’t yet have their permit to run their test still.

“The formula development was hard because you can’t have a rotary operator in your house,” she laughed. “So, you had to envision what it would bring to the party before you

even had the setup.” She and Lee covered the kitchen counters in vials and beakers, testing out some 40 botanicals. She said they focused on cucumber for freshness and honeysuckle for providing floral notes without being overly perfumy. Along with the necessary juniper, they also experimented with herbs like cardamom, angelica root, citrus peels, rosemary, bay leaf, and caraway.

“We built the formulas with those layers of flavor and it was all about balance…We had to really think about how these [ingredients] would alter the taste profiles in hypothesis mode since we couldn’t do it until we got into [the distillery].”

She then created the brand name Conniption for her gin, a word she got from her scotch-loving grandmother, the one who always told the precocious young Katrincic to “stop having a conniption!” After a year of cooking and blending, Durham Distillery launched its two original gins, American Dry

and Navy Strength, in 2014. These gins share only three herbs — juniper, cardamom, and coriander — giving each one unique character profiles.

“American [Dry] is about holding your hand back to gin,” Katrincic explained. “If you had a bad gin experience, which we hear a lot, how do we make it about approachability as well as a clean, yet complex gin experience? It’s our workhorse.” She proudly added American Dry was finding a place in premium wells throughout the Eastern Seaboard.

“Navy, on the other hand, is the one that’s all big, bold, complex flavors. We looked at a lot of global cuisine approaches, like how do you marry savory with a bit of citrus? We wanted to have it where higher proof played well with botanical intensity.”

As these unique American-made gins began racking up awards and gaining popularity in bars and restaurants, those in the industry took notice. In 2018 she and Lee

were inducted into the U.K.’s The Gin Guild, making her the first (and currently only) U.S. female member.

“There’s just not that many women distillers in this country. When we were inducted in 2018, it was an amazing honor.”

Until last year, American Dry was Durham Distillery’s bestseller. Then in 2022 Katrincic introduced Kinship, and the gin world hasn’t been the same. That’s because Kinship was one of the first U.S. gins to include butterfly pea flower, a color-changing botanical that goes from blue in the bottle to purple when mixed in cocktails.

“We were one of the first gins to release with butterfly pea flower because we had been paying attention to the FDA,” Katrincic noted. “The FDA did not have it on the generally regarded as safe list, so we were watching when Empress [1908 Gin from Canada] came in.” When the flower’s listing changed in 2021, Katrincic was ready. “What [Empress]

has done well is bring new people to gin who did not ever consider that category. Yes, it’s through a beautiful color shift, but they were getting attention from consumers that I think are going to bring gin back to the forefront in the United States. People who aren’t afraid to explore.”

“I’ll be fully transparent,” she added. “It’s working! I’m so excited. It’s now our number-one SKU. It’s gotten into EPCOT. It’s in consideration for Disney and gotten picked up in New York, Georgia, and Florida.” She believes the color shift provides gin more accessibility. “They try it and then they try the American Dry or the Navy because they don’t feel as intimidated.”

She also explained that Kinship’s flavors highlight the uniqueness of their cold distillation process.

“What you have on Kinship is this beautiful blend of adding a couple of different botanicals that we hadn’t seen before. It has the cucumber and the honeysuckle flower. Then it has fresh orange and lemon peel. You can

put citrus in a heat experience and still get lovely flavors off of it, but in a cold distillation of citrus, you get juiciness. Think about that effervescence when they have the spritz of lemon or orange over a cocktail. That’s what you get in a cold distilled citrus vodka. That was where Kinship really honed in on this juicy, very bright profile…I just felt like I needed to put out a gin that showcased what I believed was about that cold distillation process in a much more forward way than even American dry had.”

And while asking Katrincic to name her favorite Conniption gin is like asking her to pick a favorite child, she admits Kinship holds a special place in her heart.

“Lee had a much more hands-on role with the original formulas — hand blending. A chemist can do that. We share a palate, but that was his baby of figuring out the original blends and percentages. Kinship is all mine.

I got this one.”

After 10 years, Katrincic’s goal is to continue Conniption’s headway into America’s spirits consciousness.

“So, if I was to put a line in the sand in what Conniption’s trying to do,” Katrincic added, “we are on track to being a national brand. Constellation invested in us in 2019. They reupped in the last two years. We’re transparent about that. They’re really helping us to know where the trends are, to know where we can really grow, what metros are where gin is getting great penetration. You don’t go all in across the country with gin. You have to be select about where you get compound growth. I can’t wait for the next couple of years.”

It’s not just about selling bottles; When Americans think about spirits, she wants them to think about gin the same way they do whiskey. Why? “It’s the spirit of my family. We’ve always loved gin.”

Durham Distillery is located in Durham, North Carolina. Visit for more information.




Safety training often leads to interesting debates in the craft distiller setting on what is needed and why. Truth be told, almost every safety topic is worth discussing, but we will focus on a few key issues that could benefit distillers everywhere. Specifically, we will be looking at: Fall Protection, Confined Space, Lockout Tagout, First Aid, CPR, and AED Training.


Falls are currently one of the leading causes of death in workplace accidents.

Falls are currently one of the leading causes of death in workplace accidents. We have seen some incidents at distilleries recently where workers have fallen due to poor PM (preventive maintenance) on equipment. We have also seen mezzanines collapse and improper work procedures leading to serious injury.

A good practice to make employees safer from potential falls is to implement the “ABCDs of Fall Protection”:

A is anchor point,

B is body harness,

C is connector, and

D Is deceleration device.

This will clearly lay out a basic approach to what is needed to ensure that the employees have the right equipment for the job while working from heights. Fall protection training is needed when employees work at heights of four feet or higher or there is potential of workers falling into dangerous machinery/equipment.

Confined spaces must be completely deenergized and isolated while workers are working inside of the space.


Currently there are around 5,000,000 million workers entering confined spaces annually in the United States. Common confined space entries for distilleries are cookers, blending tanks, fermenters, and process tanks. Confined spaces come with a variety of hazards to consider, including atmospheric conditions, configuration of the space, engulfment hazards, and any other serious recognized safety or health hazard in the space. A thorough confined space program can also help define roles and responsibilities at your facility.


Lockout/tagout is the process of removing energy from a system that uses it and then securing the device isolating the energy source with something such as a padlock, then using a tag to warn people of its dangers. Confined spaces must be completely deenergized and isolated while workers are working inside of the space. Common forms of energy in distilleries are electrical, pneumatic, chemical, and thermal (steam) and that can injure or cause death to an employee. Lockout/ tagout still continues to be in the top 10 most cited issues by OSHA. Lockout/tagout training is needed for any employee who performs servicing and maintenance on any piece of equipment.


Around 400,000 cases of sudden cardiac arrest occur annually in the United States. OSHA requires a person or persons to be trained rendering first aid in absence of an infirmary, clinic, or hospital. Some examples of first aid injuries that are occurring in craft distilleries right now are lacerations, heat exhaustion, sudden cardiac arrest, and diabetic emergencies. The potential for these first aid incidents can go way up when your craft distillery gives tours or tastings to the outside public. Training your employees on basic first aid practices and also training employees how to use an automated external defibrillator (AED) when sudden cardiac arrest occurs can save a life.

Around 400,000 cases of sudden cardiac arrest occur annually in the United States.


When training employees, one thing to consider is to follow the 70/30 rule. That means 70 percent hands-on and 30 percent lecture. This will help your team retain the information needed. Handson training could also be on-the-job training in your facility. Work toward making training simple and easy to follow — limiting the complexity — to get the results you want. If you overcomplicate training, it's easy to lose your audience. We in the craft distiller setting must continue to strive to get these statistics to go down.

Austin Yurt graduated from Western Kentucky University with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Health and Safety. Yurt holds certifications as an ASHI Medical Instructor, OSHA Authorized Instructor for General Industry, and Fall Protection Competent Person from Fall Tech Inc. He is also a member of prominent organizations such as NFPA, ASSP, and NSC, where he continues to contribute to the advancement of safety standards and practices.

Brush Creek Distillery


rush Creek Distillery is shaped by its surroundings — proudly located in the American West as well as sitting on the property of Brush Creek Ranch, a Forbes five-star luxury dude ranch in Saratoga, Wyoming. While the distillery is independently owned, it is part of The Farm at Brush Creek, which Andrew Wason, managing director of the Distillery, describes as an “epicurean wonderland.” The artisans within The Farm are not only a source of collaboration for the distillery but also inspiration to produce creative, thoughtful products.


The Art of Blending and Experimentation

The distillery began production in 2019, which means Brush Creek’s house-made straight bourbon whiskey and straight rye whiskey won’t be ready until approximately the five-and-a-half to six-year mark. Currently, they rely on whiskey from Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee, as well as a deep appreciation for blending. “The blending side really allows you to do a lot more,” Wason said, adding you can find some truly unique spirits and assemble the parts and pieces that create a one-of-akind finished blended product.

Experimentation is at the forefront, such as letting a rye whiskey rest in an extra-añejo tequila cask sourced from Mexico for the past three years. “At around nine to 12 months, we didn’t think it was a great fit with a lot of competing taste profiles within the spirit itself,”

Wason said, but shortly after that, it really showcased itself, picking up some of the agave notes and highlighting light honey, complimentary citrus, and peppercorn spice. “We now know it takes a longer period to blend those two items together.”

Non-GMO vodka and gin are produced inhouse. “While we are primarily a whiskey-focused program, we wanted to showcase our ability to bring a gin and vodka to the market,” Wason says, noting people have been receptive.

In addition to the greenhouse-grown chamomile and coriander for the gin, juniper is foraged from the surrounding property. Grapefruit and orange peel are used in the process, bringing out citrus notes. A barrel-rested greenhouse gin included a freshly dumped barrel of rye filled with gin and aged in the greenhouse at roughly 80 degrees for a nine-month period. Wason notes there is confusion around barrel-aged gin, as people are not as familiar with it or how to best

enjoy it. Having it sold on-site as opposed to in a store allows for the distillery to showcase it in a cocktail and educate guests on how to utilize the spirit.

The Spirit of the American West

The distillery is all about celebrating their location in the American West. Esther is the name of the 250-gallon Vendome pot still, a tribute to Wyoming’s first female justice of the peace, Esther Hobart Morris.

Products are also impacted by the distillery’s high elevation, the highest in Wyoming just shy of 8,000 feet. With the elevation and temperature, there is a longer resting period, which allows for more interaction with the barrel. Because of the arid environment, they will lose more water in the maturation

process. With less liquid in the barrels, it gives the distillery a higher proof spirit to work with.

For the special release Railroad Rye Straight Rye Whiskey, barrels of whiskey were put on board a train starting in Chicago and traveled more than 1,200 miles before being offloaded in Rock Springs, Wyoming, and transferred to the distillery for additional maturation. This was the first time whiskey barrels made this journey since Prohibition.

The whiskey tells the story of how the railroad is truly a part of America and the impact on industry created from its path. “It’s history in a glass of whiskey,” Wason said.

A 20,000-square-foot on-site greenhouse grows chamomile and coriander for Brush Creek’s New American-Style Gin. At the inhouse bakery, fresh barrel char is used for the Bourbon Barrel Char Ice Cream, spent grain is utilized in breads, and the distillery’s

bourbon and rye products help create chocolate whiskey truffles. At the resort’s fine dining restaurant, Cheyenne Club, barrel staves from previously dumped bourbon and rye casks are used as a heat source for an open-fire grill as part of the whiskey-inspired Wagyu beef offerings. The restaurant also uses bourbon to create whiskey demi-glazes for various dishes.

The on-site creamery utilizes fresh barrel char captured during the dumping and blending process as a secondary layer as part of their Devils Tower Chevre production. The distillery aged 25 pounds of honey from a local apiary in a freshly dumped barrel of bourbon over a six-month period. The honey was then used to create Brown Butter Goat Milk Bourbon Barrel-Aged Caramels. The Spirit Vault, which houses a collection of rare whiskeys from around the world, is also an inspiration to their own products.

A 94-yard wine cellar with more than 30,000 bottles inspired various partnerships with wineries — whiskeys finished in cabernet sauvignon French oak barrels from Chimney Rock Winery (for 14 months) and Honig Vineyard and Winery American oak (9

Mash Pumps

months) and cabernet franc barrels from Carboy Winery (9 months).

The collaboration with Carboy Winery in Colorado gave head distiller and production manager Philip Mundt an opportunity to do a cask finish with a variety of wine that he had not finished whiskey in before. “Cab franc is known for its notes of red fruits along with some herbal and bell pepper notes, so the obvious choice for us was a high-rye bourbon,” Mundt said. “The goal was to pair the sweet bourbon notes with the strawberry and rhubarb notes up front and the herbal rye notes with the wine’s oregano, bay leaf, and bell pepper notes on the back end.”

“Part of what we do is really provide a unique experience to the on-site guest,” Wason said.

A Distiller for a Day experience lets guests roll up their sleeves and get a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like. There are also blending and sensory experiences, a twohour distillery experience with a tour and tasting, and creative events, such as a Wagyu and Whiskey retreat with two mornings with the chef at The Cheyenne Club for a cooking experience and the second half of each day at the distillery for the process of distillation, maturation, blending, and bottling.

Products are available in Wyoming, Colorado, Texas, Kentucky, and Indiana and will soon be available online as part of an e-commerce platform available in select markets around the country. Their hope is to expand to an e-commerce platform that would allow guests at the ranch the ability to purchase these products once they get back home.



Biochemistry is rarely quantitative for given reactants and products unless a specific process is excised from a known pathway and performed in vitro

For instance, enzyme isolation and purification, together with a clean substrate, can yield a small number of products. One example is the use of β-amylase to generate maltose from starch.1 Now this can be an aspect of starch hydrolysis using an “amylase mixture,” but in the case of the latter, the resulting product is likely to be a mixture of glucose, maltose, and a minor contribution of smaller oligosaccharides and limit dextrins. The point is that while the product spectrum is broader, the mono-, di-, and tri-saccharides are amenable to fermentation to produce alcohol and


therefore satisfy conventional fermentation in terms of ethanol yields. A mixture of these fermentation inputs offers little resistance to their processing by fermentative organisms.

The process is ostensibly simple. Mix a fermentable substrate at an appropriate temperature with a microorganism species or two (or even more, especially if there is a performance-significant population of “contaminating” organisms), sit back and wait. Usually the onset of fermentation becomes evident with the evolution of bubbles,2 mainly carbon dioxide, and when bubbling ceases we can assume that fermentation has finished or is close to finishing.

But we all know that, to quote an ancient proverb, “There’s many a slip twixt cup and lip”. The use of microorganisms, which for the purposes of this article is restricted to Saccharomyces cerevisiae (for the sake of clarity and to limit the generality required to encompass the plethora of fermentative microorganisms), results, in a sense, in a contaminated fermentation broth. It’s contaminated in the sense that the primary goal is the production of ethanol, with a co-product of carbon dioxide, the latter sequestering a third of the carbon from the fermentable carbohydrates available that remain after activities such as cell growth.




1 This is a hypothetical example for various reasons, including that the residual limit dextrins would potentially reduce the efficiency of the process.

2 This should always be the case for conventional yeast fermentations for alcoholic beverages.

However, other pathways that generate compounds known as secondary metabolites (or congeners) are produced alongside ethanol and carbon dioxide. Congener production is a consequence of the necessity for the completion of many biosynthetic pathways, such as the production of proteins — structural and enzymatic — that require a specific amino acid complement. A malted barley extract has a respectable complement of essential amino acids but still requires fine-tuning of the amino acid profile during fermentation for adequate yeast growth and function. This is generally dealt with via the classic amino acid biosynthetic pathways, although there is a subset of amino acids — termed essential amino acids — that yeast requires in the broth as it cannot synthesize these de novo

The quantity of given chemical components by mass is less important than how it relates to the flavor threshold. The encyclopedic work compiled by Nykanen and Suomalainen (1983) lists the major products from various alcoholic drink categories. Some of these congeners will ultimately contribute flavor and mouthfeel to new-make spirits and can be expressed as flavors in the final distilled products. No matter the source of the raw materials or the mode of distillation, fermentation contributes to the breakdown products and metabolites of yeast and bacteria. Their contribution may be more subtle in more highly rectified spirits, such as those from continuous distillation, but nonetheless fermentation can, with volatiles from the raw materials and extractives from wood, be considered to be the major flavor contributors to most spirits. Indeed, this drives the stipulation for spirits such as cognac and scotch whisky that the ethanol content of new-make spirits cannot exceed 94.8 percent ABV so that at least some of the flavor from the raw materials and fermentation are retained.

While distillers demand a consistent and high-quality spirit, they also want as high an


ethanol yield as possible from their fermentations, which implies avoiding excessive yeast growth. Distillers yeast sources its nitrogen requirement from the various amino acids and small peptides released during cereal malting and mashing. Alternatively, for potentially nitrogen-deficient fermentations, yeast extracts or the simple salt diammonium phosphate (DAP) can be helpful supplements. Yeasts also require other elements, such as phosphorus and sulfur (available from wort in the form of phosphates and sulfate), as well as a plethora of metal ions (most importantly, potassium, zinc, manganese, and iron). Yeasts are able to synthesize all of their required vitamins with the exception of biotin, although malt and grain worts contain sufficient levels of biotin to ensure reliable fermentations. In addition, ethanol is only produced during the anaerobic respiration.

The metabolic pathways for the production of ethanol are well described in many biochemistry texts and by Boulton and Quain (2006). Briefly, for the Embden-MeyerhofParnas (EMP) pathway, glucose and fructose are phosphorylated, whilst maltose is diphosphorylated during uptake before hydrolysis. In any case, glucose-6-phosphate is isomerised to fructose-6-phosphate. This is essential, as this latter can be split to yield two identical molecules of glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate, which is converted to pyruvate, recovering additional molecules of ATP. The pyruvate undergoes decarboxylation to yield CO2 and acetaldehyde, which in turn is reduced to ethanol by NADH. An alternative pathway, exemplified by homofermentative lactic acid


bacteria, sees pyruvate reduction to lactate without the loss of carbon as CO2. A minor alternative pathway is that terminating in the formation of the non-volatile glycerol. In terms of flavor congeners, the EMP pathway yields mainly ethanol and acetaldehyde, but other compounds, such as higher alcohols and esters, are produced as by-products from other yeast biosynthetic pathways. While this discussion has focused on the EMP pathway, it is important to appreciate that other pathways can exist, especially under aerobic conditions at the beginning of fermentation.

The presence of free amino nitrogen (FAN) is essential for both yeast growth and for flavor development. The amount of FAN present is dependent both on mashing-in conditions and the degree of modification of the malt. Excessive FAN levels stimulate yeast growth to an extent that there are appreciable losses of carbon into cell growth rather than ethanol production. Yeast cells do not have active uptake mechanisms for all amino acids, and the venerable Jones and Pierce (1964) classification persists today as a useful guide to the uptake rates of amino acids by yeast. Aspartate/asparagine, glutamate/glutamine, and lysine do have dedicated transport enzymes. Arginine, serine and threonine share a single permease but all of these aforementioned amino acids, Group A in the Jones and Pierce classification are taken up at a sufficiently rapid rate to satisfy the requirements of the growing cell. The B group share a common permease and are slowly absorbed. Group C, relying on a general permease for transport, are only taken up late in fermentation, too late for significant cell growth. The final Group D are absorbed slowly, but at rates sufficient to satisfy the biosynthetic needs of the yeast cell. As there is a general deficiency of Groups B and C, the yeast cell must supplement these amino acids via additional biosynthetic pathways. In fact, lysine cannot be utilized for this purpose, so

the yeast cell relies on glutamate/glutamine and aspartate/asparagine to fulfill this role. However, if the supply of amino nitrogen is depleted, the intermediate α-keto acids are readily decarboxylated to their corresponding aldehyde and then in turn reduced to the corresponding higher alcohol.

One of the most important flavor congeners formed during fermentation is diacetyl. This is formed by the chemical oxidation of secreted acetoin and 2,3-butanediol, which in turn are derived from acetolactate, an intermediate in the synthesis of the Group B amino acid valine. While the conversion rate to diacetyl is low yielding, it is of disproportionate importance both because of its low flavor threshold in spirit and the fact that its volatility is so similar to ethanol that it is not possible to distill diacetyl from ethanol completely in conventional distillery setups.

Esters are also important flavor congeners in spirit. They form a chemical equilibrium with their component carboxylic acids and alcohols, but during fermentation they are a by-product of coenzyme A (CoA-SH) recycling when the acyl CoA is produced but not required for lipid and protein synthesis. Ethanol and acetate are the most abundant alcohol and acid present during fermentation, so naturally ethyl acetate is the most abundant ester. However, it is not the most important in terms of flavor, as higher esters are






more flavor-active and have a greater impact on the flavor attributes of the new-make spirit and the final whiskey.

Some of the most flavor-active organic compounds contain one or more sulfur atoms. In the context of whiskey production, the main contributors to the production of sulfur-derived flavor compounds are the biosynthesis of the sulfur amino acids methionine and cysteine, and the reduction of sulfate and sulfite in the wort. Unlike beer production, the whiskey industry has kept faith with copper in their stills, which can partially, but not completely, remove sulfur volatiles in the distilled spirit.

Finally, it is worth considering oxygen’s pivotal role during fermentation. Yeast cells require oxygen for the synthesis of unsaturated fatty acids and sterols that are essential for the development of cell membranes. This limits growth under anaerobic conditions unless the wort is supplemented with these components directly. However, because of a phenomenon known as the Crabtree effect, when there are appreciable sugar levels present, fermenting yeasts convert sugars anaerobically, while the yeast can use dissolved oxygen to grow even when aerobic conditions no longer prevail. Some work has suggested that oxygen helps to restore mitochondrial function and, in principle, such yeasts could perform satisfactorily even without wort oxygenation. Nevertheless, this is likely to influence the flavor profile of the final whiskey.

All of the above is predicated on the contribution of yeast. Distillery yeast is purchased from any number of suppliers. It is

Boulton, C. and Quain, D.E., Brewing Yeasts and Fermentation, Blackwell, Oxford, 2006. Jones, M. and Pierce, J., Absorption of amino acids from wort by yeasts, J. Inst. Brew., 1964, 70, 307-315. Nykanen, L. and Suomalainen, H., Aroma of Beer, Wine and Distilled Alcoholic Beverages, Riedel, Dordrecht, The Netherlands, 1983.

typically grown on molasses supplemented with ammonium salts to provide a nitrogen source. It is important to achieve growth aerobically, so the sugar content of the medium should be kept low to avoid the Crabtree effect. Propagation is continued until it is not possible to maintain aerobic conditions. The yeast is recovered by rotary vacuum filter and supplied in one of three forms: cream (18 percent dry weight), compressed yeast (2430 percent dry weight) and, more recently, dried yeast (92-95 percent dry weight). The former two must be kept cool and used within three weeks, while dried yeast can be kept at ambient temperatures for up to two years. However, dried yeast requires careful rehydration to ensure that its viability is not unduly lost.

The distiller is often in an enviable position of being able to manipulate spirit composition during distillation. Higher alcohols and esters can, with opulent distillation resources, be stripped from spirit to an arbitrary degree. Nevertheless, this “cure rather than prevent” strategy can backfire, as in the case of diacetyl. In this regard, it is perhaps prudent to take a leaf out of the brewers’ playbook, where fermentation and post-fermentation “maturation” can not only manage higher alcohols and esters downwards, but also control diacetyl. Admittedly, this does extend the duration of brewery fermentations, typically four to seven days, compared with distillery fermentations that can ferment to dryness in as little as 44 hours.

Perhaps we need a sign over the distillery door: “Prevent or cure — our choice!”

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.



Jason Zeno wasn’t born in New Orleans. He originally hails from Pittsburgh. But you may not realize this when you start talking to him and he shares his wisdom through his dry sense of humor. As director of operations for Porchjam Distilling, his understanding of the Louisiana landscape and his involvement in producing New Orleans on-premise staple Cheramie Rum practically makes him a Big Easy native by proxy. His move down South may not even be the biggest move he made in his career. He made his bones at Beam Suntory as a commercial distiller before jumping into the craft sector.

Recently, we sat down with Zeno to talk about Porchjam’s place in the burgeoning Louisiana rum scene, how his work at Beam Suntory impacts him in the craft sector, and whether the public is fully prepared for spirits from the Pelican State.

A r TISAN SPI r IT m AGAZIN e : What are some of the projects you’re currently working on at Porchjam?

JASON Z e NO: At this moment we are working on finishing up producing, processing, and barreling Cheramie distillate for the 2023 harvest. We just released our “Aged Gold” expression and that will need some marketing and sales support to get everyone in the know. We also have some other liquid coming of age that needs to be harvested, transferred, blended, or sold. There are several steps along the way that lend themselves to constant supervision and maintenance. We live in freaking New Orleans, so in our opinion maturation can jump the shark if one is not diligent in managing barrels, oak, and blending.

In addition to the above we have been approached by several independent bottlers and some on-premise groups to purchase some rum in larger volumes. Not trying to be coy with my wording: Some people want totes or tankers of new make, some want barrels or blends of barrels. This is all great if we can balance the business, so to speak. We have also made friends with someone who is interested in learning fermentation and distillation that also imports products from Jamaica. Mainly sugar and coffee products, so you can use deductive reasoning to figure out how we are involved. (Spoiler: it’s rum). I also have this itch to make a Cheramie coffee liqueur.

Besides that? Mostly cleaning.


m : How is the work of Porchjam influencing the New Orleans distilling


JZ: I am not presumptuous enough to answer that question. We have a large facility, and I try to be active in my community and appreciative to the people in that community. Those are the two most obvious factors. The service industry is the lifeblood of this city, and I like to think we are continually earning their respect with our product and approach. Cheramie Blanc has done incredibly well in our backyard, though, and I am thankful for all the support and organic growth. I like to think we will someday be able to support more in the market, but people know us and I think for the most part don’t completely disdain our existence, so we are all right.

“The service industry is the lifeblood of this city, and I like to think we are continually earning their respect with our product and approach.”

AS m : How much are you influenced by other New Orleans distillers?

JZ: I would say we are more influenced by the city holistically than such a small subset that is New Orleans distillers. However, we have solid working relationships with everyone, and I am an open book. We occasionally share notes, but much of the time their needs are quite different to ours just due to the difference in business models. All ships rise, though, so we try to be supportive of each other.

AS m : How do you apply the knowledge you built up from your days at Beam Suntory to the small brand/craft sector?

JZ: In a way, I use the knowledge from my days at Beam Suntory every single day. There was a wealth of knowledge to be had by all of Suntory if you were open to listen to it. I keep in contact with several folks there, and how it impacts my approach would be a list that is far too long for this interview. Conversely speaking, moving from Beam Suntory to this sector is almost night and day. Sure, I take some nods from methods there, but in a place of that size you are a much smaller cog in the wheel. You’re not necessarily less important, but you spin a part of a machine whereas sometimes at a place like Porchjam you are forced to be the machine.

One thing I can say and something that I emphasize with the team is that no great spirit is made by one person. It takes a team of people to make something exceptional, and when there is success there is plenty of credit to go around. Those statements were not taught to me directly at Beam Suntory, but it becomes obvious that a holistic, harmonious approach breeds the most success. Teamwork makes the dream work, or whatever the hell the saying is.

AS m : Has your experience at Beam Suntory influenced you less the longer you’ve been with a smaller distillery like Porchjam?

JZ: No, I would not say less at all. I simply apply different things I have learned over the years when applicable. At Beam Suntory if I wanted GCMS analysis on something I just grabbed a sample and sent it to the lab on site. That is not the case here, but you just find different ways to apply the same approach. I do not think the influence will fade because it was impactful, and I very much view distillation through a macro approach to assure quality and consistency. Eliminating variability if you will. Making something amazing once is perfectly fine, but repeatability is the key.

AS m : Do you feel that the gap in creativity between the commercial and craft sector is growing or shrinking?

JZ: That depends on what you mean by creativity. With commercial companies, it is difficult as there is a centuries-long reputation and expectation that must be met. They can create SKUs and drop them with testing in limited markets, but every dollar loss is exacerbated with limited still time, proof gallon goals, and so on.

I think the commercial side takes cues from the craft side in barrel finishing, blending, alternative grains, and sometimes even maturation techniques, but these are limited as they make the money where they have for the history of the company itself. The craft guys can rattle cages, but until one of the big guys commits to something, it is difficult for that particular innovation to take off.

A lot of the time it goes the other direction, too. Take flavored whiskeys for example. Fireball exploded, then you saw Screwball, then Howler Monkey, and now several players are entering that arena. This is a growing category, but somebody had to pave the way a bit.

AS m : Do people have a better understanding of Agricole-style Louisiana rum now than they used to, or is it still a


JZ: I suppose my answer is “yes” to both parts of your question. “Yes”, there is a better understanding and “yes” the struggle is real. There is a large market that only knows rum as a mixer with coke or heavily sweetened or “spiced.” I don’t blame the consumer. I blame marketing and history or rum in and of itself. Anytime you are forced to educate a consumer, there will be an uphill battle. We created Cheramie Blanc to walk that line a bit. Blanc has a profile in the same style of agricoles of Martinique and/or Guadeloupe, but we attempted to make the expression versatile, approachable, and able to work in cocktails that are familiar with white rum. Mainly we wanted to be true to the raw material it was derived from (true to fruit) while not overwhelming a consumer unfamiliar with the beauty that is the spectrum of flavors in the world of rum.

“There is a large market that only knows rum as a mixer with coke or heavily sweetened or ‘spiced.’ I don’t blame the consumer. I blame marketing and history or rum in and of itself.”

AS m : Is the country ready to appreciate New Orleans distilling in the way you’d like to see it appreciated?

JZ: I certainly hope so. We producers here in Louisiana and New Orleans have a real opportunity to define a style and spirit. Bourbon can be made in a bunch of places, but it is synonymous with Kentucky. The Pacific Northwest and California are known for their fruit. Producers have used the material in their backyard since the dawn of time, so it only makes sense for rum to come from Louisiana. New Orleans is much more than Mardi Gras and gumbo.

AS m : What does the future hold for Porchjam — and for yourself?

JZ: For Porchjam, we are going to keep fighting to get Cheramie more exposure and in more markets, all while keeping the ship afloat. Sometimes it is a day-to-day battle, but the core of people here believes in the opportunity we have and the product we work on.

For me, I found my sweet spot. I have found my people. I started working with fruit before anything, then we spoke about working in whiskey. Making rum the way we do is the culmination of my life’s work thus far. The “thus far” is the important part. I do not know what the future holds, but I know which direction I am currently steering the ship.

That is my nice answer. My real answer is the future holds a rocks glass with some crushed ice, a slice of blood orange from my tree or maybe berries that my daughter didn’t finish, and lastly probably too much Cheramie rum. Then bed. I wake up early.

Jason Zeno is the director of operations for Porchjam Distilling and specializes in large scale commercial distillation. Zeno spent 4 years with Beam Suntory managing the operations. He also works closely with ACSA, ADI, and the local guilds while continuing his ties with Heriot Watt University and Oregon State University.


DISCUS and Women of the Vine & Spirits Combine to Create One Terrific Conference

The Distilled Spirits Council (DISCUS) is a lot of things: It’s an advocacy group. It’s a legislative watchdog. It’s a resource for distilleries both commercial and craft. One thing they are not is formulaic.

This was evident throughout the 2024 DISCUS Annual Conference, held March 4–6 in San Diego. While the weather was a bit on the drab side (par for the course — Southern California weather in 2024 has been weird), the soldout conference itself shone a bright light on the industry in ways that were much different than previous conferences.

First off, it wasn’t just a DISCUS conference. The organization joined forces with Women of the Vine & Spirits (WOTVS), a global advocacy organization devoted to the empowerment and advancement of women in the alcohol industry. The collaboration, officially dubbed “The 2024 DISCUS Annual Conference & WOTVS Global Connect!”, was two

conferences under one roof, and their joint efforts presented a holistic industry viewpoint that celebrated strengths, identified vulnerabilities, and proposed ways to improve the industry. This was reflected through their slate of presentation topics, which ranged from state policy issues and market modernization to employee safety and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategies.

“Working with Women of the Vine & Spirits was fantastic!” stated DISCUS CEO Chris Swonger. “Their mission on diversity and empowerment goes hand-in-hand with our mission as an advocacy organization. We believe advocacy is a team sport. Women of the Vine & Spirits brings in a new audience, which helps us grow the industry’s pie so everyone can have a piece.”

TOP) Cher A. Spirit toasts to the crowd at the awards dinner on the USS Midway. BOTTOM) Chris Swonger, President and CEO of DISCUS and

WOTVS left an immediate impact. They used the conference to launch 86 Harassment, an initiative designed to provide businesses within the beverage and hospitality industry the resources and tools needed to reduce sexual harassment and gender-based violence. The launch was well-received by attendees, as was the organization’s seamless integration into the three-day event.

“I loved how Women of the Vine & Spirits was woven into the conference,” said Alex Castle, Master Distiller and Senior Vice President of Old Dominick Distillery in Memphis, who attended all three days of the conference. “It was great to see, especially since there was such a large female attendance this year.”


2024 is a big election year, and conferences involved in legislative influences can either ignore or embrace this. The council chose the latter with great zeal and a slight touch of irreverence by launching the fictitious political group The Cocktail Party, complete with its own candidate, “Cher. A Spirit.” The campaign provided cheeky fun with a supercharged electoral cycle, but it also provided a crucial message: The spirits industry is an entity that builds community and togetherness, and it’s important that everyone involved unify and address key industry issues.

“I loved it! It was an exciting, fun spin on a topic that can wear you out. Besides, whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, drink policy affects every one of us,” Castle said. “The way they rolled it out at the conference was so creative and engaging, and I’m looking forward to seeing how their ‘campaign’ plays out.”

TOP) Deborah Brenner, Founder and CEO of Women of the Vine & Spirits. MIDDLE) DISCUS proudly partners with Pronghorn to support a mission of cultivating the next generation of Black entrepreneurs, executive leaders, and founders within the spirits industry. BOTTOM) The 2024 Innovation Showcase Winner, Devil's Cask-Presented by Heather Fritzsche (The Spearhead Group) and Chris Swonger (DISCUS).

The Cocktail Party also kept the convention feeling loose and breezy. This vibe was further enhanced by the presence of Guy Fieri. The celebrity chef, hospitality industry advocate, and co-founder of Santo tequila kicked off the slate of discussion panels to discuss his additive-free libation and the state of the industry. Fieri was humble and humorous throughout the session — yes, he was addressed as the Mayor of Flavortown during the session’s Q&A portion — and it quickly became evident that his passion for the drinks space was every bit as strong as his zeal for the culinary industry.

Fieri was the latest in a growing list of celebrities who have shown up to discuss spirits on the Council’s conference stage, joining past celebrity guests like Mark Wahlberg and Ian Somerhalter. Swonger noted the expanding list is due in large part to genuine interest in how the industry operates.

“It’s not difficult to find celebrities attached to brands these days, but booking a celebrity usually costs money,” he said. “But to the celebrities’ credit, we haven’t ever had to pay for a celebrity to speak. In Guy’s case, he has such an appreciation for advocacy within the culinary and drinks world, he was all in to be at our conference.”

TOP) Cher A. Spirit encourages conference attendees to sign up for the Cocktail Party. BOTTOM) The Courageous Leadership Session with Moderator Cynthia Lohr (J Lohr), Tracy Aldworth (RNDC), Dia Simms (Pronghorn), Melanie Batchlor (Campari), Paul Ross (Edrington Americas).


In previous years, the annual award ceremonies to honor achievement and innovation within the distilled spirits space were quiet, subdued affairs held on the main conference stage. 2024 proved to be radically different. They pulled the ceremony out of the ballroom and took it outside, onto the deck of the historic U.S.S. Midway Museum. The retired aircraft carrier and its parked array of vintage naval jets provided a stunning backdrop to a loose, relaxing event punctuated by a band that seamlessly shifted genres with almost every song. The energy transformed the event from ceremony to party. This is a good thing, of course. After all, spirits should be the conduit for happy occasions.

The decision to host the event at a venue tied with rich military history was an easy call, according to Swonger. “We have lots of veterans in our industry, so it made sense,” he explained. “Besides, when you’re in San Diego, you gotta visit the Midway. ‘When in Rome,’ right?”

The switch also made a big impact on the award ceremony’s attendance, as there weren't too many open seats available during the bulk of the evening. “The attendance was high because of the venue,” Castle said. “I remember when they had the award ceremony in Austin [in 2021]. It was in the ballroom on the last day of the conference, and there weren't a lot of people there. But holding it on a naval carrier? Most people will never experience having dinner on the Midway, so you have to do it.”


The Council brought back their conference trade show after a one-year hiatus, and it came back retooled and stronger than ever. The secret to its success was its strategic placement of the spirits tasting area. In previous years, the Council had set the sipping section at or near the tradeshow room’s entrance. This naturally lured people, but this attraction arguably came at the expense of the businesses operating in the peripheral side of the distilling business, like the bottle and cap manufacturers, label designers, and third party distribution partners. This year, the tastings happened in the back of the room, and this smart switcheroo made it necessary for those thirsty and curious to pass these other essential businesses along the way and maybe even strike up a conversation or two. “It gave me an excuse to walk the whole floor,” Castle said. “I ended up talking to more people than I normally do at trade shows.”

The Council’s partnership with Pronghorn was on full display on the tradeshow floor. Black-owned distilleries in the craft sector represented roughly a quarter of the distilleries present, and their collective presence — not to mention the excellent spirits poured — provided a powerful reason why diversity in the industry is an important goal for the industry to achieve.


To call this year’s DISCUS conference a success may be an understatement. “By all accounts it was the best conference yet,” Swonger says. “The survey results were all positive — the food, the hotel, even the basic stuff was well-received. The weather could have been a little better, but overall, it exceeded expectations.”

It has yet to be determined where the 2025 Annual DISCUS Conference will be held as of this printing. We’ll all find out where soon enough. Regardless of where it’s held, they will have one heck of an act to follow.

Visit for more information.



history and future use of bacteria in rum fermentations PART TWO

his is the first of three follow-up articles to my Winter 2023-2024 article titled “The Past Is Indeed Prologue — The History and Future Use of Bacteria in Rum Fermentations,” where we briefly covered the history and use of bacteria in rum fermentations. Many have asked for actionable information on how to best implement those historical practices into their current production methods, and in time we’ll take a deeper, process-focused journey through those methods. This article will cover the yeast/bacteria selection process and walk through the various production decisions that must be made to ensure our goal of beautiful, flavorful, quality-driven rum.

STEP 1 Work backwards

from desired final product

to determine



To borrow a phrase from Stephen Covey, author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” “begin with the end in mind.” For rum, this means to first determine what organoleptic characteristics your desired final product should have, and then to work backwards from a process-focused perspective to achieve those goals.

To keep this article focused and actionable, our two hypothetical final products are both produced from double pot distillation: 1) a gently aromatic and flavorful cocktail-focused rum, and 2) a highly flavorful and complex rum capable of withstanding extended aging. Now that we know our end goals, we can begin raw ingredient selection.

STEP 2 Select your raw ingredients

According to the TTB, rum can be made from “sugarcane or its derivatives.” This means sugarcane juice, cane syrup, cane sugar (white, brown, demerara, turbinado, muscovado, panela, jaggery, etc), molasses (Grade A, B, or blackstrap), or any combination of these. Here is where decision paralysis usually sets in because understanding how each derivative will behave in a fermentation environment singularly or in combination is a bit tricky and will ultimately be learned by experience. For our purposes, I will describe my experiences working with blackstrap molasses and raw cane sugar from Lula-Westfield in Paincourtville, Louisiana.

At Lyon Rum, our intentions are to make a remarkable unaged rum capable of making beautiful cocktails, but also with the depth to stand up to aging, and I think we’ve masterfully achieved this. Ingredients matter! We’ve found that blackstrap molasses adds an almost coconut cream-like softness to the palate, with gentle molasses notes on the nose, while the raw cane sugar adds grassy, fruity overtones and depth to the nose and palate. Our ratio is roughly 50:50 by weight. As expected, changing this ratio would have an impact on the overall organoleptic characteristics and nutrient requirements for fermentation.

STEP 3 Determine

which yeast candidates would be best for your process and if bacteria are necessary to achieve the organoleptic characteristics of your desired product.

At the recent American Craft Spirits Association conference in Denver, I visited with many of the yeast/bacteria suppliers to discuss which yeast/bacteria would be the best candidates for rum production. The results of these conversations, subsequent website sleuthing, reviews of technical data sheets, and email exchanges between suppliers can be found in Table 1. Obviously, there are many different options available to the intrepid rum distiller, and not to intimidate the reader, but these are only what the vendors recommended for rum and do not represent all potential yeast/ bacteria options. There are other yeasts frequently used in rum fermentations (i.e., Lalvin EC-1118) that you won’t see recommended, so don’t be discouraged if in your search for prospective candidates, you find that supplier information lacks parameter guidance (i.e., fermentation temperature range, pH tolerance, alcohol tolerance, pitch rate, etc.). In those cases, this can be mitigated by working directly with that supplier to determine a solution that works best for your process. Suppliers are our production partners and want to help us achieve our delicious rum dreams!

TABLE 1. Supplier-recommended yeast for rum production. All information was taken from company websites or yeast data sheets unless otherwise denoted by an asterisk (*). In those cases, the information was provided by a company representative. When working with the below yeasts, it is best to discuss your intentions with suppliers as their depth of knowledge and expertise can markedly improve your results.


Excellent congener profile. Very versatile yeast. *Kevin Kawa, Alex Moriarty.

Excellent congener profile for whiskeys, compliments ester formation during barrel aging. Great for aged/ unaged rums.

*Phone call/email discussion with Melanie Heist.

Excellent congener profile for whiskey that compliments barrel aging, with great mouthfeel.

Robust congener profile for whiskey and

Excellent congener profile for whiskeys, with great mouthfeel.

Subtle congeners.

*Email from Bryan Kreiter, Fermentis.

Great congeners. Suitable for barrel aging. DistilaMax® SR Lallemand Ask

short lag phase.

Ethyl: Hexanoate, Octanoate, decanoate Isoamyl acetate, Phenyl-2-ethanol.

DistilaMax® LS Lallemand Ask rep 18 – 32 3.25 – 5.3 Ask rep Varies 0.3 – 0.6

Fructophilic and stress tolerant.

Predominately clean/neutral with minimal ester formation.

*Email conversation with Devin Tani (

Use White Labs calculator.

Use White Labs

Fruity character (pear/melon esters). Trends neutral at lower fermentation temperatures. Produces more esters at highter temperatures.

*Email conversation with Devin Tani ( WLDk1 K1/ V1116 Dried Yeast

Very versatile strain. High amounts of floral esters (isoamyl acetate, hexyl acetate, phenyl ethyl acetate).*

*Email from White Labs representative. WLP720 Sweet


Use White Labs calculator.

Fruity flavor and aromas. Phenolic off-flavor (POF) positive.

*Email conversation with Devin Tani (

D022 Tropical Rum White Star Yeast Ask rep Ask rep Ask rep Ask rep Ask rep Ask rep Tropical fruit esters.

D143 Colonial Rum White Star Yeast Ask rep Ask rep Ask rep Ask rep Ask rep Ask rep Stronger spice notes, light tropical esters.

D153 American Rum White Star Yeast Ask rep Ask rep Ask rep Ask rep Ask rep Ask rep Light fruity esters and vanilla notes.

D497 Caribbean Rum White Star Yeast Ask rep Ask rep Ask rep Ask rep Ask rep Ask rep Pronounced banana and light spice esters.

DistilaBact® LP Lallemand Distilling Ask rep Ask rep Ask rep 0.1

Lalvin EnoFerm Alpha™

Lalvin EnoFerm Alpha™ Lallemand Wine 15.5

Lalvin PN4™ Lallemand Wine 15.5

Lalvin VP41™ Lallemand Wine 16

< 30 when pitching < 27 when fermentation %ABV is ≥ 10%

< 30 when pitching < 27 when fermentation %ABV is ≥ 10% > 3.1 0.01

< 30 when pitching

< 27 when fermentation %ABV is ≥ 10%

Lab cultured bacteria are a relatively recent addition to the distiller’s toolkit, and several companies currently produce active dried versions that are incredibly easy to use (Table 2). It must be said that although these novel bacteria products are designed for specific fermentation environments (wine, beer,

> 3.1 0.01

Sour mash-related organoleptic properties in distilled spirits, such as lactic (creamy) and citrus and tropical fruit notes.

Adds mouthfeel, conserves varietal aromas, high in ethyl propanoate, velvet red fruits, roundness, reduction of green and vegetative flavors. Diacetyl production: low (co-inoculation), moderate to high (sequential).

Structured spiciness (oak, pepper), banana and honey structure, enhances varietal aromas, increases general perception of fruitiness. Diacetyl production: low (co-inoculation), moderate to high (sequential).

Enhnanced tropical and passion fruits, fresh red fruit, complexity, structure, chocolate, coffee. Very low diacetyl production.

Strong citrus fruit aromas, with moderate amounts of tropical fruit and green apple notes, and small amounts of red apple.

or spirits), this doesn’t mean that they must be limited to those environments. It means that we as rum distillers must ensure our yeast and bacteria have compatible fermentation conditions when each are pitched into our fermentations, and depending on your product/process goals, this could mean pitching

TABLE 3. Selection of yeast nutrients available to rum distillers.

All information was taken from company websites or nutrient data sheets. Nutrient

Pinnacle Rum Nutrient AB Biotek 0.1 – 0.3

Diammonium Phosphate (DAP) BSG Varies

Propaide-P Fermentis 0.33

Complete nutrient, which contains a blend of nitrogen, vitamins, and minerals to aid yeast growth.

Great nitrogen source for yeasts. Aids in their activity.

Dissolve nutrient in water before addition to fermentation.

FermDap –Yeast Nutrient Ferm Solutions Varies Great nitrogen source for yeasts. Aids in their activity.

FermLife –Yeast Nutrient Ferm Solutions Varies

DistilaVite® GN – Nutrient Lallemand 0.25 – 0.35

the yeast and bacteria sequentially (yeast before bacteria or bacteria before yeast), or as a co-inoculation. This will be iterative and require extensive note-taking to ensure success. The following step will elaborate on this and provide a few examples to consider.

I’ve also included a list of nutrients/fermentation aids from each supplier (Table 3), as these should be used to ensure the fermentation environment has adequate vitamins, minerals, nitrogen, and other nutrients for the yeast to thrive and produce our desired organoleptic characteristics.


Great for granulated sugar and other complex sugar fermentations. Improves sugar utilization and yields.

Balanced nutrient package which can deliver great yields and congener profiles.

Determine your fermentation parameters and select the best yeast and bacteria candidates from the table you created in Step 3.

WLN2000 FANMax Bio™ Yeast Nutrient White Labs Use White Labs calculator

MicroVit Distillers Micro Nutrients White Star Yeast 0.05 – 0.35

Contains essential fatty acids, free amino nitrogen, vitamins, and minerals for yeast growth.

Contains 12 essential minerals that aid yeast and improve yields.

When building your candidate table (Table 4), use a program like Excel or Google Sheets so that you can more easily sort by desired characteristics when determining which candidates would work best together to produce your desired rum. That said, I’d recommend the following characteristics as

TABLE 4. Yeast and bacteria selected by the author for production trials. All information was taken from company websites or yeast data sheets unless otherwise denoted by an asterisk (*). In those cases, the information was provided by a company representative.

Neutral profile.*

*Kevin Kawa, Alex Moriarty.

Excellent congener profile for whiskeys, compliments ester formation during barrel aging. Great for aged/unaged rums. FSI-921

Robust congener profile for whiskey and rum, with great mouthfeel.

Subtle congeners.

*Email from Bryan Kreiter, Fermentis.

Great congeners. Suitable for barrel aging.

Neutral aromatic profile, respects yeast aromatic characteristics.

Tropical, citrus, and fruity notes.

DistilaMax® SR Lallemand Ask rep Ask rep Ask rep Ask rep Varies 0.4 – 0.6 Stress tolerant, short lag phase.

DistilaMax® CN Lallemand Ask rep 25 – 40 3.4 – 5.3 Ask rep Varies 0.4 – 0.6 Ethyl: Hexanoate, Octanoate, decanoate Isoamyl acetate, Phenyl-2-ethanol.

DistilaBact® LP Lallemand Ask rep Ask rep Ask rep Ask rep Ask rep 0.1

Lalvin VP41™ Lallemand 16 < 30 (pitching) < 27, ferm %ABV is ≥ 10% > 3.1 Ask rep Ask rep 0.01


Ale Yeast

WLDk1 K1/ V1116 Dried Yeast

Use White Labs calculator.

Use White Labs calculator.

Sour mash-related organoleptic properties in distilled spirits, such as lactic (creamy) and citrus and tropical fruit notes.

Enhnanced tropical and passion fruits, fresh red fruit, complexity, structure, chocolate, coffee. Very low diacetyl production.

Predominately clean/neutral with minimal ester formation.

*Email from White Labs representative.

Fruity character (pear/melon esters). Trends neutral at lower fermentation temperatures. Produces more esters at highter temperatures.

*Email from White Labs representative.

Very versatile strain. High amounts of floral esters (isoamyl acetate, hexyl acetate, phenyl ethyl acetate).*

*Email from White Labs representative.

D022 Tropical Rum White Star Yeast Ask rep Ask rep Ask rep Ask rep Ask rep Ask rep Tropical fruit esters.

D153 American Rum White Star Yeast Ask rep Ask rep Ask

D497 Caribbean Rum White Star Yeast Ask

selection criteria: °Brix/specific gravity range, fermentation length, fermentation temperature, alcohol tolerance, and pH tolerance.

It’s important to note that just because a data sheet states a preferential fermentation range, it doesn’t necessarily mean the yeast won’t perform at 30 degrees Celsius


Light fruity esters and vanilla notes.

Pronounced banana and light spice esters.

(ideal rum fermentation temperature) and hence why I included the two White Labs yeast, who both have an ideal range below 30 degrees Celsius. Also, working with bacteria could be challenging and outside the realm of supplier expertise; especially when utilizing them for rum fermentations. This is

the case for Lalvin EnoFerm Alpha™, PN4™, and VP41™, as malolactic bacteria are predominantly used in wine environments. So, if you do decide to use these novel products in non-traditional environments and have success, please share your data and findings with suppliers, as it will ultimately benefit

everyone in this industry and improve our understanding of possibility.

STEP 5 Fermentation

We’re now ready to sketch out a few fermentation plans for the trial candidates determined from Table 4. Our goal here is to choose a fermentation volume that will provide enough low wines for our spirit run (Step 7), which for my purposes means three 20-gallon fermentations per trial. I recommend performing your trials in triplicate to ensure you have a large enough sample size to produce actionable data for your eventual full-scale production plans. If two out of three trials (ideally all) show the same general fermentation trends (and similar distillates), you can then be relatively sure that your yeast or yeast-bacteria performance is representative and potentially scalable to your larger fermentation vessels. However, the dissimilar trial results situation may require further consultation with suppliers depending on fermenter volume and characteristics.

If this is your first time working with yeast and bacteria, I highly recommend starting with yeast-only fermentations (i.e., the control) before exploring co-inoculation with your chosen bacteria strain. This will give you time to better understand how your chosen yeast(s) perform in that specific fermentation environment and to modify pitch rates

accordingly. Then, you can determine which bacteria pitch rates work best for your production goal. Finally, once you understand these tools, you can then experiment with sequential additions (yeast before bacteria vs. bacteria before yeast) and follow the decision process on Table 5 to achieve your goals. Regardless of whether we are working with a single yeast strain, combination of yeasts, or combination of yeast(s) and bacteria, daily tracking of fermentation parameters (pH, specific gravity, and sensory/visual) and extensive note-taking are keys to success. After fermentation is completed (no change in gravity for 24 hours), allow the fermentation to rest for 24–48 hours before proceeding to the stripping run. This will allow the bacteria time to complete their reactions and yield a more organic acid-rich (i.e., ester precursor) wash.

STEP 6 First Distillation — stripping run

Pot stills are renowned for their ability to produce flavorful, richly layered, and complex spirits. Much of that qualitative experience comes from understanding when to make product-specific cuts during the distillation process. For the stripping run, this means collecting down to two to five percent ABV, as many of the heavier, longer-chained alcohols and organic acids we desire come over very

late in the distillation process, and those compounds will be needed for ester formation in the subsequent spirit run.

Time will also play a qualitative role during this step, such that if we run the still too quickly, we won’t allow time for sufficient compound separation, and we may therefore miss out on desired organoleptic characteristics during the latter spirit run. Like many things in life, running the stripping still at a moderate pace will afford the best chance of success and this should be balanced against production efficiency needs. Next, we’ll see how to best tailor our spirit runs so that we produce beautiful rum distillates capable of withstanding the rigors of cocktailing and with the requisite heft for aging.

STEP 7 Second Distillation — spirit run

You have dialed in your fermentation process, went deep in your stripping run, and are now ready to process those beautiful, compound-rich low wines into world-class rum. The first spirit run will be from low wines only and will provide sufficient opportunities to explore our heads, hearts, and tails cut points. The latter will be highly specific to the desired rums we described in Step 1

TABLE 5. Decision table for determining optimum performance of yeast and bacteria fermentations.


Inoculation Time Advantages & Disadvantages

Sequential (Bacteria before yeast). Up to 48 hours before, or when yeast fermentation conditions are met.


Sequential (Yeast before bacteria). Up to 72 hours later, or when bacteria fermentation conditions are met.

1. Allows bacteria more time to acidify wash.

2. Must be timed with yeast pitching/activity requirements, otherwise wash could be too acidic and/or lack proper nutrition.

3. Lack of written manufacturer guidance in this area. Contact suppliers for guidance before implementing this at scale.

4. Requires experimentation and documentation to determine optimum time frame.

1. Allows yeast and bacteria equal time to jointly dominate the fermentation environment.

2. Fermentation compatibility is necessary for success.

1. Allows yeast more time to dominate the wash.

2. Must be timed with bacteria pitching/activity requirements, otherwise wash could be too alcoholic/hostile or lack proper nutrition for optimum bacteria performance.

3. Some written manufacturer guidance in this area. Contact suppliers for guidance before implementing this at scale.

4. Requires experimentation and documentation to determine optimum time frame.

For an aromatic but lighter cocktailing rum, we should focus on a narrow hearts cut — that limits the amounts of heavier compounds that come over in the tails boundary area. For heavier, richer, more complex age-worthy rum, we should expand our collection range to include more of those boundary-area compounds and go as deep as we’re comfortable. The latter will come from experience and be iteratively determined. For both rums, I’d recommend working with a lab to analyze distillate samples (GCMS, HPLC, sensory panel, etc), and let their feedback guide your process decisions. After determining your process, you’re then ready to move on to the next phase of spirit run: distillation from low wines with heads/tails recycling.

It's important to state that spirit runs with recycling aren’t required to make beautiful rums but are often performed for efficiency reasons. The distillate you produced from low wines could be perfect for your product

vision, and if that’s the case, please move along to the remaining steps and reserve the tails portion for a queen’s share (another article altogether) or for redistillation on a column to produce very light rums for cocktailing, liqueur creation, or a future blending candidate. However, if you’re not completely satisfied with your distillate, then recycling offers more opportunities to dial in your process and improve distillate organoleptic characteristics.

There are a variety of different ratios you can use depending on the amounts of heads and tails collected in the prior run. Often, the flavors you associate with the boundary conditions can aid in the decision-making process. At Lyon Rum, we notice coconut creaminess with hints of vanilla wafer cookies at the heads/hearts boundary and grassy, fruity, funky complexity at the hearts/tails boundary. However, if you notice the presence of phenolic characteristics at a boundary condition, proceed with caution, as these could present more strongly (positively or negatively) in the resulting distillate. Given that you may only have a small amount of heads relative to the quantity of tails, you may decide to therefore skew the recycling ratio as tails-heavy or to only use tails. Whatever you decide, this will be an iterative process as you determine your product-specific cut points and will require extensive note-taking to ensure repeated success. Here again, working with a lab or supplier partner will be very helpful to drive qualitative decisions.

STEP 8 Spirit processing for unaged rum (optional)

Distillation is not the final step of the rum production process. Often, this is where another round of decision paralysis can set in as you consider the organoleptic characteristics of the distillate and whether it will benefit from charcoal filtration. If you think your distillate is perfect as is, then feel free to skip the remainder of this step and move on.

Charcoal filtration is another tool in the distiller’s kit that helps “clean up” the distillate by removing unwanted harshness. It can significantly round out the distillate profile and add body and other flavor characteristics. How can filtration add character? The answer:

It depends on the type of charcoal used. I’ve worked with coconut charcoal and found that it enhances the mouthfeel by adding a creamy softness to the distillate. Regardless of what type you use, it’s best to perform this step slowly so that the distillate has sufficient contact time with the charcoal bed as it passes through it. This will be iterative and worth experimenting with to determine the filtration speed and number of passes required to yield a distillate with ideal organoleptic and mouthfeel characteristics.

All charcoal must be “activated” before use by flushing the filter with several gallons of water. This increases the surface area of each charcoal granule, and the amount of water will depend on the amount of charcoal needed for your process. Keep in mind, the activated charcoal does retain some of this water and will lower the post-filtration distillate proof slightly. Lastly, it’s best to perform charcoal filtration close to desired process percent ABV requirements (i.e., before the infusion process in the case of a liqueur) or near subsequent bottle proof, as this ensures the removal of unwanted characteristics that may have become more apparent as the proof was gradually stepped down.

STEP 9 Proofing

The last step in our production process is proofing. Water quality is very important and a point of contention among distillers. Many distillers use reverse osmosis (RO) water for proofing, while others advocate for filtered local/municipal/regional sources. Wherever you fall on this debate, it’s always a good idea to get a monthly water quality report from your supplier so you can determine what level of filtration is needed. As for proofing, I recommend doing this process as slowly as is possible for your production process timeline. You’ve worked hard to ensure a worldclass distillate. The last thing you would want is to rush through the proofing process and “cook” off those more subtle organoleptic characteristics, yielding a flabby, flat, and less interesting distillate. There are many different proofing methods, and I’ll leave it to the reader to review the literature and determine which is best for their process.


We’ve walked through the eight steps of the rum production process, selected our yeast and bacteria trial candidates, and now must determine how to best implement these trials at our facility around our busy production schedules. In the next article, I’ll walk through my approaches at Lyon Rum using common distillery equipment and work directly with a lab and/or supplier for organoleptic analysis. This deep dive will include laying out our experimental design, determining our preferred organoleptic testing, coordinating research trials and logistics — including fermentation and distillation strategies — and how to mitigate challenges.

The final installment of this series will be an in-depth study of the candidates listed in Table 4, showing how each performed under real-world conditions and production challenges. My hope is that these findings will lead to actionable information for many would-be rum distillers and continue to widen the conversations across the industry. We’re not alone in our efforts, and suppliers are there to help. Together we can push the envelope of possibility, bring ever more exciting products to the world, and show everyone just how great rum can be.

Until next time, intrepid distillers. May the funk be with you!

Brett Steigerwaldt is the head distiller for Windon Distilling Company, the home of Lyon Rum, in St Michaels, Maryland. He is committed to exploring how distilling can solve real world problems and strengthen communities, such as his volunteer work with DomSetCo in Dominica. He holds a BSc and MSc in mechanical engineering and an MSc in brewing and distilling (HeriotWatt 2023), where he investigated novel fermentation techniques to create organoleptically complex rums with minimal additional process complexity.

US Label Requirements

A Brief History

Since the repeal of Prohibition in the 1930s, the topic of alcohol labeling has sparked much debate. Central to these discussions has been consumer protection and the informational responsibilities defined by the federal government. The historical roots of label approvals stretch back to as early as 1935, emphasizing the focus on the nature and clarity of information presented to consumers.

By 1983, consensus was first reached among government agencies that ingredients should be disclosed on the labels of alcoholic beverages or, alternatively, be accessible via snail mail. However, this initiative was abandoned following a cost-benefit analysis that concluded the benefits did not justify the burdens placed on the industry manufacturers.

It wasn't until 1988 that federal law took a definitive step by mandating that alcoholic beverage labels include the Surgeon General’s warning, a requirement that remains in effect to this day.

The historical roots of label approvals stretch back to as early as 1935, emphasizing the focus on the nature and clarity of information presented to consumers.

The discussion about the contents of labels was first opened to the public in 1993 when the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) sought input on including nutritional information on alcohol beverage labels, attracting a total of 55 comments. Seven of the comments came from consumers, with the majority of these expressing opposition to the idea of nutritional labeling. Overall, around 80 percent of the feedback opposed the addition of nutritional information, leading to a consensus that mandating such details on alcohol labels was unnecessary and unwarranted. This decision, influenced by a relatively small group of consumers and several dozen companies, significantly shaped the industry's approach to labeling for the next 20 years.

The narrative once changed again in 2004 (amidst the low-carb craze) when the TTB, under pressure from industry bodies, allowed producers to voluntarily include nutritional information — like calorie and carbohydrate content — on their labels, specified per serving size. This period also saw the approval of terms such as "low carb," "light," and "lite" in brand names, contingent upon nutritional analysis.

The TTB's 2004 guidelines also defined serving sizes for different alcohol types: 12 fl. oz. for malt beverages, 5 fl. oz. for wine, and 1.5 fl. oz. for distilled spirits, with nutritional analysis provided accordingly.

At the start of 2024, the TTB reopened the discussion on labeling and nutritional values,

Rethinking the Bottle

seeking input on how nutritional, ingredient, and allergy information is conveyed to consumers, the financial implications for producers, and alternative approaches to providing this information. This last round of deliberation garnered 420 comments from various stakeholders, including associations, businesses, and consumers.

Current Regulations

Current federal mandates for wine labels include brand name, product type, appellation of origin1 (if applicable), percentage of foreign wine2 (if applicable), alcohol content, net contents, name and address, health warning, country of origin, and specific color additives such as FD&C Yellow #53, Cochineal Extract, or Carmine.4

This regulatory framework is established at the federal level, yet the 21st Amendment allows individual states to regulate alcohol within their territories. Consequently, some states have instituted additional requirements, necessitating state-level label approvals before alcoholic products can be sold within their borders, adding bureaucratic hurdles for producers.

Navigating federal regulations is challenging enough, but the possibility of 50 states introducing their own variations adds a significant layer of complexity to the labeling and nutrition information movement.

1 Only if the label contains a grape varietal type designation.

2 Only if the label refers to foreign wine.

3 Mandatory only if used in the wine.

4 Mandatory only if used in the wine.

Nutritional and Ingredient Labelling

So, what exactly do we mean by ingredient and nutritional labeling?

Ingredient labeling details every component that contributes to the final product. While straightforward for most foods, the situation with alcohol is more nuanced. According to current FDA guidelines, there's leeway for omitting ingredients that are present in "incidental" amounts without any functional or technical effect on the finished product. In the wine industry, this could mean excluding substances like sulfites, bentonite, and various fining and clarifying agents, provided they're under 10 ppm in the finished product. However, any ingredient recognized as a major food allergen must be declared on the label, even in trace amounts.

Nutritional labeling is what many are familiar with on everyday food items This includes calories, sugar, proteins, carbs, and fats. The FDA currently allows for a 20 percent margin of error on reported food level data.

California Case Study

The latest significant change in labeling regulations came from California, which integrated wine and liquor bottles into its statewide recycling program. This came with the requirement that by July 1, 2025, containers had to include specific language on the label to designate it as part of the recycling program, much like that of beer containers and

Ingredient labeling details every component that contributes to the final product. While straightforward for most foods, the situation with alcohol is more nuanced.

plastic bottles, with the shortest phrase being “CA CRV.”

Remember, under the 21st Amendment, which allows states to regulate alcohol, each state could demand that their requirements be present on a label in order for it to be approved for sale in the state. It's a possibility that if states were to require this specific language, labels could resemble what is seen in Sample Image 1. Though unlikely, as alcohol associations would likely oppose such fragmentation, it underscores the need for a more unified system that begins with industry support.

Voluntary Disclosure Initiative and the EU

Luckily for the wine and spirits industry, there are two more recent case studies on nutrition and ingredient labeling: one led by industry self-regulation and the other by government mandate.

The Beer Institute's Brewer’s Voluntary Disclosure Initiative in 2016 exemplifies successful self-regulation. Participating members agreed to display serving facts on their products and include ingredients on secondary packaging, on their website, or via QR codes. This was all made possible by internal

Sample Image 1

Ultimately, the power lies in the hands of consumers whose demands for transparency are shaping the market.

members of the industry without the addition of federal oversight. This approach, supported by some of the industry's largest players, aimed to meet consumer demands for transparency. As a result, the beer industry now positions itself as the most transparent alcohol sector.

Conversely, in 2023, the European Union implemented stringent wine labeling regulations, including nutritional and ingredient information requirements. The EU's strategy allows for this information to be accessible through QR codes or similar methods. The directed websites for this information are strictly informational, free from sales or marketing content, and must remain accessible for the product's lifetime.

Which brings us back to the United States: How should wine and spirits producers convey this information to consumers and what proves the success of the program? Both the beer industry's initiative and the EU's regulations highlight a consensus on the effectiveness of digital solutions, like QR codes, but they differ in those in charge of the regulation.

Ultimately, the power lies in the hands of consumers whose demands for transparency are shaping the market. When brands voluntarily disclose information, perhaps through industry coalitions, they not only satisfy this growing consumer appetite but also pioneer a new marketing frontier. This trend suggests that successful disclosure practices could inspire broader voluntary adoption across the industry to cater to informed customer preferences.

For the wine and spirits sector, adapting strategies from these precedents could be beneficial. Although varying state mandates, such as California's, introduce complexity. A unified approach by industry associations and regulatory bodies could lead to an effective and industry-supported solution for nutrition and labeling — crafted from within rather than imposed from the outside.

Taylor Harrison is a seasoned analyst and consultant specializing in supporting craft beverage alcohol producers. His previous roles have focused on market growth, fine wine trend analysis, and uncovering key insights in the direct-to-consumer sector. Taylor operates out of London, UK.




consultant, and educator, Johnny Jeffery, is a well known personality in the distilling world. recently, Jeffery and Brian Christensen, co-owner/editor of Artisan Spirit magazine, started a new project called, “What the Cuts (WTC).” An online platform aimed at providing comprehensive distilling education, training, and resources for enthusiasts, aspiring alcohol producers, and professionals. Jeffery has a history in academics and as a teacher of distillation related topics, and interestingly enough also has a Jim Henson quality puppet of himself lovingly named Captain Cuts. How does that factor into an online distilling program? What follows is a conversation between Brian and Johnny as they discuss this very question. They also talk about education. Not just puppets.

and travel. We’ve heard for years about the challenge of training employees in small businesses where they need their staff up to speed ASAP to keep the wheels on the bus. We’re trying to build an online portal for people brand-new to the industry to get all their basic background information, and for those who’ve already been working to have a place to level up their knowledge with ongoing education. What’s it to you

Brian? What inspired you to talk me into this?

BrIAN: What is “What the Cuts?”

JOHNNY: WTC is our attempt to fill a hole in the education landscape. There are conferences, classes, and workshops, all of which require travel and, most of the time, an employer willing to pay for the classes, fees,

BrIAN: My entire career in the distilling industry was predicated on the fact that I didn’t understand a damn thing about distilling in general. So I started asking questions, hearing people's stories, and inadvertently fell in love with distilling and spirits. I also found out pretty quickly that one of the unifying elements of the distilling community was its willingness to mentor and educate. So as I learned, it seemed obvious that I should start sharing what people were willing to teach. WTC is a natural extension of that philosophy.

BrIAN: Give me a little background on your academic, educational, and distilling experience?

JOHNNY: I was lucky enough to get my start in distilling with Dr. Kris Berglund at Michigan State University doing a master’s in food science, focused on fermentation and distillation. While there I taught classes, workshops, ran equipment for R&D and production contracts, ran the lab, and presented at conferences. Since leaving I’ve consulted, built distilleries, trained staff all over the country, launched products, and continued to teach because I love it. Talk a little bit

about how you got here and how ASM became focused on education.

BrIAN: It’s a winding journey that begins after eleven years in the funeral industry. I know, weird. My job, those many years ago, was to run a multimedia production studio that crafted memorial videos for funeral homes (no we didn't film the funeral.. Ok, we filmed one funeral). It taught me how to tell people's stories. When I made the jump to distilling the hunger to share stories came with me. Distilling spotlights were the first genre of articles we produced, and those naturally led to us asking questions about production, marketing, sales, business, regulation, and so on. Education is just another way to share a story.

BrIAN: Have you been involved with distilling education in the past?

JOHNNY: All the stuff I said above, and I co-chaired the education committee for ACSA for a while. My favorite is face-to-face, but I’ve come to see the limitations there so we’re trying to find a way to make education accessible.

BrIAN: You have a long history of supporting the industry, from working with ACSA,

mentoring new distillers, being on the board of the Society of Spirit, and your work with the charitable Good Deeds Spirits project. What drives you to volunteer so much time on behalf of the distilling industry?

JOHNNY: I like saying “yes.” When someone shows up with a challenge they’re dealing with, I like to grab the rope and help pull. I can be the showrunner or a participant, but working with a group of people doing things we want to do together is my favorite thing, especially when there’s a problem to work on. You’ve worked on most of these too. What do you think gets us into this stuff?

BrIAN: I'm addicted to the idea of community building. Part of it is a desire to give back after so many strangers, now dear friends, offered a welcoming hand when I first joined the industry. Also, it's my own way of pushing back on a world that seems to view earnestness as a liability. The world is full of kind people that don’t care about power or control, they just want to build something that does good. I like those people.

BrIAN: So… the real question, what’s with the puppet?

JOHNNY: So first up, big shoutout to my childhood buddy Noah Ginex who made the Captain from a photo I sent him. He worked

for the Jim Henson company, did a puppet video for the Barenaked Ladies (“Pollywog in a Bog”) and is one of those people who knew exactly what he wanted to do with his life from the moment he started thinking about it. Captain Cuts’ job is to remind me not to be boring. We are trying to find ways to make sitting in front of a screen more engaging. He’s better at that than I am, but he doesn’t know shit about distilling!

BrIAN: What are some of the inspirations for WTC?

JOHNNY: You know, there are days when I wish I could time travel back into my brain as a kid watching Reading Rainbow, Sesame Street, The Bloodhound Gang, listening to The Pointer Sisters soundtrack counting videos…a loaf of bread, a container of milk, a stick of butter…That style of learning where you’re seeing personalities you want to be around where the people doing it are obviously having fun — that’s what we’re going for. You’re getting me more organized on the content. How do you see it when it’s fully implemented?

BrIAN: Building distilling education inspired by the likes of Reading Rainbow isn't about attracting a younger audience. It’s about speaking to the “olds” like you and I. People that grew up in the 80s and 90s learning from LeVar Burton. As you mentioned, recapturing that sense of joy and wonder

while learning about how a peanut factory works, or practicing the letter of the day. You and I have both worked on many distilling related education projects, and honestly, sometimes it's dry and boring as hell. I see this as the opportunity to build an education platform that's deep and comprehensive while also being fun and engaging.

BrIAN: What kind of student is the content tailored to, and what level of education do you cover?

JOHNNY: The goal is to have everything from the most basic to as advanced as we can get without putting people to sleep, and when we surpass our own ability to level up, bring in people who can. It will be module-based, so there are bite-sized pieces addressing areas of knowledge or a subscription so people can run the whole gambit. Can you talk about the flow of the content a little?

BrIAN: My job is to try and organize the vast amount of knowledge in your head into an easy to follow education program. It’s a lot of knowledge! Initially it works like this: a student signs into the online platform and picks a module to follow. An example module would be “Introduction to Distilling.” The student can immediately jump into a guided module with short form videos and written guides culminating in competency quizzes

“Captain Cuts’ job is to remind me not to be boring. We are trying to find ways to make sitting in front of a screen more engaging. He’s better at that than I am, but he doesn’t know shit about distilling!”

and a final test resulting in a certificate of completion. The prior module example would have 5 short form videos, 4-6 minutes each, covering topics like; Distilling Vocabulary, Still Anatomy, Cuts, Rectification, and finally Barrels. This straightforward module would then lead to much more comprehensive education such as Distillation Chemistry, Maturation and Extraction, or Facility Design. Just to name a few.

BrIAN: What’s been the hardest and the most entertaining aspects of creating videos and animations for WTC?

JOHNNY: The easy part is talking a lot. Making it engaging is another thing entirely, and building a system of interconnected subjects and videos without getting redundant is complex. I love talking about this stuff but don't want to put people to sleep, so yeah, trying not to do that!

BrIAN: Where else can people go to find good distilling education?

JOHNNY: Conferences are the big one, but also classes offered by yeast suppliers and equipment suppliers, and books! What do you see people attending and saying good things about?

BrIAN: There are a wealth of good workshops and webinars to be found. I think places like Moonshine University, the American Distilling Institute, the American Craft Spirits Association, and DISCUS are all excellent resources. I’m also proud to say the Society of Spirit group you and I helped found offers a lot of opportunity for peerto-peer knowledge exchange.

BrIAN: Ok, last question. Seriously, what’s with the puppet?

JOHNNY: Imagine sitting in a room alone talking a lot. I don’t know about you, but I get bored of the sound of my own voice. When the Captain jumps in, you’re hearing what my brain is doing while my lips are flapping.

BrIAN: I don’t know if that's profound or terrifying. Either way, I like how your brain works.

Visit to learn more about What the Cuts, or to sign up to test run our first modules, email

design and a variety of material

1/4 PG H AD

Leveraging the History & Narrative Behind the Bottle.


In our last article we talked about the importance of public relations in craft distilling. The strategic management of communication between an organization and its stakeholders is vital in today’s crowded marketplace. One of our recommendations for building a successful public relations strategy is to develop a strong brand story and narrative.

By now you have heard it a thousand times, but it still holds true that compelling narratives that connect with consumers on an emotional level can foster brand loyalty and drive sales. This is especially true for craft spirits, where the focus is often on small-batch production, unique ingredients, and artisanal techniques.

Over time, the narrative we’ve told has remained true to the ideals and values of

our founding but has also evolved and grown along with our business. Today we make our mark by telling the story of Black Button’s family history, as well as our unique distillation process that we call “Rochester style,” a narrative that is directly tied to our physical location. (Tying a narrative to a geographic location has been used frequently because it helps people remember a distinct feature of a product or style. Take Empire Rye, for example.)

Storytelling can encourage word-ofmouth and promote interest in and curiosity about spirits. This is nothing new. In fact, it’s ancient. Alcoholic beverages have long been intertwined with rich histories and cultural or geographic significance. Storytelling is used because it’s effective.

A Sip Through History: Calvados & Brandy

Take, for instance, the tales woven around two iconic spirits: Calvados and brandy. Calvados, hailing from the rolling hills of Normandy in France, boasts a vibrant past. Legend attributes its origin to a peasant who, in the 16th century, discovered a way to distill leftover cider. This humble beginning soon blossomed into a thriving industry, and by the 19th century, Calvados had garnered international recognition. During World War II, Nazi occupation led to widespread destruction of Calvados orchards and distilleries. Post-war, a dedicated effort went into reviving the industry, a testament to the resilience of the Calvados tradition.

Across the English Channel, brandy also boasts

Alcoholic beverages have long been intertwined with rich histories and cultural or geographic significance.

Storytelling is used because it’s effective.

BONUS : Let’s not gloss over the long history of rum that involves exciting tales of sailors, pirates, rebellion, and revolutions

Today, it’s not just about the spirit; it’s about the story behind the sip.

an equally rich narrative. Its origins trace back to the 12th century when alchemists accidentally discovered the distillation process. Initially used for medicinal purposes, brandy production spread throughout Europe over the centuries, evolving into distinct regional styles. Cognac, perhaps the most famous, is a type of brandy produced in the Cognac region of France, following strict regulations. The story of brandy encompasses innovation, experimentation, and regional pride, all reflected in the diverse styles enjoyed today.

The Power of Narrative in the Craft Spirits Market

Calvados and brandy are just two examples of unique histories and stories that are inherent in the creation of spirits. But if your product doesn’t have a long and fascinating history to tell, that’s OK. Narratives — whether they’re a hundred years old or a hundred days old — serve several crucial purposes in our crowded marketplace today:

Differentiation: With so many craft distilleries vying for attention, storytelling allows brands to stand out. Use it to showcase unique aspects of your distillery or product, whether it’s the family tradition behind the recipe, the locally sourced grains, or the innovative distillation techniques used.

Emotional connection: Consumers connect with brands they feel passionate about. A well-crafted story allows a brand to build an emotional bond with its audience, fostering a sense of loyalty and encouraging repeat purchases.

Transparency and authenticity: Craft spirits often emphasize small-batch production and meticulous attention to detail. Storytelling allows brands to highlight these aspects, building trust with consumers who value quality and transparency.

Premium perception: A captivating story can elevate a brand's perception in the eyes of consumers. The narrative can give the product a sense of heritage, craftsmanship, and exclusivity, justifying a premium price point.

Weaving Your Craft Spirit's Tale

If you’re trying to develop or refine your brand narrative, consider what sets your brand apart. Is it a family recipe, the unique botanicals you use, the innovative distillation or aging process? Maybe it’s your location. Maybe it’s the way that your business came alive, or even an accident that happened

that led to the creation of a unique spirit. Sometimes the best stories come from unexpected events.

Bring your story to life using vivid descriptions, personal anecdotes, and historical references. Think about different characters in your story and the role each plays. Highlight the passion, dedication, and perseverance behind your brand.

When you’re ready to share it, remember that storytelling today lends itself to a wide range of communication channels — it’s not just for the ear. Today, a strong and savvy communicator can develop a complex storytelling strategy that leverages the history — using the bizarre, funny, surprising, and even at times sad anecdotes that can be found not only about the development of the spirit itself but about brands and their history.

Use this story across platforms by creating engaging website content, creating captivating social media posts, sharing the story on labels and hangtags, and weaving the story into distillery tours to create a full experience. As you craft your written narrative, also consider the important role that visuals play in telling the story.

Today, as craft distilleries experiment with new expressions, often focusing on local ingredients and unique aging techniques, stories abound. Today, it’s not just about the spirit; it’s about the story behind the sip.

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


Buying Whiskey vs. Distilling . It Yourself

The benefits of being “grain to glass” and aging the traditional way can be significant if you are able to get a high price for your brand and you keep control of costs for production, sales staffing, distributors, retail promotions, and marketing. On the flip side, the benefits of buying, finishing, and blending whiskey barrels can save capital, reduce cost per case, and improve your ability to quickly respond to marketplace growth opportunities.

When you review the commercial growth of distilling, the smart way to think about it is not buying versus distilling, but rather buying and distilling.

Low-profit-margin/high-volume brands can cover most — if not all — overhead expenses. This improves profitability and enables companies to leverage the efficiencies of higher volume bottling operations. In the U.S., Sazerac’s biggest selling brand is Fireball. Pallets of Fireball help cover overhead costs and in the process improve the profitability of other high margin bourbons and spirits.

Two Considerations When Distilling Your Own

1) Buying instead of making conflicts with the “Purity” brand narrative

Having spent 40-plus years in marketing, I have sympathy for the marketing argument about purity in brand positioning. However, as a distillery owner, I have much less sympathy for it. When this issue came up at our distillery, I challenged our team and myself to figure out a way to make it work. What we created was a simple marketing separation between our low end and high end bourbons. The low end brands, our Riverboat Collection, are known as our best “mixing” bourbons. Our high end Dexter products are positioned as our best “sipping” bourbons and whiskeys. Consumers understand and appreciate this clarity, as it aligns with how they consume whiskey. Large national surveys find that 10 percent of whiskey in the U.S. is drunk neat, 35 percent over ice, and 55 percent mixed. Most consumers drink their bourbon multiple ways, depending on the occasion. Thus, it is not uncommon for them to purchase both a bottle from the Riverboat Collection for mixing and a bottle of Dexter to drink neat or over ice.

2) High case volume creates stress on operations

As you increase the number of brands you offer, operational complexity increases. I was continually surprised at the challenges we faced growing from 5,000 to 15,000 to 30,000 to 50,000 to 70,000 to over 100,000 cases in just a few years with our Noble Oak brand collaboration. Adding in our Riverboat and Dexter products was a challenge with scheduling, space, and cash flow. To make it easier to deal with, we developed clear SOPs. Dry goods were stored off-site and were brought in just in time for production. We also had our designer develop different “super premium” and “ultra premium” looks for the Riverboat Collection and Dexter so that we could use the same bottle to reduce inventory.

Two Considerations When Buying, Finishing, and Barrel Blending


1) It improves profitability, cash flow and return on capital:

The reality is most distilleries, even in today’s chaotic world, can buy it cheaper than they can make it when they account for all expenses. Plus, if you are skilled at finishing and barrel blending, you can turn the whiskey very quickly for a profit. Growing a craft whiskey distillery requires lots of cash or many loans. To be specific, building a 100,000 physical case brand (4.5 liter) could require more than $40 million in capital if you are making it yourself. Buying whiskey and finishing it, reduces capital needs for barrel aging by up to 90 percent.

2) It allows your distilled/ barreled bourbon to age to wow

The whiskey you buy helps take the pressure off short-term cash flow needs. With steady income, you have the freedom to let your barreled whiskey age for four, six, eight, or more years instead of bottling and selling it before it’s great.

Buying whiskey to finish and barrel blend was how the commercial whiskey industry was born in the 1800s. Whiskey merchants bought barrels from various distillers and farmers, then they blended it to their customers’ desired taste. In Cincinnati, where 85 percent of American whiskey came from, there were 109 barrel blenders. This went on around the world. The most famous was a grocer in Scotland named John Walker.

I believe that to be financially successful, it’s best that craft distillers both distill and age whiskey, and buy, finish, and barrel blend it.

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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