I was always a fan of whiskey as well as very attuned to the fruit aromas of various wood.
Can you give us a bit of background about yourself and how you started in the whiskey industry?
Born in Rochester, NY but moved to Virginia after school. After school I worked as a Certified financial planner. I was always a fan of whiskey as well as very attuned to the fruit aromas of various wood. Inspired by a Johnnie Walker tasting in NY where they were waxing on about the alluring smell of peated malt, it got me think that I wanted to check out grain smoked with fruit wood. This was 1999, when I was 40 years old.
I was living in Virgina at the time, where there were a lot of old apple orchards, so naturally I thought an old apple factory would make for an ideal location for my first distillery. We incorporated in 2002, with a number of fits & starts, but finally moved into the Sperryville location in November 2004, then started distilling in 2005.
In 2010, I married, started a family and we all lived above the distillery. In 2015, we started a second distillery at an old motel complex in Williamsburg, VA that has 10 different buildings!
Can you tell us about your distillery,
and what makes it unique?
The Sperryville distillery is an old apple factory where we still malt our own barley by hand using fruit wood smoke, plus mature our whiskey using applewood, peachwood & oak wood chips that dangle in the spirits through a hole in the top of the barrels (this may account for an Angels’ Share of up to 20%, but a beautiful whiskey).
Our Williamsburg distillery is an old motel that we converted, and now has a malting floor, a speakeasy, a tasting room, a built-in swimming pool, and an insulated barrelhouse (much like the warmer barrelhouses of India), and a string of old motel rooms that may be used for hospitality spaces in the future. We are within a mile of the famed William & Mary University.
Are there any little ‘distilling’ secrets you can let us in on?
There are no “secrets”. (wink-wink). If I told you they wouldn’t be a secret, now would they? Other than start with great clean grain. We used to work with a local farmer, but he passed away. Now we work with his family to source our grain.
Whiskey has been phenomenally successful
in the United States and around the planet,
why do you think this is compared to other spirits?
Ummm, because it’s delicious?
In your years in the industry, what have been
the biggest surprises you have faced?
The number of people who don’t know by now how whiskey is made or do not understand the difference between Bourbon, Scotch and other styles of whiskey.
What are the big trends that are affecting the whiskey industry at the moment?
Ready-to-drinks seemed hot last year, and should be this year as well.
Are there any interesting stories from your time in the whiskey industry that you could share?
Love to give a shout out to way back in 2000, when I went to Scotland to learn how to malt some barley, and where I ran into the legendary distiller Jim McEwan. Jim encouraged me to follow my mission saying, “You got to do it”. Speaking with him made distilling a calling! I knew then that I just had to embrace my destiny.
What developments in the whiskey industry
most excite you?
I like seeing all these little distilleries making it, plus what the big guys are coming up with. It’s just great being part of the larger distilling community.
What do you see as being the
future of whiskey in the short term?
The future seems bright enough. It is delicious!
Hear from other whisky distillers
“Everyone in this industry needs to remember that we are doing way more than whisky, and other people are incorporating what we make into some of the most important moments of their lives.”
“An hour after our release, we had 800 people lined up down the road, sold out the food truck and thought we were going to drown in guests. After that, I couldn’t wait to do that again.”
“I wanted to do something with the family farm and it is true that you can take the boy off the farm, but can’t take the farm out of the boy! While thinking of what we could do with the family farm, I was drinking a whiskey. It then dawned on me.”