Glassroom: The Q&A blog series with whisky distillers

Dry Diggings Distillery: Cris Steller

18 Aug, 2020

The name Dry Diggings Distillery comes from the original name of the town from 1848 when gold was being mined before the big gold rush a year later (49ers).

Can you give us a bit of background about yourself and how you started in the whiskey industry?

I worked with non-profits and industry trade associations. One of my clients was the retail liquor dealers association, so I got to see the off-premise from the supplier’s side of things. I moved to Mexico and was exposed to the tequila & mescal business down there for about 10 years. That did not prepare me for this.

I talked with a buddy who also had a friend and we all started bouncing ideas off each other. We heard about St. George Distillery and ADI, and that really got us thinking. We came up with 5 business plans, with the distillery being the least likely, to be approved, but it turned out that the County encouraged the distillery and binned the 4 others. So we started up planning in 2008 with construction finished in 2012.

Can you tell us about your distillery,
and what makes it unique?

That we embrace grain-to-glass on one brand, but on the other we will blend with sourced spirits as well.

We do a little bit of everything since most distilleries do one or the other.

The name Dry Diggings Distillery comes from the original name of the town from 1848 when gold was being mined before the big gold rush a year later (49ers). The town’s name was later changed to Hangtown, and then finally renamed Placerville.

Are there any little ‘distilling’ secrets you can let us in on?

Weather is the secret to what we do. The temperature changes daily by at least 30 degrees year-round, so when people taste our barrel aged spirits they pick that up in the spirit.  Our clear spirits represent good clean fermentation and slow precise distillation.

Whiskey has been phenomenally successful
in the United States and around the planet,
why do you think this is compared to other spirits?

I would have to say it is tradition, the history of whiskey and a bottle that gets passed down from generation to generation. It is something that is acquired with age. People grow older and think to themselves, “Maybe Dad had better taste, and now I understand.”

In your years in the industry, what have been the biggest surprises you have faced?

The complete lack of support from U.S. distributors. They treat small brands with little understanding or interest. 

Didn’t see that coming.

What are the big trends that are affecting the whiskey industry at the moment?

Terroir. Single malt doesn’t have to taste the same everywhere. Use of different grain and how the whiskey is aged.

I also hope that blending will become more popular, like Scotland.  It really is a unique skill set that is still not fully appreciated in the U.S.A.

Are there any interesting stories from your time in the whiskey industry that you could share?

Probably when Gov. Brown famously came back from the climate summit in Paris, and I got a call from a member of the Democratic party. They wanted to create a basket for the governor to present to him on his return. It turned out he was a big fan of our vodka & whiskey.

He sent us a note thanking us for it as well as a call. He was moving into the new Governor’s house upon return to California. They were planning to sleep that first night back in the house and celebrate with a cocktail.  He loved seeing our California spirits sitting in the front entry way of the house.

What developments in the whiskey industry most excite you?

The public’s willingness to try something new.

They haven’t completely abandoned the tried & true old-time brands, but are opening up to embracing something new.

What do you see as being the future of whiskey in the short term?

Expansion of the American single malt and rye whiskey categories. Both really excite me!

Why do you use the Glencairn Glass in your business and what makes it so special?

I like that it ties itself back to the birthplace of whisky.  It carries on the history & heritage of whisky.  It is what we use to sample everyone at the distillery.

They are not cheap, and make a perfect pitch sound that you don’t get with other glassware. Also, the fact that Glencairn brands them for us, thus making it a partnership.  We always remind folks that these come from Scotland and we love that about them!

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