While working with great Master Distillers and Blenders over the years, I’ve honed my skills to continually raise the bar with each new product and batch. There are no ‘Masters’ here per se; we’re just talented people striving every day to better ourselves and our craft. I like to say that we’re making whiskeys in a small way, for a big world.
Can you give us a bit of background about yourself and how you started in the whiskey industry?
Sure, so my story is somewhat similar to many other distillers. I was working in the finance field in 2008, and then when the crash came, I found myself looking for an industry that was a bit more recession proof.
I had started brewing beers, which lead to making wine, which lead to grappa, which lead to whiskey, all of which was as a hobby. By 2009-10, I was working with my old business partner, and we thought the whiskey we were producing was good enough to make professionally. I started going to ADI events, taking distilling courses that they offered and learning more about the business itself.
We started working with a liquor lawyer in California about starting our own distillery, and next thing you know, we were one of the first 200 distilleries in the U.S. by February 2010. The first 3 years were really more or less a R&D process for me, and then I parted ways with my business partner. It was then that I went to study with Hubert Germain-Robin. He still comes in to advise on the spirits. I have also been lucky enough to work with industry nose Nancy Frayley, who has always been a great contributor to my business.
We started with 784 sqf and have grown it now to over 21,000 sqf! We moved next door to a bigger facility & have recently built a new barrel room.
Can you tell us about your distillery,
and what makes it unique?
A couple things make us unique – we are in Northern California; we are in the heart of wine country and we only make whiskey.
The type of equipment we use is the Scottish pot stills from Forsyths and the alembic cognac stills give our whiskey a very different flavor from others.
Are there any little ‘distilling’ secrets you can let us in on?
Not to be a pretentious A-Hole, and to accept critiques & praise & education equally whenever possible.
Whiskey has been phenomenally successful
in the United States and around the planet,
why do you think this is compared to other spirits?
Whiskey for a long time has been straddled with the tag of “what your father or grandfather used to drink”.
But now, due to shows like like “Boardwalk Empire” & “Madmen” plus the rise of the new cocktail culture has made whiskey a cool thing again.
In your years in the industry, what have been the biggest surprises you have faced?
That the quality of the juice has little to no effect to the viability of the product in the marketplace. So much goes into marketing a brand that you have to do so much more – marketing, messaging, etc.
There are people who just got it. There are people I speak to that I really respect in the industry who are, when they speak, do so in a coded language, that I still don’t quite understand it. To some, this part just comes naturally.
What are the big trends that are affecting the whiskey industry at the moment?
From the supply side – age statements & price point availability are some of the trends that I see may pay dividends in the future.
Are there any interesting stories from your time in the whiskey industry that you could share?
Sure, I tell the story a bit more now than I used to. There is a gentleman named Mr. Robin Robinson who handed me the biggest slice of humble pie that I ever had. We were in Chicago at the Indie Spirits Expo when I told him that I didn’t like blended Scotches. He asked, “Why?”, and I said that they weren’t all that.
He then proceeded to take a number of single malts, taste me out on each one, and explained just how difficult it is to bring those flavors together and make them gel together. It really opened my mind and from then on, I kept an open mind. It was an area where I thought I knew it all, but I learned I was wrong.
What developments in the whiskey industry most excite you?
I think a lot of it has to do with barrel finishing. That I think is exciting! I also like the idea of bringing back bottled-in-Bond as well. Also, sourcing ingredients locally, since I realize the positive economic impact it can have on the local farmers. I think that is really important! It is why we are a 100% California sourced spirit!
What do you see as being the future of whiskey in the short term?
I see new household brands emerging, that taste unique & different.
Why do you use the Glencairn Glass in your business and what makes it so special?
So, this is not bullshit at all – the glass itself is built really, really well! This from a guy who breaks a lot of glasses! I like the nose on it, as someone who blends whisky. I can really move the Glencairn glass as I swirl it. The knuckle of my thumb fits perfectly on the base of the glass, so it is a perfect fit.
My only qualm is if the base was only a little taller so that my hands were further from my nose when nosing a spirit. That way any aroma of my hand wouldn’t interfere with the aroma of the spirit.
Hear from other whisky distillers
“I had already been in the restaurant business with my brother Paul for 10 years, then we decided to open our own distillery. We started the whole process in 2009, in 2010 we incorporated & by 2011 we opened the doors.”
“ I was always a fan of whiskey as well as very attuned to the fruit aromas of various wood.”
“When the family business was sold in 2006, I decide to pursue my own business, which eventually resulted in Journeyman Distillery in 2010.”