Saturday, March 13, 2010

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Recent Projects: The Art of Distilling Whiskey

At Tales of the Cocktail in 2008, I sat on a panel to talk about the resurgence of homemade spirits in modern America. With me were distillers Mike McCaw and Ian Smiley. In the audience sat Max Watman, Bill Owens, and a smattering of other distillers (some with permits, some not) who knew full well that a sub rosa renaissance in small batch spirits was underway.

Afterwards, Owens asked if I would write about moonshine for a book he was planning on whiskey distilling. I tweaked the Tales talk and the result is a section in his The Art of Distilling Whiskey and Other Spirits released recently. My section covers the resurgence of off-license distilling in the US, traces its recent history, and makes an attempt at categorizing such distillers into broad and sometimes overlapping categories.

Other contributors are essentially people in the room that day: McCaw, Smiley, Watman, me. Andy Faulker contributed photos and Fritz Maytag of Anchor Distilling—one of the godfathers of modern craft distilling—wrote the forward.

The book isn’t a manual of how to distill, but more an explanation of spirits categories with a heavy focus on the modern American market. There’s a section on stills and how various kinds work, but for me the most engaging aspect of the book is its profiles of distilleries and distillers that are shaping the future of artisanal American spirits. It's this section that reveals just how widespread distilling is becoming.

Distillers and distilleries highlighted include:
  • Sonja Kassebaum (North Shore Distillery, Illinois)
  • Guy Rehorst (Great Lakes Distillery, Wisconsin)
  • Chris Weld (Berkshire Mountain Distillers, Massachusetts)
  • Phil Pritchard (Pritchard’s Distillery, Tennessee)
  • Steve McCarthy (Clear Creek Distillery, Oregon)
  • Garrison Brothers Distillery (Texas)
  • Leopold Brothers (Colorado)
  • Tuthilltown Spirits (New York)
  • Philadelphia Distilling (Pennsylvania)
  • Chris Sule of Celebration Distillation [i.e., Old New Orleans Rum (Louisiana)]
And a few dozen others. Not a book to teach you how to distill, but definitely worth a look if you want to see what others are doing with their knowledge of how to run a still and—just as importantly—a distillery.

Bill Owens and Alan Dikty (2009)
Forward by Fritz Maytag
The Art of Distilling Whiskey and Other Spirits
176 pages, paperback
Quarry Books
ISBN: 1592535690

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