Tennessee and Kentucky have been the epicenter of American distilling for decades. The brands Jim Beam and Jack Daniels are household names, and a Jack and Coke can be ordered in any bar that hocks whiskey. But there are now craft distilleries in every state that allows them, and distillery trails...while not as common as wine trails...are becoming popular in areas where tourism is important to the local economy. So how does a distillery in an up-and-coming region distinguish itself from the big boys? To me, there are two distinct ways. The first is craftsmanship, and the second is local sourcing.
When Al told me he wanted to start a distillery, I was skeptical. After all, we were already operating a vineyard and a winery, and neither of us was sitting around twiddling our thumbs. But Al is a craftsman. From his days as an amateur boat builder to his career as a professional cabinet maker, he has always been able to take raw materials like fiberglass or rough cut lumber and turn them into sailing vessels or kitchen islands. Even though we share the production responsibilities of wine making, he has always considered wine to be "my thing." Distilling would be "his thing". So he researched the distilling process and the equipment, went to seminars, and made test batches. His recipes are all his own. And while there are legal requirements regarding what grains can be used to make Bourbon or Rye or Single Malt whiskey, the mash bill and the process by which our whiskies are created are all uniquely Al. And if you know Al, you know that quality is his middle name. Actually it's Rolland, but that doesn't fit the story.
So how best to go about making high quality whiskies? Of course one must have good distilling equipment, well constructed barrels, and good sanitation practices. But first, one must have high quality raw materials from a consistent supplier. Since the majority of our farm is planted to grapes, and we wanted to produce our whiskies from 100% Wisconsin grain 100% of the time, Al contacted Perlick Farms in Sarona. Perlick Farms also happens to be the home of Perlick Distillery, and it was evident from the beginning that the Perlick family shared our philosophy on local sourcing and quality distilling. Sourcing any product locally beats having it shipped in from Timbuktu, and being able to source our grain from a reliable local supplier is an important part of our brand. Craftsmanship and local soucing allow us to produce a high quality product, and it is something we commit to every day, whether its in the wine cellar or the distillery. As we like to say, "Quality is not an act, it is a habit," which is a quote from the Greek philosopher Aristotle, as true today as it was in the 4th century BC.
Until next time...Cheers!