Stillwagon Distillery

What goes into the making of a Craft Spirit? Craft distilling requires a great deal of hand labor in the making, bottling, labeling, and marketing of a product. Production of a craft spirit is very hands on. None of the process is automated in our facility. Mashing of the grains for a whiskey or preparation of a rum wash is all done by hand, stirred by hand, monitored by skilled artisans to the point that it is ready for the next stage. Fermentation is a fascinating biological process of what yeast does with sugar. In the absence of oxygen, yeast consumes sugar and produce CO2 and ethanol, as well as a variety of other compounds that contribute to the flavor of the end product. Among the many factors we control in fermentation are: sugar source, strain of yeast, nutrients, minerals, water source, temperature, sanitation, and time. By manipulating these factors we affect the type and flavor of our product. This is the first area of opportunity to create a unique spirit. Operation of a simple still is as much art as it is science. A single batch goes in, is heated carefully to a specific temperature and maintained so as to bring the heads (undesirable compounds) off first without pushing the hearts (whiskey, rum, vodka, etc.) through and wasting product. The hearts are then collected. This is the portion that is kept and eventually finds its way into our bottles. The cut to tails is critical, because there is a great deal of flavor near the end of the distillation run, and knowing where to stop collecting is what greatly decides our flavor profile for our product. Too soon, and it can be rather bland. Too late, and the flavor is negatively affected. These cuts are made by trained senses of smell and taste. There are more clinical methods that can be used such as temperature, but, ultimately it is the aroma and flavor that decide the quality of our product. So we make our decisions based on that criteria rather than readings on a dial. Barrel aging a significant volume of our spirits, means, time spent in a wooden barrel. This is another critical factor in creating a premium quality spirit. There has been a great deal of study, and much written about barrel aging and its merits. Here, I will merely say, there is no substitute for the complex effects of the barrel and the environment in where it is kept. Time, temperature, humidity, ABV of contents, the type of wood, movement, altitude, all have an effect on what is stored inside. Then after the initial aging, whether it is bottled, proofed, the quality of water it is proofed with, secondary aging or finishing, type of barrel that is done in, infusions, additions, blending with other barrels, all again affect the outcome of the finished product. Here again is where a unique flavor profile can be achieved. Infusion of fruits and spices in a variety of our spirits is how we offer such a variety of products. We accomplish this by using real fruit and spices. We expose as much surface area of the fruit or spice as possible through crushing, chopping, or grinding, depending on the fruit or spice, and putting it directly into the spirit. This allows the alcohol and water to draw out the flavors and oils of the fruit or spice and give us the truest flavors. We then carefully blend these infusions to create a variety of products such as our spiced rums, pineapple and cranberry rum, and our mocha rum. Bottling, labeling and packaging remain after the spirit is completed. All bottles are filled by hand; labels are annotated by hand, applied by hand, sealed by hand, and packaged by hand. Every bottle is touched many times before it makes it to the retailer. Marketing for the Craft distiller is the biggest percentage of time and a great deal of capital spent. Conducting tastings, meeting restaurant and store owners, managers, and mixologists takes a lot of time to educate these critical people in the value of our product. Developing relationships with everyone from distributors to consumers is critical and time consuming. Branding, marketing, and sales will determine the success of a craft distillery regardless of the product itself. A great product will not make it into the hands of the consumer without good marketing efforts. Sustainable business practices are another effort being made by many small producers. This comes at a cost. It would be much simpler and cost effective to take our waste to the dump or flush it down the drain. But this is creating a heavy toll on the environment. Deteriorating water, air, and soil conditions due to industrial wastes must stop. We can continue to produce quality products without causing harm to the environment. But it requires time, effort, and capital. These requirements are reflected in the cost of the product. So when you spend a little more for a product produced in a sustainable fashion, you are setting a new standard for all businesses. Education, networking, and the discerning consumer are how we can make this industry and other craft industries successful. Tell your friends, ask questions, make a difference.

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