Exploring the Intersection of Beer and Whiskey

By: Becky Garrison

As James Saxon of London based Compass Box observes, historically, distilleries often grew out of breweries or operated alongside them with the union of beer and whisky rooted in process. “Until the 1950s and 1960s, many distilleries would even use yeast cultured and maintained within breweries to ferment their wort. We are starting to see more distilleries re-introduce brewers’ yeast for the flavor impact it can have.”

  Also, Saxon finds the role of the malt recipe or ‘mash bill’ for brewers to be fascinating. “I see the balancing of pale, crystal and chocolate malts to drive flavor and mouthfeel in beer as related to how we introduce different degrees of toasting and charring to the casks we use for whisky maturation.” In his estimation, both drinks benefit from the blender’s ethos. “When enjoyed together, you can experience the skillful layering of texture and flavor in new ways, discovering hidden qualities in the beer and surprising flavors in the whisky.”

  StormBreaker Brewing, a Portland, Oregon based brewpub known for offering whiskey beer pairings, launched Brewstillery in 2014 as a way of showcasing the range of beer and spirit pairings possible among Pacific Northwest brewers and distillers. Traditionally, this festival WAS held in February to commemorate the month when StormBreaker launched. This event featured 20 brewers and distillers paired together along live music and special food offerings with proceeds going to support the local charity Dollar for Portland. (While the festival was on hold due to Covid, StormBreaker hopes to launch the festival again in 2022.)

  When Sebastian Dejens, owner, Stone Barn Brandyworks in Portland, OR was invited to the first Brewstillery, he found this event represented a wonderful opportunity to pair up with some brewers for some creativity and discovery.  Three years into this festival, he told StormBreaker founders

Dan Malech and Rob Lutz that he would buy mash from them if they came up with a window of opportunity.

  For a few days the entire brewing capacity focused on producing roughly 150 gallons of beer. Dejens picked up this beer using a 275-gallon tote placed on the back of his truck that he filled from the tank.  Malech describes their brewing process for this particular beer. “We took our Red and bumped up the grain bill and the kettle hop additions for an intense hoppiness, complemented by a spicy dryness from the rye, but balanced nicely by malty caramel flavors. After fermentation we got hop crazy and dry hopped this beer with 3 lbs/bbl for an explosion of tropical fruit and a citrus nose.” Malech and Lutz named this beer “Good Not Great” (ABV: 8% IBU: 76) which went on to receive a gold medal in the 2020 World Beer Cup Awards in the Imperial Red Ale category.

  In 2020, Dejens released his first whiskey made from this beer. The name of this 92-proof whiskey Barnstormer is a mashup of the names Stone Barn and StormBreaker, with the whimsical label produced by StormBreaker’s label designer. This whiskey had a malty brown sugar sweetness with a nutty finish. Since this initial venture, Dejens continued to collaborate with StormBreaker each year on producing a barrel of whiskey using StormBreaker’s beer. In 2020, Dejens made two barrels as Stormbreaker had increased their barrel capacity. “There needs to be an element of space in the process. You’re making this for three to five years down the road, and you’re just hoping it’s all going to turn out,” Dejens reflected.

  Joshua M. Bernstein, a Brooklyn-based beer, spirits, food and travel journalist, parses the similarity between beer and whiskey from a production standpoint. “Beer and whiskey share a common starting point: grains are simmered to make a sugar-rich broth on which yeast feast, creating alcohol. Typically, a major difference is that distilleries are usually concerned with getting the most sugars (read: potential alcohol) from their grains, then letting the barrels contribute the lion’s share of flavor and aroma. Contrasting that, breweries use a full suite of grains, even darker-roasted ones that contribute fewer fermentable sugars. But now we’re seeing distilleries such as Westland Distilling in Seattle, WA take a craft brewer’s approach to grain selection, building big flavors with any and all grains before the distillates touch wood.”

Craft Brewers Turned

Single Malt Whiskey Distillers

  When Jason Parker, former head brewer with the Seattle based Pike Brewing Company, decided to co-found Copperworks Distilling with Micah Nutt, they knew they couldn’t compete with those established distilleries known for distilling spirits via traditional methods. Their process resulted in products with consistent flavor profiles that have been recognized by consumers for hundreds of years.

  So, they wondered what would happen if they were to distill high-quality beer. “We left the hops out of the beer to keep out the bitterness, and then distilled the beer into vodka, gin, and whiskey,” Parker noted.

  Positive customer feedback led Parker and Nutt to conclude they could produce quality spirits without following traditional distilling techniques. For example, brewers turned distillers such as Parker and Christian Krogstad, founder of House Spirits Distillery in Portland, Oregon, use yeasts and grains that are utilized by many craft brewers but not found in spirits produced by traditional distillers.

  Also, Copperworks is one of the few distilleries that produces a sanitary fermentation—the way breweries do—by boiling their wash for an hour. This process drives off some of the water thereby concentrating the sugar content and sanitizes the wash. When fermented with brewer’s yeast, this produces clean fruity and floral flavors, rather than the sour flavors produced by traditional methods. “All brewers know that boiling their wash kills bacteria and wild yeasts and results in a beer that tastes better and lasts longer. But if you do this for a distilled spirit, it results in new flavors and aromas, unlike the tastes of traditional spirits.” In addition, they leave unfermented sugars in their fermenters, which when distilled and barreled, produces a sense of sweetness in their spirits that’s more commonly associated with craft beers.

Beer and Whiskey Pairings  

  In Parker’s estimation, hops can be so dominant in beer that one cannot discern the beer’s base malt flavor. Hence, his preference when pairing whiskey and beer is to drink a beer low enough in hops so that he can taste the malt. “If I’m lucky enough, I can drink the beer followed by the whiskey being made from this beer,” he states. In particular, Parker loves beer cocktails such as those made at the Seattle based Pike Brewing Company’s seafood restaurant Tankard & Tun which features cocktails made with Pike Brewing’s beer and Copperworks spirits. Beer can provide the sparkling effervescence in cocktails normally obtained via Prosecco or carbonated water along with some sweetness and spice (hops). Parker notes that these cocktails aren’t often on most cocktail menus as this isn’t a skill set practiced by most bartenders. “The challenge is to use a small enough amount of beer to turn it into an effervescent cocktail without having it become a boozy beer,” he opines.

  Saxon is always inclined to start with pale ales and IPAs for their whiskies. “Many of our products have a creamy character thanks to American oak maturation and this mellows the hoppy bite of the beer. Equally, the citrus and tropical flavors of these brews can pull out the subtle fruit notes concealed within the whiskies we use.” Among their favorite pairings included The Spice Tree with a brown ale from the Kernel Brewery, based – like us – in London that was malty, toffee-sweet and richly nutty all at once. So flavorsome and just deliciously pleasurable. “Definitely a boilermaker for the autumn,” Saxon mused. 

  Wanderback (Hood River, OR) chief whiskey maker, Phil Downer prefer their malt forward whiskey paired with a brown ale, porter, or stout. “The malted barley we use for our whiskey are similar to the malts used to make these beers, so they are an easy pairing.  I should generally pair a lighter beer like a pilsner or lager with a lighter whiskey, like a Crown Royal Rye or lighter bourbon.” A purist Downer prefers to sample beer and whiskey separately. “I like them usually on their own to appreciate all the fun things going on in each.”

Trends in Distillery Building and Design:

Operational Efficiency With Pleasing Aesthetics

By: Gerald Dlubala

Successful distillery designs serve the distiller’s needs while also projecting the brand’s intended personality and image. However, getting to that point can make even the most organized person a little overwhelmed. The key to realizing that goal is working with experienced builders, engineers and architects who ask the right questions and guide you through the process, considering your current and future needs.

“It’s about your dreams and visions for sure,” said Dan Nyberg, sales trainer for Morton Buildings. “But it’s also about your budget constraints. That’s where experience in distillery planning, design and building comes in – to build a place that delivers the feel and image you want. There are quality options out there. Do you want the popular barn-type setting? Anything except a barn-type setting? Older and rustic? Modern and contemporary? Pitched roofs are popular simply because the distilling columns are tall and need that height. Sometimes they’re taller than the original facility design. In those cases, rather than coming back down on the opposite side, we continue the roof’s pitch upwards, creating a higher-pitched side to fit the equipment. This design keeps aesthetic balance while keeping in mind future equipment or expansion needs.”

The pandemic demonstrated the usefulness of versatile spaces, creating an increased demand for those that flow seamlessly between indoors and outdoors and offer customization if needed. For distilleries, this translates into designs with multi-use porches and patios that naturally transition between indoors and outdoors to increase space when required.

“The challenges here, of course, are the primary budget constraints and location-specific code restrictions that tell you if something can or can’t be done in the manner you want,” said Nyberg. “But something like the full glass overhead doors that raise and transform a separated venue into one large indoor/outdoor setting are popular amenities that allow the accommodation of different sized crowds for different events. Whether we’re still talking about Covid, changing weather situations or just the ability to appeal to the folks that want to feel like they’re outside without sitting in scorching hot weather, every bit of space must be functional and versatile.”

Earth-friendly Materials, Sustainability & Solar energy

More than ever, craft producers are incorporating sustainability and earth-friendly habits into their production process. That type of conscientious thinking goes into building design, too, especially if it’s part of a distiller’s image. For example, Morton Buildings uses wooden columns, framing and trusses that provide a 100-foot span of clear space width within the building design. Their hybrid design features wood columns, structures and walls that attach to steel trusses, increasing a building’s clear width span up to 150-feet for an even more significant amount of floor plan flexibility.

“Wood is the ultimate renewable resource and a great insulator,” said Nyberg. “One inch of softwood provides an R-value of 1.25 insulation. Blast furnace manufactured steel uses 80-90% recycled steel content. We offer our one-piece energy performer insulation to fill and eliminate cold spaces. Combine all of these elements, and you have a distillery design with a true identity of building sustainably.”

Solar energy is growing in popularity, but mostly in incentive-based areas. Nyberg told Beverage Master Magazine that incentives allow the builder to recover the higher initial installation costs more quickly. It can be a lengthy recovery period otherwise. If solar energy is in the plans, the builder has to be made aware of it well ahead of construction during the initial design process.

“There is the obvious increased weight issue that has to be considered and addressed upfront,” said Nyberg. “It gets factored in with the other installed weight-bearing items that affect the load on the roof structure, like lighting and the type of sprinkler/fire systems used. It may even change your building’s overall orientation by looking at an east/west run with the pitch slope towards the south to get the maximum benefit from the sunlight.”

“Wastewater concerns are another location-specific code requirement,” said Nyberg. “Water runoff should always leave the property at the same rate it would if the new building and lots were not there. Detention pools are a common solution for this problem, and although there are different levels of codes, requirements and enforcement on this issue, we encourage businesses to conscientiously decide to be good neighbors and plan for it by adding it to their design. You don’t want to be the reason that others suffer because of the increased water flow due to your construction.”

How Big Can You Go?

Distillers need to be diligent about expected growth and build a distillery welcoming to future additions, including retail, restaurant and production areas. Otherwise, the potential for expensive mistakes multiplies.

“A distiller has to be realistic in the operations area of distilling along with the brand image that they want to project,” said Nyberg. “You never want to get into a project only to discover a high-priced issue that requires additional resources from your lender. You absolutely need an accessible receiving area, big enough to handle your needs, yet somewhat hidden from your distillery’s other, more public spaces. You need to know what equipment you will be using, including the square footage and height requirements. Retail space is nice to have but nicer if it’s separated from any restaurant or bar area. Even though the customers are buying your products, you don’t want them wandering through the bar or dining area to do so.”

“And now, most distillers – and customers –prefer that visually appealing connection between the production areas and customer use areas. And why wouldn’t you? It’s all pretty cool equipment, and customers want to see the copper, brass and stainless involved in the columns, stills and valve mechanisms. We know that they’ll be spending money while they admire all of this great equipment, but again, you have to defer to local codes for the design. You’ll likely need a fire-rated wall between the two areas, and probably an explosion-proof one at that. Add in large glass viewing areas, and you have a situation that must be well designed and planned to code.”

Seek Out Experience and Plan for Success

Nyberg said that first and foremost, it’s essential to work with a qualified, experienced distillery builder that fulfills your vision and offers a range of options. Then you contact your local permit authority for the specific steps needed to proceed and the correct path for the building team to take. For example, will subcontractors be allowed to formulate their plans and designs, or are you building in a highly permitted area where the entire project is documented and signed off on by a single qualified lead-engineer before any construction occurs? It varies in different regions, and you and the builder need to know.

“Some of the best advice I can give to potential distillery builders, and I’ve seen a lot of them, is to always plan for the best possible outcome of your business,” said Nyberg. “Plan for expansions in production, retail and even dining areas, and then design your space accordingly. Will you want to offer space for future events like private tastings, business or club meetings, weddings or anniversaries? Sketch these areas into your initial design, including all the necessary utilities, even if you’re not building those areas right now. There is nothing worse than trying to piece together expansions while keeping operations running. If the original plans include sketches of these areas, your building will be ready to accommodate the additions with the least amount of disruption possible. Patrons will be excited to see expansion happen in an organized way that allows them to witness the improvements while keeping your normal operations humming along at the same time. They’ll come back to see the progress, anticipate the opening dates, and think about what the changes mean for them as a customer. They’ll share your enthusiasm over the expansion rather than your frustration over trying to negotiate your place of business through a remodel, when they may decide to stay away until the remodel is complete.”

Including Engineers Early in the Process is Critical

“Engineers want and need to be included in the initial phase of design and planning,” said C.J. Archer, Vice President of Marketing for VITOK Engineers. VITOK Engineers have completed over 300 distillery projects, from new complex design through distillery additions. “When designing a distilling space, everything is dictated by your targeted volume of proofed product. If we know your production goals, we can determine the production rate needed to get that volume. Then we can evaluate the process and flow required with the appropriate instrumentation and controls. Then, after customer approval, we specifically look at the structure and utilities. Now we can provide the distiller and architects detailed information on the amount of space and the size of the building needed to meet those production goals while remaining aware of the process and utility requirements, the equipment and vessel specifications, and the necessary safety and code protocols.”

Archer told Beverage Master Magazine that the distillery’s geographic location usually helps determine the look, feel and branding image of the distillery and the product. For example, rural Texas distilleries look different from a modern metropolitan or urban location, and the brand image is usually marketed in the same way.

Include Visual Aesthetics and Alternate Income Sources

“What we have been noticing is the trend of utilizing the distillery equipment as a feature of the visitor experience,” said Archer. “The still, fermenters and all process equipment become integral to the visual experience and become central to the distillery’s design. The distiller must remember, though, that location-specific codes and safety regulations always have something to do with how far any distiller can go with this idea. Still, overall, visual integration is important.”

“We also see distillery designs drawn up to include alternative types of income-producing activities like coffee shops, retail and brand marketing areas, and event spaces. We know bourbon has to be aged for a minimum of three years before it can be bottled, so unless the distiller can just sit and wait, they have to generate income in other ways. Of course, they can always buy whiskey and sell or blend it as their own during the initial aging period, but they can also produce less time-consuming spirits, like gin, moonshine or rum. They can put on and hold special events and, of course, market their brand’s swag.”

Distillery expansion is always on the minds of any distiller. Moving from a batch distillation to continuous distillation puts the distiller in an immediate position to sell spirits on the wholesale market. Archer said that distillery expansion is typical, and the key to successful growth is having the space for the additional equipment, fermentation and grain storage. It’s better and more valuable to consider the aspects of expansion upfront in your design because it’s almost always cheaper and more cost-effective to expand within an established building rather than building a new addition.

The Green Aspect

“There have been recent trends toward a more environmentally responsible mentality with green designs, carbon capturing or building to optimize the use of gravity in the flow of the distilling process,” said Archer. “We’ve been asked to engineer around all aspects of renewable energy, including wind, solar and geothermal energy solutions, while also considering CO2 emission reduction or collection for repurposing purposes. Fermenters naturally give off CO2, as does the spent grain. We’ve seen a movement to capture and compress that CO2 and market it to soft drink and similar use companies. Building so that your production process is mostly powered by gravity, similar to the process used in moonshining days, is another option. Stillage has become a big issue for distillers. Large quantities are produced with dwindling opportunities for recycling or disposal. Sending it down the sewer is expensive, and because of the boom in craft spirit production, some areas are producing too much of it, even for animal feedstock. The green aspect is very appealing upfront. Everyone wants to do it, but without any incentives, it is cost-prohibitive for the craft distiller, so ultimately, only a few actually have the means to do it.”

Perfecting Your Product is Key

“A successful distillery design starts with the product itself,” said Archer. “The first thing to do is produce a good product at the target quantity goals according to your business plan. From an engineering perspective, you need to know the process requirements to produce that product consistently. You must then consider code requirements, safety regulations and ease of operation. This method delivers process repeatability and savings in manpower through possible automation. After you perfect your product and process, you can focus on building the visitor experience. Historically, if you try to do this in reverse, you’ll have problems, and in today’s distillery, you need operational efficiency along with an aesthetically pleasing visitor experience. There’s an inherent tourism aspect to distillery life in the modern marketplace.”

Spirit Hound Distillers: In Relentless Pursuit of Quality

By: Nan McCreary

Hound dogs are famous for their amazing and relentless ability to follow a scent to the end. For head distiller Craig Engelhorn and his partners, who opened Spirit Hound Distillers  in 2012, choosing the hound dog as their namesake was only fitting for their pursuit of quality as Lyons Colorado’s first craft distillery.

Inspired by their love of whisky and their home state, the friends set out to create an all-malt, 100% Colorado whisky. Their journey began with a search for property in their hometown of Lyons. They found an ideal setting — along one of the two main routes to Rocky Mountain National Park, with heavy summer traffic — but the owner balked at their offer. Undaunted, they negotiated for a year and a half until, finally, they were able to secure the property.

  But that was just the beginning. As a former brewer at Oskar Blue Grill & Brew in their hometown, Engelhorn knew how to ferment malted barley, but he faced two challenges:  First, he needed equipment, and secondly, he needed base product. Both were in short supply, considering limited resources.

  After substantial research, Engelhorn convinced his partners to buy copper and the tools to hand-build a custom copper pot still following the traditional specifications used in Scottish whisky production. “I looked at pictures of stills, and designed an amalgam, limited only by my ability to fabricate metal,” Engelhorn told Beverage Master Magazine. “Our spirits still is a 150-gallon pot still with a tall, tapered column, and makes delicious spirits.”

  The search for product was no less daunting. “In a nod to Scottish tradition, we wanted peat-smoked malt for our grain,” Engelhorn said. “One of our tenets was to use all local products. While Colorado has many barley farms, we only found one that used peat to smoke their malt, Colorado Malting Company in Alamosa.” Spirit Hound Distillers  has been using Colorado Malting Company’s peated malt since the beginning and is now their biggest customer for the product.

  With equipment and product in hand, Spirit Hound Distillers was able to begin producing malted whiskey, but there was just one problem:  Like a lot of start-up distilleries, they could not afford to wait for the whisky to provide cash flow to keep them afloat. Again, like the spirit of the hound dog, they were relentless: In 2012, they celebrated their grand opening with an 84-proof Classic Gin infused with local, fresh-picked juniper berries, a product that is still popular today. At the same time, they picked up a decaf coffee liqueur called Richardo’s, a homemade recipe that was created years ago by a few Lyons locals. While Spirit Hound Distillers did not own the product, sales helped keep the coffers full until they could release the malt whisky. Spirit Hound Distillers also crafted a   Sambuca-style anise liquor, rum and an un-aged version of its whisky called White Dog Moonshine.

  While Spirit Hound Distillers settled in for the long haul and waited for their prized whisky to age, disaster struck the small town of Lyons: The Colorado Floods of 2013. “We were only about eight or nine months old,” Engelhorn remembered, “when monsoons in the mountains sent water ripping through our little town. I was trapped in the distillery at the time with one and a half-foot of water, but I stayed put because I was surrounded by a river and was afraid to get out.”  As a result of the flood, Spirit Hound Distillers lost raw materials, including malted barley, sugar and labels, and some product. The building was not damaged, but had to be stripped to the studs, dried and sanitized. Again, the Spirit Hound Distillers folks were undeterred: They salvaged a half-submerged barrel of 150-proof rum, labeled it Flood Rum, and sold it as a vehicle for raising funds to rebuild the District’s Lyons Fire Station #2 which was destroyed in the flood. “This was a silver lining in the storm for us,” Engelhorn reflected. “We raised $10,000 for the fire department, plus we got some good press.”

  Finally, in 2015, after years of planning and overcoming obstacles, Engelhorn and his partners released long-awaited bottles from five, 53-gallon oak barrels of Straight Malt Whisky filled prior to the historic floods. The bottles quickly sold out. At the time of release, Spirit Hound Distillers was probably one of only three makers of malt whisky in Colorado.

  Today, Straight Malt Whisky is the distillery’s flagship product. Barley is both grown and malted in Alamosa, with addition of a small amount of peated malt to give the whisky a Scottish twist. The product is double-distilled in two copper pots: In the first distillation, the wash is run through a washing or stripping still to separate the alcohol and other flavorful compounds; In the second distillation, the procedure is more refined, designed to slowly eliminate harmful impurities in the heads and tails, keeping only the middle. The whisky then ages for a minimum of two years in new-full-sized charred American oak barrels. According to Engelhorn, peat-smoked malt gives their malt whisky a smoky, earthy character, like a Highland-style scotch. “We compare well with Glenmorangie Single Malt Whisky,” he said.

  Spirit Hound Distillers Single Malt Whisky goes into barrel at 125 proof and, because of Colorado’s high altitude, water evaporates faster than alcohol, so the whisky comes out at 127 to 130 proof. “I appreciate the high proof,” Engelhorn told Beverage Master Magazine, “because you get enhanced esters and aldehydes, which add flavor to the whisky.”  All whiskeys are cut to 90 proof before bottling, except for their Cask Strength Malt Whisky, which is only available in 375mL bottles in the tasting room.

  As an added distinction, Spirit Hound Distillers does not blend barrels: All whiskeys or whiskies are bottled as single barrel batches, with each bottle marked with a barrel and bottle number. According to Engelhorn, this allows consumers to experience the many nuances that make each barrel unique. “We offer flights from four different barrels in our tasting room so customers can experience these nuances. Rather than make a standardized product, we embrace the differences, and because we’re a small distillery we can have more variation coming from small malt houses than the large guys can have.”

  Spirit Hound Distillers also produces — as a special release — a bottled in bond malt whiskey; a designation created in 1897 to protect the industry from unscrupulous producers of poor alcohol. With this designation, whisky (of any grain) must be aged at least four years, not altered by any means other than filtration, reduced in proof to exactly 100 proof and produced by one distiller at a single distillery in one season. “Bottled in bond whiskeys or whiskies  are kind of rare,” Engelhorn said, “so for a small distillery, this makes an important statement. Unless you know what to look for on the label, you may not know the source of what you are drinking. With a bottled-in-bond label, you know exactly where it comes from.”

  In addition to its Straight Malt Whisky and its Cask Strength Malt Whisky, Spirit Hound Distillers also creates a Colorado Honey Whisky. In partnership with a local apiary, Bee Squared, the distillery provides the apiary with spent malt whisky barrels, and the apiary uses them to age raw honey, rotating the barrel once a day. When the apiary empties the honey, they give the barrels back to Spirit Hound Distillers, who then age their malt whisky in the honey barrel for an additional 90 days. According to Engelhorn, the whisky compliments the natural honey in the barrel, and adds a touch of sweetness. The Colorado Honey Whisky is a limited production because honey is not always available. It is easily the distillery’s best seller, Engelhorn said.

  Spirit Hound Distillers also produces rum, vodka, liquors and three styles of gin. The distillery uses fresh Rocky Mountain water to cut the proof. “The water makes a difference,” Engelhorn told Beverage Master Magazine. “We’re in the St. Vrain Watershed, and the water is naturally delicious. We use it right as it comes in: We do not have to chemically adjust it or filter it. It’s low in minerals and gives our spirits a soft mouthfeel and some sweetness.” The distillery also uses locally sourced juniper for their gins, and has a deal with locals that if they bring in fresh berries, they will receive a free drinks or bottle depending on how much they bring in.

  After 10 years, the folks at Spirit Hound Distillers have clearly succeeded in their mission to produce high-quality hand-crafted spirits. Average production is seven barrels, or 53 gallons a month, with an annual case production of 6,000-7000 bottles. With 14 employees, the distillery has distribution in Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Texas. “We’re in the business of fun,” Engelhorn said. “If we’re not having fun doing our jobs, we’re missing something.”

  While Engelhorn can take pride in his accomplishments, he is not resting on his laurels, and, in true hound dog fashion, is always ready to overcome whatever challenge comes his way. In fact, such a challenge hit in 2020 when the state shut down the distillery (among other facilities) because of COVID. But once again, Engelhorn and crew turned lemon into lemonade: they converted vodka-like spirits into disinfectant sanitizer and distributed it to first responders, healthcare workers, public servants, and local businesses. “Again, this was a silver lining for us,” Engelhorn said. “The tasting room was closed, but if they came in here to pick up hand sanitizer— one customer at a time — they would often buy whiskey while they were here.”

In the meantime, Engelhorn hopes to expand regional distribution, as he would like Spirit Hound Distillers to be known as one of the most premium products coming out of Colorado. Judging by the past— and the relentless spirit of the hound dog— odds are likely that he will achieve that goal.

For more information on Spirit Hound Distillers, visit… www.spirithound.com

Innovation Helps Modernize Brewing Equipment

By: Alyssa L. Ochs

At Beverage Master Magazine, we’re always looking to keep up with craft brewing trends, which more often than not relates to pieces of innovative equipment and new technologies. Certain types of new equipment are slowly but steadily being introduced to breweries, as are new technologies, tools, mechanisms and improvements to processes relied upon in the past.

  These things factor into how efficiently breweries can operate during challenging times and how memorable their beers are when they reach consumers. To learn more about the role of new equipment in the modern brewery setting, we looked into what’s being used in breweries lately and what industry leaders who work in this space are saying.

Types of Equipment & New Changes

  There are a few essential equipment types that breweries use today. Examples include the malt mill, mash tun, filtration system, heat exchanger and brite tank. Breweries also regularly use pumps, valves, kegs, hydrometers and equipment for dispensing and packaging.

  While experienced brewers are already familiar with all of these things, they might be interested in new equipment options and types of technology to potentially save time, money or labor. Certain machinery may preserve hops better, improve quality control or keep processes more consistent for a better result. Meanwhile, new technology might facilitate multi-purpose machines in a small space or accommodate a shift to using more cans as the business grows. As the industry continues to trend toward aluminum cans, canning equipment is in demand and being considered by brewers who have traditionally stuck to glass bottles.

Equipment and Technology Worth Learning About

  These days, there are fully automated, multi-vessel systems to serve breweries’ needs and specialized wort aeration and oxygenation equipment to

improve brewing processes. Developments have been made to pneumatic conveyors that remove spent grains and tank systems that save water and conserve energy by using compressed air instead of CO2 and have recyclable inner bags. Meanwhile, sustainable design and build practices have been gaining traction for environmental stewardship, future economic vitality and customers’ social enrichment.

  We’ve been following specific advancements, including BrewSavor’s kink-resistant hoses, Thielmann’s multi-purpose aseptic containers, and Twin Monkeys’ low-key and affordable automatic canning line. IntelligentX software compares supply chain and production constraints with beer drinkers’ preferences, and FliteBrite created a “smart flight” serving system to assist menu development at establishments serving craft beer.

  Other machinery and technology-related updates include fully automated, stainless steel crossflow filters for better beer filtration and automated brewing systems with touch screens and mobile technology graphics. These brewing systems are equipped with artificial intelligence features that give feedback on beer produced while integrating customer feedback with manufacturing data. Some professional brewers are not particularly interested in all these “bells and whistles” and believe they are not worth the money and extra staff training to do what they already do best. However, new breweries and current establishments undergoing transition may be curious to adopt a few practical, high-tech features to create a more automated, organized or modern operation.

  Even some seemingly simple pieces of equipment, such as kegs, have been updated to make them more suitable for the current brewing environment. Now you can find stainless steel barrels with automated control systems for better precision and slim diameter kegs to store beer in limited spaces.

  Justin Willenbrink, Blefa Kegs’ sales director for North America, told Beverage Master Magazine that while not much has changed over the years concerning stainless steel kegs, the innovation comes from the barrels’ safety and quality.

  “Each keg from Blefa comes with an integrated pressure relief valve to reduce the risk to producers and on-premise staff by creating a safe failure,” Willenbrink said. “Quality has been the cornerstone of our company for more than 100 years. Durability can only be guaranteed by high-quality material, reliable operating production equipment, highly qualified staff and high-precision manufacturing according to your specifications. These high-quality standards allow us to be the only manufacturer of stainless steel kegs in the world to offer a guarantee of 30 years – a promise to all our customers that they have purchased a reliable and extremely durable asset.”

  Blefa and American Keg partnered in early 2020 to serve the North American market with a domestic manufacturer. Since then, the companies have been working together to upgrade their equipment and support U.S. customer needs, ensuring that efficiency gains in production align with the quality standards of both companies.

  “As a world’s leader in stainless steel packaging, Blefa and American Keg can provide various sizes from 10 liters to 59.62 liters. The U.S. 1/2 bbl, slim 1/4 bbl and 1/6 bbl are the most popular for both on- and off-premise needs. All kegs from our stock are equipped with drop-in D-Type spears from Micro Matic,” Willenbrink said. 

Buy New, Used or Lease?

  When brewers think about updating their equipment, dollar signs often flash before their eyes as new equipment costs start adding up. However, there are options available for breweries on tight budgets, such as leasing new or buying used equipment still in great condition.

  Canning lines are among the most common systems that breweries debate about buying or leasing. Leasing involves entering into a legal agreement for a specified time and works somewhat like a loan. At the end of the lease period, the effectiveness of the equipment may be significantly diminished and therefore not an attractive purchase for another brewing operation. However, you may be able to purchase your current machine for a discounted price. As long as it is still in good working condition, this is an ideal option since staff would already be familiar with it, and you would not encounter any delay in production.

  Capital leases are common, especially when a brewery is only looking to update a single piece of equipment rather than start from scratch or do a total equipment overhaul. It may be beneficial to have a lawyer look over any lease agreement before signing to check the interest rates, accounting implications and terms of the lease in case of equipment malfunctions and who is responsible for repairs. Other considerations include any plans for expansion, durability and logistics of getting equipment into and out of the facility.

What’s Next for Brewing Equipment and Technology?

  There’s a lot to look forward to for brewers who keep an eye out for the next great invention. Many manufacturers and suppliers have a finger on the pulse of the industry and can anticipate the needs of brewers in the years ahead. These companies’ successes depend on how well they change and adapt to the shifts and evolutions of the industry, especially during pandemic times.

  When asked how brewing equipment can best adapt to the changing needs of the modern brewery, Willenbrink said stainless steel kegs are the most well-equipped for providing a quality product because they protect the beverage from harmful UV light and oxidation while ensuring that quality isn’t compromised. 

  “Not only is it the most profitable package, but it is also the most sustainable with stainless steel kegs being 100% recyclable,” he said. “When it comes to the packaging of beer, wine or soft drinks, kegs made of stainless steel offer the best protection. In their reliability, economic efficiency and sustainability, our kegs provide first-class results.”

Willenbrink’s advice to breweries looking at new equipment is to never compromise on quality and make investments in assets that offer maximum safety and reliability for your needs.

  “By choosing a quality supplier, you are making a decision to work with a company that has invested in automation and quality control systems that ensure the highest level of precision and process,” he said. “Comprehensive support from first contact through delivery and continuing with service capabilities from highly qualified technical staff ensure experience and commitment to each investment made.”

  With more automation, there should be greater consistency from one brewer to the next, something vital during staffing changes and high service industry turnover rates. Yet, these machines and technologies don’t remove brewers from their craft; they simply eliminate tedious processes so that beverage producers can have more time to be creative and take their passion for great beer to the next level.

Precision in Canning and Bottling Craft Beer

By: Cheryl Gray

The can or bottle of craft beer consumers select from store shelves is more than attractive packaging. The elements that go into fabricating, filling and sealing those containers can make the difference between a flat beer, leaking containers, or worse yet, a contaminated product.   

  To avoid these pitfalls, craft brewers turn to companies whose specialties are to help the brewing industry protect its most important asset—the beer it makes. There is expertise to address virtually every need that brewers, large and small, can rely upon to meet their production needs.

  American Canning is one of those experts. The company, headquartered in Austin, Texas, launched in 2013 making equipment, supplies and mobile canning services accessible to craft brewers regardless of their budgets. Clients navigate the company’s user-friendly e-commerce site to order as many or as few supplies as needed. Most items are shipped on the same day. Melody Meyer is Vice President of Sales and Marketing for American Canning.  

  “As a mobile canning company, supply distributor, and machine manufacturer, American Canning is uniquely positioned to help brewers understand and evaluate all facets of a value-driven canning operation. It specializes in the craft beverage space and is equipped to address customer needs from planning, to supply procurement and production execution.”   

  Meyer cautions that assessing a brewery’s packaging requirements involves more than just machinery. As canning needs and goals are addressed along with space, labor and financial considerations, Meyer says that there are two more essential questions for a brewery to keep in mind.   

  “What is the total volume and type of can-packaged product that needs to be canned? And how will it be packaged?”

  Meyer adds that once these questions are addressed, American Canning readies its clients for next steps in the ever-changing packaging environment of the craft brewing industry. 

  “Considerations must be made from all available options, including manual vs automatic, atmospheric vs counterpressure, in-line vs rotary, and intermittent vs continuous motion with regard to each’s capacity, quality, consistency, repeatability, ease-of-use. Small batch packaging of one beverage type for on-premise service may best be accomplished with a compact and cost-effective, countertop filler/seamer whereas larger-scale distribution of numerous products in multiple can styles would require a more robust, flexible, and higher speed counterpressure, rotary line.

    While I can’t speak for every manufacturer, American Canning is focused on engineering products with the highest quality process controls, at an approachable price point, for compact craft spaces, all while being incredibly easy-to-use with minimum operators and little to no product waste. It’s a tall task, but our two filler/seamer machines have already achieved these goals. We simply believe we can expand upon our foundation into a variety of machines with different speeds and filling capabilities, not to mention the ancillary machines that are needed to surround a filler seamer, such as infeed tables and can handle applicators.” 

  SKA Fabricating in Durango, Colorado is another manufacturer with its eye on the future packaging needs of craft breweries, providing its customers with a wide range of depalletizers, conveyors, and packaging line equipment. The company was founded in 2012 by craft brewer Matt Vincent, whose award-winning Ska Brewing is touted as the

largest in Durango. While Ska Fabricating was born out of necessity to address the brewing, packaging and distribution of Ska Brewing, its innovations help breweries around the globe. With more than 1,000 clients across the United States and abroad, Marketing Director Elise Mackay says that the company is well-positioned to handle virtually any packaging need. 

  “Ska Fabricating provides total packaging lines from beverage to non-beverage industries across the globe. They range from canned or bottled beer, cannabis, kombucha and coffee to aerosol or paint cans and spice jars. We are well-rounded and diverse enough to handle just about anything. Our systems can range from a 20’ x 20’ square at 20 containers a minute to a 60’ x 60’ square running 250CPM and above! We do everything we can to accommodate the space and speeds of a prospect’s needs.” 

  Mackay explains how the company has adapted to the changing demands of the craft brewing industry and how it works with clients to create the most cost-effective solutions. One major decision is whether to opt for automated or manual systems. 

  “Automation is key when it comes to running an economic line and has a number of upsides compared to manual systems. Our manual systems are available for half-height use which is ideal for a low-budget startup but requires more personnel. When the time is right, we have several solutions to help in the next steps of automation. 

  We are constantly striving to make our products better and have adapted over the years through various market changes and requests for specific additions. Anything from safety, line controls, and using our date coding system to hit the bottom of the can instead of the flange are being implemented.” 

  California-based XpressFill Systems LLC manufactures a wide range of can and bottle filling systems designed with ease of use and longevity as top priorities. The company, headquartered in San Luis Obispo, was founded in 2007 and serves multiple industries, including craft brewing. Technology is a primary focus. The company offers several models that capture volumetric, level fill and carbonated beverage technology.  Rod Silver, who spearheads Marketing and Sales for XpressFill Systems, describes features of some of the firm’s products, which he says are affordable, compact and easy to use. 

  “The volumetric filler controls the amount of fill with the use of a very precise timer. The filler is calibrated to your specifications and is capable of very accurate fills, regardless of inconsistencies that might exist in the bottle glass. …The level filler controls the amount of fill with the use of a level sensor. When the liquid reaches the sensor, the filler automatically stops the fill. The liquid level is set by adjusting the height of the shelf, which can be adjusted to approximately 1/16 increments. Both the volumetric (XF260/XF460) and the level filler (XF2100/XF4100) have a self-contained, self-priming pump that draws the liquid from any barrel or carboy. There is no reservoir, the liquid flows directly from the bulk container, through the filler into the bottle.” 

  Silver adds that XpressFill Systems offers a pair of fillers for bottling and/or canning carbonated beverages.  

  “The XF4500C is a counter pressure system capable of filling 200 12 oz cans per hour. The XF4500/XF2500 is a counter pressure filler for bottles. We also offer an open fill system, the XF2200 (2 spout) and XF4400 (4 spout) capable of filling 300 / 600 cans per hour. All systems have a pre-fill CO2 purge cycle. The counter pressure system requires a minimal air compressor to operate the pneumatic actuators. Open can fillers have a moveable shelf that is easily adjustable for various can sizes. The maximum can diameter is 4 inches. The counter pressure filler has a stopper that must fit snugly into the can or bottle opening to seal and pressurize the container. Our standard opening for cans is a 202-lid size but custom stoppers can be made.” 

  For craft breweries that opt for cans, seam protection is an important consideration. OneVision® Corporation, founded in 1994, shares its innovations with the craft brewing industry throughout North America and Europe. The Ohio-based company, located in suburban Columbus, offers can seam inspection equipment that helps breweries monitor double seam quality for their beer products. Regularly inspecting and tracking internal double seam dimensions helps to prevent leaking seams and beer from going flat. Marketing Manager Amy McKee describes the features of the company’s signature product. 

   “OneVision® has developed the SeamMate® Craft Beverage System that includes all the necessary equipment and software craft brewers need to properly inspect and track the quality of can double seams. We conveniently offer system bundles ranging in price and equipment dependent on a brewery’s canning operation. All system bundles can be upgraded as a brewery’s canning operation grows.   

  SeamMate® System software now includes a proprietary measurement that estimates double seam tightness by analyzing the double seam cross-section. This new measurement is especially effective at detecting too-tight seams on beverage cans. This measurement provides inspectors and quality managers with assurance that the visual cover hook inspection was accurate, or it can serve as an alternative to manual cover hook removal.” 

  Innovation is perpetual at OneVision®, says McKee, pointing to the latest feature available with the SeamMate® System. 

  “SeamMate® System includes the optional AutoAlertTM that automatically analyzes measured data and alerts users to potential double seam quality issues. This unique function helps predict and prevent seam leaks.”   

  Whether bottling or canning beer products, experts say craft breweries should plan for growth, which includes the decision on whether to go either automated or manual–or somewhere in between.  It comes down to when to invest for expansion.  XpressFill Systems’ Rod Silver explains it this way.    

  “The primary factors in evaluating the benefits of each are (the) cost of equipment, rate of production, cost of maintenance, cost of labor and equipment lifetime.”

Lots, Codes, and Life: Dating in the Beer Industry

By: Erik Myers

As the number of active breweries in the country exceeds 7000 and roars toward 8000, it’s more important than ever to consider one of the crucial facets of your packaged product: shelf life, and how to communicate it to your customer. It’s not just marketing; date lot coding and traceability is required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration under the Bioterrorism Act of 2002. However, the exact method of recording date lot codes is ultimately up to each individual brewer, and there is a vast array of practices in the industry that can ensure that your customer knows how fresh your beer is, and that you’re in compliance with federal code at the same time. 

Why Is Date Coding Important?

  The easiest answer to this question is because you must. It’s the law. In the unfortunate situation that your brewery – or one of your suppliers – might have to recall product from the market, having date lot coding that is on every package, is easy to find, and easy to understand will allow your staff and every downstream partner, whether it’s a distributor or a retailer, to comply with the recall efficiently and ultimately save you headaches and money.

  It’s also a great tool that your sales force–or your distributor–can use to be sure that beer in the market is as fresh as possible, it can help with FIFO inventory control and create an accountability tool for you to use with all of your downstream partners.

  Finally, it’s an extra layer of transparency for your customer, as well as an educational tool, allowing you to provide them with the best–and freshest–possible product, and the best possible customer experience.

How to Code

  For better or worse, there is no standard way or best practice guide to follow for date coding your beer. From a practical, legal standpoint, as long as there is a code on your package that is traceable to a batch at your particular factory and you can track that batch back to its component ingredients, you’ve complied with FDA standards. However, esoteric or confusing coding can be a problem in the marketplace and lacks customer transparency.

  Many food and beverage manufacturers use a Julian Code to signify what date an item was manufactured or packaged. Julian Code is a system designed by the U.S. Military to easily date MREs and is easy to track and assign with simple programming tasks. It uses the last digit of the year in question followed by the day of the year.  (For example, a product dated with December 15, 2018 the Julian Code would be 8349.  December 15 is the 349th day of the year in non-leap-years.)  While this provides a standard format that is unique per day and easily traceable on a package and within a database, it is not easy for a customer to read and gain information from. An eager beer drinker looking for a fresh IPA would have no way of knowing what information was being presented to them and might end up looking elsewhere.

  However, a standard date might not be the easy go-to answer that it seems. A report by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Harvard University’s Food and Law Policy Clinic (The Dating Game, 2013, NRDC) notes that confusing date labeling leads to a tremendous amount of food waste in the United States as “open dates can come in a dizzying variety of forms, none of which are strictly defined or regulated on a federal level” and that “although most date labels are intended as indicators of freshness and quality, many consumers mistakenly believe they are indicators of safety.” Putting information on your package that isn’t well thought out may create more harm than good.

Finding the Right Date

  Back in 1996, Anheuser-Busch launched a marketing campaign in a bid to show that their beer was the freshest on the market and coined the term, “Born on date.” It has become a ubiquitous term in the beer industry, regardless of the fact that the date was dropped from all Budweiser labeling in 2015 in favor of a “Freshest before” date. Just because the biggest brewery in the land does it hardly makes it an industry standard, however. It’s not even standard across their entire company.

  Megan Lagesse of Anheuser-Busch InBev’s “The Higher End” craft division notes, “Some of [our] partners (Goose Island, [and] Wicked Weed) are doing dual date coding (brewed on and best by) but everyone isn’t because not all of our production equipment has the capability to dual date code,” she says. “So, we chose best by date coding [for] broader consistency, because everyone understands an expiration date but not everyone is educated enough to know IPAs should be drank as fresh as possible, but you can age wild beers and stouts.”

  Jeremy Danner, Ambassador Brewer of Kansas City’s Boulevard Brewing, notes proudly that Boulevard prints, “both packaged on and best by dates on all cans, bottles, keg rings and exterior boxes. If you’re going to only print one,” he says, “it should be the packaged-on date, as thoughts vary when it comes to shelf life.”

  That shelf life–the basis of rationale behind a best by date–can be difficult, if not impossible, for a small brewery to determine. While larger breweries have the benefit of tasting panels, labs, and a vast number of data points, many small breweries get by with a microscope and a handful of jack-of-all-trade production team members. In small breweries, with limited, sometimes unique, production batches, shelf life is often the product of an educated guess, rather than a robust statistically significant tasting panel. Even pressure from a distributor can affect what date goes onto a package and in many cases a brewer will resort to relying on a packaged-on date and using phrases like, “Do not age” or “Best when its fresh” in lieu of a best by date.

  Doing so, however, relies on the customer to be educated about your product, and that might not always be as easy as it sounds. Pete Ternes of Chicago’s Middle Brow beer notes, “90% of consumers don’t know what it means for a particular beer to have been packaged on a particular date.” While there are many craft beer fans who are incredibly well-educated and can ascertain which beer styles can handle age and which can’t, most beer-drinkers don’t know the implications of a beer’s brewed or packaged-on date.

  Complicating the issue is lack of consistent temperature control once product leaves the brewery. A brewery may post a shelf life of 45 days for an IPA, but not the conditions under which that shelf life has been ascertained or should be maintained. A beer with a shelf life of 45 days at 38F has a shelf life of only 11 days at room temperature.

No Easy Answers

  Unfortunately, until an industry standard or federal regulation is put into place, there is no easy answer about how to best approach lot and date coding. Ultimately, it is up to you to choose the method that you think will both comply with the FDA and provide information to your customers. Regardless of what format you do choose, providing context and information to your customers–whether that customer is the distributor, the retailer, or the end consumer–as to how you arrived at the decision of what lot and date coding method you’ve chosen is the best path and can double as an excellent marketing and education tool for your brewery.

Spirit of the Rising Sun

By: Tod Stewart

Japan is synonymous with many things: electronics, cars, origami, sake, sushi, intricate art, Sumo wrestling and architecture. Now, if you’re willing to wait out a significant chunk of your day for it, cheesecake.  But whisky?

  Even after seeing Lost in Translation many years ago (a movie featuring Bill Murray as Bob Harris, an aging movie star visiting Japan to promote Suntory whisky), the connection between Japan and whisky still didn’t really register with me. Thankfully that has since changed, and I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying numerous different Japanese whisky expressions, both at home as well as in Japan.

  Today, these drams are becoming increasingly difficult to find, and when you do find one you might experi-ence a bit of sticker shock. However, as with most things Japanese, you do get what you pay for (and here I’m primarily talking about the items I have tried: sake, sushi, Japanese knives, etc.). The Japanese whiskies I’ve sampled have invariably been top-notch. And much to the chagrin of the Scots, they’ve actually been stealing accolades from the world’s top drams.

  A few years back, in his World Whisky Bible 2015, industry expert Jim Murray crowned the Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013, from Suntory, “World Whisky of the Year.” As it turns out, nary a Scottish whisky made the top five. Since then, Japanese whiskies have continued to bag metal at competitions across the globe (in fact, they were garnering “best of” accolades as far back as 2008). If there’s any consolation to the Scottish distillers now adding tears rather than water to their tipples, it’s that, had it not been for the Scots, the Japanese would likely not be where they are today in terms of distilling.

  Japan has a distilling history that may reach as far back as the 1700s. Yet it wasn’t until after the Second World War that Shinjiro Torii along with Masataka Taketsuru, established the Yamazaki Distillery, which would eventually become Suntory, near Kyoto. In 1918, Taketsuru journeyed to Scotland. He enrolled in the University of Glasgow, becoming the first Japanese person to study the art of whisky making and apprenticed at a number of famous Scottish malt distilleries before bringing his knowledge (and a wife) back to Japan.

  In 1934, Taketsuru branched out on his own, establishing the Nikka Whisky company with a distillery located in Yoichi, on the island of Hokkaido, in the northern part of the country.

  This area seemed, to him, to most closely replicate the Scottish landscape. Japan’s “whisky country” however, is less differentiated than those of Scotland.

  “Although Japan may look like a small island on the map, if you compare it with the map of Scotland at the same scale, you will notice that the nation is much larger and is spread from North to South,” notes Naoki Tomoyoshi, International Business Development Representative for Nikka Whisky. “The climate can vary from the famous skiing resorts in Hokkaido to the beautiful beaches of Okinawa. Within this country, Nikka’s founder Masataka Taketsuru headed north in search for the ideal place for his whisky. He found the land of Yoichi to be the perfect place, a seaside location with a cool and humid climate along with an ideal water source. Then, in 1969, he founded his second distillery, Miyagikyo Distillery, in the mountainous valleys of Miyagi Prefecture, located in the northern part of Japan’s main island. His aim was to create a different style of whisky than that of Yoichi Distillery. The surrounding environment plays an important role in the maturation process, and when that is combined with the different production methods between the two distilleries, the variation of the flavors that can be created is countless.”

  Gardner Dunn, Senior Brand Ambassador at Suntory Japanese Whisky, notes that rather than defined re-gions, the elevation of the Suntory distilleries and the subsequent differences in temperature have more of an impact on the final products.

  “Yamazaki, outside Kyoto, sits at around 160 feet above sea level,” he points out. “Hakushu is one of the highest distilleries, at roughly 2,313 feet in Yamanashi prefecture. The difference in temperature between the two dictates the use of certain sized barrels to optimize maturation.” Dunn explains that as the temperature drops, the rate of maturation slows. Therefore, spirits matured in warmer climates – rum, for example – devel-op more quickly than northern spirits, largely due to the rate of evaporation.

  The proximity to the sea — just a kilometre from the Sea of Japan — and the influence of the salty ocean air, appreciably contributes to maritime tang of Nikka’s Yoichi line of whiskies. I recently sampled a dram or two of Nikka Yoichi (No Age Statement) Single Malt, which seemed to combine the warm, toffee, malt and hon-eyed tones of a Highland malt with the smoky, lemony and in this case, rather intensely briny notes more typ-ical of something like Bunnahabhain’s Ceobanach — a peated offering from a distillery that typically doesn’t use peat.

  The peat used in Nikka’s whiskies was sourced locally until the 1970s. Today the distillery uses imported barley peated to the required levels. Dunn confirms that Suntory, as well, imports barley from Scotland that has been peated to a specified degree. As well, both Nikka and Suntory strive to use the purest water available.

  “The main source of water for Nikka’s Yoichi Distillery is from the mountain springs and surrounding rivers, in particular the Yoichi River,” Tomoyoshi points out, adding that water for the Miyagikyo Distillery is sourced from the Nikkawa River. Dunn reveals that both of Suntory’s distilleries use unique water sources. “Our beau-tiful, soft water is optimal for producing [our] style of whisky.”

  In terms of casks, Suntory and Nikka have somewhat similar approaches. “We both import and make our casks,” informs Tomoyoshi. “We have a cooperage in each distillery maintaining casks of different sizes and types of wood. We also source various types of casks from around the world, including ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks. All refurbishing and re-charring of the casks are done in-house in our cooperages.”

  Suntory uses a range, from ex-bourbon to American white oak and Spanish oloroso sherry casks. The company’s in-house cooperage also fashions barrels from Japanese Mizunara oak. “It is a very tight-grained oak that only grows in the North Island,” Dunn explains, noting that it matures very slowly and imparts notes of oriental incense, spice and coconut to the finished whisky.

  When it comes to whisky, distillers know that the shape and size are crucial in forming the character of the finished product. The copper pot stills used by Nikka Whisky were crafted in Japan and are of varying sizes. “All stills are slightly different from each other, which enable us to produce a wider variety of styles,” informs Tomoyoshi. “In general, the stills at Yoichi Distillery are smaller, with a straight neck and descending line arm. The stills at Miyagikyo are larger, with a bulge neck and ascending line arm.”

  Suntory operates two sets of eight distinctly shaped stills. As any distiller will attest, the size and shape of a still significantly impacts the spirit it produces, and the varying sizes employed by Nikka and Suntory no doubt play a role in crafting the unique character of the individual whiskies.

  While Japan’s whiskies have experienced a spike in popularity, the industry itself, like those in other countries, has weathered ups and downs. The whisky boom of the 1970s and early 1980s gave way to a slump in domestic whisky sales by the late ’80s, resulting in the closure of several distilleries. However, the international acclaim Japanese whiskies have since garnered has led to a resurgence in interest. A lot of interest, in fact. In the case of Nikka, a few factors combined to create the perfect storm surge of popularity. A surge so strong that it resulted in the discontinuation of age-statement whiskies.

  “We delisted most of our age-statement expressions in 2016,” confirms Tomoyoshi confirms. “This was due to many factors, such as the Nikka 80th anniversary in 2014 along with strong – yet organic – growth in foreign markets. Above all, the most impactful factor was the domestic Nikka fever caused by the NHK TV series Massan. This was unpredictable and sudden.”

  Massan was an Asadora – a “morning drama” – that ran from September 29th, 2014, until March 28th, 2015. Based on the lives of Masataka Taketsuruand and his Scottish wife Jessie Roberta “Rita” Cowan, it detailed the creation of Nikka Whisky…and landed a huge audience not only for the series, but for Nikka’s whiskies as well.

  Though they may currently be a little scarce in some international markets, Japanese whiskies are worth pursuing. They offer the best qualities of their Scottish counterparts — including complexity, harmony and great depth of character — along with certain exotic aspects that distinguish them as unique, different, and worthy of the accolades they have garnered both in the Far East and around the globe.

The Charismatic Spirit: The Heat of Jamaican Rum

By: Hanifa Sekandi

It is a warm summer night in Montego Bay. The sound of the ocean, the harmonious steel drums, sand beneath your toes, and laughter allow you to forget your worries while you clutch your cocktail in one hand. You have most likely never given much thought to that velvety smooth texture and golden color, the fermented by-product of sugarcane. It’s the drink that is unequivocally the life of the party. So infamous it deserves a special place in your holiday baked goods: rum. There is no better way to describe Jamaican-made rum than simply sublime.

  For some, it is the best accompaniment for plantain, callaloo, ackee and saltfish. Perhaps you prefer it while you dine on curry goat or spicy jerk chicken? It is the spirit that is bar-none, best sipped on the rocks. You feel the heat of this distilled spirit immediately pulsing through your entire body with just one sip. Rum, a Jamaican classic spirit with deep historic roots enlivens you and exhilarates you. You can fuss with it, add a little this or a little that but, rum revelers know it’s simply good just the way it is. What makes Jamaican rum so good?

  As you sample your way through the best of Jamaican rum you will learn quite quickly that each rum carries its own secret. This is why so many bar carts around the world carry more than one from a few of Jamaica’s acclaimed rum estates.

The Beginning of Jamaican Rum

  It was Christopher Columbus, in 1494, who brought sugarcane to the shores of Jamaica. This birthed an industry that although not as robust in size as it once was, still thrives today. With all things good, there is another side that is not as sweet. The production of rum in Jamaica began in 1655. It was brought over by British colonialists who imported the art of rum-making from Barbados. Under British rule, rum was made by the hands of enslaved labor. The mass production of rum during this time in Jamaica led to its popularity around the world. There were approximately 148 rum distilleries in Jamaica in 1893. When slavery was abolished in the 1800s the free and now finally autonomous rum laborer, was free to live as one should. This emancipation led to a decline in rum production.

  Where is rum today in Jamaica? In 1893 approximately 31, 555 acres of sugarcane was cultivated by sugar estates that housed and operated distilleries. Even with the reduction of the scale of production and rum mills, Jamaica produces 50 million liters of rum yearly. With only six remaining rum distilleries sugarcane, the oldest running industry in Jamaica is still a predominant labor source with the employment of over 50,000 people. Jamaican rum makers produce large and diverse varieties of rum that are distributed around to world to more than 70 countries. The six remaining rum distilleries are Worthy Park Estate, Appleton Estate, Long Pond Distillery, Clarendon Distillery, and Innswood Distillers Limited. The later three distilleries are owned by the National Rums of Jamaica.

Making Jamaican Rum

  Who knew sugarcane is the key ingredient to this deep rich spirit? With no sweetness on the palate when sipped that one would discern if they chewed on sugarcane. The process of making Jamaican rum is quite intriguing. Molasses, partially responsible for rums golden color is a sweet syrup with a thick consistency. Perhaps you have used it as an alternative sweetener. Blackstrap molasses is full of minerals and vitamins. With that said, a shot of

rum is not your new multivitamin replacement! This rich thick sweet syrup comes to life when sugarcane juice is boiled until it is crystallized and then fermented. In the case of gold-hued rums, the color begins to take hold by using oaken casks to age the clear liquid which turns color due to the tannins from the oak. On average Jamaican rums age close to seven years. A process that differs when making another popular spirit, white rum.

  Deeper-toned rums are made from the dunder or skimmings from vats used to boil the sugar and molasses. What makes each rum unique are the expertly blended elements that will determine the flavor profile and aromas. For example, the addition of caramel when aging commences creates a silkier and darker liquor. It’s these little nuances that create a vast difference between one rum to another although they may appear similar in appearance.

  A full-bodied rum is aged in casks that have great depth and are large in size. These casks, “puncheons”, can hold approximately 111.6 gallons. The difference between light and full-bodied rums is fermentation. In the case of full-bodied rum, slow fermentation is required, and this is referred to as wild fermentation. Light-bodied rum mostly produced in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico undergoes a process called cultured fermentation where yeast is derived from raw material. The aging period for these lighter-colored and dry rums is under four years. In some cases, light-bodied rums are aged for only one year.

Who Is Joy Spence?

The First Woman Master Blender?

  Appleton Estates is the oldest sugar estate and one of Jamaica’s six thriving rum distilleries. It is where Joy Spence, their Chief Chemist since 1981 and the first woman Master Blender, has been

making her incomparable mark in the global rum market. She has a Masters’ degree in Analytical Chemistry from Loughborough University. Spence was under the helm of the previous Appleton Estates Master Blender, Owen Tulloch for over 16 years who mentored her. During this time, she was able to use her passion for chemistry to become a world-renowned blender.

  In 1997 Spence, unbeknownst to her at the time, became the first woman master blender. At this time, there were no other women designated with this accolade. This show-stopping rum that Spence has been creating for over 35 years draws its sweet soft taste from the limestone-filtered spring water it uses from the Black River, the longest river in Jamaica. This distillery is located in a favorable area with limestone hills and an ecological system that works perfectly to nurture the abundance of greenery. Due to this natural irrigation sugarcane is easy to grow.

  Joy Spence is credited for masterfully blending two rums that made Appleton famous. The 8-Year-Old Reserve and “50-Year-Old which is according to Appleton Estates “the world’s oldest barrel-aged rum that has been bottled and sold. “The Appleton Estate 8-Year-Old Reserve, a full-bodied rum is probably one of the most recognized rum brands at your local liquor store. You have most like experienced its robust aroma and flavorful smooth notes. Sold at a price point that will make your jaw drop, something this good does not come cheap, the Appleton Estate 50 Year Old — Jamaica Independence Reserve rum by Spence will have you singing the best I ever had.

Notable Jamaican Rums

Appleton Estate 12-Year-Old Casks

Did you know the number on the front of the bottle is the number of years the rum has been aged? Yes, this is true. With so much variety offered by Appleton selecting your favorite rum is not an easy task. Once you have been introduced to one of their rums you will find yourself wanting to explore the entire repertoire. This 12-year aged rum has a smooth dark chocolate flavor and the sweet smell of almonds; you may catch hints of caramel. Best enjoyed on ice or just on its own. When you sip on one of these rums you are stepping into the magical world of Master Blender Joy Spence.

Worthy Park Single Estate Reserve

Rum-making began at this estate in 1741. Most people describe this rum’s flavor as earthy, citrusy, and spicy. An interesting combination that also includes other notes such as toffee, cinnamon, and cloves. Although it serves well on its own, it proves to be an excellent carrier of cocktails since it cuts through without overpowering other ingredients. Worthy Park Estates is a distillery that honors tradition and as a result, distill their rums in a traditional Jamaican Pot.

Hampden Estate Pure Single Jamaican Rum

Wild fermentation is the method used to make Hampden’s pure single rums. There is no sugar added during this process. Their Pure Single Jamaican rum aged for eight years carries a lot of heat. Its strong spicy, earthy herb-like taste with a touch of citrus, banana, and caramel strikes the palate with tremendous strength and also warms the senses. Serve over ice and sip slowly. This is the best way to go with this rum.

Long Pond Distillery — 18-Year-Old 2000 Mezan

Hopefully, the price tag does not scare you away from this vintage 18-year old Jamaican rum. This rum slowly ages and matures in a bourbon oak cask. As you can imagine, a lot of rich flavor and aromas embody this spirit. Its sharp ginger and tropical fruity notes along with a warm and spicy base create a nice finish.

How Breweries Give Back

Scenes at the 2017 Colorado Brewer’s Festival in downtown Fort Collins Saturday June 24, 2017.

By: Calvin Obbaatt

Long has been the notion that breweries are about making and selling beers, thus profits; but pause a minute, think of that one picture in your gallery or on your social media account holding a beer, buddies around you, genuine smiles captured so perfect, and tell me you believe a thing about the notion.

  Breweries aren’t simply a major aspect of a region’s culture and identity. The community has always been at the heart of the craft beer movement. Breweries are part of the fabric of their towns, serving as meeting places where people may enjoy a drink and a chat. Many small brewers have discovered methods to make a real influence on their communities beyond just manufacturing and selling beer – through philanthropic donations, sustainability initiatives, community fundraisers and partnering with small local startups. Breweries are also a significant hub for the entertainment and leisure industry, nurturing talent and growth by collaborating with local artists and musicians.

Community Fundraisers

  From time to time, a brewery will create a beer that allows customers to drink while supporting a good cause. Whether through sales of a limited-edition brew or a yearly series of charity beers, breweries often organize community fundraisers that raise money for specified purposes. The fundraisers attract more customers to the brewery and help beer lovers connect to their communities.

Collaboration with Local Startups

  They say no brewery is an island, and we couldn’t agree more. Since time immemorial, breweries have supported local businesses by providing a market for local farm produce used in brewing. Breweries collaborate with the local culinary industry, allowing restaurants, food trucks and other startups to sell their local delicacies during events hosted by the breweries.

Philanthropic Donations

  Financial aid has been one of the most straightforward ways through which breweries give back to their communities. We have been privileged to get to hear about some of the most generous brewery owners that, apart from quenching the thirst of beer lovers, have gone an extra step to make the world a better place through their philanthropic missions.

  Save the World Brewing Company’s story might be worth narrating even in a staunchly “non-alcoholic” church. Under Dave Rathkamp’s leadership, the Texas-based brewery dedicates 100% of its profits to philanthropic causes, supporting numerous organizations including Feed My Starving Children, Meals on Wheels and Habitat for Humanity. Save the World Brewing Company is the first local brewery in the United States to be entirely charitable, with all earnings going to charity.

  Langford, British Columbia-based V2V Black Hops Brewing is among some breweries in Canada that have taken a huge step towards helping challenged groups. The brewery donates a chunk of its income to assisting veterans in settling into the community. Inspired by its veteran founder, the brewery also makes direct donations to fund veteran PTSD therapy programs.

Sustainability Initiatives

  Pollution has hit record highs in the 21st century, and brewers are doing their part to alleviate some of the impacts. Sustainability is a priority in the brewery industry, and several players have been keen to make the world cleaner, better and more ecologically friendly. Many brewers have discovered that reducing their environmental effect may be accomplished in methods other than raising awareness or making donations.

  Many breweries across the world are undergoing significant transformations that aid in curbing environmental pollution. New Belgium Brewery is an excellent example of the rapid transition in the brewing industry to embrace sustainable production. The Colorado-based brewing company has intensified its efforts towards sustainability with active recycling measures dating back as earlier as 2017. The brewery reuses wasted grain, sorts recyclable waste to keep it out of landfills, and composts organic waste. The brewery currently generates enough revenue from the sale of cans, bottles and packaging to recycling factories to cover the wages of four employees.

  Beau’s, an Ontario-based brewery, considers the impact of carbon emissions and the need to track carbon footprints. Inorganic food is currently one of the most significant contributors to emissions, and that is why consuming organic products is at the brewery’s heart. Beau’s Local Organic is Canada’s first beer certified as both organic and carbon neutral. The beer is brewed on renewable energy and uses pure Ontario hops and 100% Quebec malts. Consumers selecting Beau’s Local Organic can rest assured that they are helping combat climate change and lowering their carbon footprint.

Nurturing Art & Music Talents

Through Social Events

  Social events are a place to go and have a good laugh and create memories, but they can also nurture talent. Think of the local jazz band, standup comedian, designer and other talents in your community. It might be surprising that some of them realized their abilities at the local craft brewery. Some found they could sing during that particular karaoke night; another discovered he is good at comedy when he got up during open mic; one came out in an outstanding outfit she made herself that no one could take their eyes off. In one way or another, the brewery has opened numerous opportunities to talented people.

Beer Collaborations

  Beer collaborations bring breweries from different areas together for the common good. The movement has seen these enterprises play an integral role in alleviating social problems. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, breweries continue working together to make one-of-a-kind, limited-edition beers. Some brewers are now collaborating to have a more considerable effect, pairing up to create a beer that helps local charities.

  Aurochs Brewing Company in Emsworth, Pennsylvania and Richbarn Roasters is one such collaboration dedicating a portion of its income to good causes in the community. The renowned coffee maker and brewery teamed up to make the Boondock Sláinte Irish Breakfast Stout to fund good causes in the community. Twelve percent of sales of the brew, made from a blend of American oak chips, custom Brazilian coffee brew, vanilla, millet and buckwheat, goes to a program offering free coffee to homeless shelters so they may utilize their finances for other causes.

  In 2020, as racial abuse and police brutality aimed at people of color reached soaring heights, Weathered Souls Brewing led a nationwide beer partnership to raise awareness about the injustices that people of color experience in the U.S. The brewers inspired others in the industry to each create a version of the “Black is Beautiful” stout and contribute all the profits to organizations that advocate for police reforms or inclusion and equality. The movement surpassed everyone’s anticipation, seeing more than 1,000 breweries, both large and small, from all 50 states and more than 20 countries join the collaboration. This resulted in significant contributions to local, national and worldwide organizations as well as public acknowledgment and commitment to racial justice from thousands of brewers.

  There is an irrefutable trend in the brewing industry that breweries have gone beyond simply serving their beers to serving communities in other ways. Not all breweries achieve this in the same way, however. Some are actively involved in providing relaxing ambiances, promoting local talents through events, collaborating with local startups and advancing the local culture. Others choose the philanthropic route, working alone or in collaboration to make a difference. But, it doesn’t have to be through charitable donations alone to establish that breweries are giving back. Prioritizing sustainability, racial justice, equality and diversity within the brewery walls can have just as positive an impact. The great players above prove that sustainable and profitable businesses that promote good in society can thrive.

Re-Opening After the Pandemic

By: Donald Snyder, President/Consultant, Time & Tasks

For the first time as an author, I hope this article does not age well. With a bit of luck, you are reading this article in a post pandemic world where these concerns are a thing of the past. That said, as I write this, the world is slowly recovering from a pandemic that had a devastating impact on the hospitality industry including craft distilleries large and small. As you begin to welcome visitors and bring back staff, here are some important and helpful tips when planning your reopening.

Advice from Distillers who have Re-opened

  Throughout the pandemic, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) published fluid and ever-updating recommendations for operating a business to keep both employees and patrons safe. Suggestions like contactless payment, outdoor and reduced seating, staff and customer mask use, and social distancing were mandated to help reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread to keep businesses open, if only at a lower capacity. (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus)

  However, the ultimate decision of whether a tasting room could re-open to the public was in the hands of local regulators. Every state had a different set of requirements for operating a business during the pandemic. Some states, like Florida, reopened and removed capacity limits very early in the pandemic as compared to New York City where most hospitality restrictions were not rescinded until the summer of 2021. Soon after the nation-wide lock down in the spring of 2020, some distilleries were able to re-open under various restrictions.

  Cardinal Spirits Distillery in Bloomington, IN was able to open in 2020 under pretty tight restrictions. The distillery opened for carryout bottle, food, and cocktail mixes only.  Additionally, they re-configured their front entry area into a curbside drive-by for order pickup. The state of Indiana did not permit cocktails-to-go so Cardinal Spirits developed hand labeled bottles of mixer kits that people could use to make cocktails at home. Using social media and on-line platforms, they maintained and increased customer engagement with distillery tours, cocktail classes, and even virtual tastings. They hope to fully re-open in Spring 2022 although they have recently re-opened their restaurant for in-distillery dining. Jeff Wuslich, co-founder and President of Cardinal Spirits, recalls his concerns with reopening. “We are most worried for our staff. We do not believe they should have to enforce mandates and safe behavior, but we know it will likely happen. It keeps me up at night. I believe that with our air circulation, safety protocols, and distancing we will all be safe, but I hate to think about our staff having to argue with customers.” Jeff offers this additional advice for distilleries thinking about their own re-opening. “Think of the customer and what experience you would like them to have. Then, work backward from there.” 

  Smooth Ambler Distillery in Maxwelton, WV was also impacted by COVID-19. At the beginning of pandemic, the entire distillery closed public-facing operations, including their gift shop and tours for about a month. During that time, they re-allocated their labor and resources into making hand sanitizer to be donated to front line workers across the country. Once they had a better understanding of the virus, they slowly reopened their production facility with a new set of rules that included social distancing, segregated teams, masks wearing, and frequent sanitization. Smooth Ambler’s continued priority is the safety of their employees and guests.

  They were cautious about reopening the tasting room. Many of their customers were from out of state so they initially re-opened to the public with curbside pickups only. A few months later, they opened with limited capacity and slowly increased indoor occupancy as the guidance from the state permitted. Masks, temperature checks, and hand sanitization were available for all guests. So far, the re-opening has been successful for Smooth Ambler as more and more people are beginning to travel again. Travis Hammond, Operations Manager of

  Smooth Ambler, cautions distillers not to be too hasty or rigid during their public reopening. “The past year has been very difficult on everyone – the best advice I can give to other distilleries that are about to reopen is to be patient and flexible.”

  Reopening slowly and cautiously with the appropriate safety protocols in place has given many distilleries across the country a beacon of hope that things can return to a sense of normalcy. However, even with the best precautions, there still can be issues. Asymptomatic employees and customers that spread the virus can be a serious risk to all parties involved. For those in the beverage industry, contracting COVID-19 can be especially dangerous as a possible long-term loss of taste and smell could impact a distiller’s ability to make and blend high quality spirits. In addition to transmission risks from reopening, there are also risks from patrons fighting required safety protocols.

  Golden Moon Distillery in Golden, Colorado experienced that firsthand when a customer refused to wear a mask and retaliated by shoving an employee. Physical altercations with employees about safety policies or verbally abusive customers are real risks that distillers need to consider when planning for a full or limited re-opening. Stephen Gould, Proprietor and Master Distiller of Golden Moon Distillery has made employee training a pivotal part of his re-opening plan. “We’ve coached our team members to be extremely polite and courteous when asking folks to wear masks. Our main concern is the safety of our staff and customers. Having said that, the one piece of advice I can give folks that are reopening is that they need to work hard to make both their staff and their customers feel safe.”

  Another consideration for reopening is how to deal with heavy foot traffic as people continue to feel more comfortable traveling. Large tourist areas like central Tennessee have many craft distilleries that offer tours, tastings, and spirits for every palate. Pigeon Forge, TN is in the gateway to Smoky Mountain National Park that sees over 10 million visitors per year. In the spring of 2020, when everything shut down, the owners of King’s Family Distillery in Pigeon Forge were understandably nervous. Like many distilleries, by taking advantage of small business loan programs and pivoting production to hand sanitizer for local consumption, they were able to stay afloat. Cara King, Owner of King’s Family Distillery, is starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. “When our state began lifting restrictions in 2020, the people flooded back in.

  More than before, even. We took precautions, put up plexiglass, and welcomed the tourists, masks, and all. Our distillery has reached the other side of this epic world event bigger than we were before.”

Capital Investments and Infrastructure

  Safety protocols, standard operating procedures and thorough employee training are critical to a successful re-opening. However, some additional capital investment may be required. Dalkita, an engineering and architecture firm that assists distilleries with design, safety, and construction, was instrumental in helping businesses re-open.

  Colleen Moore, Director of Marketing & Operations for Dalkita, kept up to date with all the CDC recommendations, re-opening phases, and safety recommendations. Dalkita kept the distilling industry updated with recommended and required re-opening procedures via regular webinars and blog updates (https://www.dalkita.com/news/).

  The group quickly became aware that each state and jurisdiction had varying requirements for re-opening protocols, social distancing rules, seating capacity limits, and mask requirements.

  In terms of physical and capital improvements to the distillery’s public spaces, Colleen Moore from Dalkita has been advising distilleries what they should consider. “With COVID-19 in mind and trying to reduce the likelihood of a lockdown situation due to a highly communicable airborne disease from recurring, I would suggest upgrading ventilation inside buildings. Any feature that would increase the amount of outdoor air you can bring into a building such as window walls, roll-up glass garage doors, and new increased air handling units with better filtration media and filters.

  If cold, rainy, or snowy weather put a stop to your outdoor activities, consider adding flexible open courtyards or structures with roofs and no walls for use during inclement weather. Anything that can increase the health of the people using a facility is a good investment.”

  As I write the article, I fully acknowledge that regulations are still changing. I began writing this article in March of 2021 before the mass availability of COVID-19 vaccines while most distilleries were under 30-50% occupation and seating capacity. It is now July 2021. Some states are open 100% with no restrictions but the Delta variant is growing. The article will be published the Fall of 2021 and who knows how much the world will change by then.

  For distilleries reopening or increasing capacity in 2021 or early 2022, connect with local authorities for the latest restrictions. Make every effort to keep employees and guests safe. Then again, by the time you read this, hopefully the pandemic and social distancing will be just a distant memory as we all return to normal.