From Farm To Bottle: Inside the Art of Distilling

A bottle of whiskey’s label is marked with the location at which it is made. Much like wine, that location tells the story of how the liquor was produced, and what with. From the Scottish Highlands to the outskirts of Austin, Texas, each distillery proudly represents its region.

The location emblazoned on the bottle does not tell the complete story though.

Whiskey is not simply whipped up in a laboratory. Its genesis is not even found on the premises of the distillery in most cases. Before the cap is sealed, the whiskey-making process begins on the local farms across the world where barley, rye, wheat, grain and corn are harvested.

The Whiskies of the World event, Sept. 21, 2018 at the Frontiers of Flight Museum in Dallas, Texas.

At Whiskies of the World-Dallas 2018, held Sept. 21 at the Frontiers of Flight Museum in Dallas, Texas, whiskey brands of all sizes gathered to share their products and educate the community. The craft distilling market in Texas is growing and partnerships between distillers and farmers are critical to establish a brand in a very globally-competitive industry.

“We use white corn from the Panhandle of Texas. It’s in the Dallam County. We get those from the group of co-op of farmers up there,” Taylor Bailey, Bourbon Evangelist at Garrison Brothers Distillery said. “So, the owner and master distiller have a really good relationship with those guys.”

Taylor Bailey, Bourbon Evangelist at Garrison Brothers Whiskey in Hye, Texas.

Garrison Brothers, based in Hye, Texas has been distilling for eight years. The company depends on a farming community for quality ingredients and enlists its local community on the other end of their product process, when bottles are sealed with wax.

“We still get volunteers to come help dip every bottle. So, every bottle is hand dipped at the distillery,” Bailey said. “It’s just a fun experience. People come down and volunteer, have a good time. They do quality control shots while they’re bottling it. Every bottle is a little unique and how it’s dipped.”

Another young distillery reliant on local Texas farmers is Five Points Distilling in Forney, Texas. Like Garrison Brothers, establishing a relationship with the farming community to source ingredients has been critical to the company’s growth and reputation. It has also helped the business engage in sustainable practices.

“We have a specific farmer that we work with and whatever we have leftover on our spent mash, we get back to that farmer. He gives it to his cattle,” Brandon Choate, Marketing and Sales representative for Five Points said. “So, we’ve created a nice little eco-print that we’re proud of and we use a little bit of malted barley for our distillation and use that collected Texas rainwater. So, it has the beautiful treatment of the reverse osmosis and is UV protective.”

Brandon Choate, Marketing and Sales Manager at Five Points Distilling, Forney, Texas

Not only does the distillery believe in the benefit local ingredients provide for the taste of its whiskey, but it is important for the brand image as well.

“We don’t outsource anything and that’s very important, being a Texas distillery, because you want to make sure that you’re doing everything right,” Choate said. “You’re giving the people what you’re saying you’re giving them.”

Colorado-based Axe and the Oak Distillery points to the importance of engaging with local businesses not only for their ingredients but as a way to bring a community together through hospitality and sustainability.

“We love doing sustainable and humane things and we love working with people that do that as well,” Alejandro Sanchez, general manager at the company’s whiskey house said. “We’re all about quality and we work with people who have the same mindset, but we’re very humble and a very family-oriented style business and so that plays into working with farmers.”

Alejandro Sanchez, Whiskey House Manager, Axe and the Oak Distillery, Colorado Springs, Colo.

Once the ingredients are harvested and sent to the distillery, inventory management becomes extremely important. Precision and repetition in the distilling process allows for ingredients to be tracked and efficiently utilized in the recipes.

“Oh, very exact. So, our mash bill, we use 74 percent corn, 15 percent wheat, 11 percent barley, and we have it timed in a certain order of how we like to drop the different products as we’re cooking them. And so, as that happens, we have exact science,” Bailey said. “[The distillers] have a certain way they like to make it and make sure it’s consistent. They do that every time. They have it on a schedule where every day, every hour, they’re doing it a certain way.”

Bailey said that shipping whiskey in the often-sweltering Texas heat can be a concern. Garrison Brothers uses Republic National Distributing Company (NRDC) to ship their bottles to bars, restaurants and liquor stores. Even using a nationally respected distributor, some lost stock is inevitable.

“We’re trusting in them [NRDC] just after that long relationship to keep it out of the heat because obviously, again, it’s one hundred degrees five months of the year here,” Bailey said. “So, if your bourbon has been too hot, it can spoil. So, we don’t want that to happen. We had some pop when it gets too hot too because there’s no a lot of space and the pressure builds up.”

Only one name goes on a bottle of whiskey. However, by the time it ends up in a consumer’s glass, it has been impacted by several companies in different industries. As seen at the Whiskies of the World convention in Dallas, it is because of collaboration that some of the finest whiskies get their personal traits.

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