Eric: So, Bobby, tell me a little about yourself and Tommyrotter distillery. We live in the age of superheroes on the big screen so what is the origin story of Tommyrotter?
Bobby Finan: I’m a born and raised Buffalonian and own Tommyrotter with my business partner. We’ve been at it for 4 years and are expanding our footprint throughout the Northeast and outward to other key markets in the US. I got turned onto distilling while living in NYC interning at an investment bank. I learned pretty quickly cubicle life was not for me and happened upon the distilleries that were popping up in Brooklyn. I was infatuated with them. After I completed college, I worked at a Central NY craft distillery that was moving towards opening and got to experience the start up phase of launching a distillery. I soon moved back to my hometown of Buffalo, where I met my business partner and we launched what would become Tommyrotter Distillery. In attempting to come up with a name we dove into old stories about our city - we wanted a name that alluded to “craft production,” “quality,” tied into Buffalo and was totally unique. We came across the story of the Tommyrotter’s Club, a group of rebellious artisans who worked on the Roycroft Campus in East Aurora, NY (the rural suburb that I grew up in just south of Buffalo) back in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The Roycroft was the birthplace of the American Arts and Crafts Movement, a kind of counterculture to the Industrial Revolution, where artists and craftspeople lived, worked and made their high end goods by hand. The Campus is still functioning today and is a pillar of the Western New York arts community. We dug the Tommyrotter name because these guys kind of bucked the rules - they we’re known for sneaking out of work to go adventure seeking, create for creation’s sake and maybe enjoy a couple drinks while doing it.
Eric: After looking at your website, I know that you produce a couple of whiskies and you sent over a sample of a gin, What else do you produce? And what would you consider your “specialty?”
Bobby: We distill a vodka, one type of gin (and barrel it for a second product) and we blend and finish whiskeys Our specialty is definitely gin, our American Gin is our top selling product and our Cask Strength Bourbon-Barrel Gin gets a lot of press, awards and cocktail menu placement due to how unique and delicious it is. The American Gin has developed a really loyal following due to the botanicals we use. We infuse 12 botanicals through vapor distillation and utilize a lot of baking spice (think nutmeg, cardamom, cinnamon) and balance it out with citrus and juniper. In Buffalo, NY, our hometown, we’ve got Hendricks on the ropes in most local liquor stores and have a lot of people who say, “Tommyrotter is the only gin I’ll drink.” The Cask Strength Bourbon-Barrel Gin is the exact same gin as our American Gin, just thrown into a brand new white American oaks #3 char barrel for about a year and bottled at 122 Proof. It’s a one-of-a-kind spirit, a real category bender and is one of the most complex spirits on the market in my opinion (but the critics say so too!).
Eric: Tonight I’ll be reviewing the Tommyrotter American Whiskey. You labeled it “Triple Barrel.” Tell us the story behind that. What is a Triple Barrel American Whiskey at Tommyrotter?
Bobby: “Triple Barrel” really has two meanings or two points of significance as they pertain to the product and name. Our American Whiskey is a blend of two mash bills of bourbon and a Tennessee whiskey - three types of whiskey or three barrels. That blend is then finished in French oak that previously housed red wine (we’re typically utilizing ex-Cab Sauv and ex-Cab Franc barrels). As you might assume, the two bourbons are aged in brand new white American charred oak. The Tennessee is aged in recharred next use American oak barrels that previously housed bourbon. In total, the whiskey we blend, finish and bottle is product of three types of barrel treatment…and so we again arrive at “Triple Barrel.” On a geekier note: One of the bourbon is a high corn mash bill and when we started rolling out whiskey was a little north of 1 year old, that input is now regularly 2+ years old, the second bourbon is 5-6 year old high wheat mash bill, the Tennessee is 7 years old and also has a pretty high corn level in the MB. The weighted average of the mash bills by function of blend ratio balances out at 81% Corn / 9% Wheat / 5% Rye / 6% Barley.
Eric: I notice that the sample you sent me says that it was distilled in Tennessee and Indiana. I have a good guess as to what those distilleries might be, but can you confirm?
Bobby: One of the distilleries doesn’t like us mentioning their name, the other doesn’t care. For the sake of enjoying a good wink and nod opportunity, I’d say if you made a quarter-way educated guess, you’d likely be right.
Eric: As a follow-up, since this is a barrel-finished whiskey, you obviously have access to barrels. Are you buying fully matured whiskey from your suppliers or do you buy new-make and age in in-house?
Bobby: The answer to that “or” question is: Yes. Building a whiskey program takes a lot of planning. You’re buying older/matured whiskey to finish and package now. You’re buying slightly less old whiskey to bottle next year and so on and so on. Simultaneously, you’re buying new-fill whiskey and aging in house or in contracted bonded-warehouses due to scale to be of age when you hit the bottom of your less aged product that is coming to age every year. I was trying to description the shape of the curve you follow on purchasing, but it’s really a three dimensional curve and the variable where getting overly wordy to explain. In summation, there is a decent amount of algebra based on projections and an understanding that you may be offloading excess or scrambling for supplementary barrels until you really dial in demand and growth.
Eric: Are there plans to transition your whiskey to ones made from your own distillate in the future? If so, how far along that process are you? Can you give us any hints about what to keep an eye out for?
Bobby: We’d like to build a new facility and actively moving in that direction - may be two years out or so - but at the new facility we’d have full whiskey production capability and eventually moving towards our own juice. It takes a long time to fully make that transition.
Eric: Finally, where can an interested reader learn more about Tommyrotter and your products?
Bobby: Give us a follow on Instagram or Facebook - we come out with a limited release whiskey product each fall and are making a concerted effort to expand our single barrel program for our Cask Strength Bourbon-Barrel Gin beyond upstate NY. The single barrels of our CSBBG are awesome. Just really, really awesome.
Eric: Thanks for answering a few questions for me. I, and the readers, appreciate it.
Tommyrotter Triple Barrel American Whiskey
Purchase Info: This sample was graciously provided for review purposes by the distillery. This product can be found for $35 for a 750 mL bottle.
Details: 46% ABV. Age stated at 1 year old.
Nose: Sweet with buttered popcorn, spearmint and caramel.
Mouth: Cornpops cereal, cinnamon and black pepper
Finish: On the shorter side of medium. Lingering spearmint.