An interview with Robbie Delaney of Muddy River Distillery & a review of Queen Charlotte's Reserve Carolina Rum

Author’s note: Before I left Muddy River last November, Robbie was generous enough to gift me with two bottles of his product, one each of Carolina Rum and Queen Charlotte's Reserve. I do not normally accept such gifts, but made an exception. Although I do not consider this payment, the FTC does. As such I am disclosing the info now. And though I had tasted all of the products and made judgements about liking or not liking them before I knew the gift was being made, the tasting notes below are from this week. Please use this info to inform the relative accuracy of my thoughts on them.

Back in November, I stopped for a tour at Muddy River Distillery just outside Charlotte, NC. When I got home, I realized that I really liked talking to Robbie. That's Robbie Delaney. He’s the proprietor, the distiller and the tour guide. I enjoyed our conversation enough that I thought you might enjoy it too. I asked him to answer a few questions for the blog. He was gracious enough to do so and they are below.

So Robbie, tell me a little about yourself. How did you get your start in the spirit business? What made you decide to open a distillery? 

I learned the meaning of hard work growing up on a horse farm in Wake Forest, NC. I became a General Contractor and traveled throughout the southeast working on projects and grew tired of living out of a suitcase. In early 2011 I read an in-flight magazine article about craft distilling. Construction was a little slow and so I gave distilling a shot. I read up and learned how to distill and designed and built Muddy River’s 3 reflux column stills. Everyone thought I was crazy. After getting the federal and state permits and a lot of hard work, Muddy River was the first rum distillery in NC. We began legally distilling in February 2012 and released our first product, Carolina Rum-a silver rum, in September of 2012. With almost 2 years of distilling under our belt, we released Queen Charlotte’s Reserve, an American white oak barrel aged rum, in October 2013. 

What is your specialty?

RUM. Carolina Rum is our smooth, slightly sweet rum and Queen Charlotte’s Reserve is barrel aged at least 8 months in unused American white oak barrels that are charred on the inside.

Is the distillery your full time job now?

Yes, both Caroline and I are full time now. I run the distilling, bottling, and tours. Caroline does sales, marketing, social media, and accounting for the company.

What's a typical day like for you?

An 18 hour day. Not because it has to, but because that’s how we make great liquor. We start by turning the machines on to heat up, run them, then clean and fill for the next day. Our typical activities include making mash, cleaning (the most important job), bottling, making liquor, tours, and a million other activities required of a small business.

So operating your own distillery seems like a cool job. What’s the best part?

People are interested in what I do for a living. It’s a big honor when someone wants to hear about your craft and enjoys drinking your products. We make amazing rums, and that is fulfilling in itself.

Tell me about the biggest challenge you've faced so far.

Properly managing growth. We’re trying to grow modestly, but we have sold out of product a few times.

So you’re trying to make sure you don’t grow too fast?

Yeah, I could spend all my time and marketing efforts trying to sell the first bottle to a million people. But if I can’t sell the second, I’m just a flash in the pan. You need to develop a brand loyalty. And you do that by doing things making a good product. Doing things right. Making small cuts. Using only new barrels. Instead of concentrating on expansion, we focus on selling the second bottle.

Wait, you use new barrels? As a bourbon drinker I’m used to the distillers using new barrels and then selling them to rum distillers, among others.

I buy bourbon spec barrels from the cooperage. And I only use them once. I find that it helps to cut the sweetness a bit. It doesn’t taste like your rum and coke is made with two sweetened products. Not that I would recommend adding Coke to Queen Charlotte’s Reserve.

That’s got to be expensive.

It can be, but if you live frugally, cut costs where you can and then sell it after your done with it, it’s doable. You can make back most of the cost by selling it afterward so you’re just sitting on the investment for eight months to a year. It goes back to growing modestly and making sure you can sell the second bottle.

Anything new on the horizon?

Our next product will most likely be a spiced rum. We have had a lot of people ask for one. We’ve been working on a recipe for a long time, but it has to be great before we put a product on the shelf. We’re still working on perfecting our recipe.

Any advice for readers who might be interested in following in your footsteps?

With the distilling industry growing so quickly, you have to make a top notch product in order to survive. You can sell one bottle, but it has to be good in order to have customers re-buy your product.

Do you offer tours?

Yes! Visit our website to sign up under the “Take a Tour” tab. There is a calendar with all the dates and times tours are offered. www.muddyriverdistillery.com/rumdistillerytour/

In North Carolina you are in ABC stores. Outside of North Carolina, can readers buy your products?

Yes, look and ask for us in the North Carolina section in ABCs, if you don’t see us in the rum section. And we’re in bars and restaurants throughout NC. We are in SC a little bit, but we’re working to keep up with NC and haven’t pushed to spread out much in SC.

Anything else you'd like to plug? Website? Twitter?

Website: www.muddyriverdistillery.com
Facebook: Muddy River Distillery
Twitter: @1stCarolinaRum
Instagram: muddyriverdistillery

Thanks so much for taking the time to answer some questions.

Queen Charlotte’s Reserve Carolina Rum

Purchase info: My bottle was a gift from Robbie and Muddy River Distillery, but if you are in North Carolina, you can pick it up at an ABC store for $27.95 as of this writing.

Details: Aged in new charred oak barrels. 42% ABV

Nose: Delicate sweetness. Honey, dried grasses and a hint of smoke.

Mouth: Warm and tingly with a delicate sweetness. Vanilla, baking spices and a hint of mint.

Finish: Warm with a decent length. Fades to a pleasant bitterness.

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Thoughts: I really like this one. This is the first rum I would drink straight. The one I’m tasting tonight was a gift from the distiller, but the next time I’m in North Carolina I’m stocking up.

Blog about a blogger who's blogging whiskey: Josh Wright

“You went on the wrong weekend, my man!” 

This was the beginning of my first in-person meeting with Josh Wright of SipologyBlog.com. I was extremely excited for my first visit to the Kentucky Bourbon Festival and had tweeted out my order for my first drink of the week. After a little coversation we ironed out that it was ok that I was there the weekend before BourbonFest because I was there the whole week. Also, as it turned out, that I would probably be happening across his path since he was coming for the following weeekend. This was exciting for me. I’d been following Josh on twitter for a while and reading his blog for a while longer. 

You see, shortly after I took my love of bourbon online, I started looking for other blogs on the topic to read. I wanted reviews, tasting notes, and insight into what was going on in the world of whiskey. I started by looking at who other whiskey fans were reading. One blog that seemed to be on everyone’s list was SipologyBlog. I read it and liked it. The thing I liked best about the reviews was the fact that he tended to focus on american whiskey, beer and wine, things that I was also interested in. Things that I could get. And afford.  

As I followed him on twitter, I found out that he was more than just a palate and nose. He was a smart guy with interests remarkably similar to mine. When I first had the idea for a series of posts highlighting those people I enjoy reading and interacting with online, he was the first guy I thought of. So without further ado: Josh Wright.

Hey Josh, thanks for agreeing to be the guinea pig for this series. First things first: who are you, anyway?

You're welcome. It's an honor!

That's kind of a philosophical question.  I'm Josh Wright, born, raised and educated in Central Indiana, most of that time on the north side of Indianapolis. I mean the actual north side of Indianapolis, not a suburb. I graduated from Broad Ripple High School in 1994 and Anderson University in 1998. Both sides of my family have deep Indiana roots. I've lived in the Detroit Metro area since 2001. That was also the year I married my lovely wife Liz.

My current occupation is stay-at-home dad to my 3 year old daughter. I also blog about booze, of course and I enjoy screwing around on the internet in general. I consider myself a Christian and a democratic socialist, although I may not be a great example of either. I'm a craft beer lover, cocktail lover, wine lover and whiskey lover. I'm a writer although I've never been paid for it. I'm a rheumatoid arthritis sufferer. I have ancestors who came over on the Mayflower, some who were early settlers at Jamestown and one who was Daniel Boone's uncle. That's all of the answers I can think of right now.

The first time I thought "this is a guy I need to pay attention to" it was for a joke that combined a professional football player and an ancient Christian heresy. So it seems you and I have a lot in common: from a love of history and, at least a passing interest in, professional football to a love of bourbon. If we have this much in common, what else are you into outside of bourbon? I feel like I should be checking into things you like.

That's very kind. I love history, especially the history of Christianity and the history of pre-modern Europe. I love those two topics so much I have master's degrees in them. I got my Master of Theological Studies degree in 2001 (it was a big year for me) and an MA in History in 2013, concentrating in Medieval and Early Modern (Reformation through French Revolution) Europe. I wrote my final essay on Julian of Norwich. I still do a lot of reading in those areas and hopefully I will get back to writing in those areas too. I'm currently reading a book called The Orrible Synne by E.J. Burford. It's a history of prostitution in London from the Roman period to the time of Oliver Cromwell. It's a bit dated but a fun little book.

I enjoy the usual team sports, especially NFL football, MLB and B1G basketball. Despite living in Michigan for almost 13 years, I still don't understand or enjoy hockey. I blame my formative years in basketball-obsessed Indiana.

Music is my other big love. I sing in my church choir. I love classical music, early music, blues, reggae, rock 'n' roll of any era, hip hop, R & B, Irish folk, classic country and jazz. That's not to say I like everything in those categories, but I like some artists and songs from all those genres. I've been on a classic hip hop kick lately. I've long been a rabid Gang Starr fan and I also love Public Enemy, De La Soul, Rakim, A Tribe Called Quest, The Roots and MC Lyte to name just a few. I'm also a big fan of the Afghan Whigs, Wussy, and PJ Harvey.

My other interests are homey type stuff. I love cooking and I do it almost every night. I especially love BBQ, southern style cooking and traditional Mexican cooking. I'm kind of a locovore too. I buy fruits and vegetables in season at our local farmer's market as much as possible. I love gardening especially native wildflowers, herbs, tomatoes and chilies.  We also have red currant bushes and strawberry plants in the backyard.

I love art and archaeology and comedy and TV and old movies too but this response is way too long already..

I know you are a bourbon fan, you're active on forums, blog about it, etc. How'd you get into it?

I've always had a curious mind and when I first started drinking alcoholic beverages after I graduated college I was interested in knowing where my booze came from and exploring the topic in general. My parents are teetotalers so I knew next to nothing about it. I started by reading labels and trying some of the popular brands. The internet was a much smaller place back then and there wasn't a whole lot of information on American whiskey around. One of the first things I noticed was that I liked Jim Beam better than Jack Daniels. From then on bourbon was my first choice.

I stuck with Jim Beam for a long while until I picked up a book entitled The Book of Classic American Whiskeys by Mark H. Waymack and James E. Harris (1995). It is part tasting guide and part travel guide. Not all the distilleries were open for tours back then and it was written at a time when Seagram's still existed and the only Four Roses product available in the US was the yellow label and it was only sold in Kentucky. There's a great story about Al Young of Four Roses taking them off into the snake-filled Kentucky woods to the site of the original Old Joe Distillery. It really captured my imagination. 

I used the book as a jumping off point to explore the bourbon landscape literally and figuratively. My wife and I planned our first Kentucky vacation in June of 2007. We managed to visit all the distilleries that were open for visits on that first trip, and also worked in visits to other tourist attractions in Kentucky. We went again the next year and I think we've been once every year since then. I also started doing tastings for our friends around that time. I don't do those very much anymore but I enjoy them a lot.

Right before our first trip to Kentucky, I joined StraightBourbon.com. It's been a lot of fun connecting with other bourbon enthusiasts and I've made a lot of friends there. For my money, it's still the best place on the internet for information and informed discussion about American Whiskey. It's a very well-run forum.

You write about whiskey and other spirits, wine and beer at SipologyBlog.com. What's the history of SipologyBlog?

Sipology Blog started back in the spring of 2010. I came up with the name on my own. Sip-ology, meaning the ology of things people sip. I later discovered that a now defunct coffee house in California also used the name, so I have emphasized that it is Sipology Blog on social media. From what I've read the coffee shop self-destructed in a rather ugly fashion so I doubt they'll send lawyers after me for the name any time soon.

I got the idea for the blog shortly before my daughter was born. I had been writing a long, rambling series of wine posts on my old Live Journal blog and I had also been posting tasting notes on  StraightBourbon.com for a while. I had grown sick of LJ and people seemed to enjoy my tasting notes so I decided to start up a simpler, more focused blog in which I would review whatever I was drinking. That happened to be mostly Michigan beer, wine and bourbon.

There were a lot fewer booze blogs back then. I had read Sku's, Chuck Cowdery's, and a few others and while I liked them, I didn't feel like I needed to do what they were doing. I tried to do news early on, but it was too time consuming and too easy to screw up. I do commentary now and again, but the part of blogging that appeals most to me as a reader and a writer is tasting notes, so I've stuck with that for the most part.

A secondary purpose to Sipology Blog was the to keep up my writing chops. I had to take some time off from grad school when my daughter was born and I've never been very good at keeping a journal so I though a simple blog would be an easy way to keep writing so I could jump right back into academic work when I needed to.

Judging alcoholic beverages for what they are one of the things that I try to do with my reviews and that's why I always factor in price. A $20 bottle of bourbon should not be evaluated the same way as a $60 bottle. Some people claim that they don't factor in price when they write up tasting notes but I don't think that's possible. Tasting is like history in that respect. Total objectivity is not possible, so the best way to overcome bias is to acknowledge that it exists and move on from there. Not acknowledging that bias means that the taster (or historian) is a hostage to it. 

As a guy who follows this stuff, what's your take on the state of the bourbon industry right now? What would you like to see happen?

The overarching problem right now for all the big distillers is keeping up with demand. The distillers that have been hardest hit have been smaller macros: Buffalo Trace, Barton, Wild Turkey and Maker's Mark. What we've seen from them is price hikes, proof reductions (or attempted proof reductions anyway), the dropping of age statements and rolling shortages. Four Roses and Dickel may also be facing problems sometime soon, but all their regular products are NAS so that gives them more flexibility. I don't see an end to any of this anytime soon. The only hope of relief is if demand starts leveling off but to my knowledge there's no sign of that happening.

In spite of this, there are lots of reasons to be optimistic. Wild Turkey has a new, bigger distillery with new warehouses and on-site bottling now. Buffalo Trace is adding warehouse space and I don't think the quality of their products has discernibly diminished in the past few years (others may not share that opinion, though).  A new line of 1792 bourbons from Barton, including a wheater and a high rye, will probably be hitting shelves in the next year. Wild Turkey and Jim Beam have been releasing a lot of new, experimental-type products. Those haven't always been successful but it's still a good sign. Heaven Hill has also been maintaining age statements for most of their products and even adding one to Bernheim Wheat Whiskey.

The micro-distilling scene is also a mixed bag, but the wheat is starting to be separated from the chaff. The stocks of the micros are getting older and getting more consistent. Some of them even taste good now. The prices are still ridiculous for most. $50 or $60 for an 86 proof NAS rye? No thanks, brother.

Hypothetical question: A new bourbon magazine comes calling and offers you a column. Would you be interested and what beat would you choose to cover?

I would love to do something like that. I'd love writing tasting notes, of course but I think I'd also enjoy writing about bourbon fandom or historical topics relating to bourbon. I think there's a lot of material that still could be covered better in both those areas.

Plug time: where can people find you online and is there anything else you'd like to plug?

My blog is SipologyBlog.com My blog also has a Twitter account, @sipologyblog (home to all sorts of stuff not just booze stuff), and a Facebook page. My Spotify playlists are also open to the public, so anyone with similarly weird tastes in music can follow me there. My defunct blog on Christian Mysticism is anagnosis.wordpress.com My LJ journal is still out there but it sucks so I'm not telling you what it's called.

Everything on my blogroll is good, and probably better than my blog. If you like knitting and Detroit, visit my dear friend Amy's blog, bonneamieknits.wordpress.com. If you like cheese, Lutheran pastors or both, check out my college friend Katherine's cheese blog called Cheese Learnin': cheeselearnin.blogspot.com If you like theology, philosophy and heavy metal, check out my brother-in-law Lee's blog thinkingreed.wordpress.com. I would also plug your blog, but whoever is reading this is already reading it anyway.

If you like excellent, contemporary art by a living artist who is an amazing person, visit cherylpaswater.com and buy as much art from Cheryl as your budget will allow. If you like web comics, go to thebrothersgrant.com and read the brilliant and funny comic by my brilliant and funny friends Chris and Ginger. Everyone should also subscribe to the Bourbon Country Reader and buy Chuck Cowdery's book, Bourbon, Straight.  

I've never been interviewed like this before. I feel quite honored! Thanks!

Josh, thanks again for agreeing to this. Hopefully it was as much fun for you as it was for me.

An interview with Lee Egbert, Formulator for Dashfire Bitters

It was sometime this past winter, possibly December. I’d heard from multiple people that South Lyndale Liquors was a store that I needed to check out. (By the way, it is.) While I was there I saw a man mixing drinks for people. I found this a bit odd in the middle of a liquor store so, as is my way, I wandered over to find out what was going on. 

It turns out that the man wasn’t making very big drinks. It was a liquor store, after all. What he was doing was giving tastes of his product, Dashfire Bitters, in the best way one can. In a drink. I was impressed enough to buy the Old Fashioned Bitters and an Applewood Smoked Sea Salt solution. That second one I bought because I had never seen a salt solution for sale before, it was cheap, and I figured I would be able to figure out what to do with it. I never did, in case you were curious. 

After talking to the guy for a little bit, I asked for his card. Shook his hand and wandered off. It wasn’t until last week while I was once again trying to figure out just what I was supposed to do with the salt solution that I remembered that card. “Why not ask?” I thought to myself. 

I also figured that while I was at it, I would find out more about Minnesota’s own Dashfire Bitters. Lee Egbert, Formulator for Dashfire Bitters and a principle in the soon-to-open 11 Wells Distillery in St. Paul, MN was generous enough to answer a few questions for us.

Let's start very general: What the Dashfire Bitters story? Why bitters?

I’ve always been a big spice and flavor guy, but it’s really during my travels to New York that I really started to understand this new focus on cocktails. Thanks to prohibition we really lost the art of cocktails, but the Japanese picked up where we left off and man did they take it and run with it.  One of my favorite Speakeasies in New York is Angles Share, a Japanese speakeasy, and ever since I studied Japanese in Junior High I’ve always appreciated the effort the Japanese put into perfecting things - whether its sushi, robots, animation or cocktails. The Japanese really know how to obsess about a given subject, which is something I understand and appreciate. I too had been obsessing about craft cocktails, sparing no expense, making hard to find ingredients such as shrubs, gum syrups, tonics and of course bitters. Anyone who likes these old cocktails finds themselves reading books like Jerry Thomas Bartenders Guide and soon realizes these ingredients can be hard to find. Even the ones you can find can seem chemically produced. For that reason I thought I’d try making my own products but using different base spirits. I’m certainly not the first to try this, there are lots of bartenders making their own in this way, but I found it odd that pretty much all products on the shelf were made with neutral grain spirits. Out of my first four test formulas, three bombed horribly, but one was a home run. That is now the exact formula for Dashfire Bourbon Barrel-Aged Vintage Orange No. 1. Since Orange is such a classic I was a little scared some wouldn’t like it but man did I have such a great response. With my first release I wanted to show my skill to earn some respect but my next release had a whole separate intention. With Mr. Lee’s Ancient Chinese Secret I wanted to introduce something that revealed my creativity and knowledge of unique ingredients. Between my time in China and love of travel this was an obvious choice for me. The rest as they say is history. 

I've interviewed a few distillers now and I know you have a foot in that world as well. Can you talk about some of the differences between making cocktail ingredients and making spirits? Other than the obvious lack of distilling.

You know to me they are one in same. That’s not true for all distillers though. I think many are purely focused on the base spirit, but I do feel it is very important to understand how that base spirit will be applied in cocktails. I know as long as I’ve wanted to make bitters I’ve also wanted to produce spirits and really for the same reason. My dream has always been to make all the ingredients for a Manhattan. I’ve now have the bitters and I did make some crazy tasty brandied cranberries from last year’s cranberry harvest, so I guess now I just need to make the rye and vermouth. The rye is definitely in the works and I have a trip to France and Italy planned this fall to continue my education on vermouths. 

From a production side it is very similar to the process of making a gin. I macerate my spices and ingredients in high proof alcohol for some time in a barrel and some times in glass depending on the flavor I’m after. Then instead of distilling I filter to keep all the flavors. Sometime I add sugar which is traditional in bitters but in the case of Vintage Orange I use natural ingredients such as fruits and flowers to add that slight bit of sweetness. That process is a bit unorthodox in bitters but for certain flavors I prefer the result.  

You make a few different products, bitters, tinctures, cocktail salt solutions, etc. If someone were going to buy just one, where would you recommend they start?

They would definitely need to start with a bitter and I would suggest the Vintage Orange. There are literally hundreds of cocktails that call for it, last time I checked the Kindred Cocktails Database there were 350 or so. It’s also used in the primary classics like Old Fashioneds, Manhattans and Martinis which makes it a great place to start. 

I've purchased both your Old Fashioned Bitters and your Applewood Smoked Sea Salt. I understand how to use the bitters, but tell me what I should be doing with the salt solution?

Bartenders have been using salt for quite some time to balance cocktails. Similar to how you add a dash of salt to your cookies, salt balances flavors but also accentuates them. A specific application is to add a couple drops to the top of an Old Fashioned. Lately I’ve been making mine with Applejack, Maple Syrup, Old Fashioned bitters and the Applewood Salt. I’ve also noticed it seems to make a drink more complex and also easier to imbibe which could be a dangerous thing. So many cocktails are overly sweet and not really balanced and salt can help with that. Not every cocktail has to cover all the flavors, sour, sweet, savory, bitter, umami, but it’s good to have balance. 

I'm local, I can find your products in quite a few of the liquor stores I frequent. But where can folks outside of the metro buy your products? Are they available in other states? Online?

Yes, I am in a handful of other states, but they are online through a couple retailers such as France 44, South Lyndale, Ace and Surdyks.

Anything new on the horizon that we should watch out for?

I do have a couple new formulas I’m excited to release for Dashfire before the holidays, but right now I’m laser focused on spirits for 11 Wells. If we are lucky enough to get the cocktail room law passed we’ll need to start making a wide variety of spirits which I can’t wait to create. You will see some usual suspects but also some completely new stuff too. 

Any advice for the home bitters maker?

I separate all my ingredients first and then blend them together after they’ve macerated. This saves you the disappointment of over flavoring something with one or more of the ingredients, especially the bittering agent. Also don’t bother filtering and just let it settle and siphon of the top. This saves the hassle of clogging up coffee filters. 

I’d like to thank Lee for answering my questions. Check out Dashfire at dashfirebitters.com or on Facebook at: facebook.com/DashfireBitters. The Old Fashioned Bitters (now called the Brandy Old Fashioned Bitters) are quite good and I recommend them.

New Retailer: Ace Spirits in Hopkins, MN

A couple of weeks ago, a twitter follower brought Ace Spirits to my attention, wondering if I had heard about the store. I hadn't, so I looked online to see what it might be. Right on the front page:  “every whiskey available in the state.” Color me intrigued.

Since that time, I’ve been to Ace a couple of times. It’s not hard to find, but if you don’t know what you’re looking for, you might drive past it, never noticing it’s there. On my first visit, I wondered if I was in the correct spot or if my phone had led me astray. I was in the parking lot of a small strip mall and there was no sign that said “Ace Spirits be here.” There was a large sign above one of the doors that simply said: “BEER & WHISKEY, “ which was enough for me to decide that even if I wasn’t in the correct place, it was the place I really wanted to be anyway. As I walked up to the store, I wondered if it was open. Unlike most of the liquor stores in the area, there was a definite lack of light spilling out. But above the slightly mirrored door, there was a small sign that said something about cold beer. And it was lit, so I wandered in. 

I was immediately welcomed upon entering. Which was a nice change from many of the stores I visit. It was dark, but comfortably so. It’s a small area, but not crowded. The shelves were dark wood and two walls were covered floor to ceiling with whiskey bottles. If you put my computer desk and a small tv in there, it would be exactly how I imagine my man-cave to be. 

To learn more, I reached out to Louis Dachis, proprietor of Ace Spirits. He was gracious enough to answer a few questions.

So what's the Ace Spirits story?

Ace Spirits has been an idea percolating for a few years. I had been getting very interested in beer and whiskey of all types and I found what were once wine trips were turning into brewery and distillery tours. I had been operating three Merwin Liquors stores in the cities and the amount of space dedicated to beer and whiskey was expanding as I got more and more into it and the customers responded to the increasing selection. My gal, Sara and I visited the Whiskey Shop in Brooklyn and we really loved the idea of a small and focused space. Craft beer was already exploding and we were watching dedicated whiskey bars open in the cities and menus at existing places expand to include more whiskey and better beer. 

The idea was to create an experience surrounding the purchase. A place to talk about these things we love in a comfortable space. The entire setup was to be very intentional from layout, stocking, fixtures and lighting. It would have been easy to buy Lazier shelving and slap some paper signs over the windows, but that's not what we were going after. We've blocked all sunlight from the outside with walls and window film to prevent skunking. All lights in the store, with the exception of the three above the register are narrow-band LED's and we keep the temps in the store on the chilly side to aid with the freshness goal. The build out still isn't done and we will probably always consider it a work in progress.

Your website claims to carry every whiskey available in Minnesota. And since I saw things that I haven't found elsewhere, I believe you. But why? And why do you think the competitors aren't?

Why not? It's our focus. We love the stuff. And it's funny, you can have just as long and passionate discussion with someone about the merits of Old Overholt as you can about Balvenie 40. There's a lot to be said for that. We all like different stuff and it's very true that certain items lend themselves best to certain experiences. I really enjoy it all and love to hear from the people that produce it as well as those that love to drink it. Others don't do it because there are a lot that don't sell. It's that simple. But it's sort of like being open 24 hours- you don't stay open because you do a ton of business between the hours of 3 and 4am, you do it because everyone knows that no matter when they swing by, you will be there. This is a similar concept. If you love whiskey, you know we will have it.

After visiting the website, it's not hard to see that you are doing things a little differently than most stores. Many local whiskey fans have been involved in drawings to win a chance to purchase rare spirits. Your contest is just to win the whiskeys. Free. 

I like the word "Free". It gets people's attention. Especially when it comes to these items. I wanted to let people know who we are and what we were all about. It's not much more complex than that.

Not that I'm complaining since you are basically on my way home from work, but why Hopkins? Why not Minneapolis or St. Paul?

I would love to have opened in Minneapolis, but state law prevents me from having more than one license in any given municipality. I grew up in Hopkins and love the Western Suburbs. Four Firkins covers the edge of the city, but there wasn't anything out this way. Being as close as it is to Highway 7, 494, and the new thoroughfare that Shady Oak is to become for EP, I thought this was a great spot. The bones of the space were good and because this is to be a destination, the location wasn't quite as critical. There was a store a block away that closed recently which allowed us to move in. This store did OK, and I'm hoping the neighborhood welcomes us and affords us similar success in addition to those that may come to visit from further away. So far, the response has been very encouraging.

I’d like to thank Louis again for taking the time to answer some questions. You can learn more about The Great Whiskey Giveaway at AceSpirits.com or engage with them on Twitter (@acespirits) or Facebook.com/AceSpirits. This place is not your typical Minnesota liquor store. That’s a very good thing. I have a feeling I’ll be here more often than my wife would like.

Visiting Broadslab Distillery in Benson, NC. Part two: the interview.

Author’s note: Before I left Broadslab, Jeremy was generous enough to gift me with four bottles of his product, one of each kind. I do not normally accept such gifts, but I made an exception in this case. Although I do not consider this payment, the FTC does. As such I am disclosing the info now. And though I had tasted all of the products and made judgements about liking or not liking them before I knew the gift was being made, the tasting notes below are from tonight. Please use this info to judge the relative accuracy of my thoughts on them.

This is the second in a two part series about my visit to Broadslab Distillery in Benson, NC. As I said in my last post, I spent an hour or more talking to Jeremy while I was at the distillery. Once I got home, I sent him a note to see if he would be willing to answer a few more questions for the blog. He graciously said yes. Our conversation is below.

Jeremy, we’ve talked of course, but tell the readers a little about yourself. 

I was raised on a produce farm by my grandparents and became an entrepreneurer straight out of high school. I have gotten to this point in my life having been taught by the school of “hard knocks.”

How did you get your start in the spirit business? What made you decide to open a distillery?

My granddaddy and his ancestors made moonshine both before and after prohibition. During those times, it became an economic necessity to engage in “moonshining.” I wanted to open a distillery to honor this tradition and preserve the history of my family’s legacy. The name “Broadslab,” which my distillery is named, refers to the southeastern section of Johnston County, NC that became well-known for the quality of home-brewed whiskey produced by entrepreneurs back in the day. My distillery sits right in the heart of “Broadslab,” which many say is the “moonshine capital of NC.”

Is the distillery your full time job now? 

(Laughs) I sure wish it could be but it does not pay the bills! My wife and I own and operate two collision repair centers, grow crops on our 100-acre farm (we grow our own corn for the moonshine mash), and maintain a few rental properties. 

What’s a typical day like for you? 

Oh, how it varies each and every day! Some days I am farming and some days I am running the rollback or washing cars for the body shops.  Some days I am distilling or bottling product at the distillery and some days I am mowing grass at home, or at the body shops, or at the rental properties. There is no typical day for me!

Tell me about the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far.

The biggest challenge I have faced in this distillery thus far has been marketing, marketing and marketing! No one tells you how hard it is to get your products on the market with limited funding.

What’s the best thing about operating your own (legal) distillery?

I am blessed with so very many opportunities to meet all kinds of people from all walks of life who are very interested in and appreciate what I am trying to do!

Sustainable growth and natural ingredients seem to be at the heart of your philosophy. Tell the readers a little about what you are doing on those fronts. 

I am a firm believer in only natural ingredients because most products and foods we encounter on a daily basis are full of artificial preservatives, artificial flavors and artifical sweeteners that I believe are harmful to an individual’s health. All of the products I currently produce at the distillery are made from only natural ingredients and are certified gluten-free. 

My products have been on the market since August 2012, a very short time period. I have seen steady growth since that time and my main goal is to continue with this steady growth. Most every day I get an email or a phone call or simply talk to someone in person that has not heard about my distillery. I am building my brand one person at a time.

Any advice for readers who might be interested in following in your footsteps?

Make yourself fully aware of the financial undertaking needed to start a distillery and be willing to work a lot of VERY long hours to attempt to fulfill your dream!

What is your specialty? 

My distillery is based on the “moonshining” legacy so clear, corn liquor is my specialty.  

Any other types of products you are making?

I focus on producing and bottling only traditional, all-natural distilled spirits. I currently produce 2 varieties of corn liquor and 2 varieties of rum.  

Anything new on the horizon?

I hope to add another product or two to the list I already produce.

Do you offer tours?

Currently, I am a one-man show so I only offer tours by appointment only. But, of course, I hope to set a tour schedule very soon.

In North Carolina you are in ABC stores, outside of North Carolina, where can readers buy your products?

We currently sell our products in SC and GA at various stores in those states.

Anything else you’d like to plug? Website? Twitter?

Please check out our website at www.broadslabdistillery.com (you can read all the details about the Broadslab legacy) and “like” us on facebook (https://www.facebook.com/BroadslabDistillery) and follow us on twitter (@BroadslabStill)!

Jeremy, thanks so much for chatting with me today. I enjoyed my visit to the distillery and I urge everyone in or visiting North Carolina to set up a visit with you and pick up a bottle or two in the ABC stores. Thanks again.

Broadslab Legacy Shine

Details: Label says 33% corn and 67% percent cane sugar. Jeremy told me that it included corn and malted corn along with the cane suger. 45% ABV 

Nose: Dried Corn or more accurately cattle feed. This most reminds me of when I was in college, delivering pizzas to the guys at Quality Liquid Feeds. (yes, my heritage is mostly redneck—and I’m proud of that)

Taste: This has a very delicate flavor. Very sweet. Almost no burn. I could hold this in my mouth for a while without it burning out. Based on the nose, you’d expect to be overwhelmed by corn. It’s certainly there. But it’s more like a cooked cereal than I would have expected.

Finish: Minimal heat. The cooked cereal taste really hits you after you swallow and lingers for a good while before slowly turning bitter and making you want to take another sip.

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Overall: I’ve liked very few unaged products. In fact I can only think of one before this. But I like this one. A lot. This is very obviously the work of a skilled craftsman.

Broadslab Legacy Reserve

Details: Same as above except that this has been “Colored and Flavored with Oak slabs.” (Which seems to be TTB speak for aged. For what it is worth I saw the barrels with charred oak slabs inside.)

Nose: Buttered popcorn and butterscotch. The nose on this is very sweet.

Taste: An initial hit of cinnamon transitions to a sweet smokiness. The smokiness is not overpowering. The buttery note is there to back it all up.

Finish: There’s a bit of heat that sticks around and a lingering smokiness. Kinda glad I tasted this second. Feels like a palate wrecker.

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Overall: my wife liked this, but overall this wasn’t for me. It’s not that it was bad or anything. I just have a well known preference away from smoky whiskies. And this has that same sort of smoky flavor (even if it is technically not a whisky). I am extremely interested in trying it in a Manhattan-type cocktail though.