Distilling Craft: Ep 015

Yum! Candy Corn with Mike Reppucci of Sons of Liberty Spirits Company

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Distilling Craft: Yum! Candy Corn by Dalkita Architecture & Construction is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

In this episode of Distilling Craft corn fermentation and mashing are reviewed with techniques to reduce mash viscosity. Mike Reppucci from Sons of Liberty Spirits Company is interviewed to talk about using a single fermentation base to make various whiskeys and beers.

Full Transcript:

Colleen Moore: (00:00)
Welcome to Distilling Craft. You’re listening to episode 15 titled Yum Candy Corn. Today we’re going to be talking with Mike Reppucci from Sons of Liberty Spirits Company out of South Kingstown, Rhode Island.

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Distilling Craft is brought to you by Dalkita, a group of architects and engineers who specialize in designing craft distilleries across the U. S. More information is available at our website, dalkita.com that’s d a l k i t a.com.

Colleen Moore: (00:34)
Hello everyone. Welcome to distilling craft. I’m calling more. Hey, just a quick thing before we start today’s show. While we’re hard at work, lining up new interviews and producing new shows and you are so kindly waiting on us, we’re going to reissue a couple of our episodes from season one with some previously unreleased material mixed in. Mike is using a single fermentation base to make a range of whiskeys and beers. Later in the show, our part time distiller DJ is going to talk with us about corn mashing and fermentation, including his theories on how to reduce mash viscosity. Welcome to the show, Mike.

Mike Reppucci: (01:15)
Thanks. Great to be here.

DJ: (01:15)
So you guys actually received a big award, I believe last year, from ADI? You were the distillery of the year?

Mike Reppucci: (01:27)
Actually it was Whiskey Magazine. So Whiskey Magazine and their icons of whiskey, they named us best craft producer of the year, for this year. So super psyched about that.

DJ: (01:34)
Yeah, that’s, that’s awesome. I mean, you guys make some really cool whiskies. What did you have to do to, I mean, why did they pick you guys for that?

Mike Reppucci: (01:43)
Honestly, a lot of people are asking the same damn question. Gotta be honest with you. Why did they pick us? Nah, I’m kidding, man. No, you know, we do some weird stuff. I think part of it too is just like, we started with the concept of the better beer you brew, with better result in whiskey you got. You know, all whiskeys, a beer that’s been distilled. So, you know, I’m an Italian kid from Rhode Island, so I was always like, dude, like why, you know, I learned how to make whiskey. We learned from David Pickerell. He was a master of Maker’s Mark for 15 years, but he was a consultant. So he kind of helped us start up and I learned what the Bourbon dudes are doing and you’re like that’s a nasty beast or like what if we brewed a really sick awesome tasting beer, how much better and flavorful that whiskey be? So we just kind of started on that process and making different things. So we have a stout beer distilled into a single malt, a Belgian triple, and then we had a seasonal whiskey, you know, pumpkin spice flavored whiskey and all that. So

DJ: (02:36)
The triple sounds awesome. What would gave you the idea to take something that’s, I mean such a full body and flavorful beer and then try to distill it. Is that just one of your favorite beers or where’d you kind of get that idea?

Mike Reppucci: (02:50)
Basically the whole idea that it started, where any good idea starts, you’re drinking too much. And I went to business school in London and I drank too much Scotch over there and a lot of beer in fact. And I just, when I learned whiskey is a beer that’s been stilled and it’s just like, dude, why is no one burned the beers I love and turned them into whiskey. So I just love dark stouts and I love Belgium triples. So that’s actually where we started. But honestly, part of it was those were the most flavorful beers I could think of. And I just totally wondered whether that would translate through the still and into the distillate. Which actually it does. So pretty cool.

DJ: (03:22)
Yeah, that’s actually really cool. So I guess, do you have a background in brewing beer? Were you a home brewer or were you just somebody who really likes to drink beer and got a cool idea?

Mike Reppucci: (03:33)
No, I mean, I’m Italian kid from Rhode Island, so I grew up making wine with my family. My cousin Chris and I and my dad, old guy, Mario down the end of the road. In the fall, other kids were outside playing sports and we were making wine from what I could walk. So, grew up doing that, messing around with anything, fermented stuff. And so that’s where we were, really not as much beer as it was wine.

DJ: (03:55)
Okay. I don’t see a brandy on your guys’s, menu anywhere. Are you guys or did you never get around to playing with the distilling your wine?

Mike Reppucci: (04:04)
No, not at all man. I dig whiskey. Like, honestly, I dig whiskey and Jim, those are the two things I drank and that’s effectively what we make. So, I crushed my own whiskey jam. It’s good.

DJ: (04:15)
It’s always nice when you can make a product that you really stand behind and drink, at least more than you’re selling hope or less than you’re selling. It seems like you guys got some interesting variations out there with your seasonal whiskeys. How are you kind of doing some of those, like you’re at your honey chamomile sounds just fantastic. What is the kind of basis for, where do you get those ideas from?

Mike Reppucci: (04:40)
So grew up making the wine but Old Guy Mario at the end of the road. You know, he came from the old country. So he was making wine and Groppe from way back, in Italy. He used to have his own bees, have his own blueberries, his own whatever. And so some of these recipes, actually the honey chamomile is pretty funny because I from a young age would drink Mario’s honey chamomile Groppe. I mean if you know Groope that stuff is so hard. She had to put freaking honey and chamomile in it to make it drinkable. Right. So, some of the flavors that we play with, I actually grew up with in terms of understanding that flavor profiles from some of the stuff that Mario had done in the old country and he had taught me.

DJ: (05:23)
Wow, that’s really cool that you have an influence like that. I guess probably not, but is Mario still around? Was he able to try some of your products?

Mike Reppucci: (05:33)
No, it’s really sad. No, he died. Actually he died about two years before started this, but we named our still Mario after him and honor him. Yeah, we tell everyone that. He would be psyched, man. We couldn’t get him out. He’s the coolest dude. And honestly, my cousin Chris does all the brewing and distilling now and and he’s basically both of our idol. You know, he was the best chef you ever met. He was the best fisherman you ever met. He was the best hunter. He had the best garden. He made the best wine. He was, I think anyone that has a distillery, if you grew up with a dude like that in your life, you had some influence and we want to still want to grow up to be Mario. He was so cool, man. He could do everything better than we could.

DJ: (06:21)
That’s awesome. You guys have, I mean, obviously you’ve been winning awards with your whiskey. How far distributed are you?

Mike Reppucci: (06:29)
Yeah, we are in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and in Connecticut right now. It’s actually one of the things we’re struggling with right now. You know, I want to win my hometown. We’ve been so blessed to be supported by people of Rhode Island, well New England effectively. You know, but it’s that trade off because as you get these big awards and you look for some national press or national exposure, if you’re not distributed in those markets, it’s kind of one of those, it’s kind of hard. Everyone looks at us as this little distillery in Rhode Island, but honestly, we’re kind of winning our home market, which effectively, I think you should do. And I want to take care of the people that got us here too. So, you know, we’re never going to expand nationally, I don’t think until we have that ability. One of the fears is that you experiment too much and then lose quality, which is the only thing keeping you in business. So it’s that catch 22 that we haven’t figured out yet.

DJ: (07:15)
Something you guys do that’s kind of interesting is you’re collaborating with some local breweries. Is that kind of part of you’re winning the home market?

Mike Reppucci: (07:25)
Yeah. Yeah, we do that. We’ve done that with a few of them, just because they’re friends and they’re cool. And why not mess around? I think that springs more towards our sense of like experimentation. Like, hey dude, what would that taste like if we just distilled it I don’t know. Let’s take some and try it, we get all the time, how do you know what you’re going to use and it tastes good. Like for example, the pumpkin spice, you’re talking about flavor whiskeys or pumpkin spice flavor whiskey 2014 we won world’s best flavored whiskey from whiskey magazine. So we were actually the first craft distiller to get that out of London. I say first because Chip Tate went on stage for bow Conez after me, so I get to claim we were first, but it wasn’t saying it was the same year, but I beat him up on stage.

Mike Reppucci: (08:06)
But anyway, on that one dude, we had no idea how to produce it. In fact, the first batches were done with butternut squash in my mom’s oven it. Like, and we just said, you know what dude, this is cool. Let’s scale it up to thousand pounds of Pumpkin’s. So I think the collaboration with the other breweries and all that just speaks to just trying stuff and seeing how cool it is and if it’s good, it’s good. Some things we’ve done are terrible though and those don’t make it to market but anyway, long way to the answer to your question.

DJ: (08:34)
I am actually going to ask some more about that long winded answer. So you said you were roasting butternut squash in the oven. How did that turn into a pumpkin spice flavored spirit? Most of the pumpkin spice stuff I run across as all just cinnamon and nutmeg. Most people don’t use actual squash or Pumpkin in there. What do you guys doing and how do you doing it?

Mike Reppucci: (08:54)
Yes. So we actually very little this year. We got up to doing 32,000 pounds at Pumpkin’s, frankly. But this year we did very little. Long story short is first off the idea sprung from dude, you know, back in the day we’re doing it in 2013, 2014 pumpkin spice was cool. Now it’s kind of infiltrated every aspect of society and people push back like, oh, pumpkin spice and this, you know. But back then it was really cool and we weren’t, in any of the flavored stuff doing, it’s not about putting fake flavor and crap in it. It’s about using the actual ingredients, you’re saying you’re gonna use. So legit, we would get pumpkin’s a local farm, Carpenter Farm grew the Pumpkin’s for us. Certain kinds of sugar Pumpkin’s. We’d go help them pick it. We literally rinsed them in our parking lot. I rented convection ovens. We would cut them with knives and scoop them with ice cream scoops from Walmart that we bought. Roast them in the oven and took my dad’s old school ratchet wine press, the way the wooden slats and would press the roasted pumpkin’s to get the juice. Then we would kind of boil that up and then blend that and the whiskey back with that juice after we had filtered it and taken the chunks out and stuff. And our whiskey literally was that roasted pumpkin juice. We did cinnamon, clove of all spice, Sweet Orange Peel and vanilla bean. But it was predominantly the flavor of that. The sweetness came from the Pumpkin. Right. Cause when you say pumpkin spice, most people think pumpkin pie. And that’s really is like you said, the cinnamon and nutmeg. But ours gave it a vegetable note and really respected the whiskey as opposed to just being like so much cinnamon. So yeah, that’s how we did it. That’s crazy.

DJ: (10:26)
That’s awesome. So, I mean, how much liquid are you getting out of, I mean I know the sweet pumpkin’s do have a fair bit of sugar in there, but how much liquid could you get out of there? The first thing that pops into my mind is it enough you could ferment it? Like what? How did that process work?

Mike Reppucci: (10:42)
So we didn’t ferment it. We actually would like pasteurize it and then filter and then blend the whiskey back like at with the roasted pumpkin juice. But our peak, we did about 32,000 pounds of Pumpkin’s and put it this way, it was two pound pumpkins. We actually hand cut and carved 16,000 Pumpkin’s. We’d get volunteers. It’s a pain in the neck, man. I hated pumpkins. And then we got over 250 gallons of juice from the roasted pumpkin’s. We have a little chill filtration tag that we put it in. So we got about that much,but dude, it’s very labor intensive. Pumpkin’s is like weirdly enough, leave this stuff on your hands and your clothing that is like rubber cement. It’s very hard to work with.

DJ: (11:31)
Did you ever test it to see what the actual sugar content of that liquid was?

Mike Reppucci: (11:36)
No, we never really did. I had a Brix autometer the little glass thing, to this day, I don’t remember what the heck it was. We did look at it, but it was sweet as heck though. But I don’t remember. I’d be making something up.

DJ: (11:48)
And I’m sure it’s not anywhere near economic. It just sounds like something that’d be fun and weird to play with.

Mike Reppucci: (11:54)
Well, we actually thought about it, fermenting it out and then distilling it, but we have a 250 gallon still and we doubled distill everything. So we would’ve needed like, 700 gallons or something. So didn’t make it worth it.

DJ: (12:11)
Yeah. No, I know. Like I said there’s no way it’d be economic, but it’d just be one of those weird little projects. So, I guess one of the questions I like to ask everybody who’s distilling beers, how do you deal with the hops? I mean, hops generally are incredibly bitter and particularly when you distill them, they have a tendency to put out some really astringent notes into your spirit. How are you guys handling a distilling beer that’s been hopped and you have a hop flavored whiskey for that matter.

Mike Reppucci: (12:43)
Our single malts are actually on hop, divert the beers. We do pour the beers here so you can try them. So we’ll actually drink our stout wart without hops and it’s awesome. But to be a single malt you can’t put the hops and otherwise be half flavored whiskey. But we do as you said, do hop flavored whiskeys. So we did a literally a hop flavored whiskey. We’ve brewed an IPA beer and then we did a grapefruit hop. All these other crazy things and yeah, hops are weird man. It really, really hard to utilize in the distill. We have learned that if you use the hops at different points in the brewing process, you’ll get different notes of it through the distillation. And different hops have different alpha acids and stuff. So, I would say our hot flavored whiskey was the hardest one to do because it was probably variation number 50 that actually we got something that was palatable.

Mike Reppucci: (13:38)
I do think brewing beers, everyone says that like, you know to us like, oh you’ve ruined beers. Just whiskey. Like it’s crazy. Not many more people are doing it and new entrance in the market. I’m like, dude cause this was really hard. Like a good tasting beer doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to be a good taste in distillate. And I actually, that’s why when you were talking about the other breweries we work with, some of them, they’re like, well how do you think it would be as a quote whiskey. I’m like, I have no idea. Just put it in the still, let’s try it. Because, you know, you can get as scientific as you want about the chemical components coming through. But honestly, it’s such an art that I just don’t know until we do it. So on the hop flavor and stuff. I think if you try to, you just gotta play and. I always tell people, you know, I mentioned him earlier, Chip Tate, he’s cool as hell and I really like him. And every time I talk I realize how scientific he is. And I always say, dude, I’m more of a chef. He’s more of the scientist and the way we do things, again, it comes back to my Italian roots. It’s like just navigating that flavor profile from our pallets. So like we do batch, we’re like, ah, it’s slightly astringent. We do understand the science of it, and then we just kind of nuance it back to where we need to, if that makes sense.

DJ: (14:47)
Yeah, yeah. No, it totally does. Chip was actually on the show back in episode five, so we were fortunate to get to spend a little time talking with him as well.

Mike Reppucci: (14:57)
How smart is that dude?

DJ: (14:58)
Oh, he’s, he’s very entertaining. We were talking about building stills and stuff and he’s got a lot of knowledge.

Mike Reppucci: (15:05)
Yeah. I have no idea, dude. I don’t know how to do that.

DJ: (15:07)
Then we talked for like an hour after the show ended. It was a blast. Um, so I guess the question that comes to my mind is if it is, with it being such an art, is there something you kind of look for when you’re proposing a new spirit? You know, maybe a blend of flavors that you think have a tendency to work better or that you’ve seen, you know, after trying so many of these variants that tend to work better? Where do you start from? Is it really just, well, let’s throw something together and then see what happens? Or do you have a little bit more method behind it?

Mike Reppucci: (15:39)
No, we have more methods behind it. We have way more methods. So, you know, we kind of joke like, oh, we’re a bunch of idiots making whiskey. And that’s actually fundamentally true, but there’s a little bit more method to that madness. So when I started actually go back to the beginning, one of the things I did was I took Michael Jackson’s book on whiskeys and I kind of in my master’s thesis, learned how to take a lot of information and condense it down into a few categories. And I kind of just like took the best single malts in the world and looked at them and categorize them between say like, the nose, the pallet, the finish, whatever. And it was interesting to see the themes that came through. So one was like, rich nodes of cocoa or chocolate on the finish, whatever.

Mike Reppucci: (16:22)
I’m like, dude, that sounds like a stout beer. So what we actually did from the beginning was like, deconstructed some of the best whiskeys in the world and built them back up from individual components. So for example, okay, if this has notes of chocolate coffee, like, dude, let’s use some roasted barley. We actually use chocolate malt. So like, obviously not chocolate, you understand malt roasted, but then a little bitter. So like, Hey, let’s do de haus chocolate malt, let’s do de-bitter chocolate malt. Let’s do this, let’s modify the recipe that’ll get that note. But Hey, like we really need this flavor in mid palate. How are we going to do that? You know, some of our whiskeys, we actually use some French oak staves to actually create a middle tone. So we’ll do some staving in the middle of the process effectively to mimic that.

Mike Reppucci: (17:08)
So again, it’s like a chef constructing a dish, right? It’s like we literally took some, the best wishes in the world and said, well, we don’t have 20 years to get there, but how can we get there by utilizing what we had to be the strains. How cool is it if we fermented say difference between, you were talking about the Belgian triple, right? Like, so we use a clone of west malts east strain, and we ferment that, right? Dude, you would swear that I put clove in there. You would swear that there was like clove and nutmeg. No Dude, it’s just cause the yeast developed that and we want that to compliment some of the other stuff we’re using. And so when we started, that’s what we did. Now it’s kind of like we drank so much damn whiskey, we kind of use our memory banks and say, okay, well this one had a, B, and c, how do we reconstruct that? But it is very kind of like layering flavor. I always say I saw grandma making the sauce on Sunday and she’d start with a little onion, whatever she started with the Trinity, whatever. But throughout the day she’d lay her flavor. So at the end you had this really complex sauce and I think whiskey making is very similar to that. You take some long time in the barrel, but at each step you can influence the flavor just like grandma on that sauce.

DJ: (18:16)
Yeah, no that’s awesome. So you were talking about putting a French oak staves kind of in the barrel. I’m assuming to add a little different oak note to your final whiskey. Can you talk a little bit about that process?

Mike Reppucci: (18:28)
Yeah, I mean, all of our whiskeys, if you see the bottle, it says finished with Oak, which means we touched it with something. Not everyone of our whiskey is actually, in fact, some of ours don’t, but generally, and what we’ll do is we worked with evoke, it’s part of Independence day. But evoke is their wanting side. They’re wicked cool. If you ever want to fall asleep, get their book on oak, it’s like 200 pages you’ll pass out. It’s awesome. No, I’m joking. I’m wicked Geeky. I do like it. But effectively we will take some of the whiskey and we will put it in stainless steel tanks and just add these long French oak staves to it. Almost like a finishing process, if you will. But, you know, whatever. And then what we did is we worked with them and we said, okay.

Mike Reppucci: (19:15)
So for example, Battle Cry, we used 20% rye in the Mashville, a little bit of malt called honey malt. It’s Cambrinus honey malt. They roast it to accentuate the sweetness. So a little bit of that rye spice and a little bit of that sweet ball to balance a spice and sweet, fermented with the Belgian yeast strain. So really nice eastern that creates these dark fruit notes, but also some really nice spice like clove and nutmeg. And then we just delete to retain those flavors. And at some point we touch it with French oak staves, one of which is a cuve toast which is used effectively in white wine to create a buttery mouthfeel. So at each layer layering flavor. And then obviously we use our newly chartered American oak barrels in the process too, which creates that really cool vanilla and caramel notes and stuff. So, anyway, we think about it in terms of layering that flavor throughout the process.

DJ: (20:03)
How old are your typical whiskeys right now? It seems like you guys kind of have a bit of a range out there.

Mike Reppucci: (20:10)
Yeah. Our whiskey is about two years old, effectively. The average, the feds kind of make you say the youngest whiskey you put in there, but right now we’re blending 10, 10 gallon barrels, 25 or 30 gallon barrels and 53 gallon barrels. And so the average age there is, we’re in the two years zone effectively. If you have a 10 gallon barrel over two years, it’s just over oaked man. And that’s one of the things that I’m super sensitive to. Some of the wines we made growing up, we over oaked and I just know you can’t take that tannic note out. So we tend to blend quite a bit in terms our barrels to make sure that it has nice complexity but isn’t like sucking on some oak.

DJ: (20:52)
Yeah, no, that totally makes sense. I’d like to circle back actually to two things. One, you said you got a master’s degree along the way. What did you get that in and where was it at?

Mike Reppucci: (21:03)
Well, it was if master’s in finance actually. Master’s in finance from London business school. So I went and it was good. I did finance and I think that I liked the science of it. Like I like the math and the word problems and I really think that helped me a lot in terms of kind of the science and obviously running a business that helped a lot. But, the thing I didn’t like about being in that industry was there wasn’t that art component that this allows that creativity that just playing, like we always feel like we’re playing here and messing around with flavors. But yeah, so that’s what I did.

DJ: (21:40)
And then I wanted to go even farther back. And you know, we’re talking about how you were making this great beer and I’m curious how your process is in terms of actually making the beer. So are you guys closer to say a brewery and how your equipment’s set up or are you closer to the distillery and kind of the brewhouse set up?

Mike Reppucci: (22:00)
No, we’re we actually bought a 10 barrel brewery brew house. So we have a mash Waterton, we have a kettle and we boil everything. All the warts we boil and then all of our fermentor’s are jacketed and in temperature control. So we’re effectively a brewery. In fact, we are a brewery as well. A year ago we had our brewers license and that kind of sprung out from us going to show and bringing our wart, literally we’d bottle our wart from our fermentor’s and have people taste it and like, dude, that sounds great. Can I buy it? I’m like, no dude, we literally took it out of our fermentor. We are distilling it. And so we are a brewery effectively now, but the brewery really is there to promote the distillery.

Mike Reppucci: (22:44)
And one of the things I’m psyched about now that we have a way, cause when we first started, we kind of had a hybrid setup and then we’re like, no, we’re committing fully. We’re doing this a hundred percent like a brewery on the front end. And one of the things we’ve done, like for example, for Uprising is we are moving all of our products to family trees. And we call it the liberty tree, but like the uprising family tree is based off a stout mash. And so our stout mash, we will mash in, we’ll boil and we’ll get a really sick 10 to 12% ABV stout. And we have it on Nitro here at our tasting room, but some of that, so you can drink this stout. And then some of that we distill into Uprising single malt whiskey.

Mike Reppucci: (23:24)
So we have a stout beer and then we have a whiskey. But because we do such high gravity warts, there’s still good sugars in the mash Waterton. So I have a secondary kettle, we’ll run it off, we’ll boil that and we’ll actually cool ship it. So we have some spontaneously fermented sour stout on the family tree because why not? Right. For every 500 gallons of whiskey wart, I got my brewery, we are doing a sour stout from that because just like a chef, you know, everyone they know is nose to tail and they use every part. No one saying, hey, let’s take some of those runoff and make something of it. And then from there, when we dumped the whiskey barrels, we actually put those big stout, the 10% of yeast back in it’s whiskey barrels. And so we have a barely aged out in its own whiskey barrels.

Mike Reppucci: (24:08)
And then you have the beer route and we have the whiskey, it’s on beer barrels. So from the same starting grains, we can make like five to seven different products. And my whole business model is moving to these family trees because I do believe consumers are getting to the point where they want to understand the origins of their product. They want to understand and what better than to sit down with a flight board and literally have five products made from the same mash and seeing how very different they can be. A sour stout, a style on Nitro, a single malt whiskey, a barrel aged beer, a whiskey finishes a beer barrel and then we use our Uprising and we finished and Pedro Hammond has Sherry barrels, we have the whiskey finish in Px. And then once we’ve dumped that, guess what we do?

Mike Reppucci: (24:48)
We put the beer in it and we have a beer, finished a px barrel and like it’s just cool. And then literally we’re using everything and expressing it in a different forms.

DJ: (24:59)
That’s just freaking awesome. What other families are you doing?

Mike Reppucci: (25:03)
So the Belgian triple is our Battle Cry, excuse me. So we have a sick Belgian triple, again, very big beer. Then that becomes our battle cry, single malt whiskey. And then we have a barrel age Belgian triple, which is just insane. It’s awesome. And that’s one of our better beers. I love Belgian’s. Again, the whiskey finished in that. We have a sour made from the runoff. We don’t use the Belgian Yeast Strand on that, right? Cause it’s the native yeast, so it’s not technically a Belgians sour, but it’s a sour made from that runoff.

Mike Reppucci: (25:33)
And then our gin is true born gin. It’s actually a gin distilled from a Belgian wheat beer with orange field coriander, lemon grass. It’s insane. It’s so good. I love Gin. It’s a Geneva style gin. So we have our Belgian wheat beer. Then we have the gin from that. Then we have the beer finished in gin barrels and then the gin finish and Belgium wheat barrels. So those are the three kind of core family trees we have now. And then we’re literally just going to expand out from there.

DJ: (26:01)
What are you guys looking at doing next? That is such an awesome concept.

Mike Reppucci: (26:05)
The answer is, I don’t know. We’re messing with it. I really liked the idea of seasonality. I’m such a sucker for like, you know, why do people not drink whiskey in different seasons? So we really had the IPA, so the IPA and then the hot flavored whiskey in that.

Mike Reppucci: (26:26)
So we do have that family tree, but we’re really narrowing in on that recipe for our summer whiskey because like our hops flavored whiskey, I loved, I would do it in a Boulevardier effectively in a groany for people that know that. But because it just added such awesome flavors. In the fall we’re trying to stick to the beer model. So we definitely did Oktoberfest this year. We distilled some Oktoberfest. I’m trying to see how that comes out in whiskey and just releasing that family tree in the right season and getting on schedule with that. You need to be two years ahead. We’re really trying to figure that out. And then again, the real problem is what beers taste good as distilled and aged. So in the barrel now I have the Belgian wheat, we did a Saison, so I forgot we have a on family tree.

Mike Reppucci: (27:12)
This one’s awesome. It’s a saison that has a 20% seasoning, great must, Pink peppercorn, lemon peel fermented with Belle Saison yeast strain. We distill that and barrel age it like a whiskey. It’s a DSS because we have all that stuff in it. So we have the saison, we have the saison spirit, we have the saison beer in it’s kind of whiskey barrel, but then finish in a white wine barrel because it creates this nice acidity on the finish. That beer is awesome. And then, I guess I could go on but our saison family trees really weird. But that one I like a lot.

DJ: (27:47)
Oh, speaking of weird, something that I’ve been puzzling over lately. And you seem like the right person to ask about, have you done anything distilling the Sour Beers?

Mike Reppucci: (27:57)
So no, because they take so darn long. But I’ll tell you, we have a batch of sour that’s not 100% where we want it and I’m not sure I’m going to get it where I want it. And so owning a distillery gives you the opportunity to say as of this week. I was like, well we can wait another year or two and see, but what if we fruited it, re-fermented the fruit and then distilled it. And I’m not saying the beer is wrong, it’s not off and will probably get there, but we got enough of it that I was like, what if we did, and that went to actually was a cool ship. So we have a spontaneously fermented sour that we might reformat on some fruit and then distill it and see how it is. But I’ve never done it. I don’t know what would translate. I don’t know if it would be good or bad.

DJ: (28:50)
You know, I’ve been enjoying the sour trend in Beers and particularly in moving away from the IPA’s. So that’s something that’s been in my mind with all these kind of crossover type establishments. And yeah, that’s the one thing I haven’t seen is somebody trying to take a sour and running it through. It’s either going to be just totally awesome or the worst thing I’ve ever put in my mouth. And I am hoping to let somebody else find out first.

Mike Reppucci: (29:15)
Yeah. And it’s hard because if you’re doing the sour well I mean not correctly, that comes off arrogant. I don’t mean that I love Berlin or vice, right? Like I love kettle sour stuff, so I’m not knocking that. It’s clearly a different product. Like we definitely do some kettle sour stuff and it’s awesome. But if you’re going to do like a sour, like an American wild and you’re going to let it sit there for a year or two or 18 months or however long you’re to sit it and then you distill it, it’s a scary proposition. You have so much invested in that to then distill it. So I think that that’s kind of why, I don’t know what you’d need to charge for the distalate, right, because you’re going to get about 10% of the original volume of something you’ve sat on already for two years and then it’s white. Do Barrel Age or not? I don’t know, but,

DJ: (30:00)
oh yeah, no. Well, like I said, it’s just what I’ve been kicking around with drinking these Sour Beers, I’m like, man, it’d be fun to run this in a still and see what came off the other side. But

Mike Reppucci: (30:10)
What’s your favorite? What have you been drinking lately?

DJ: (30:13)
I’m fortunate that I used to live in Denver and, oh, what is it? I want to say crooked stave, I don’t think that that’s not it there. They are just right outside of Denver there and they’ve got a whole warehouse of different Sour Beers and I haven’t found a favorite, there’s a whole lot of them I like,

Mike Reppucci: (30:31)
yeah, it’s definitely fun to get into it. I think for us it makes a lot of sense to do barrel aged beers and sours or anything that’s in oak because that’s what we have. You know, we do do an IPA here for Rhode Island, but I think the thing that we hope to be known for it is for example, we took our Uprising beer, we brewed a ton of that stout and then I’ve now aging that stout in Uprising single malt barrels. And we do a bourbon here in Rhode Island. So a bourbon barrel, where’d we did a pismo smoked bourbon? So Bourbon with 30% Pismo, Pismo Bourbon. We did a beachwood smoked bourbon. So Beachwood is smoked bourbon barrel. We’re finishing some of that style and it’s Pedro Jimenez Sherry barrel. And then we actually have a saw turn barrel that we’re finishing this out.

Mike Reppucci: (31:14)
So like you can try the same beer finished in seven different barrels all from our own whiskey and stuff. But how cool was that to then see how the barrel changes just even in that barrel nuances between a bourbon and a single malt? Does that taste different? Can you do them side by side? You know, I think for us the cool thing is to still allow the consumers to run their own tests and see what they like. And so that’s what we’re going to release this Christmas is literally the same batch of beer finished in seven different barrels.

DJ: (31:45)
Yeah, I was, I was fortunate when I started off in the industry that I got to work at a winery where he’d already made his money selling his first winery and he was mainly there to play. And so we get to taste, you know, a pinot that was the same base but in nine different styles of barrel and it turns out I really like my pinot in Hungarian oak with a medium toast. I’ve done the test to say that. And so it’s really fun to get to play in that, in that manner.

Mike Reppucci: (32:15)
The difference is we haven’t sold crap and we don’t have that much money. We’re still playing, but okay.

DJ: (32:21)
It’s tough to play when you got to still make money on the backside of it?

Mike Reppucci: (32:25)
I hear you.

DJ: (32:26)
So if you were going to start your distillery again, what would you do differently?

Mike Reppucci: (32:30)
Tell you what? When we started, we started with the idea that we were gonna make a stout beer. We start with Uprising style beer, distill it and we started when White Dog was still was pretty popular actually. So I wasn’t really digging white spirits, but we aged ours, you know, not that long, mainly because I needed freaking money more than anything. I’m not sure that was the right decision or the wrong decision because we just went out and said, yeah, our whiskey is white, it looks like white wine, but we’re not going to chuck a ton of Oak on it and over oak it, we’re going to allow the beer and the chalk. I mean, it tastes like white chocolate finnish. It was crazy. It was really cool. But it wasn’t rich. It wasn’t really nuanced.

Mike Reppucci: (33:13)
It was definitely a young spirit, you know? And then I know guys and I’m not one of those that really, you got to stay in business anyway. But anyway, I know guys that went out and bought whiskey right. And bottled it and said, okay, well you know, I’ve been in business six months and here’s a 10 year old whiskey and they’re totally clear that hey, we bought this but it’s great and we sourced it. I went the other way for good or bad. Right, but I do find myself having to go back now to a lot of the accounts that tried it originally, especially in Boston and say, you know, they’re like, oh, I tried your stuff. It’s terrible. Well, you know, we were in business six months, I was selling you like a four month old whiskey, can you try it?

Mike Reppucci: (33:50)
We now have whiskey that’s really nice. We’ve won these awards and you know, you’re almost climbing back up hill because their first impression was negative. So like, I don’t know if I made the right decision or wrong decision cause I wasn’t independently wealthy. I had to sell something. Right. And we wanted to sell whiskey. So we sold it as a stout beer, so the new whiskey, but you know, that I’m still paying for, even today with people that think that we stink at what we do because we launched with a product that that wasn’t what they thought it should have been. But again, I don’t know if that was right or wrong or whether I change it because we are where we are, but I get that quite a bit. Yeah. You talked to a lot of people. I mean, you must must be the same thing for guys when we started, I started in 2009 launched product 2011. But around that time, you know, a lot of people probably started with white whiskey, I assume. And they’re probably still answering for that.

DJ: (34:41)
Yeah. Either that or they ran hard into the gin and vodka and just waited a handful of years to release a whiskey at all.

Mike Reppucci: (34:49)
Yeah. Which is hard to man. I mean, vodka is a tough market and it was hard to sell that. I just didn’t, I don’t get it. It’s hard, but it’s like, hey, my stuff tastes more like nothing than theirs. Right. Like they’re, the selling proposition is hard, at least on mine. You know, whether right or wrong. Again, I don’t even know if we were right, but I always said if I got the three, no kiddings and I usually use worse language, but I know they’re going to try it. I’m like, Hey, you know, whiskey is a beer. It’s been distilled. No kidding. Hey, this is a stout beer distilled. No kidding. Yeah, Mike, I made it. I try it. No kidding. I’m going to try that. So I felt like I had the ability to either get them to taste it. Problem was when they tasted, it was really young whiskey. So, but in Rhode Island we were super blessed. I mean, we were supported day one. I mean, unbelievable. It was awesome. But again, in markets that not your hometown, I think it was slightly the wrong decision.

DJ: (35:41)
Yeah. I think that’s the least of decision. A lot of distilleries need to make one way or the other and own it.

Mike Reppucci: (35:47)
And own it, you know, like I said, I was like, look, I understand people are buying whiskey. I’m not crapping on them, but the way I feel, the way I would say, Hey, I’ve been in business six months. If I come in and show up to it, so you’re 10 year old whiskey, you should wonder where I got it. I’m clearly can’t sell you a whiskey that old. If I made it, I clearly made this. Can you judge it on that? And that’s what I would say. And again, I’m not saying anything negative, but this is what I got. And some people really appreciate it because the value proposition we were offering was, have you ever had a stout beer distilled into whiskey? You really haven’t, let’s try it. It’s really new. It’s cool. It’s got nuances. It’s just not super complex. At that time it wasn’t.

DJ: (36:21)
So if somebody came to you with a limited budget and they said they were going to start a distillery, what would you tell them they needed to focus their time and money on to increase their chance of success

Mike Reppucci: (36:34)
selling. I know that’s not, I mean, basically that was me, dude. We had a very limited budget and we hustled. We did, I can’t even tell you some of the dumb things we did to stay in business and not that anything was wrong with it, just whatever. I can’t even like one time we didn’t have enough money, slashed, forgot to order the inserts for the boxes to ship to our distributor and we just needed the money to make the shipments. So we bought some cardboard and started cutting it with a table saw to make inserts. And like it was the most ghetto thing you ever seen, but we’d got the order out the next morning, you know, so I wouldn’t buy into the narrative of other people in terms of how you need to build a brand or how you need to run your business if you’re a religious limited budget.

Mike Reppucci: (37:26)
I mean, especially in this day and age, you can do a lot of really cool things to grow your business. It just takes, a lot of effort and a lot of ingenuity. I would almost argue that we’re partly where we are today cause we didn’t have a large budget cause I would have spent it and then had to take more investors and then not have control. And then what investor could you convince that you’re gonna do a saison beer with 20% reason great Musk, pink peppercorn and lemon peel and distill it. And that would be a good spirit. I mean, they’d be like, dude, just focus on whiskey. What are you doing? Or a whole family tree concept is kind of insane. But I just think it’s cool. And I think that’s where our business needs to go. So with someone with a small budget, you know, yeah, you need money to pay the bills, but if you hustle, you have a little bit of ingenuity and you’re honest, I’ll tell you what, we were saved so many times.

Mike Reppucci: (38:22)
My landlord’s amazing man. I will come to him and be like, I don’t have money to pay you for rent this month or next month, maybe next month, but I’m here before it’s late and like, I’ll be good for it. And he was, Mike, you’re awesome. Thanks. Don’t bury your head when you have bills come and do because that’s what gets you in trouble. Be ahead of it. Call people. Because honestly a lot of the people you do business with are business owners and they been there and if you’re just forthright and like ahead of it, people are Awesome. And the other thing was ask for help, man. We got so much free help from really smart business people on how to make our business more lean. Just cause I asked them and I was like, dude, I don’t know how I’m getting this pumped in whiskey out.

Mike Reppucci: (39:02)
You know, after we won the world’s best in 2014 we literally went from 2000 pounds of Pumpkin to 32,000 pounds of pumpkin. And we made that off. Well a few thousand bottles to over 10,000 bottles and you’re gonna get Pumpkin whiskey out in the season, right? Like it’s not something so pumpkins and rye aren’t ready till the end of August. And you got to get your Pumpkin whiskey out first or second week of September. And we had to process all that. So I called a local business guy and I called him and he’s around talking about and he always gives speeches, Carl and he’s awesome. And he said, Carl, dude, you talk lean. I don’t know it, can you help me out? He was here with five people from his business the next day and he had a lean consultant in for free help set us up. So we made our delivery deadline and I just called them and said, you don’t know me, but can you help me? And you know, so if you have a limited budget, just like again, being at being up front, asking for help and, not burying your head when things get hard is probably one of the best lessons I learned.

DJ: (40:00)
That’s great. If I say so. Where do you see the industry going in the next five to 10 years?

Mike Reppucci: (40:05)
So there’s this cartoon I really like and one is like a storefront and it looks like in the country and says, you know, general store, we sell everything. And then the next frame is dude with a cart and it looks like New York City. It says pickles. I think that as new entrants come in and selling local, which is wonderful, but if everyone’s local, what else is your selling proposition? I think the more entrance, the more focus you need. So, you know, I think carving your niche, defining your battlefield and defining what you’re good at and who you are is paramount. So, you know, that’s why we’re trying to work on this family tree narrative where that ends, I don’t know. But I do think understanding, hey, we do these things. You know, it doesn’t have to be one thing. It doesn’t have to be solely pickles, but this is what we do. We do it well, you know, to then say, hey, we make these 40 products, all different processes and we’re the best at every one of them. Not sure that’s even achievable realistically. So I would say if you’re starting to get distillery now to understand really well what you do well and just nail it, just knock it out of the park. But you know, it’s hard when you start to, like you said, you gonna start with vodka. You started with gin, you gonna start with this. You can start that just to make rent. And believe me, I know that I’m not critiquing that.

Mike Reppucci: (41:35)
I’ve been there done that, you know, bought the tee shirt. But I would say as we go along it, I think the brands that continue to just be, hey, we’re the local producer and we’ll supply you with everyone these spirits. I think you’re going to have a harder time than if you focus.

DJ: (41:52)
All right Mike. Well thank you very much for coming on the show.

Mike Reppucci: (41:55)
Thanks man. Thanks for having me.

Today’s interview is brought to you by the team of architects and engineers at Dalkita. Dalkita has been serving the craft distilling industry for over 13 years under committee to production facilities that work. Let’s get back to the show.

Colleen Moore: (42:12)
Special thanks to Mike Reppucci from Sons of Liberty Spirits company for talking with us on our show today. Up next our field reporter and his exposition on corn mashing and the fermentation including theories to reduce mash viscosity.

DJ: (42:28)
So corn. Obviously corn is probably the most important ingredient. Definitely the most important ingredient in America’s most popular spirit, bourbon, since it’s required to be at least half of Bourbon and it certainly is the biggest thing going there. Corn is interesting because unlike our other conventional grains that we’re using, it has incredibly high gelatinization temperature, which means it’s really hard to get the starch to convert over to sugar and there’s a lot of things that people have done in order to make corn workable. The first thing and the most commonly available thing to most micro distillers is flaked corn. This is corn, we’ve talked about it earlier. That is a pre-gelatinized and basically they do that by rolling it and steaming it to the temperature that they need to create that gelatinization in the corn granule. And then you don’t have to worry about it at your distillery.

DJ: (43:28)
It’s a great option. But you know, as we talked about before, you don’t necessarily get all the flavor out of it that you would if you’re getting a whole kernel of corn and being able to treat everything in house. The other thing that’s really common with corn is buying it pre-ground. Typically whatever grain mill you’re buying your corn from, if it’s not one of the large, you know, breast type distillery producers is going to be able to grind your corn for you. For that matter, breast scan as well. You can get pre-ground corn and you can get it in whatever, several varieties of sizes that you’re looking for. Typically the smaller grind you get, the faster that gelatinization will occur and the faster from that you can get scarification. That being said, the downside of small granules is the ability to Lauder and strain out your liquid from the the grain.

DJ: (44:21)
But that’s not always a problem. Generally speaking, if you just buy corn in the U.S. Particularly corn for distilling, you’re looking at number two grade field corn or dent corn. The dent refers to what happens to the corn granule when it actually gets older and matures. So basically the way the corn life cycle works is that the corn starts putting sugar molecules into the ear of corn. This is where we get sweet corn from. Well, kind of. We’ll get into that in a second. So that sugar in the granule as the corn matures and actually when it’s ripe, it gets converted over to starch. Then we, through our mashing process, are going to convert that starch back into sugar and then convert it over to ethanol. Sweet corn is a little bit different. It doesn’t actually have the ability internal to the kernels to convert from sugar to starch.

DJ: (45:17)
And so that’s why it’s able to stay, the entire ear will be nice and sweet. With a conventional corn, if you can actually eat whatever little kernel is on the top of the ear, it’ll still be sweet. Even if a kernel at the base is a just a starchy mess. So sweet corn is great if you can find it, but it’s certainly not required. You just have to convert that starch back around. Something to look for when you are doing corn in general and just like all part of the grants is we want low protein. Protein doesn’t do anything for us except make our lives more difficult. It forms the structure that allows the foam on our beer, which is great but not so great and distilling and it makes our lives just generally harder. So we want to get a really high starch content cause that’ll allow us to create more ethanol and conversely a low protein content.

DJ: (46:10)
So we don’t have the negative issues from the protein. That being said, that kind of describes a large portion of corn out there. Corn for animal feed does tend to be higher in protein, lower and starch. But there’s a whole lot of options out there that are high starch and low protein. Color matters in the sense that color seems to be tied to flavor. So your blue and your red corns will have a little bit more of earthy notes and more complex flavors. Your white and your yellow corn will be a little bit more bland. That being said, most whiskeys made with yellow corn and it certainly doesn’t seem to be hurting their products any. There’s not a whole lot really to look for in the corn itself. Like I said, such a large majority is made with that a number two field corn.

DJ: (46:58)
But people that are doing, you know, blue corn whiskeys, which are awesome, are a small percentage and really aside from what ingredient, they pick, it doesn’t change the rest of what they’re doing. When you’re milling corn, corn is obviously a much larger kernel than say rye, which is on the opposite end of the spectrum. And so we need to be aware of how our roller mills are set. We need to make sure the bars on the roller mills are a little bit wider. If we’re using a hammer mill, which is really the best way to deal with corn, keep in mind that you don’t want to over crush it. So we need to have those screens large enough that we’re able to pass the corn out. The reason that roller mills aren’t really great for corn is that the corn can be really tough and a little harder to mill, then some of our softer grains and there isn’t a hole or a husk that can be stripped off and then expose a softer internal member. It’s all just hard all the way down. So hammer mills are really the best way to go if you’re going to be doing a lot of corn. That being said, obviously for people who are milling all four grains or a whole variety of grains, roller mills are really common and so the secret, for lack of a better term is to have multiple stages of rollers and just set them a little bit farther apart than you would when you’re doing, say a rye.

DJ: (48:30)
After that, we’re going to get it over to our, our Mash Tun. And the big thing with corn is that it is just a thick gooey pile of junk and we want that because that thickness is where we’re able to access the starch and convert it back into sugar. So gelitization temperatures are a little bit weird. In order to fully convert all of the starch, you need to get up to at least 170 degrees for corn. That’s really high. In order to fully convert, say all the starch in barley or rye, we’re looking at 140 hundred and 45 somewhere in that range. Weed’s a little bit higher same with oats. You’ve got to get up into that hundred and 50 range, but those are both substantially cooler than where we’re at for corn. Oh, in fact, corn tends to be much closer to that 190 range where all enzyme activity stops.

DJ: (49:27)
So really the problem with corn is that you just have to treat it so much differently than the other grains. Couple of little tips and tricks. I’m sure most of you guys know when you are doing a corn mash, the best thing to do is to put your corn in first, if you’re using multiple grains. Then I would actually recommend, depending on how you’re doing it, either an enzyme addition with that corn initially or just a little bit of barley. And do that knowing that those enzymes are about ready to get destroyed or at least mostly destroyed. So if you can get your corn in there at about 160 to 162 and then put it in your barley at that point, let those enzymes work, keep it in that range. 162 to one 167 where that alpha amylase is really doing its best work and we want to have the Ph right in that five, six to five eight range.

DJ: (50:20)
But what this is going to do is during your initial gelatinization as the corn slowly converts over, you’re going to need to bring it up from that one all the way up to 170 to converted fully. But by starting off on that lower range and bringing it up over time, the enzymes are going to be able to work on that gelatinization. This is actually a process called liquefaction and what you can do is it will start eating those chains as they’re forming and you’ll end up getting less of a thick goopy mess with your corn. If you’re able to do a little bit of enzyme activity on the way up. Once you get up to 170, hold it there until your iodine test is negative and now it’s time to bring the temperature back down. When you get back down, I’d get it down to at least 165 before I put another enzyme addition or wait until you get all the way down to your barley point down there, you know, 144 and just use barley.

DJ: (51:12)
The other thing you can do to help with the viscosity of your corn mashes is look at your Ph. If you’re in a Ph range of about 3.6 to 5 1/2, you’re actually causing the viscosity to increase in your mash. A couple of studies have been done on how Ph is actually changing, how the starch molecule hydrates and so the using a base Ph of about 6.3 they did a whole range of acidic mashes and found that basically once you got below five and a half, your viscosity just kept increasing with a lower Ph. Now, I know most of us are trying to keep that Ph low, you know, sour and process and that kind of thing. But we want to make sure we hold off. Once you have achieved full of gelatinization, then you can lower that Ph down and you don’t cause that increase in viscosity.

DJ: (52:03)
It’s just during the gelatinization phase. So like I said, do your Alpha amylase on the way up just a little bit enough to kind of help keep things thinned out. And then on the way back down, do it again. Then you can add in the rest of your grain. However your, let’s say you’re making Bourbon, get the rest of it in there at their gelatinization temperatures, we can get them converted over as well. Something to think about, and if I haven’t mentioned it before, I really should have, is we don’t need to boil our warts. It’s very common in the brewing industry, because they need their beer to be sanitized. We don’t care nearly as much. Typically distillers use higher pitch rates and so we can basically try to keep our enzyme activity going as long as possible. So if you can keep your temperature down, you know, let’s say you’re using barley and not dropped that barley into 144, you’ll keep those enzymes going and they will actually continue to convert starch molecules to sugar during all of your fermentation.

DJ: (53:08)
So if you’re going to be using corn, we want to make sure it’s the first thing in and it gets the high heat and we don’t have the enzymes in there at that point in time. And then we never want to go up, you know, 190 is just excessive and there no reason to go play in that range. And certainly getting into actual boiling temperatures, I know people out there doing it and you know, enjoy the product they’re getting, but I haven’t figured out technically what it’s doing at those temperatures, if you guys know. All right, certainly love to hear it. I need to find out as much as I can and everybody’s got a different way to do it. One more thing I guess to talk about is we’re talking about gelatin mutation is that it’s not actually required. Our enzymes are capable of converting starch to sugar without gelatinization occurring.

DJ: (53:56)
Basically what the gelitinization is doing is it’s hydrating those starch molecules and increasing their surface area, and this goes back to our milling episode a little bit ago is the greater surface area, the more area those starters have to work on so they’re able to work quicker, you will eventually convert your corn into sugar even at low temperatures. If you did say your your whole mash it 150 it might take you two days but you will eventually convert it all over and so temperature really is more of a function of time in this case than a necessity. All right, and so that’s just something to think of when you’re designing your recipes. I think that’s a fairly detailed talk on gelatinization if not everything you wanted to know about corn there. There’s so much research out there because luckily we’ve been distilling with it for a long time.

DJ: (54:51)
One last thing to note is that a lot of the Scotches, particularly the non pure Malt Scotches, obviously the non pure malt scotches used to be made with corn and with a basically increase in corn price, decrease in wheat price they converted over, but it’s certainly not wrong to try to use corn and more ingredients. It’s a great way to get a lot of starch into our mashes and get more sugar at a very low cost. You just have to deal with some of those headaches and I think I’ve given you some tips for how to take care of that.

Colleen Moore: (55:26)
Are you interested in filing a report with us while we’re actively seeking professionals to give us the low down on the technical aspects of distillery operations for our listeners. Contact us via our website with your pitch.

Do you have feedback on this show? Well, send us an email to [email protected]. Of course, if you want to find out more about this specific episode, go to our show notes on our webpage. That’s dalkita.com/shownotes.

Remember, you can subscribe to this podcast at Apple podcasts or however you get your podcasts.

Our theme music was composed by Jason’s Shaw and is used under a creative Commons attribution 3.0 license.

And finally a special thanks to the Dalkita team behind this production and the man that puts it all together. Our sound editor, Daniel Phillips of Zero Crossing Productions. Until next time, stay safe out there – I’m Colleen Moore. 

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Dalkita is committed to getting intelligent and quality design solutions out of the craft distilling industry. Check them out at their website, dalkita.com that’s D A L K I T A.com. Until next time, this has been Distilling Craft. Cheers.

Mentioned in this Episode:

Sons of Liberty Spirits Company: www.solspirits.com


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