Please, Continue… by Dalkita, Inc. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://www.dalkita.com/contact/.
Colleen Moore of Dalkita talks with Greg Lehman the founder of Watershed Distillery in Columbus, OH about Hammerschlagen & growth. The last 10 years have brought an expanding facility, new barrelhouse, new equipment and the addition of a restaurant. We discuss production on a continuous column still and later – make a big announcement.
Episode Identifier (00:00): Welcome back to season two of the Distilling Craft podcast. You’re listening to episode (2): “Please, Continue… ” The Second Part” of our continuous column series.
Fermentis promo (00:13): The Distilling Craft podcast is brought to in part by our great sponsors “Fermentis”. The obvious choice for beverage fermentation. Providing the craft spirits industry worldwide with the best fermentation needs for more than 100 years. Contact our sales team to help make your choice on yeast and products for distilling your next great spirit. For more information, or to find a distributor visit www.fermentis.com.
Colleen Moore (00:43): This is Colleen Moore from Dalkita, your host for episode (2) of our second season of the Distilling Craft podcast. Did you notice that it was released exactly two weeks from episode one? Yes, it’s true. Consistency is the key to so many of the good things in life. Exercise, ice cream, podcasts, and we’re getting better at it. So, thank you for downloading and listening. First step today is, introducing a new semi-regular segment for our show, a segment we call “The Safety Soapbox”.
Colleen Moore (01:22): Let me just get up here. That doesn’t look safe. Is there a guard rail maybe a spotter?
Colleen Moore (01:32): This week we are talking about step ladder safety. According to the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration “OSHA” falls from portable ladders are actually on,e of the leading causes of occupational fatalities and injuries. In fact, over the last 10 years there has been a 50% increase in ladder related injuries with over 90,000 people ending up in the emergency room. The most common type of injury is a bone fracture. But worse, elevated falls from places like ladders account for almost 700 occupational deaths per year. Other agencies like the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that half of accidents involving ladders were actually due to individuals carrying items as they climbed. The good news is that both agencies agree 100% of ladder accidents can be prevented with attention to your equipment and climber training. So, here are some tips to keep you safe on ladders in a distillery.
Colleen Moore (02:35): 1. Inspect the ladder before use. If any of the steps are cracked or broken, if there’s any feet missing off of the legs of a ladder, maybe the spreader, that thing that keeps the ladder open in that classic letter “A” shape. If those things don’t work, take the ladder out of service and get a new one.
Colleen Moore (02:56): 2. If you set your ladder up on firm, dry and level surface, make sure that the workplace underneath the ladder is clear.
Colleen Moore (03:05): 3. Ladders are not designed for any type of side loading and they tip over very easily, so that means no leaning to reach items. You want to keep your body centered between those rails. Remember that lifting and carrying things while on a ladder is actually statistically more likely to cause you harm. So get someone to assist you.
Colleen Moore (03:28): 4. Never stand on the top step of a ladder. They’re actually the most unstable at that point and ladders simply weren’t designed for it. And that’s it for my safety soapbox today. We will cover other topics in future.
Dalkita Promo (03:45): Distilling Craft is brought to you by Dalkita, a group of architects and engineers who specialize in designing craft distilleries across the US. More information is available at our website www.dalkita.com Now, let’s get back to the show.
Colleen Moore (04:06): This episode is essentially part two on continuous column stills. And for our distillery profile today, we are lucky enough to talk with Greg Lehman from Watershed Distillery in Columbus, Ohio about the growth of his business from two guys with a dream and a tiny space in a flex building to a brand with multiple revenue streams, including a restaurant as well as the distillery. I won’t spoil any more of the interview for you. And with that, let’s welcome Greg onto the Distilling Craft podcast. Hi Greg.
Greg Lehman (04:40): Thanks for having me here. I’m excited to be here.
Colleen Moore (04:43): Awesome. Let’s talk about your Distillery. You’re located in Columbus, Ohio. You’re in kind of an urban area, is that right?
Greg Lehman (04:52): Yeah, definitely. We’re pretty much a five minute drive to the center of the city. So we’re close. And even though we’re right in the city, we’re kind of hidden on a little side street. So, there’s still a lot of people that don’t know we’re here even though we are nearby.
Colleen Moore (05:13): I went there probably in 2010 ish. Are you still in the same place or did you move?
Greg Lehman (05:20): We are. That’s awesome that you were here in 2010. Now, we’ve probably shook hands then. I probably gave you a tour.
Colleen Moore (05:28): You probably did give us a tour
Greg Lehman (05:31): At that time, it was just my business partner and I, and anybody who walked in, we pretty much said like, “Come on back, we’ll give you a tour”.
Colleen Moore (05:37): Right. It was small. So have you taken over more of the building?
Greg Lehman (05:41): We have. We keep expanding. We’re so fortunate, the building we’re in, it’s a fairly big building and we had a little space in there. And as tenants have turned over and not signed to continue leases, the building owners keep calling us and saying, “Hey, do you want more space?” And pretty much every time we’re like, “Yes, yes, we’ll take it. We’ll take it”. And so we’ve been fortunate that it’s available. In fact, when you came through, I still tell stories so many people at the time, cause we had that little still in there. It was probably like 10 feet tall, but it wasn’t big. And we had high ceilings. And people would walk into the back and they would be looking around, and then they’d look at me and they’d be like, “That’s it? Where does everything else?” And there was so much disappointment on their face. And were like, “Yeah, this is all we got. Sorry. We’re small”. But, it’s changed a lot since then.
Colleen Moore (06:41): Cool. So, I remember on your tour the very first time we went, this is the first time you had a drinking game that involved a nail that you had drivin with like one swing.
Greg Lehman (06:55): Yes. Hammer Schloggin. You played hammers schloggin. At the beginning, everybody that came in played hammer schloggin. It was fun. I lived in Switzerland for a couple of years right out of school. And where I lived, this little town, they had a bar right in the middle of the town and they played Hammer schloggin. And, anybody in the bar, I would go play. And, I was pretty terrible. The Swiss guys, they’d beat me every night. Unfortunately, whoever got last had to buy the next round. So, everybody wanted to play Hammer schloggin with me. When I walked in, it was like, “Hey, let’s play Hammer schloggin.” And I’m like, “You guys suck”. But I played, it was fun. But, they made their own spirits in that town, and that was part of the idea behind Watershed when we started. We’re like, we could make spirits here. And so that was our nod to the origins of it. Then, you start to grow a little bit, your insurance company comes in and sees what you’re doing. And for some reason, they didn’t like Hammer schloggin. Hammer, nails, drinking- people that can go wrong. So we don’t play hammer schloggin anymore, but I love people coming through that we’re here at the beginning, bring it up. Everybody remember hammer schloggin. It was something that they don’t forget. I miss it. In fact, the log actually is still in my office. Should I turn my camera to see?
Colleen Moore (08:31): You should.
Greg Lehman (08:31): Alright. Here you go. Here’s the log right there. You see it? We got a little some bottles on top, but there’s the hammer schloggin log. Still exists.
Colleen Moore (08:42): Nice. So, that was definitely the most memorable thing. And, now play that in our house while we fix it.
Greg Lehman (08:50): That’s awesome. While you fix the house.
Colleen Moore (08:55): Yeah, while we fix the house. “Let’s drink now.”
Colleen Moore (09:01): Tell me about the two founders, so it’s you and your partner.
Greg Lehman (09:06): Yeah. I started with Dave Rigo. We met through our wives, and kinda hit it off right away and started talking different business ideas. It was one of those things where- He worked for a big company. I worked for a big company. We had a thousand ideas and it was like, “Let’s do something besides working for them, man”. And we both nerded out about writing business plans and went through a number of them. And then this idea to distill came up, kind of built off this idea from Switzerland where they were doing it locally. It was one of those like, “Hey, want to make Gin?” And he was like, “It’s illegal”. And I was like, “Oh, well, maybe it’s not”. So then, we looked and we did the typical Google search and we found there were other people making small craft, small batch spirits across the U,S. But at the time 2008_2009, when we started looking into this, there weren’t many. You remember back then in Ohio, there was like a hobby guy doing it in Cleveland and a hobby guy doing it in Cincinnati, and that was it. Nobody else in the state. And both of these guys had full time jobs and it was like they had a license still in their garage or their bar. So we were like, “This could be cool to bring to Ohio”, and so then you do the typical, ask your friends like, “Hey, if I made gin, would you buy it?” And everyone was like, “You have to make gin. That sounds amazing.” So I think for better, for worse, we bought into that. We’re like, “Yeah, yeah, we have to make gin. This is going to be amazing”. So, we jumped in. And fast forward to today, Dave, about two years ago, we started talking and we didn’t share the same vision for the company. So, just over a year ago, I ended up buying out Dave shares. When we started the company, we had to raise money and sell some shares to other investors. So those investors and I bought out his shares. He is officially no longer with us. It sounds sad, but he’s had a lot of fun with what he’s doing. We parted on great terms which was, I think we both would say a great way to end it. We did some great things together. And, at the end of the day, he got something really cool out of it. I got something cool out of it. And we’re both still buddies and we talk all the time. Do you like it sparked well? Maybe, in six years, seven years when we’ll be like, Oh man, I got the raw end of it, or he got the raw end of it, who knows? We’ll see depending on where we take this thing from here. But for now, we’re both kind of like- Yeah, I think that worked out well.
Colleen Moore (11:56): Well, that’s always good. It’s always interesting to feel out those kinds of relationships as they kind of go through their different seasons. So, you’ve got friends that are like crossroad friends, where you’re really fast friends for a while, but then you go your separate ways and you may come back together again. Who knows?
Greg Lehman (12:14): Right. Well, I’ll continue this story a little bit. So, I have a small ownership of a pork company, so we have pigs. I mean, our pigs are like very heritage and the pork tastes amazing. It’s marbled. It’s like the highest in pork that you can grow, but it costs a lot more to produce. But chefs love it. So right after Dave and I finished the buyout of Watershed, I assumed like, he had this big idea he was going to go do something else, and I we would still talk every day, and we’d go to lunch a month or so after the close. And I was asking him, I was like, “What’s next?” He said, “I don’t know yet. I’m looking at all these business plans, but honestly, like the idea of going back to absolute square one sounds terrible. And I don’t know if I want to go back to like complete grinding at square one”. And I was like, “Well, we need someone to run the pig company. Like. Saddleback, that’s the name of the pig company, It’s kind of at this crossroads and could really take off if we had the right person and I think you’d be perfect”. So anyway, he ended up coming in. And December of last year, he became the CEO of Saddleback. he’s crushing it this year with the Saddleback. we are working together again on that. I mean, I say working together, he’s running it. I probably spend an hour or two a week on it. I don’t spend much time. I have enough going on with the Booze business. It’s more than full time.
Colleen Moore (13:51): So between you and him, your combined family barbecues are probably pretty epic.
Greg Lehman (13:56): They’re great. Bourbon, bacon, pork, chops, gin- Whatever you want- All the basic food groups.
Colleen Moore (14:04): There you go. Both of them.
Colleen Moore (14:09): So, tell me about your gin. I actually know when we toured you were saying that you had plans for a brown spirits, but at that time you only had clear spirits. I will say that it was one of the best labels at the time that I had seen as far as bottle decoration to come out of the gate within one or two years. I don’t know that your bottle’s changed that much. It’s staying pretty consistent.
Greg Lehman (14:37):
Yeah, it has. It’s interesting you say that. We’re in the middle of a label refresh, ao we still have our original designer that did all that for us. We loved the label out of the gate. But here we are, just about to hit 10 years old and next year we’ll roll out some- I mean, you’ll still know it’s our brand. It’s still definitely along the lines, same bottle shape and all that. But, it just sharpens it up a little bit and I think keeps it relevant, so to speak. But we’re excited to hear what people think about that and as we look at that move. I think part of the reason people were disappointed when they walked in the back, they saw our design, they saw our brand, they saw our website, they saw our marketing materials. Our designer was truly made us, I always blame him. “You are the reason they were disappointed”,cause he made it seem so cool and so great. And then they’d walk into the distillery and be like, “Oh, where is everything?” He made us look really cool and we always say like, that’s why people thought we were cool because of him.
Colleen Moore (15:49): I don’t think that’s totally true, but he did certainly help. I remember that when we went in there, you guys could not do tastings, I don’t think in your distillery. So, can you talk a little bit about the progression there? I mean, the laws, because I think that you have been instrumental in the Ohio state legislature to get those laws to evolve.
Greg Lehman (16:24): At the beginning, we were making this vodka and this really great gin or four people gin, and that’s what we started with clear spirits. And people would come through and tour our space- They are, of course, disappointed at the still, but they had a good time. They loved hammer schloggin. And then, at the end, they’d say, “Can I taste your stuff?” And two things were really stacked against us. We couldn’t do taste unless we filed with the government for every single tasting we did. Now, at first, we were slow to this and we were like, we’ve got a plan, a tour, and we got to file for the tasting”, but then we got smarter and we’re like, “Let’s file for a tasting every single day”. And so we got good at paperwork and we’d file all this paperwork. But then once we got the taste done and people tasted it, “Oh, I love the story. These guys seem okay. Like, I don’t know if they’re gonna make it, I should buy a bottle now before they go out of business”. And so they’d say, “I want to buy a bottle”. And we’d say, “All right, well, to get to the liquor store, you go out to the parking lot, turn left, here’s the directions”. And it was like, they had this look on their face. Like, what are you talking about? I can’t just buy a bottle! You got a bottle right there, you made it like, we had to explain like, “No, we can’t sell bottles”. So, we were up against two things there. We couldn’t really taste people easily and we couldn’t sell bottles. So we, by accident, well not by accident, another distiller worked hard and had a law that was introduced that eliminated the rule that we had to file the taste. And they also had a piece in there that said, “Anybody could sell bottles.” We learned about this law, so we went downtown and we started sitting in on the hearings and helped get some excitement around that, and it got pushed through. I would say like, “I was excited about that law, but I don’t think we, as Watershed, weren’t super instrumental in making that happen, but it sparked something , and we realized that there’s a really young industry here, there’s a lot of barriers left over from prohibition, hanging around, that I don’t think necessarily make a lot of sense and things have changed a lot since then. There might be some opportunity here. So that’s when we started working on it and we realized that, there was some really law hanging fruti. After that point, we could at least sell a bottle when people walked through, which was very powerful. Because right away overnight, our liquor agency in the front shop, where we sold bottles, was the number one retail location for Watershed. And it makes sense. We’re taking people through on tour, letting them taste our stuff. They get excited about it, they want to buy some and take it home. So that was great. And then, we introduced another bill. I say, we formed a Guild with other distillers in Ohio, which gave us this great platform, a great voice. It wasn’t Greg Lehman going as business owner, trying to get a law passed out this business. It was Greg Lehman, part of the Ohio Distillers Guild, really trying to help stand up this new industry and shape the laws that would help it be successful longterm. And that helped. And it’s immensely powerful. We were able to work with a lobbyist as the Guild was able to fund a lobbyist with the help of all the distillers coming together. He really helped us navigate the conversations with lawmakers, with liquor control, with commerce in Ohio, and all the key stakeholders that really come to the table when a law is being introduced to trying to get pass. So, we went out and we introduced a law that would let us increase the limit of a craft distiller, and also let us put in a bar restaurant. Both of those were critical because, here we were this tiny little distillery and there was a law in Ohio that said, “If you want to sell bottles out of the front shop, you have to make less than 10,000 gallons a year”. So if you do the math, you get to 5,000 cases a year that you’re producing and you’re over the limit. So, we were quickly approaching that limit and we’re like, “Guys, we’re still tiny. We’re barely paying ourselves enough money to keep doing this business. How can you say, like we’re too big to sell bottles out of the shop?” The lawmakers were on board, they helped us switch that law. And then, they also gave us the ability to put in a bar restaurant, which when we started this company, we said there’s no way we’re ever going to own a restaurant. But when that law passed in 2016, it was clear like we need to put in a bar restaurant.
Colleen Moore (21:11): That’s awesome. I bet you, pork is featured in that restaurant.
Greg Lehman (21:15): There is some pork. Yes.
Colleen Moore (21:20): I remember your building because it is in a residential area, I forget the name of the- Scott is from Columbus, my husband, he’s an architect.
Greg Lehman (21:32): Kind of sandwiched between Grandview and Arlington, which are both very residential.
Colleen Moore (21:36): Is it Grandview Heights?
Greg Lehman (21:38): Grandview Heights, yeah, that sounds fancy. It’s upper Arlington and Grandview Heights. It sounds really fancy.
Colleen Moore (21:45): And Arlington I know is the fancy area. So, Columbus is interesting and I think it’s one of the fastest growing cities that you have at least in the Midwest, if not in the country. So, you had this little mixed use building, that had multiple tenants in. It sounds like, you’re taking over more and more of the spaces. Are you in the whole thing at this point?
Greg Lehman (22:11): No. We’re in about a quarter of that building and this is how lucky we got. There’s a huge building across the street, and we were running out of space to age barrels because, it takes so much volume, and that space across the street opened up. So, we literally have our side of the street and then the door straight across the street from us is our barrel storage.
Colleen Moore (22:33): Nice. So, where the restaurants sit in all of that fun?
Greg Lehman (22:38):
You know where you walked in and my desk was right at the front door, that’s the host stand.
Colleen Moore (22:43): Nice.
Greg Lehman (22:44): Even though it’s residential, we’re on this alley kind of as backside street. And when people drive back there, I think, they think like, where are we going?
Colleen Moore (22:54): We have a lot of experience finding distilleries- so it’s normal for you- Yeah. We’re like, the habitat is just right there. Those look industrial, let’s go over there.
Greg Lehman (23:07):
Right. It looks like rent should be cheap here. We must be getting close. So it’s like that. When you walk in, maybe you’ve seen some pictures online, but we definitely tried to make it feel like a space people would want to hang out and have dinner and have a cocktail, meet friends.
Colleen Moore (23:29):
I think being in that neighborhood also is probably a really good thing because, I know Scott has a cousin that lives in Grandview Heights very, very close to you, like within a couple miles. And I know that we’ve gone and they have tons of coffee shops that are walkable. There’s like a little, kind of a main drag not too far from you, that has some of the walkable stores on it and stuff. Do you think that being in a neighborhood like that- Again, Columbus is very unique because, they have mixed together their uses. As far as zoning goes, it’s not normal really to have a residential area and a mixed use or industrial or light industrial, like literally across the street from a residential area. Do you think that has played any part in your success?
Greg Lehman (24:27):
Absolutely. If we were in a true industrial section, it would be really hard to make the restaurant work. And the restaurants, it’s a big part of what we do now. What we always say is, we’re not on the main drag, but we’re very relevant where we are. Because, everyone today uses their smartphone, so when they pull up their smartphone and they say, how far am I from Watershed? They realize like, “Oh, they’re right here. They’re right around the corner. They’re five minutes away”. And they realized that, it’s close and their smartphone takes them right there. They don’t necessarily have to see a big sign to make it there. I think, if we were a lot farther away at an industrial park or if we were out in the country somewhere, it just be a much different feel like, people love the fact that we are close by and that if you don’t know about it and then you find out about it, you feel like you’re in this club like, Oh yeah, I know where Watershed is. “It’s right around the corner. You don’t know about it, come on, let’s check it out”.
Colleen Moore (25:42):
We are going to be going on a gigantic road trip for most like 90% of December and we are going into Columbus. We are coming by and part of this whole season (2) is, we’re going to be introducing some video on YouTube, so I would like to do a video tour of Watershed.
Greg Lehman (26:07): We’d love it.
Colleen Moore (26:12): Talk to me about your product line up now.
Greg Lehman (26:15): We started with the Four Pillars Gin and the Vodka, and we were putting bourbon and barrels. And pretty soon after we started, we were putting gin and barrels. So, we have a bourbon. Our bourbon’s come a long way. We launched it at two years old and we’re proud of it at the time. When we launched it, it was one of those where we said, we’re going to put more bourbon away every and we take out a barrel, so our bourbon will age. Age is the wrong word, it will get older as we dumped those barrels.
Colleen Moore (26:50): It’ll mature.
Greg Lehman (26:50): Yeah, it’ll mature. Right now, it’s a four-year product that we’re putting into bottles, which is exciting. Every batch we hand number each batch, every batch along the way. We’ve got people that they talk about different batches that they like more or less. And then they talk about like, “Hey, I saved one of your early batches and tasted it next what you do now”. Guys are light years better and it’s cool to see that progression. And someone has an old bottle, I always tell him like, “Yeah, just keep that, keep that on open like, maybe it’d be worse stuff than Sunday, but never open it.” It’s interesting. It’s just a whole lot different when you have a two year product then a four year product. There’s a lot that goes on in those two years. And I know the equipment and the processes that we were using in 2010 versus what we’re using in 2019. It’s just nine years different.
Colleen Moore (27:45): Tell me about the differences. Did you keep your original still? Is it still being used for something and waited all in and upgrade?
Greg Lehman (27:55): I think, if we were well-funded and had a ton of money, we probably would’ve kept all original equipment and there’s some nostalgia there and something cool. But when it’s like, Hey, someday we’re going to take a paycheck from this company and I hope we can keep the lights on. I think we sold our original still in 2013 or 2014, somewhere in there. We had the original. We bought a second one. So, we had this little pot still from COTA that we started with. We bought a vendor potstill that was a lot bigger. We were running those two side-by-side, and then we sold both of those and got a really big COTA still. And then, we realized pretty quickly that we weren’t going to be able to keep up, and we started talking with different manufacturers, and we found headframe out in Montana making this continuous still, that kind of blew our minds and was really great. And we ended up getting one of those. So, now, we run a continuous still headframe and apostille with a column on the side from COTA. And, they are vastly different stills, even though the science is the same. You boil the mash and the alcohol comes off- The flavor profile and the characteristics coming off are a lot different and the way they run is a lot different. So, we have gin on the COTA in some of our Apple Brandy on the COTA, and some experimental stuff that we do on the COTA. And then on the head frame, we make our Vodka, we make our bourbon and we make some of our Apple Brandy. I think, this Apple Brandy thing, making some on both stills is really fascinating. When people come on tour, it blows their mind, where we’re like, “All right, we get cider. There’s a farmer that picks apples, he crushes it, he’s got the [inaudible] or the press. He brings it in the next day. We start fermenting. And then we take half of that for a minute in the head frame and half in the COTA. So half in the continuous still, half in the pot, same juice, same everything. And when it comes off, the head frame has this really bright green Apple finish this huge nose on it, and it’s a really fascinating product. And then the COTA has this, the potstill has this really earthy, ripe, round flavor distillet that comes off of it. And at the beginning, when we started making Apple Brandy, we liked both of them and we didn’t know which one to use, so we just started filling barrels with both. And it worked out perfect because, now, when we went to launch the product, we started pulling samples from both barrels and we realized the best combo was a certain percentage of one mixed with the other. And you had more complex flavor profile coming off of it. So, we run those two still side-by-side. And each kind of has their nuanced flavor differences. But, the workhorse, the head frame, the column still, it was able to put a lot of product through that, it’s a pretty efficient still, and it lets us dial in flavors really, really tight. So, as a business owner, I love that.
Colleen Moore (31:14): Yay. Like, I recommend it. Two thumbs up.
Greg Lehman (31:19): Yeah, absolutely.
Colleen Moore (31:21): Talk to me a little bit about how you use your continuous column still. Are you running it 24/7? Because, I think, a lot of people think to have a continuous column still, you have to constantly feed it. I’ve heard people concerned about shutting it off and turning it back on.
Greg Lehman (31:42): yeah, so are continuous still. We look at our production in terms of the year. And we see what we’re gonna produce in the year and we start breaking it down and say like, if we’re going to make vodka, we try to make most of our vodka for the year and one string of weeks. So, we’ll start mashing back on a regular basis. And we’ll have this so many mashes a week, and that will feed the column still when it’s ready. And what we’ll do, we’ll fire up the column still. We run two shifts during the day, so we’ve got a guy coming in. He gets here at six in the morning and he fires it. it takes a little bit to stack everything in there and get it going, but then we’ll let it run almost until 11:00 PM. And then what we’ll do instead of continuously running at 24 hours, we’re not to that point yet, we’ll shut it down, but we don’t clean it out. If we’re going to run vodka the next day, we’ll keep them connected to the fermentor like, it’s ready to rock, and when we come in in the morning, we’ll hit go on it and it fires back up pretty quickly, because we’re only shut down, we’re not shut down too long, the attempts haven’t gotten completely cold and it fires back up pretty nicely. Now, still when you’re doing vodka and you’re trying to get that to come out at 190 or above 191, wherever you want it to come out, it takes a little bit of time to stack that up. But when we’re in our bourbon months, and we’re making bourbon, that thing 25 minutes in its role, and especially if you left everything in from the day before, you fired up and in 25 minutes you got spirit coming off. So, when those guys are firing up at 6:00 AM and then shutting down at 11, if you’re looking at the efficiency of it, we might lose an hour and a half in the day of runtime. Where if we were running 24 hours a day, we would pick up because, we didn’t have that shutdown at startup time. But it’s not. Our production isn’t that demanding yet that we need to run it all the time. We’re probably doing that four days a week, so we’re not at seven days a week. That’s how we run it.
Greg Lehman (33:49): The nice thing about it is, because you have all those programs saved in there, it’s really consistent. I look at our product coming off and 30 minutes in, we’re getting this great product coming off the still and it’s consistent enough that 10:00 PM we’re still, if we have enough mash in that fermenter, we’re still getting that same great product coming off at 10:00 PM. It keeps track of what it’s doing. So, you can go back and look at any blips in the history and our guys have gotten really, really good at running that thing. It’s fun to see the last few years just how much our production has improved based on what it can do.
Colleen Moore (34:28): That’s a really awesome. So you do your planning, I guess for your products through based on kind of a year. So you’ll run a bunch of vodka for several weeks, maybe a couple of months. What kind of base are you using for your vodka, since you can pretty much make it out of any fermentable starch? What are you using?
Greg Lehman (34:48): We use corn and we use apples.
Colleen Moore (34:50): Nice.
Greg Lehman (34:51): So being in Ohio, we grow a ton of corn and we grow a bunch of apples. And so, vodka historically is made from stuff that’s in abundance locally that you can get at a decent price and convert to sugar and ferment and distill.
Colleen Moore (35:11): So there is Johnny Appleseed from Ohio or
Greg Lehman (35:14): I mean we say he is, but I’ve talked to people from Indiana and they were like Johnny Appleseed and I’m like, “Wait, he’s our guy. What do you say?” I think he’s from Ohio.
Colleen Moore (35:25): The Ohio territory was significantly larger at one point.
Greg Lehman (35:29): That’s true.
New Speaker (35:31): Kentucky was once Virginia at some point.
Greg Lehman (35:35): Yeah, that is a good point.
Colleen Moore (35:37): It probably wasn’t over bio, but you know where
Greg Lehman (35:41): I always picture Johnny Appleseed, like growing up down the road from where I would live to growing up. When other people talk about it, I’m like, “Man, it’s our job the Appleseed.”
Colleen Moore (35:54): They’re like, you must have had the cousin. Talk to me about your other products here. I see that you do a black Walnut product.
Greg Lehman (36:06):
Yeah, that’s a fun one. We make Nocino. there’s not a lot of Nocino made. And I think the big reason is, people love Nocino, but it’s hard to make because you have to make it in a two week period. So whatever we’re going to make for the year, we basically have two weeks when the walnuts are reach a certain maturity and the tree where they’re almost full size, but that not hasn’t formed in there yet. So when you chop it open, it’s bright green on the outside and the inside is a white and where the nut is in there is just a hollow chamber with clear liquid in it. And once that nut starts to form in there, then the shell starts to harden in there too hard to cut. So if you’ve ever had a Walnut fall, at the end of the season, when it’s kind of a blackish color, that shell under there is rock solid. Like, you basically have to have a hammer and concrete to break it. So when that shell starts forming it, it’s too late in the season to make it. And if it’s not big enough, it’s not quite right. So there’s a two week window where you have to pick all these walnuts and chop them up and get them soaking in the spirit to make the Nocino. In fact, this year, we had a really rough year to get walnut in Ohio. It was a bust year. We couldn’t make everything that we thought we were gonna make. So we’ll have a little bit of a shortage, we think based on demand.
Colleen Moore (37:31): You live in the woods.
Greg Lehman (37:34): That’s right. Totally. Let’s raise the price. So next year we hope it’s a boom year and we’ll try to make a lot more. But, it’s really like you have to make it all in this window, but it’s this fantastic product that has if you smelled those walnuts, there’s really something great that’s a citrusy and fresh. And when you cut them up and first soak it in that spirit, it’s really, really tannic and bitter, so it takes some time to mellow. And then we do add a little bit of sugar and there’s some vanilla bean and some cinnamon and some clove that goes in there with it. And the first three or four months, this stuff soaking in there, and then you strain all that out. We used to bottle it at that point, but now what we do, we take it and we put it in a barrel and we let it sit for an extended period of time, almost a year in that barrel before we take it out and bottle it. And what we found is, it just continues to mellow and get riper and better as it goes. And so we’ve changed the recipe as we’ve gone. And those first few batches, we put a lot more sugar than we do today because, we would taste it out of the, you know, when it was three months in and we straightened everything out, we’d be like, alright, it needs sugar. It needs more sugar, more sugar, more sugar. We get it, we’re like, all right, this is bounced. Well then what happened was, is it mellowed out longer and longer. You’d open that bottle a year later and be like, “Oh this is too sweet. Like, we went to sweet, I don’t know what happened”. And so now, every year we’ve dialed back, we keep dialing back that sugar and aging it longer, and you get just a much more complex and better balanced fetish product, which is- we’re almost in year 10 here, I guess, we’ve started year 10, we were almost at 10 years complete. And, it takes time to learn that stuff. You can’t just run out of the gate and understand what time is going to do to your product.
Colleen Moore (39:25): On your website, it says that the label says thanks Charlie. And since Nocino is an Italian product, and I know that downtown Columbus has an Italian district and that is part of Columbus’s history. I’m guessing Charlie was of Italian descent
Greg Lehman (39:47): when we started our distillery, it was amazing how many people walked into the distillery and basically like open up their jacket and said, “Hey, you want to taste what I made at home?’ And like, “Yeah, definitely do. But, that’s illegal, right?” So anyway, we tasted all this stuff. And Charlie brought his stuff in and he made this Nocino and he made some Fennelcello. he was definitely a foodie booty .he loved doing this stuff and he shared some recipes with us. Or, he said he would share recipes with us, but we were so busy at the time. It was like, “Thanks Charlie, but we’re busy”. He always had really interesting stories about his family and what was going on. Well, one day in late June, he calls us up and he’s like, “Hey, come to my place right now. We’re gonna make Nocino tonight”. it was fortunate, but we – Dave and I – didn’t have anything going on that afternoon. And we were like, “Alright, let’s go check it out. Let’s see what this is all about”. So we drive to his house, which is, it ends up being my neighbor. He’s like a quarter mile away from me. Like, we’re almost at my house. I’m like, “Whoa, this is crazy”. We’re in his yard picking these walnuts. It’s a beautiful summer evening. We go in. We chop them up. We get everything soaking. Now, it has to wait three or four months. So we take that and we set it aside and we’d go down his seller and we start pulling out bottles that he’s made over the last few years. Some with a vodka based, some with a wine based, some with a mix, like all this really cool stuff. And we’re out on his porch, sipping this stuff, pouring it over ice cream, eating it, talking. It was in that moment where like, “This is amazing. We have to make this stuff”. And Charlie was so pumped we wanted to make it. He said, “I don’t want it you know, here’s my recipes. Like, I don’t want anything for it. I want someone to be able to make it and I want to share it”. And so that’s why we gave them the nod on the back. It says, thanks Charlie. If we do anything fun at the distillery, we’re calling up Charlie, like, “Hey, come on in and be part of it.” It’s cool to have people like that in the community helping us out, cheering for us. It makes it easy to give back to the community when you see that support.
Colleen Moore (42:02): Awesome. That is a really fantastic story. What other kinds of things are you doing for your community? I know that that is a big part of many distilleries programs. So, are you sponsoring anything in the community?
Greg Lehman (42:18): Yeah. We sponsor a number of events in the community. I think about like, the organizations like school foundations and some stuff that are really like tight to the community. We’ll get involved with those. There’s different taste of events that we get involved in where they support local initiatives, organizations like children’s hunger Alliance. Like, we’ll help them with some of their fundraising efforts. COSI, which is Center of Science and Industry. It is amazing. We’ve always been really involved withCOSI. They do some cool stuff, some fundraising stuff, some really cool events. The other community that we think about and that we want want to be supportive of our organizations, like USBG is the “United States Bartenders’ Guild”. I mean it’s a community that’s close to what we do, to what we care about. So, helping them and supporting them in their efforts is important to us. And then since we’ve started the restaurant, our eyes have really been open to just the mental health struggles that people in this industry face. We talk a lot about that right now. We’ve done some small things to help some organizations that are helping provide some education and provide some resources to people struggling with mental health issues. But, I think, we’re just scratching the surface there and we’re all challenging each other. Like, how do we get better and how do we do more to fight this issue? Cause, it’s not just in the restaurant industry that we see it, it’s in this industry that we’re in, the spirits industry. Not that there’s industries that it doesn’t affect, but I definitely see that we have our issues in this industry and I think awareness is a big thing. And education and resources to help people through that are important.
Colleen Moore (44:09): I agree.
Greg Lehman (44:10): How distilleries Guild, it’s been really powerful to help us get the conversation going with the state, and with commerce, and with the law makers, and with the other constituents that helped make laws. I think, we’ve been wildly successful there and it’s taken a lot of hard work and a lot of heavy lifting to get that done. And there’s some key distillers around the state that have been influential and it really helped with that within the guild. And so, I’m really proud of what we’ve done there. We basically have done at most one to two events a year to help promote the Guild. And I would say we’ve struggled a little bit more on that side, how do we make it a marketing platform for the distilleries in Ohio? So, we’re still trying to figure out how to do that and do that better. We’ll keep doing our events, our fundraising events, and awareness events. But, I think, the state of Ohio sees the Ohio distillers and they’re like, “Oh yeah, we want to help tell that story”. And the distiller’s Guild is like, “How do we work with the state of Ohio to help tell that story?” And we just haven’t figured out the best way to do that yet, so I think that’s our challenge moving forward. Like, how do we figure out a better way to raise awareness, whether that’s a distillery trail in Ohio or a section into liquor agencies, or a lot of stuff’s been thrown out. But finding the resources to build that is the challenge. It’s an organization that we do an annual meeting that’s all about education, and we bring in some great speakers, and some great resources. I think we’re really great at getting new distilleries up and going, and helping them with the resources in a network. And we’re right on the legislative side. I think, we’re still working on that awareness side, how do we help with the marketing and tell them the story of the members.
Colleen Moore (45:59): Awesome. Well ,that sounds great. So you would recommend forming a Guild if your state doesn’t have one, you should keep going.
Greg Lehman (46:07): You absolutely should form a guild. It’s gonna feel like a lot of work and it’s going to feel like you never have time to do it. It’s going to open up those conversations in that pathway at the state level to really be heard. If a law makers talking to the president of the state Guild, they’re talking to a whole industry. If they’re talking to the president of your company, it’s hard to have that same level of wanting to help. It seems a little self serving when they’re talking to the president of a company. It’s hard to say like, “Hey, is it for the industry or is this for you?”
Colleen Moore (46:41): “Yes” is the answer.
Greg Lehman (46:43): Absolutely.
Colleen Moore (46:46): Tell me where people can go find Watershed products. You obviously are in Ohio.
Greg Lehman (46:55): In Ohio, in Michigan. And if you go to Michigan, it’s basically Detroit, Grand Rapids, and Arbor. You can go to Kentucky. We’re in Kentucky. We’re in Georgia. Actually Georgia, our second largest market. We do a nice job in Georgia. We’re in Illinois. By Illinois, I mean Chicago. We’re in New York and New Jersey as well. If I look at New York, New Jersey and Chicago were hard to find in those places. If you’re going there and you want to find it, you got to know where it is. Again, on our website, send us a message and say, “Hey, how do I get it?” We’ll help you. If you’re in those other cities like Detroit or Atlanta or Savannah, if you go to the cool restaurants we do okay in there.
Colleen Moore (47:48): I’ve seen you in many restaurants. In Savannah is pretty close to Jacksonville. And so every time I’m like, there’s Watershed. Look, there’s Watersheds.
Greg Lehman (48:01): Nice. That’s fun to hear.
Colleen Moore (48:03): Thank you again for your time today. I really enjoyed talking to you and I cannot wait to come and see the distillery and see how it’s grown from when we were there. Have a great day. Thank you so much.
Greg Lehman (48:13): Thanks Colleen.
Colleen Moore (48:16): Well, that closes out our series on continuous columns. Special thanks to our guests today, Greg Lehman, from Watershed distillery, in the heart of swanky Grandview Heights neighborhood in Columbus, Ohio for talking with us about this episode’s distillery profile. I guarantee you there absolutely will be an Apple tasting in Ohio this December to get Greg to pick his favorite type of Apple. And speaking of December, this is a wonderful opportunity to tell you about the distilling prep road trip. That’s right, Scott, myself and our two dogs will travel to 18 States in the Southeast and Midwest over 30 days. Our first seven to 10 days, we’ll be right through the vertical center of Texas. We’re going from the Oklahoma border right down the middle to see the new border wall in Brownsville, Texas. Along the way, we’ll stop to visit distilleries, record interviews, and take all of the tours that we can possibly handle while working and traveling in a van with two dogs, not small dogs, with two large dogs. If you have thoughts or suggestions on what we should see, where we should visit, what we should eat, or even where we should be sleeping, send them to us right away so that we can work them into the schedule.
Colleen Moore (49:32): Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that a giant thank you goes out to YOU for downloading and listening to this episode of our podcast. Don’t forget to like, share, subscribe even if you like just a tiny bit of today’s show. It really helps out with our shows vital statistics. If you want more information about this show, go to the show notes on our website, www.dalkita.com/shownotes where we will have links to the people, places and things mentioned today. There is even a real live transcript of the show to share with all your friends and you can post a short comment for our team to obsess over dissect, and even infer your tone and judge your grammar. Our theme music was composed by Jason Shaw and is used under creative comments, attribution 3.0 license. The final shout out goes to the man that puts all of this together, our sound editor, Daniel Phillips of zero crossing productions. Until next time, seriously guys stay safe out there. I’m Colleen Moore from Dalkita, and this has been the Distilling Craft podcast.
Dalkita Sponsor (50:40): Dalkita is committed to getting intelligent and quality design solutions out of the Craft Distilling Industry. Check them out at their website: www.dalkita.com. Until next time, this has been Distilling Craft. Cheers!
Mentioned in this Episode:
Watershed Distillery: https://watersheddistillery.com/
Headframe Manufacturing: https://www.headframestills.com/
Center for Science and Industry (COSI): https://cosi.org/
City of Columbus: https://www.experiencecolumbus.com/
Ohio Apples: http://www.ohioapples.com/ohio_apples_uses.htm
Learn to Play Hammerschlagen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Y1_xwZU2vQ&t=2s
Check out other episodes of the Distilling Craft Podcast here.
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