It started with a road trip and a dream
We had both gotten to know the new world of American whiskey quite well from our jobs in New York City. But we also knew this was just the tip of the iceberg: For every distillery that was available in New York, many more weren’t. Hundreds of distilleries only sell locally or in their own state, or haven’t released their whiskey yet at all, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t making great whiskey. That’s why we decided we had to hit the road and see the American whiskey landscape firsthand. That’s why we spent eight months driving across the country visiting distilleries, seeing for ourselves how they did things, and hunting down the hidden gems that aren’t as widely known. You can read the full story about the Great Whiskey Road Trip here.
With so many good choices, we have to be picky
With around 2,000 distilleries now operating in the United States, there are more places making whiskey than we could possibly work with. That means we can be very selective, and also have an extensive screening process when it comes to selecting our partners. Finding the right distilleries to work with is one of the most time consuming and important parts of our process. We will only work with places that make great whiskey, but that’s just table stakes.
We carefully research distilleries before visiting them and once we’re onsite, we strive to understand exactly how they make their whiskey. We look at their stills, their barrelhouse, and everything in between.
The vast majority of American distilleries are only around 10 years old, if not less. The founders are usually still in charge. We want to know what drives them: what their vision is for their whiskey now and in the future.
We don’t just want great whiskey. We want exciting whiskey. Our partners are inventing new techniques, reviving old ones, experimenting with new ideas. They are driving American whiskey forward.
The process takes time! And we’re usually looking for specific types or categories of whiskey, sometimes even certain flavor profiles. So, even if all the other stars align, we won’t necessarily work with a great distillery right away. There are more great distilleries coming up all the time, and we have had the good fortune to be selective. We will continue to work with a few of our very favorite distilleries over time, while also introducing releases from new partners.
First come the distillers, then come the casks
A rigorous process
Even after picking distilleries, a lot of time and work goes into picking a cask. First off, we never choose casks at the distillery. We put all possible casks through a rigorous sensory screening process in our own office. Much as we love the romance of tasting in a distillery, we want to make sure we’re evenhanded.
How We Taste
There are a few basic tenets to how we choose casks. We taste all whiskies semi-blind: we know what distillery it comes from, but not which cask is which (and we usually have a range of age statements, finishes, and styles in the mix). We start with a few screening flights to narrow down our choices, then taste the finalists over and over again, in different orders and at different times of the day. We taste in silence or separately, and only reveal our preferences after we’ve both completed the flight. And we keep tasting until we’re absolutely confident that our selection represents the very best of what American whiskey can offer.
How We Choose
Both of our founders, Nora and Adam, have to emphatically say “Yes” to every cask. If we disagree, and we sometimes do, we have to pass. We actually have very different palates. Nora trained in wine and Adam in whiskey, so if we both truly love a cask, we feel quite confident that other whiskey nerds will love it too.
Collaborative Blending process
We created our flagship whiskey, American Vatted Malt through a collaborative blending process. We invited the distillers and blenders from all the distilleries involved to join us for an in-person tasting and blending session. Many of them had talked for years about getting together to blend with each others’ whiskey, and we were honored to be able to make that happen and create a wonderful and special whiskey together. While most of our blends won’t be collaborative, we love bringing people together and will certainly explore this area further!