Diving Deeper

As the weeks plod on out here, more and more alcoholic work is seeping up through the cracks, and I am taking every chance I get to dive deeper into the stills or take shelter behind a bar.  Most recently I have started bartending at Amor Y Amargo back at home in the East Village.  This awesome, albeit minuscule, bar housed within a complex of other well known bars is a showcase for something near and dear to my heart: bitters.  As a showroom for the Bittermens Bitters and a bar ware general store this space serves multiple purposes, and Saturday nights you will find me behind the narrow bar pouring out drinks stuffed with bitter and complex flavors.  Centering on using Amaros from around the world, and a house made sweet vermouth on tap, we have a great time putting out cocktails to an extremely nice and always intrigued crowd.  I am extremely excited to be part of the team down there, and it has done wonders for breaking me free of the solitude of distilling alone all the time!  There are actually people out in the world to interact with!

Yesterday wrapped up a city wide cocktail event here in NY.  The Manhattan Cocktail Classic is a 5 day rampage of learning and drinking; bar tenders and cocktail enthusiasts gather in the city to attend events ranging from stories told by world famous bars or instructional seminars on crafting the ultimate Old Fashioned.  I happened to win tickets to an event that was oddly appropriate, if not a little redundant, to which Jackie and I attended.  The History and Current Landscape of Distilling in NY.  Hosted by two gentlemen opening a distillery not too far from where ours is now.  The lecture itself was actually quite enjoyable and featured in it for a good portion of the presentation was a section solely on Kings County Distillery and the methods and booze we are making.  Almost more importantly the lecture was sponsored by Pernod-Ricard which produces any number of fine spirits, and we were delivered a new and different cocktail to sip on every 10-20 minutes… by the end we had a whole lineup of empty glasses and were in great need of a hearty dinner.  I’m now convinced that all lecture style classes should include servers, bussers, and booze.  Beyond the inspiring libations, it was also a really nice chance to meet the other members in my small and specialized field in NYC.  Gathered all into one room were all of the current distilleries, and being able to see what was coming up is really a neat thing, and finally I see a small community forming around the craft distillery industry in Brooklyn, something I have been looking forward to for quite some time.  More coming up soon about the current evolution of our little distillery into a bigger little distillery.


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Photo Gallery: Snowpocalypse 2.0 and Kings County Distillery

Cask Strength Era

Our lives in Manhattan are beginning to saturate as our existence slowly becomes exclusively alcohol oriented.  I hope that doesn’t scare any of the readers of this blog as I know there are some parents and other onlookers who may be concerned with the state of our kidneys and soundness of our could be intoxicated decisions, but fear not responsible readers!  Shannon and I have actually found that while working within the ethanol industry and being as busy as we are we seem to drink more frequently, but substantially less.  Being exhausted by constant work, school, adventure… etc, we seem to find ourselves indulging in a single beer or two a night, or simply a glass of wine or two… occasionally 8.  Amazingly the imbibing that we take part in is more than likely either education or extremely limited.  With my job at the distillery and Shannon’s job at Death & Co, not too mention my dad’s home brewery, Dan’s wine lust, and much much more, I have decided to declare this era of the blog The wandering Willey: Cask Strength Edition.

Cask strength (also known as barrel proof) is a term used in whisky-making to describe the strength of whisky in the cask during maturation. This strong whisky is not the whisky that is usually bottled, as at cask strength the whisky isn’t as drinkable. Most bottled whisky is normally diluted with spring water to bring its strength (ABV) down to a level that makes it more palatable, usually about 40% ABV. This dilution is said to bring out the various flavours of the whisky; this is why distillers may dilute different whiskies to different concentrations.  – Wikipedia

While that is not far from the truth, it is a little skewed, because cask strength whiskey is very much drinkable, and in most cases quite enjoyable.  Like a cask strength whiskey this blog will be the undiluted straight from the barrel account of our (Shan and I) journey through this very cult-ish, history soaked, and mostly inebriated industry.  Ultimately I would love to look back on this from the vantage point of  the deck at my brewery/distillery sipping on a great beer with friends and reminiscing about where it all began.  Until than feel free to laugh, maybe cry a little, at the foibles and follies we will encounter and hopefully overcome.

This week coming up marks a big step for me in creating a liquor for retail.  After ordering in some peated malted barley from the UK alongside a 50 lb bag of rye, I am going to sit down with Colin at the distillery and craft up a recipe for either a single malt or attempt to create a rye/malt blend.  I have visions of creating a spicy rye whiskey that carried a little heat to it, but would be rounded and balanced by cutting in a small percentage of smoky and peaty barley.  Now since I have put the cart before the horse let me say that I have no idea how to accomplish this as of yet.  I simply have the grains.  So this will be the first test of if I can translate what I want to happen into reality.  Worst/best part: waiting 8-9 months to find out the results.

Cheers, readers as we kick off a new era for us here in New York.


Welcome to the New Year!

Hello all!  After an extremely hectic, but awesome, holiday season we are back in action here at The Wandering Willey!  We are going to revamping everything in our life over the beginning of the year from our apartment to our jobs, and hopefully our schedules!  First in a line of changes is the addition of the Scotch Library page which can be accessed at the top of this page.  I am going to start chronicling my travels through single malts as I start to work my way through the world of distilling.  So follow along, and please offer insight and suggestions about anything that I have tried or should try!

Booze Booze Booze!  It is all about the nation changing water of life around here!  Sometimes I worry we live to alcohol centered… but then I have a drink.

Work at the distillery is heading full steam ahead, as I can not turn a corner with out seeing Kings County Distillery mentioned.  Hopefully we will be able to keep up with production, I can’t wait for the day when we make the jump to a larger space and larger stills.  I just received 75 lbs of peated malted barley from the UK which we are going to start experimenting with, so watch out for an original T Willey Single Malt (yet to be named, maybe the Big Willey Malt???)  In case you guys have missed it, here is some info on us and what we do:  Our Web Site, NY Times Article, AMNY, Newsweek, Facebook.

Dad and I started brewing a batch of English Ale at his house while I was back in New Mexico for the holiday season which has really kicked up my desire to begin brewing.  This has always been something that I wanted to dive into but for some reason never actually followed through with.  After going through the process of brewing up the batch at my dad’s house and walking through all of the fairly simple steps it has confirmed my love for creating things from scratch.  Soon enough our apartment will be a field of glass carboys and 5 gallon buckets all bubbling away creating what could be the seeds of a micro brewery.  Once the bottling begins feel free to swing by to be seduced with enchanting (possibly horrendous) elixirs. T-Minus 5-8 weeks.

What a wonderful thing it was to be back in New Mexico for awhile.  Upon arriving in ABQ it was immediately noticeable how crisp and clean the air was, and who would have thought that it would feel like an escape returning to altitude, like the air was a normal thickness again!  Blue skies, quiet nights, driving… it was an incredible vacation from the insanity of the city.  It was so radically different that on returning to the city was equally exciting.  Fortunately the giant buildings, and busy streets was almost as welcome of site… who would have thought.  Entering back into the city was also a new experience due to the 4 feet of snow that had closed down all of the businesses and brought travel to a screeching halt, fortunately we made it home, and everything is always better when you get to hunker down with a good book and a bottle of single malt.  All in all my travels between NM and NY were extremely reassuring, they answered my critical question, I love both of them.

Shannon and I ushered in the New Years with a wonderful party at her bar.  Death & Co closed its doors to the outside world for a night inviting only ticket holders to enter through their fortress like doors.  Luckily I know someone who knows someone.  It was an amazing night of debauchery with the staff of D & Co with cocktails flowing and empty champagne bottles gathering in piles like it’s their duty.  Unfortunately when you add up everything that was going on it could lead to no other result than an early night and a rough next day, but considering our current occupations I wouldn’t have wanted to start out our new year with anything less.

So we reach a starting point.  From here it is only up!  We have a lot of things to look forwards to as we breach our second year in the big city: Shannon graduating from FCI, big plans for the distillery, school decisions, trips to see friends, new business opportunities???  Who knows what could be coming just around the bend of each week!  I hope you all will continue to follow the blog and stay in touch.  There is much more to come.

Heads, Heart, and Tails: Crafting Spirits

When I talk to people about working in a distillery they all seem to have the same response, “I have always wanted to know how it works.”  After spending some quality time crafting bourbon batches, I can now confidently give you a run down on what it takes to make a batch of booze.  So here is some insight into the not overly complex process which I have been spending day and night working on.

I first learned the process physically, simply recreating what my co-worker showed me, but as I ran through the process over and over again I was also diving into a couple of books about the what was happening on a molecular level.  From fermentation to distillation there is a lot of science involved, and yet since I am at the helm you know this process must be pretty forgiving.  Fostering the ideal conditions for small molecular changes is obviously a challenge, but the more I deal with our large scale lab experiments the more I realize it is an art.  There happens to be room for a lot of artistic interpretation, and most of these seemingly precise reaction are actually extremely forgiving.  That being said, don’t try this at home.

To sum everything up: we are making porridge, fermenting it with yeast, and then boiling it over and over to capture the steam, which we bottle and sell.

In a few more words: We use organic corn which has been flaked, and we cook it into a porridge.  When it thickens and cools to the right temperature we then unravel all of the starches from the corn by adding barley (shipped over from Scotland) which contains an enzyme that turns starch into sugar.  After it cools a little more we dump in some yeast and let it go to town doing what yeast does best: eating and being gassy.  As the yeast uses the sugars as fuel it produces waste of alcohol and CO2.  So we let the yeast sit there and create a fermented mash of corn and barley for 6-7 days.  After that we strain out all of the solids, take the liquids, and boil them in our stills.  Since alcohol boils at a lower temperature then water we can remove it from the liquid before anything else and condense in jugs.  We repeat the boiling process again with the already removed alcohol for better purity and higher alcoholic content.  This comes out at 80% alcohol, which we dilute and put into casks to be brought out down the road.

What this means for me: a lot of lifting!  Carrying around jugs of fermented corn and barley.  Stirring very large vats of boiling and sticky porridge.  Carting around large wooden barrels filled with water.  It is all very glamorous.

The interesting part for me so far has been three fold: first, the process is fascinating.  You can actually see each chemical reaction and change happen in front of your eyes.  I take 15 gallons of corn mash (porridge) when it is thick and oatmealy and dump in 1/2 gallon of barley and within 1 minutes the enzymes from the barley have completely liquefied the entire mess, it transforms in front of your eyes from oatmeal to water.  Second, the physical labor and crafting something tangible is extremely satisfying.  There is something about working hard for 8 hours, being exhausted, but holding in your hand the fruit of your labors.  There are few things more satisfying then creating from scratch.  Third, I am alone at the warehouse in the deeps of Brooklyn by myself through the entire process.  It has been interesting spending time on my own just working away, playing music and hauling around buckets.  If you think I make a lot of noise when I am wandering around the house while everyone is home, try sticking me in a warehouse by myself for 8 hours.

So that is it for now!  I will continue this process day and night for quite some time.  Soon enough the first round of bourbon and whiskey will be done aging in their casks and we will begin to fine tune their flavors, which is something I am very much looking forward to.

Here a few limited pictures from the distillery: