I was lucky enough to be invited to visit the Woodstone Creek Distillery and Winery on New years Day. John and Linda have known Don and his wife Linda for several years so John, Linda, Doug Philips and myself went to visit Don and Linda at their facilities. We met outside the building in Cincinnati. It is an unassuming building in a part of what I would call eastern Cincinnati. It looks like a warehouse or garage from the outside. Inside they have a beautiful bar set up in a tasting room with several comfortable bar chairs. We were ushered into the building and through the door to the left where the tasting room was set up. Don dissapeared for a few moments and we were left to talk to his lovely wife Linda. Linda is the marketing manager, shipping department and does all of the work filling out label applications and such necessary jobs.
Don comes back in with a bag and announces that we will be tasting some "quality control" samples of some of his products. Doug's eyes lit up when he found out this not only included the bourbons but many other experiments he has done with his still. I will have to admit that I don't remember all of the details of the things we tasted but everything was well crafted and interesting to taste. Nothing had a taste that I would consider "bad". Don likes Scotch whisky and has made a couple of different single malt style products. He has of course made his bourbon and has experimented with some other whiskey products.
Of the things that he allowed us to taste that remember the most, there was a corn whiskey aged in a sherry cask. Now here is a concept that I loved. Corn Whiskey has to have used copperage so why not Sherry a sherry cask. I don't remember the exact age of the product, but I think it was about 3 or 4 years in the cask. It had a very nice fruity taste that married well with the sweetnes of corn whiskey. I think he is on to something there.
We also tasted from Woodstone Creek Barrel #1. He said this whiskey is about 6 months older than Barrel #2 and that it was dumped in November 2007, during a cooler part of the year when the whiskey was extracting itself from the barrel whereas barrel #2 was dumped and bottled in the summer when the whiskey was going into the wood. Does this change the flavor? I don't know and I am not sure Don does either because he was thinking about experimenting by putting a barrel in the walkin cooler in the summer before he dumps it and comparing to one that was dumped in the heat. It is thoughts like this that makes me like Don Outterson and what he is doing. I purchased a bottle of Barrel #1 and I will do a review of it later. For now I will say that it is similar to barrel #2, but different. It is a bit expensive at the Ohio price of $92 and some change, but as I told Doug, this is not any higher than the Buffalo Trace Experimental bottles (assuming $5 for the 375) and I actually like the whiskey in this bottle.
Another experiment he did that I know Brewer would like is that he distilled some hoppy beer. A local microbrewery had made some beer on contract that later fell through. Don (who spent over 18 years in the brewing business) purchased the beer and distilled it. If this gets into a bottle I am going to buy some! The flavor was very good and there was an interesting flavor of hops in the finish that made me want to have another drink.
He had several malt whiskies aging - most that tasted in sherry casks. I found them enjoyable. One had just a hint of peat in the whiskey with some nice fruit from the sherry that I enjoyed quite a bit. He also had an aging product that was distilled from corn at over 160 proof and he was not sure what he is going to do with it but he may make a blended whiskey with it. It was very good at barrel proof. His barrel proof is always between 107 and 110 no matter what his distillation proof is. His warehouse, which is also the distillery, really doesn't get the extreme heat and cold because he has heating and air conditioning in the building.
We did get to see the still. Now this is a small operation and the stills, mash tubs, etc. were all hand made by Don. You don't see fancy tailboxes or big beautiful copper pots or things like that because it is not designed for tourism. It is designed to make good whiskey. I would think that OSHA or government agencies would have a fit if he tried to give tours to the public. His warehousing is simply halls and rooms off the hall where he stacks barrels. I would estimate he has about 25-35 barrels aging right now. Don is proud of what he has done and rightly so. It shows in his bottles where it counts. I wish the industry had more craft distillers that take the pride in their craft that Don has, but more importantly, I wish they had the inquisitive nature that Don has and would ask the questions and then experiment to find the answer. Don't get me wrong - Don has a strong sense of tradition as well. He takes great pride in the fact that he looks for only two row malt that has not been treated to increase the enzymes, or the non-hybrid corn. He wants to try to make some whiskey the way they did 100 years ago before technology started changing grains. He also makes sweet mash wiskey because he never makes enogh at one time to have backset. It was probably some of the most enjoyable time I have spent in a long time. I often found myself torn between listening to Doug and Don discuss a distilling question with Don or John and Linda discussing marketing or labeling questions with Linda. So much tom learn and so little time.
"Our people live almost exclusively on whiskey" - E H Taylor, Jr. 25 April 1873