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Speaking with Rob Dietrich, Head Distiller of Stranahan’s Whiskey and Combat Veteran

Spirits

Rob Dietrich

With Veteran’s Day right around the corner, we couldn’t think of a better time to reach out to some of the military veterans now serving in the beverage industry and take a look back at where they’ve been and where they’re at now. We connected with Rob Dietrich, Head Distiller of Stranahan’s Whiskey and former member of the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division to talk about his service and how he found his entry into the whiskey scene.

What compelled you to join the military?
In the late eighties/early nineties, I was in the Denver punk scene and not really going anywhere in a positive direction. I looked into the military as a way to get a good direction, good education, discipline and some solid adventure to start the rest of my life with.

What branch did you serve with and what did you do?
I served in the U.S. Army, 10th Mountain Division, 10th T.A.D. (Target Acquisition Detachment). We specialized in locating primary enemy locations through radar or forward observation and taking out those locations. We were primarily snow and mountaineering trained as Quick Reactionary Forces (QRF) and I served two combat tours in Mogadishu, Somalia in 1992-1994 during the infamous Black Hawk Down incident, and one tour in Haiti as security forces in 1994 during the Haitian political uprising.

Do you have any memorable beverage related experience during your service?
I have a few that aren’t entirely appropriate to relate here, however I would say most of my beverage-related experiences in the military were memorable. One story in particular is when I was on leave in Mombasa, Kenya during my tour in Somalia. We had all our combat pay saved up and were spending it like kings, and had some catching up to do on the drinking front as we were not allowed to drink in Somalia for obvious reasons.

We had been drinking for most of the day and were waiting for the shuttle bus to take us to a rock quarry nightclub in downtown Mombasa. When the bus arrived, we were well into our cups and the sun was just setting and it was a beautiful night; a warm breeze and mischief in the air as we were happily primed up with Tusker Kenyan Beer and Jose Cuervo Tequila. There was a luggage rack on top of the bus and I bribed the driver to let us climb up and sit on the top of the bus. However, before we climbed up, I adamantly convinced the entire bus of German, Japanese and Dutch tourists to climb up with us. I think we scared the bejezus out of some them, drunk, crazy soldiers that we were, and the rest were having the time of their lives. We careened through the streets of Mombasa, a whole roof-top pile of us, getting swatted by palm leaves, whooping it up and loving every minute of it. That was a great beginning of quite an adventurous evening! The end of that night was us bribing a taxi driver to drive as fast as his car could go through a military check-point and losing the one pursuer. Priorities and fun are a different variety when you are surviving in a combat zone…

Did you always have an interest in fermentation, distillation, and whiskey while you served?
I certainly was interested in the whiskey aspect, but fermentation and distillation were as of yet not on my radar. We did attempt to make wine out of Koolaid packets from our MRE’s in Somalia, with horrible results. I had much to learn in the area of fermentation!

As you prepared to transition out of the military, did you plan to get into the whiskey business?
I actually got into the music business when I got out of the Army, living in a bus and working shows all over the country, before settling back in Denver for a decade-long career that netted me some great memories and some memorable tours with the likes of James Brown and Lone Star, which was probably a good segue into the spirits beverage industry. I learned how to manage crews and manage large-scale production, which has helped immensely in my career in whiskey production.

How did you end up at Stranahan’s, and what has it been like working your way up to Head Distiller?
I met the original Head Distiller over a mutual love of music and vintage motorcycles. I was fascinated by the distillation and whiskey-making process, and at the time was working on a diesel motorcycle that could run on vegetable oil. We started working on a bike that ran on the spent whiskey heads and created a great friendship. I became one of the first night distillers in 2006 and spent my nights making and barreling whiskey, while wrenching on my motorcycle in front of the still. I worked my way up to the barrel house manager and did a lot of the maintenance on equipment and systems around the facility before working my way up to the Head Distiller position and managing all aspects of whiskey production from grain to bottle.

Who have been influential in your career as a distiller?
There are many, but I would say Jesse Graber is definitely my hero when it comes to pure Colorado guts and determination. I most certainly would not have a job if it wasn’t for him and his tenacity for making the finest quality Colorado whiskey. I’m also a big fan of Rob Masters and Todd Leopold, both Head Distillers in the Denver area. They have been great friends and great teachers in their own right.

Any advice for service members preparing to transition out of the military that may be looking for a job in the beverage industry?
Study what you love, and leave no stone unturned. Buy every book on the subject you can, ask questions, visit forums and buy products that interest you. Challenge your palate and practice, practice, practice. Legally, of course.



Hungry Mutineer: Chocolate Whiskey Afternoon Cake with Tullamore Dew

FoodSpirits

Irish Whiskey Cake

Booze and chocolate have been longtime friends. I remember when I was a kid, sneaking those little bottle shaped chocolates filled with liqueur into my pocket when my parents weren’t looking. As I grew older, the combinations became more refined with grappa filled bars from Swiss chocolatiers and truffles with champagne. But, for all of those liqueurs and libations, my favorite combination has to be whiskey and chocolate. They were made for one another.

There is something about the melding of rich cocoa and the heat of the whiskey that makes it particularly satisfying. I like to use whiskey a lot when I bake and for this particular cake, I chose Tullamore Dew Original. The complimentary flavors of vanilla and marzipan that it gets from the time it spends cooling its heels in bourbon and sherry casks are quite conducive to baking. See the full post »



Kickstarter Spotlight: Workhorse Rye Whiskey

Spirits

Workhorse Rye

Here at Mutineer HQ, we are all about cheering on beverage entrepreneurs and their efforts to bring something new to the table. Kickstarter is a great resource for people to bring their ideas to life. The latest project to capture our attention is from Workhorse Rye out of San Francisco, CA.

Founded by Rob Easter and David Gordon in 2011, they are considered a gypsy distillery, meaning they don’t own their own distillery. Instead, they create the recipe and produce the product themselves, but on the equipment of other facilities that have the time and space to allow them to do so. The result? Workhorse Rye and its two expressions–Darkhorse and Palehorse, both with malted rye comprising 70% of their mash bills.

Darkhorse is aged in used French Oak red wine barrels from a number of wineries inside the city of San Francisco and in Napa. Each release of Darkhorse will have a hand-written notation of which winery the barrels came from. This type of batch-to-batch distinction lends a sort of fleeting nature to each release, and we think that makes each barrel rather special.

Palehorse is aged in used whiskey barrels (like Scotch and Tequila are aged) which in the end makes a Frankenstein whiskey of sorts. A Frankenstein whiskey in that the recipe is very American (rye) but the aging style lands somewhere in between Scotch and Japanese whisky (used American oak barrels).

Coffee Rye Bitters? Yeah, they’re making those too.

With 31 days left to go, they are nearly at the half way mark for funds needing to be raised. Want to help them out? Check out their Kickstarter project here.



Diageo Unveils Orphan Barrel Whiskey Distilling Company

Spirits

Barterhouse Bottle Shot_Hi-ResOld Blowhard Bottle Shot_Hi-Res

Diageo announced their latest project today, the Orphan Barrel Whiskey Distilling Company. According to the press release, the “new project [is] determined to locate lost and forgotten barrels of whiskey from around the world and share them with discerning adult fans.” These particular bottles were found at the iconic Stitzel-Weller distillery, but we’re told they were distilled by Stitzel-Weller. Whisky Advocate reports that both are believed to be distilled by Bernheim distillery, both their newer facility and a facility of theirs that is no longer in operation.

The first two bottlings released are Barterhouse Whiskey and Old Blowhard Whiskey.

Barterhouse label

Barterhouse Whiskey (SRP: $75) stocks were discovered in old warehouses at the famed Stitzel-Weller facility in Louisville, Ky. Rumor has it warehouse workers have already begun lining up for the first taste of this beautiful whiskey with a soft nose reminiscent of warm spice, biscuit and buttercream. The whiskey’s mellow taste includes notes of roasted grain, charred oak and a brown sugar finish. It was aged for 20 years.

The mash bill for Barterhouse Whiskey is 86% corn, 8% barley and 6% rye. Bottled at 90.2 proof, 45.1% (ABV).

Old Blowhard label

Old Blowhard Whiskey (SRP: $150) was also found at Stitzel-Weller. At 26-years-old, the whiskey contains exuberant, rich flavors with undertones of smoke and honey followed by a gentle finish – dry and spicy with a hint of orange peel. Old Blowhard Whiskey is meant to be sipped slowly and best enjoyed among gregarious friends and unyielding debates.

The mash bill for Old Blowhard Whiskey is 86% corn, 8% barley and 6% rye and was barreled in 1987. Bottled at 90.7 proof, 45.35% (ABV).

Both whiskeys are hand-bottled in Tullahoma, Tenn., and are expected to begin appearing at select accounts throughout the U.S. in March 2014 under strict allocation due to limited supply.



America’s Oldest Veteran Drinks Whiskey and Smokes Cigars Every Day

Beverage News

Mr- Overton 2013-08-07 15-58

Veteran’s Day is once again upon us and as a combat veteran of Iraq, this holiday certainly hits close to home for me. And, as a journalist covering the wide world of beverage, I love when these two worlds collide; and collide they do with a multitude of veterans now working in the beverage industry. And while that’s a great story in itself, that’s not what this is about. This is about one veteran in particular and one who is the oldest known veteran still alive.

How old? 107 years old. You can’t live that old without medicine and Richard Overton isn’t shy about it either, but it’s not the medicine you’d think. His medicine you ask? Whiskey. Just whiskey.

Overton takes whiskey with his morning coffee as well as the occasional pour of whiskey in the evening with some soda water. Daily cigars, of course, are thrown in there as well for prosperity.

When asked by Fox News about whiskey, Overton told them “Whiskey’s a good medicine. It keeps your muscles tender.”

At 107 years old and still driving a car and walking without a cane, who can argue with that?



Kickstarter Spotlight: Black Button Distilling Community Supported Whiskey Campaign

Spirits

Here at Mutineer HQ, we are all about cheering on beverage entrepreneurs and their efforts to bring something new to the table. Kickstarter is a great resource for people to bring their ideas to life. The latest project to capture our attention is from Black Button Distilling out of Rochester, NY.

Founder Jason Barrett is looking to bring bourbon, gin, vodka and shine to your glass, but due to cost overruns on building the distillery he is having a little difficulty and needs Kickstarter contributors to get involved. Jason is halfway to his $20,000 goal and has 16 days left. Check out the project and help bring a little more fine beverage into the world.



Brett Carlile and Orlin Sorensen Of Woodinville Whiskey Company– Spotlight on a Drink Careers 101 Project Advisory Board Member

Spirits

Brett Carlile & Orlin Sorensen of Woodinville Whiskey Co.

We are pleased to highlight Drink Careers 101 Project Advisory Board Members Brett Carlile and Orlin Sorensen, co-owners of Woodinville Whiskey Company.

Brett and Orlin are longtime friends who decided to leave their jobs and pursue their passion, turning a love of whiskey into a career. In just three short years, the two have made their dream into reality, creating the first bourbon in Washington State since Prohibition.

Our Creative Director Julie Hadjinian first met them at a whiskey education night at Woodinville Whiskey Company. She admired the hard work they have done, in creating and building Woodinville Whiskey Co. into a respected, well-known craft spirits brand.

Why did you want to work in the spirits industry?
I’m a whiskey geek. I love everything about it–the history, the industry, and the product itself. I spent many years in the corporate world somewhat unfulfilled with where I was going. I broke away and spent a few years as an entrepreneur, which taught me a tremendous amount about business. When our state laws changed to allow small distilleries, it was something I was immediately drawn to, and I’ve never looked back.

What was the best moment you’ve had at Woodinville Whiskey Company?
Pulling into the distillery on the morning we released our first whiskey and seeing a line down the building. By the time we opened the doors the line was around the building and the local news stations were here. I’ll never forget that feeling of support from our fans.

What is your favorite thing about working in the spirits industry?
The creativity involved, from product development to marketing you are always challenging yourself in this area to stay ahead of the curve. It’s also a great industry because consumers of your products are typically in a social, off work environment, so everyone is having a great time, and pleasant to be around.

What do you think a college student should know about the beverage industry before choosing a major?
Be focused, I see so many people that want to be the XYZ vodka, gin, rum, and whiskey distillery. Not only do you never have time to perfect your product, you have no brand identity. Pick your passion be it soda, coffee, Cachaça, or whatever, and own it.

Check out this video to learn more about Brett and Orlin.

Check Woodinville Whiskey Co. on Facebook.

Click here to back our Drink Careers 101 Kickstarter project.



Buffalo Trace Distillery To Release Colonel E. H. Taylor, Jr. Rye Recipe Whiskey

Spirits

Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. Straight Rye WhiskeyFollowing the release of Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. Collection Barrel Proof Bourbon Whiskey, Buffalo Trace Distillery has just announced the release of Colonel E. H. Taylor, Jr. Rye Recipe Whiskey. The 100 proof straight rye whiskey is fifth in the collection and joins Old Fashioned Sour Mash Bourbon, Single Barrel Bourbon, Warehouse C Tornado Surviving Bourbon and Barrel Proof Bourbon that have all been released since early 2011.

According to the press release, the new whiskey is “An altogether different recipe and profile than Sazerac Rye, this recipe contains just rye and malted barley, no corn. The result is an aroma full of dried fruit, black pepper, and touch of fresh dill. A small sip brings an array of flavors both sweet and savory with a terrific balance of dark spices and subtle caramel overtones. The finish is especially pleasing with an oaky dryness that lingers just long enough.”

The Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. Straight Rye Whiskey will be available in late August and will be released annually each year. The suggested retail price is $69.99 for a 750ml bottle.



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