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Defend Your Kickstarter: Workhorse Rye

Scott Lucas | February 13, 2014 | Story Tech World

Defend Your Kickstarter is a weekly look at the wild, wacky, and just plain wonderful world of Kickstarter. Today's project: Workhorse rye whiskies and bitters.

Kickstarter defender: Rob Easter, distiller and bartender.

San Francisco: We've been drinking Old Grand-Dad since we were 12. Why switch to some kind of fancy pants, small batch whiskey?
Rob Easter: You got habits, we get it. But also, we encourage personal growth and exploration. At the risk of sounding contrary, we aren’t actually all that fancy. Organic isn’t fancy; it's responsible. And as it turns out, it's delicious too. GMO grain spirits are not helping diversity nor are they helping our long term health and economy.

What are you planning to use the Kickstarter funds for?
We will be making all of our rewards for the Kickstarter campaign. Coffee Rye bitters (designed in conjunction with Four Barrel), engraved flasks, Workhorse Rye screen printed shirts by Taylor Stitch here in San Francisco, other various treats and whiskey and cocktail classes. We are trying to build a nice arsenal of weird and tasty whiskeys to have when we launch our first publicly available whiskeys this spring. We’re a small operation and our buying power is minuscule, so if we go above our Kickstarter goal the extra cash would allow us to approach another local farmer to buy larger quantities of rye. We just want to make sure everybody's cup overfloweth instead of underfloweth.

We thought that whiskey came from the whiskey fairy, but you all are talking about sustainable and organic agriculture. What gives?
Whiskey fairies indeed! A lot of companies don’t want you to think about it, but spirits come from agriculture. From a farm. Not a fairy. Whiskey comes from beer! Brandy comes from wine! Ours comes from organic beer. The truth is, a lot of spirit produced in this country comes from government subsidized, genetically modified grain that you in turn pay for twice. Once in your taxes and a second time at the bar. We aren’t fans of that, and think most people wouldn’t be either if they knew it. By using American-made glass and organic grains, we want to help future generations can enjoy craft beverages made from organic agriculture too.

Okay, lots of high-minded stuff. But tell us what it tastes like?
Gladly. We have been making and aging quite a few different styles of whiskey for the past two years, and the first ones we are calling to the spotlight are Palehorse and Darkhorse. They are essentially the same whiskey comprised of 70 percent Malted Rye, 20 percent Malted Barley, and 10 percent Malted Wheat, just aged in two different ways. We thought it would be fun to showcase how drastic an impression aging style has on a spirit. Palehorse is aged in used whiskey barrels which is very different than other American whiskeys like bourbon. We’ve taken to calling it a Frankenstein whiskey, in that the recipe is American, but the aging lands in between Scotch and Japanese whisky. It has cider, herbal, and fragrant yellow fruit notes.

And how about Darkhorse?
Darkhorse is aged in used French Oak red wine barrels from a number of wineries inside the city of San Francisco and in Napa. It is red rye whiskey, very floral and chocolatey. Each release of Dark Horse will have a hand-written notation of which winery the barrels came from. Our favorite barrel-source is Sutton Cellars, which most people probably know is in the Dogpatch. This type of batch-to-batch distinction lends a sort of fleeting nature to each release—here and gone like a good espresso—and we think that makes each barrel rather special.

Yeah, what's up with aging them in wine barrels? Is using all that wood really sustainable?
So very sustainable! To be fair, taste and uniqueness were our primary motives for launching a whiskey company based almost exclusively on used wine and whiskey cooperage. But it's also more sustainable—it gives barrels a longer life, which requires fewer trees being cut. Used barrels as opposed to new ones is basically a choice to let the spirit sing, as opposed to tasting a lot of oak and letting the barrel sing. Nothing against oaky stuff in general, it's just that occasionally it can mask delicate flavors which we worked hard to develop. Also it should be noted that we are a gypsy distilling operation, which is a choice based on sustainable practice.

What is gypsy distilling?
Gypsy distilling operations are common for beer and wine, but spirits will be joining them soon. You ever drink a Mikkeller or Evil Twin beer? That was gypsy brewed. We rent space, equipment, and time of someone else's distillery.

You do some of your work in an old navy jail on Treasure Island. How do we know you aren't somehow connected with the Google Barge out there?
What the hell is a Google Barge? We don’t have time to know about that stuff, but it does sound scary. Is it like a Death Star? We love Gmail but are they actually the Galactic Empire? If so, we will rally with the Rebel Alliance.

Can people get a little taste before they go out?
We are hosting a tasting in San Francisco on Thursday February 20th. This is mainly for bartenders, bar owners, writers, industry folk, and enthusiasts to come by and taste our whiskey as well as see the Standard Spoon in action. We will have computers there in case people feel inspired to back us on Kickstarter on the spot, that is definitely our hope. Email about the location and time.

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