For some people, distilling is in their blood. Talk to some of the moonshine and bourbon distillers in the South, and they’ll share generations of family stories about making whiskey. But for many craft distillers, the spirits industry is a complete 180 from what they were doing before. Through some kind of turning point or inspirational moment, these four people found their new calling in life: hooch.
Chris Weld: Emergency Room to Berkshire Mountain Distillers
Chris Weld looks right at home on his farm in Massachusetts, where he makes whiskey, gin and vodka. He hikes the Appalachian trail and tends his large vegetable garden in his spare time. You'd never guess that he spend 20 years as a physicians assistant in an emergency room before deciding to move to the country. As Weld puts it, the ER “drove me to drinking.”
We couldn't be happier that he decided to start up Berkshire Mountain Distillers. His bourbon was praised by the Whisky Guild as “a truly world-class micro-distillery bourbon” and the New York Times chose his Greylock Gin as the best craft gin in the country. His Ragged Mountain Rum, which he describes as a sipping rum, was written up in GQ Magazine. Read more »
Brad Estabrooke: Finance to Breuckelen Distilling
As Estabrooke tells the story, it was an in-flight magazine on an airplane that inspired him to open up Breuckelen Distilling. Living in Brooklyn, Estabrooke saw people around him “making their own things, their own businesses, using business models that they put together on their own.” After he was laid off from his job as a bond trader in the world of finance, he used the opportunity to start his distillery.
Breuckelen Gin is made by Estabrooke alone (though he does have one other employee who helps with bottling), so you can take it literally when you read that his spirits are made by hand. He currently makes Glorious Gin, 77 Wheat Whiskey, and 77 Rye Whiskey. Read more »
David Perkins: Biochemistry to High West Distillery
Distilling is a second career for David Perkins, founder of High West Distillery in Park City, Utah. He retired from his career as a biochemist in the pharmaceutical industry in 2004 in order to pursue his lifelong passion for whiskey. He bought a small still to experiment and was soon up and running, winning awards, and enjoying his success.
Though Perkins doesn't see this as a radical career shift (“I worked at drug companies all my life. They’re essentially just glorified distilleries...”), the challenges of being an entrepreneur are vastly different than working for a big company. Fortunately, High West is on an upward swing. Read more »
Greg Lehman: Pro Volleyball to Watershed Distillery
Greg Lehman graduated from Ohio State University and went on to play professional volleyball in Europe. While living in Appenzell, Switzerland, he had a chance to observe the local spirits producers, their hand-crafted techniques, and the way their products were so important to the community. He wanted the same kind of career for himself.
Lehman returned to Ohio, where he and his business partner Dave Rigo went through the long legal process of setting up the state's first distillery since Prohibition, Watershed. They make vodka, two kinds of gin, and are waiting for their bourbon to age. Read more »