Bowling Green, KY
“I am an avid whiskey lover. You might even say whiskey-obsessed,” writes Darek Bell in his book Alt Whiskeys. He is the master distiller at Kentucky’s Corsair Artisan Distillery who has quickly made a name for himself as a notoriously experimental craft distiller. His next sentence: “But I do think whiskey could be better. Different. More interesting. More imaginative.”
In his book, the inventive distiller gives recipes for more than 60 unlikely whiskeys, including quinoa whiskey, cannabis whiskey, mint chocolate milk stout whiskey, and wormwood whiskey. The home-brewer-turned-distiller knows that there are hundreds of thousands of styles of beer than can be distilled into a huge variety of whiskeys that you may have never thought of before.
Since its opening in 2009, Corsair Artisan Distillery has received numerous awards for its ingenious spirits. Their Quinoa & Barley, the Triticale & Barley, and the Triple Smoke whiskeys received bronze medals at the 2012 American Distilling Institute’s 6th Annual Judging of Artisan American Spirits. Taking home silver medals were Nashville Bourbon, 100% Rye, Oak Smoked Wheat Whiskey, Cherrywood Smoke Whiskey, Oatmeal Stout Whiskey, Pre-Prohibition American Malt Whiskey and the Ryemaggedon. Their hopped Citra Whiskey won a gold medal, and the Grainiac 9 Grain Bourbon Whiskey received the Best of Class designation, beating out the competition’s 240 other spirit submissions. It seems Bell isn’t the only one who likes experimental whiskeys.
Corsair has two locations: one in Nashville, Tennessee and one in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Both areas are heavily dominated by whiskey distilleries. “We have Jack Daniel’s and George Dickel in Nashville, and then in Kentucky we have the whole bourbon trail in our backyard. We can’t always play the local card. We’ve focused instead on making very different products, and we’ve tried to stand out that way,” Bell explains.
Bell was first inspired to funkify traditional whiskey at a distilling academy on Scotland’s Islay Island. The island is known for smoking their Scotch with peat. Bell thought, “why don’t I smoke a whiskey with cherry wood, or alder, or beach wood?”
When he came back to the United States, that’s just what he did. And his array of unique whiskeys has attracted an array of diverse people to the distilleries. “We see people who are over 50 and really into whiskey, and then we get people in their 20s,” he says. “What we’re finding is that both of those demographics are really well educated [about whiskey].”
Look for more and more of Corsair’s products popping up for purchase online, and expect them to surprise you with their strange ingredient whiskeys. What’s next for the distillery? Whatever they want.