How 10th Mountain Brandy Came To Be - By Shawn Hogan

Last Friday (April 9th), we released our newest addition to the 10th Mountain Whiskey & Spirit arsenal. Our Exquisite 95 Proof Pinot Noir Brandy. Years in the making, I felt our readers would love to hear just how it came to be that a company with a distillery in the high desert of Gypsum came about putting together this product. So I asked our Head Distiller, Shawn Hogan, to get his old typewriter out and recount the story of why and how this Brandy came to be. If you know Shawn at all, you will undoubtedly hear his voice in the piece below. Enjoy. 

How 10th Mountain Brandy Came to Be - By Shawn Hogan

Ryan Thompson (founder of 10th Mountain Whiskey) tells me we're getting a bunch of pinot noir. Says he knows a guy at a winery who will give us a bunch of wine to do what we want. Ryan is very excited about it. I don't get it.

He tells me we're going to make Brandy.

My response is, "Why?".

Does he drink Brandy? No.

Do I drink Brandy? No. 

Has anyone in the company ever bought a bottle of Brandy? No.

I start asking around. Friends, old co-workers, people who run or own liquor stores. 

What do I find out? Apparently, people in the upper midwest drink it. People of Scandinavian stock. And they love it. Friday Fish Frys and Brandy Manhattans.

But the main reason I'm skeptical is that I don't know how to make Brandy.

Luckily for me, the distilling industry is supportive and inclusive. 

No, really it is!  

I got my beginner's knowledge at Moonshine University in Louisville, KY. One of the first things stressed to us was how we help each other out. Ask of others as you're learning and coming up. Help others once you're established and have more knowledge. 

I honestly thought it was BS. 

Why would people in an industry help others in the same industry? I've pretty much settled on the fact is we're selling liquor. There's room for everyone. Our industry does not go away. Real estate bubble burst? People drink. Worldwide pandemic? People drink. The economy is in the toilet? People need a drink.

When we were first getting started in 2014, I had questions and on occasion would call Peach Street Distillers and the Breckenridge Distillery. Both times I left messages with little hope of getting a callback. And both times, I was called back within the hour. I even called a distillery in Milwaukee about recycling. The owner called back within 15 minutes. 

So I got lucky. This task wasn't going to all fall to me, having to try and figure it out. 

Ryan had met a guy at one of the liquor conferences that made brandies and different similar distillates. 

He had his card, Jason Greenwood, from Divine Distillers in Salem, OR. I started emailing him, and he answered every question I had. Plus others I hadn't even considered. 

Making Brandy requires using the dephlegmator on the still. Something at this point we had never used. 

This leads me to get in touch with Pete Kamer. Pete was one of our instructors at Moonshine University, and we have kept him on retainer as a consultant since then. 

So Pete and I emailed a bit, and then the day came to distill the Pinot Noir that had been delivered from Monterey, CA into Brandy.

I was still a little worried. While I had understood the process, and theoretically, it all made sense, I was having a hard time picturing it working for some reason.

I got started at my usual time, which for me is 4 in the morning. When you use the dephlegmator, you close the shelves on the Still column. You then have to wait till there is a nice level of water on each shelf before your distillate starts coming up the column. It takes a while. 

I'm waiting, but it seems like it's taking a long time. 

I send an email to Pete. Hoping I'll hear back in an hour or 2. He responds right away, tells me to call him, and walks me through the process. We were probably on the phone for about an hour and a half. He held my hand till I felt comfortable. Pete has been in the industry for over 40 yrs. His Brandy knowledge comes from working with Copper and Kings. A Brandy company in Louisville. 

So we got those runs off, and luckily for me, the American Distilling Institute conference was in Denver. Jason Greenwood, from Divine Distillers, and his wife were down from Salem, and he asked me to bring him a sample. Ryan and I shared it with them over lunch one day. He was very complimentary and said it was great. 

He then shared with us how to go about barreling it. 

It's a different process than our usual whiskey barreling. While we were at the conference, I also spoke to Andrew Causey from Brewer's Supply Group, who supplies us with our enzymes and has answered questions in the past. He explained the process more in-depth and with a little more help from Pete we were off.

A really big thanks to Andrew who truly helped me understand the process the best.

So this started with 

  1. Ryan knowing two guys at a winery in Monterey, CA (Kyle Pletzke and Justin Murphy of Smith Family Wines).

  2. Me learning from a distiller in Oregon

  3. Getting hands-on help from our consultant in Kentucky

  4. And finally, understanding how to finish it from a salesperson in Colorado.

We are proud of this release, And now it's out there! Enjoy! 

- Shawn