Pictorial: Malting Floors, USA

While Scotland has plenty of malting floors in its whiskey distilleries — literally, floors upon which barley is spread to germinate — the United States has exactly five. I’ve managed to visit four of ’em (still need to get to Rogue Distillery in Oregon). Each looks a little different, and has its own personality – take a look for yourself.

Copper Fox (Sperryville, VA)

Wasmund_2Wasmund_1At Copper Fox, the malting room actually has two malting spaces. Above, that’s Rick Wasmund standing in between the two, puckishly noting the two malting floors, North and South. “At night, they re-enact Civil War battles,” he deadpanned. “It’s a mess in morning.”

Leopold Brothers (Denver, CO)

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This is their new distillery, which opened in 2014. I’m not sure if their old distillery had a malting floor. They weren’t malting when I visited – but they use their malted barley for gin and vodka, not just whiskey. It’s definitely the most spacious malting floor I’ve seen.

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Check out the malting shovels – a local furniture designer made them, using oak from former whiskey barrels and bolts – no glue.

Coppersea Distillery (West Park, NY)

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The photo above was taken by Scott Gordon Bleicher, for an Edible Manhattan feature I wrote about Coppersea. When I visited, they weren’t malting that day. It’s less exciting to see without the malt spread out – it just looks like an empty garage (see Leopold Brothers, above).

You can’t really see it in this photo, but they use a jagged-tooth malting rake; Christopher Williams (the gent dragging the rake above) commissioned it from a local metalsmith, using an old engraving as the prototype.

Hillrock Distillery (Ancram, NY)

hillrock_EHVPhoto credit: Edible Hudson Valley. The malting floor looks more like a room in a quaint B&B than a working distillery, doesn’t it?

Rogue Spirits (Ashland, OR)

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Photo credit: Rogue Spirits. Here’s hoping I get to Oregon in 2015 to see this in person and round out the collection.

Super-aged whiskey and a practical joke

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Dave Pickerell, whiskey prankster

When it comes to hyper-aged spirits, is it possible to have too much of a good thing?

That’s the issue I explored for Slate:  Past Their Prime:  when is a superaged spirit too old to drink?

One of the people I turned to for perspective was Dave Pickerell, master distiller for Hillrock Estate Distillery, and former distilling guru at Whistlepig Rye and Maker’s Mark. He’s an industry legend who knows a tremendous amount about the science and business behind aging whiskey, so he was a natural (and quite insightful) choice.

But apparently, he also has quite a mischievous streak. This is a story he told during our interview, which didn’t make it into the Slate article, but illustrates neatly what happens when whiskey gets too old:

“At Maker’s Mark, they let me play a lot,” Pickerell reminisced. “And we had what we called ‘the oldest barrel.’ We had no intent to sell it, it was a ‘what-if.’  It aged to 18 years and 2 days. [Note:  standard-issue Maker’s Mark is about 6 years old, though it doesn’t carry an age statement.] The nose was unbelievable – OMG cough syrup, honey, it was so sweet….And so bitter on the palate!

“I used it to play a practical joke on Gaz Regan, who is a proponent of ‘older is better,’ with no exception.”  Pickerell  lured Regan in by “confiding” that he had a super-aged bourbon, but “shhh- I don’t have enough for everyone!” Later, they snuck away and he gave Regan a pour.

“I practically presented it on a pillow,” Pickerell recalled, to make it appear precious.  So unbelievably precious, that Pickerell pretended that he couldn’t even spare a pour for himself — he had no intention of drinking the bitter stuff.

Regan’s reaction? He spat it out.  “That’s bloody awful!”