Talking craft whiskey with Colin Edwards and Ian Haensly
1. Tell us about Burlock and Barrel
Burlock and Barrel will be the first ever craft whiskey distillery here in Jacksonville, FL. At this point [Mar 2014] we’re in the startup phase. There’s a build out and permitting phase we need to go through before we can start distilling. We have our paperwork filled out for our license and we’re ready to go but we need to secure a location before the license can be approved. We’re currently scouting locations in Jacksonville but haven’t signed anything yet. Our goal is to be close to the craft-brewing scene in Jacksonville - either near downtown or in the Springfield area.
Craft whiskey is taking off in the US but there’s nothing here in Jacksonville and we’re looking to change that.
2. When do think you’ll be ready to start distilling?
Once funding is in place and we’ve secured a location it takes about 4 months to go through the regulatory process before distilling can begin. If everything goes well we could have Burlock and Barrel on the shelves in Jacksonville by the end of the year. We don’t have a firm date and there’s a lot to do but we’re ready to begin when things fall into place.
3. What exactly is whiskey?
Whiskey is a distilled alcohol made from mashed and fermented grains and produced under 190 proof. There are various types of whiskey: corn, wheat, rye, malted rye, and malted barley etc. American whiskey is often referred to as bourbon. To be called American bourbon the whiskey needs to be made with at least 51% corn. The product can be no more than 160 proof in the still and must be barreled at 125 proof for at least 2 years. American bourbon is often associated with Tennessee and Kentucky but it can come from anywhere. But, we like to call it breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
4. Will you be making bourbon?
Initially we’ll start with an unaged, clear American whiskey, so we won’t be able to call it a bourbon. Eventually we will barrel our white whiskey in small oak barrels. The smaller barrel size will help speed up the maturation process because it has a greater barrel to whiskey surface area. What would normally take 4 to 6 years in a 53 gallon barrel will only take 1-3 years in the smaller barrels. Our goal is to have both a clear, unaged whiskey, along with classic barrel aged whiskey.
5. Is that how craft distillers normally start up?
No, our approach and vision is a little different from most. We’re going to market our product as an unaged “White Whiskey”, which we will call Naked White Whiskey by Burlock & Barrel. The name signifies that it hasn’t been dressed in an oak barrel. It is pure, straight-off-the-still, naked whiskey. We want this brand to be fun and aimed at a younger crowd. It’ll have all the characteristics of top-shelf hooch, but will be at a lower price point. A lot of people have this perception that drinking whiskey is for older gentlemen who are sitting around in their blazers and loafers sipping it neat. We are going to change that and teach people that quality whiskey can be enjoyed by anyone.
6. What is the flavor of a clear whiskey?
If someone asks us what our whiskey tastes like we’ll tell them it tastes like Burlock and Barrel. Our goal is to get to that place where people will be asking if other drinks are going to taste like Burlock and Barrel.
7. You describe Naked Whiskey as a white whiskey. What does that mean?
(Ian and Colin chuckle) People sometimes use the term white dog or moonshine to refer to a clear whiskey. We want to stay away from the whole moonshine image. Although there are so amazing clears out there, a lot of people associate moonshine with something that tastes like gasoline an is distilled in a bathtub in the middle of the woods. Needless to say, that turns a lot of people off. We want to emphasize that our product will be an easy drinker made from high quality Florida ingredients.
8. Is your whiskey intended to be mixed or served neat?
That’s up to the individual. It will be enjoyed either way. Because we’re initially targeting an audience that may not be as familiar with whiskey we’ll emphasize the mixing qualities that Naked can brings to a drink. Not only will Naked make a fantastic mixer, but it will be a smooth sipper that the enthusiast will be able to drink neat or on the rocks.
9. How will Burlock and Barrel be different from other craft distillers?
One of the ways is just in how we’ll present our product to the market. Most whiskeys are not aimed at a younger audience. We want to bring something new to the young, legal age drinker who’s used to picking up some cheap vodka. We think we have a product that can be comparable in price while offering a whole new level of taste and quality that doesn’t exist with the bulk vodkas. We’re also staying away from the route of jumping on the moonshine novelty bandwagon. We’re going to build a strong brand of quality spirits and not play on the idea of being something cheap that comes in a mason jar.
10. Will there be an educational aspect to your launch?
There will definitely be an educational aspect, mostly because the Naked brand will be geared towards a younger crowd who may be more used to drinking a Natural Light than a whiskey. Jacksonville is a great market for this. The craft anything scene is huge! There’s an up and coming generation, in Jacksonville especially, that’s supportive of the craft scene and is willing to explore new things.
11. Where does the name of your distillery come from?
In the 1920's the McCoy brothers were shipbuilders who owned a boat yard in downtown Jacksonville. Part of their business was to provide freight services by boat. As highways and buses were built the McCoy brother’s business began to fail so they started running whiskeys from the Bahamas. When the whiskey was being transported by ship it was stored in bottles that were stacked in a triangular shape - 3 on the bottom, 2 in the middle and 1 on top. The bottles were packed in straw and tightly wrapped in burlap during shipment. The stack of whiskey was called a Burlock Bag. That link to Jacksonville’s whiskey past is how we developed our name.
There’s a huge history of whiskey here in Jacksonville that not many people know about. When we first read about it we were taken aback and wanted to connect what we were doing with the history from Jacksonville.
12. How long did the McCoys operate?
It wasn’t for long, just a few years before their operation was shut down. Then they got into real estate.
13. Why did you decide to locate in Jacksonville?
We’ve been here a long time and Jacksonville holds a special place in our hearts. There’s never been a legal whiskey distillery in Jacksonville, ever. The entirety of Florida only has a handful of distilleries. Florida hasn’t quite caught up to the craft movement your might see in other states like Washington, Oregon, or Colorado. This makes Jacksonville the perfect place for a craft whiskey really rolling in Florida. And we don’t see the same trend towards the craft scene anywhere else in Florida, at least not to the degree it’s happening here in Jacksonville. If we just look at some of the places that are embracing the fine spirits and cocktail movement you have The Grape and Grain Exchange in San Marco, The Volstead downtown, Black Sheep, Rogue, and Mojo No 4 in Riverside…It’s blowing up everywhere. There always seems to be another quality cocktail joint popping up lately.
We think that Burlock and Barrel will be good for the image of Jacksonville as well. As our product gets into the market and people learn about it, those who take their whiskey seriously will want to know more about it and where it comes from. Even people who just try our Naked Whiskey in a cocktail will get a new impression of Jacksonville as a place that’s doing some really good things.
14. How big is the craft distillery movement?
Craft whiskey is now where craft beers were 5 to 10 years ago. It’s new, but it’s catching on and it’s growing quickly. Ten years ago there were about 80 distilleries in America. Today there are more than 600. By the end of 2014 it’s expected there will be over 750 distilleries in the US. The red tape that used to stand in the way of creating a new distillery has begun to dissolve. It’s getting easier on every level to start a distillery business, and that’s been helping to drive the boom in craft distilleries.
We want to create a product that enthusiasts can embrace on its own and that’s also a quality component of a great cocktail.
15. What will your respective roles be at Burlock and Barrel?
We’ll both be doing a lot of everything - from distilling to marketing and innovating the product.
16. Where did you learn to distill?
We’ve learned from other distillers and have participated in the distilling process through third parties. We’re also big fans of whiskey itself and have spent a lot of time going to shows, tasting, visiting distilleries, attending classes, and learning everything about what it takes to make a great whiskey.
17. What attracted you to making whiskey?
Ian: I’ve always enjoyed whiskey – no brand is the same. I’m in love with the different flavor profiles available, brand back-stories, and the American history regarding whiskey. When I went to my first distillery, there was a lot of emphasis on showing people what was going on and how the whiskey was being produced. At a craft whiskey distillery you can sit down, talk to the distiller, and really learn about their product. They’re able to tell you about every aspect of the drink you experience during each sip. You just don’t get that opportunity with most spirits. It’s a really cool thing to have that experience and I can’t wait to be able to provide the same thing for others.
Colin: I enjoy the craft side of the process. Each distillery gets to put its own unique twist on a whiskey and I enjoy that variety and craftsmanship that’s found in the finished product. It’s hard to pinpoint when I really got attracted to whiskey as a spirit but it was when someone encouraged me to look beyond the commercial brands of whiskey, and to try what was going on in the craft market. I was really blown away. Craft whiskey didn’t taste like anything I’d tried before. I was intrigued and hooked and wanted to explore other craft varieties. With whiskey you also get a level of debonair sophistication that I really like. You’re not Bond, but it’s classic.
18. What does it take to make a great whiskey?
We stand by the age-old saying, “good whiskey is made in the still not the barrel.” It starts with the quality of the grains that go into your product. We’ll be using quality Florida grains. We have great local farms and farmers' markets. Every region of the country will produce grains that add their specific tastes. By using local grains we’re bringing a flavor profile that’s representative of the local Florida environment. That’s important to us because we want people to think of Jacksonville when they see the name Burlock & Barrel.
19. Besides corn, what are the main ingredients that go into making a whiskey?
There’s corn, malted barley, wheat, malted rye and rye among others. Each grain and their various combinations contribute to their own unique favors.
20. Why it is important that your whiskey will be triple distilled?
The extra distillation makes for a smoother, easier to drink product. It takes away a bit of that burn you might experience with a whiskey that’s only been distilled once. Going through distillation process multiple times also helps to remove more of the impurities that might otherwise make it into the whiskey.
21. How much whiskey will you produce in a year?
We plan to start out with a 70 gallon still and produce 2500 gallons in our first year, although there are a lot of variables that could change that. It could be much more or a tad less.
22. Do you have your recipe?
(Smiling) Let’s just say we have a good idea but our experimenting and finalizing won’t begin until we’re licensed to start distilling.
23. Will your distillery have a tasting room?
We won’t start with a formal tasting room. We’ll start out as just a working distillery for the most part, but we’ll definitely any welcome visitors who want to come by to see what we’re doing and try a little taste. Our goal is to become a destination for people to visit who want to learn about distilling.
24. Is your goal to be a regional distillery or do you want to grow beyond the local area?
Our aspirations are huge! We’ll be a grassroots founded company born here in Jacksonville. Our loyalty and hearts will always be in Jacksonville, but we definitely plan on expanding beyond Jacksonville. Within days of launching our Twitter and Facebook accounts we’ve had people from across the country contacting us to find out how they can get our product. We want to tap into that interest.
25. How will you distribute your whiskey?
Florida has very specific regulations on how distribution works. There’s basically a 3-tier system in place in which we’re required to sell our product through a distributor who will, in turn, sell to the retailers. These laws were put in place following Prohibition and are really outdated. There’s been some great work by a few people to try to relax some of the restrictions and so we’re now allowed, in Florida, to sell up to 2 bottles per year to each person who visits the distillery. But the majority of our sales have to be through a distributor so that takes some of the control out of our hands about how our product will be brought to market. Unfortunately the 3-tier system not only puts unnecessary distance between us and our customers but it also adds significant costs to our product. In addition, although we can suggest a selling price, the distributor ultimately decides what they’re going to sell our product for. We’re looking for a really good distributor who understands the craft spirits market so that we can find the right distribution and pricing model.
26. What are you hoping to accomplish at One Spark?
One Spark could be huge for us. We’re in it to get our name out there and to let people know that Burlock and Barrel is a Jacksonville company. Funding is also a huge thing and if we can get some help with that it’ll be great.
27. What’s the funding model you’re looking for? Are you looking to crowd fund your launch?
We really like the idea of crowd funding because it gives the people who help get us going a connection with the company and a stake in our success. We’re also open to investors.
28. If people see you at One Spark and want to participate in the funding how can they do so?
There are several avenues at One Spark for funding. The crowd funding comes through a voting process. People can sign up and vote for their favorite creators. At the end there’s a $10,000 bonus to the top vote getters in each category. There’s also other funding that will be divided based on overall votes. So it’s important for people to come out to One Spark, and then to vote!
29. Is there going to be a way to directly donate to a creator at One Spark?
Yes, there will be a donation page right next to the voting page so you can contribute to the ideas you want to help promote.
30. Where will you be located at One Spark?
We’ll be right outside Fionn MacCool’s at the Landing. It is going to be insane! We’re going to have live music all day, great food, the One Spark stage, tons of other creators, and an awesome display. It will be a great time!