I'm a long time Reddit user who has a job that I love. I'm a craft distiller for a small distillery. I spend my days in front of a series of stills making a unique craft spirit, and most nights I'm either out and about doing tastings, or experimenting at home with making cocktails.

Ever wonder what it's like to make booze for a living? Happy to answer your questions. People have asked me to do one of these before, but I never really had time. It's a rainy and cold Sunday,today, so why not.

Here's proof of me in front of my favorite still. She's small, but she allows us to experiment!

Edit: Thanks folks. It's been fun. If you want, check out our web page if you want to find out where we're sold!

Comments: 231 • Responses: 74  • Date: 

Chocolatemess30 karma

What do I need to do / learn in order to start making my own booze /distillery?

bobroland66 karma

About eleven years or so ago, I got started by buying a couple of buckets, an extract brewing kit and some plastic tubes from a homebrew supply store in the region. I started making beer because I needed a hobby...and years later it would become my job.

It's something you learn by doing. Spend a few years making beer. Learn the process. Everything you learn in brewing will help you with distilling.

The next step is trickier if you're an American. It's against the law to distill booze without a license. It would be wrong of me to suggest that you make an illegal still, and practice in the backwoods somewhere. Just plain wrong. I wouldn't do it. Nope. Not at all.


Yeah, so somewhere along the line you need to practice distilling. There aren't many ways to accomplish this, but /r/firewater has some good resources.

Th final step is even harder. You need capital. Lots and lots of capital. You're going to have sit on the operating costs for close to a year while you jump through regulatory hoops. Imagine if you had to own a working store for a year before you could sell anything. The booze industry is like that. Oh, and expect to pay more in taxes than you expected.

Chocolatemess9 karma

I'm not doing this in US. I actually got interested in the idea on my visit to Africa. The idea and skill of making alcohol from fruits and roots really appeals to me. Thanks for your feedback. Are there any other resources I can get a simple "startup list" of items and tools for my first one man distillery?


bobroland9 karma

Very cool!

There's no single source, sadly. I think your best bet would be to source a still from Germany. There are some good manufacturers. I'm not sure what restrictions there might be on shipping yeast strains. Since you're using fruit, you're going to need a strain that can ferment down pretty rigorously. We also have a high sugar environment and our biggest challenge was to find the right strain, and then figure out a nutrient mix that would give the best taste, ferment the most sugar, and have the healthiest cells. It was all trial and error on our part.

I would break down the model into three parts. Fermentation, distilling and bottling. Even at a small scale, however, you're looking at a significant amount of change to get going. (Although if you have a sample, it's easier to sell potential investors! Have a small still you can produce a test batch on!)

Chocolatemess3 karma

This really helps, Cheers!

bobroland5 karma

If you want, shoot me a PM and I'll give you my e-mail address. If you get to the point of making a plan, I'll be happy to look it over for you.

TheHeroYouNeedNdWant3 karma

Wait... I thought us Americans could make our own beer and liquor up to a certain amount each year without a license. I am under the assumption that the license is only to sell your home brew

bobroland13 karma

Beer and wine only.

If you buy a still, odds are good some men in suits will be stopping by to see what you're up to.

YourBestAnswer17 karma

Do you ever get high on your own supply?

bobroland31 karma

Oh, I sure do.

I really love what I make. If I didn't, I would make something else. This is a cocktail I had last night. It's based on a Hemingway. 1.5 oz of Black Squirrel (substitute a good aged rum). 3/4 oz of grapefruit juice. 3/4 oz lime juice. 1 oz simple syrup. Pour into shaker with ice. Shake vigorously for a full minute to make frothy and silky. Pour into glass with fresh ice and garnish with lime slice or cherry.

It's the perfect summer cocktail. I had a few while smoking some tasty meats for a picnic party last night.

wh0ligan2 karma

I have one of those bottles! Its empty of course, I will need to get another one!

bobroland3 karma

Buffalo represent! Feel the Buffalove!

aeonep_15 karma

Do you find yourself more or less inclined to drink because of your job compared to before you started, or the same?

bobroland20 karma

Huh. That's a good question.

I was a brewer before this job. I would always have beer on hand to drink. My bar used to just have a couple bottles of scotch, rum and gin in it. Now that I'm a distiller, my bar at home is pretty well stocked, but my fridge is mostly empty of beer.

A person can only drink so much, so I've had to cut beer out of my day to day life. I would say I drink the same amount of alcohol now, just in a different form.

aeonep_11 karma

Might be hard to answer because it sounds like you've been in the industry for a long time, but do you think your work has changed how you consume alcohol socially? Or do you still enjoy drunk nights out etc?

bobroland18 karma

Well, when I was learning brewing, I drank a stupid amount of beer. I would have four or five kegs in my basement, and at least three of them would be tapped. I would pour a pitcher just for dinner.

Today I drink some early in the morning to test the aging process, and I will have a cocktail or two before bed.

I like to start the stills up early in the morning, so I might be at work as early as 4AM. That means early bedtimes, and little social drinking.

Of course, tastings lead to me going out to bars or festivals a few times each week, and I'll often drink there as well.

Occupational hazard, one could say.

this_barb9 karma

Does your job offer supplemental liver insurance through Aflac?

bobroland69 karma

It's why I have a son....so I can harvest his healthy liver some day.

SilentlyCrying10 karma

Is your job all itโ€™s cracked up to be? Do you get benefits and a retirement?

bobroland17 karma

It's a small start up. I love the people I'm working with, but nobody is rolling around on big piles of money. I took this job because it was something I had dreamed of doing for decades.

Right now, we can't afford any days off, or retirement packages.

Instead it's simply a rewarding job that makes me deliriously happy each morning. If I wanted money, I would have stayed a consultant!

SilentlyCrying8 karma

Do you have to have an understanding of science in order to brew?

bobroland14 karma

You don't have to, but it helps.

I talk to other distillers, and one of the things I found is that the quality of their product often correlates to their understanding of how the process of distilling works. There are plenty of exceptions, however.

We have a lab area set up where we're doing continual testing on the "wash" (the liquid you put into the still). How fast is the yeast growing? What pH levels are we looking at, and should we make adjustments?

It's like in a laboratory. You can train someone to work lab position, but if they don't understand the science, and why process matters, they won't be as effective.

SilentlyCrying3 karma

What degree would be most helpful in this field

bobroland2 karma

I would say chemistry would be your best bet.

It's one of those fields full of eccentric characters who are more interested in what you actually know and can do rather than what degree you hold.

Our team is made up of an entrepreneur tech guy, a lawyer, a guy who worked in Hollywood and now starts up businesses here, and me. A former vagabond carney.

Except for the lawyer, none of us needed our degrees.

Penroze8 karma

How's business? What volume are you producing, and what volume are you selling?

bobroland4 karma

We're doing better than we had planned. Our biggest problem is that we can't make enough to meet demand. We have more requests to carry our product than it's possible for us to make at our current location.

Sadly, because ours is an aged product, it's not like we can just ramp up production overnight.

lightninhopkins6 karma

So to fix the production problem are you planning to purchase spirits from another distiller and label them as yours? I know that quite a few craft distilleries do that since there are no regulations against it.

bobroland2 karma

I don't like the idea, myself. I didn't do this so that I could sell what someone else made. I would need to be able to add value to the product beyond just my name.

I'm not judging, it's just not for me.

I might be inclined to look at the possibility of importing some spirits that I loved from places I couldn't normally get it from, but it would have to be the right circumstances.

miyata_fan1 karma

Just order it from Indiana! I'm kidding, but I would like to know how to tell real craft production whisk(e)y from mass produced stuff masquerading as craft.

bobroland3 karma

It's tough. There's really no way to tell. Although I'm a big fan of drinking locally, end of the day you have to go with what tastes good to you, and not the fancy label. We do a bunch of blind tastings at the distillery of other drinks and sometimes we're surprised. New Amsterdam gin, a cheap lower shelf brand, actually did really well at our gin night.

BoogLife8 karma

My state just allowed the first legal distillery to start up, but we have tons of breweries. What kind of government regulated things do you have to go through that a brewery does not? Also, does Uncle Sam get a percentage of your profits and if so, how much?

bobroland12 karma

The nice thing is that one of the partners at the distillery is a lawyer, and it's his job to deal with the feds. It's crazy insane. You have to deal with two or three federal agencies, the IRS, and whatever the state government throws your way.

Federal taxes figure out to be about 22 cents per ounce of alcohol you produce. That's a pretty hefty amount. (There is a bill in congress to change this for smaller distilleries. Here's a story on it.)

After prohibition, the remaining beer and liquor companies made sure to hire enough lobbyists to rig the game to kill competition. It's one of the hardest aspects of this industry.

why4bro8 karma

Drink of choice?

bobroland25 karma

Well, what I make, of course! That's not fair, however. My favorite drink is always going to be Laphroaig. I love a peaty scotch. This was the one that opened my eyes to the complex flavors you can get in a good scotch.

For beers, there are so, so many. Right now I'm into sour beers, but that always has a tendency to change.

As for wine...well, I leave that up to my SO. She's the type who has special glasses for different kinds of wines, and has taken classes to learn about it. Me, I just know it shouldn't have a screw top, and that's about it.

Frolock5 karma

OMG, the first time I had it my friends described it as sweaty socks and I just couldn't take it. Definitely an acquired taste, I love it now.

bobroland4 karma

That was my first thought I ever had it....by the end of the first glass, I was hooked.

Ofenlicht1 karma

Have you had Bruichladdich Octomore?

bobroland1 karma

I heard it's supposed to be super peaty, but I haven't been blessed with a bottle! (If anyone wants to do a bottle swap for some Black Squirrel, send me a PM!)

manyquestions485 karma

Has anything about people in the distillery industry surprised you?

bobroland9 karma

Oh, yeah. I'm surprised by how secretive we are.

In brewing, everyone loves to talk and share tips and ideas. If you're opening up a distillery, your competitor will give you a tour, take you out drinking and give you contact information.

In distilling, we won't even talk about recipes with fellow distillers. When we talk shop, the conversation usually ends with uncomfortable silence at some point.

Only thing about distilling I'm not into.

Penroze5 karma

Why do you think there's so much silence? Or more to the point, why is brewing more open, since most industries are pretty secretive.

bobroland9 karma

Brewing started as a hobby for most folks. Remember, it wasn't legal to make your own beer int he states until 1979, so the brewing community was a small one.

As it became bigger, that culture of the hobbiest remained.

Distilling is secretive because it takes so long. If I have a new beer idea, I can have it poured out a tap in as soon as two weeks. If someone has an idea to make something new, they can just do it. Not the same for distilling.

For us, it's months and months for a new product...and we can't sell it without months and months more of approval. Knowing what your competitors are doing becomes more powerful.

Penroze6 karma

That makes sense. Thanks. Why does it take so long for a new idea to be developed? I understand the regulations are harder, but does it take longer to distill something for some reason?

bobroland5 karma

Well, most products require aging. You can't make a decent whiskey in less than a year, for example. It's one of the reason why you see "moonshine" being sold by craft distillers. It's something you can bottle right out of the still and you have faster turn around times. It's more of a neutral spirit, however.

Penroze4 karma

Is that why you see so many different vodkas? Since I presume vodka doesn't require aging, and the turnaround is quick and cheap?

bobroland6 karma

Yup. God knows, we could move more product through if we did a vodka.

Here's the thing. I don't see a compelling reason for craft vodka. The difference between a mid range vodka and a high end vodka is minimal. If you're making a neutral spirit like that, what can you really bring to the table other than inconsistent product and marketing? A big plant can make more, and cleaner tasting, vodka. Why do it on the craft level?

Still, end of the day you have to make some money. I get that.

I'm biased. I'm happy with my Kettle One vodka, and I tend to ignore most craft vodka.

Penroze2 karma

Agreed. I think the craft vodka market will burn itself out as soon as people latch onto some other trend.

Maybe you should do a craft gin? I don't recall seeing a big selection of weirdly marketed gins at my local liquor store, and gin varies pretty widely.

bobroland4 karma

Gin is a good choice, and it's a spirit that I think should be rethought the same way that IPAs were re-thought at the start of the craft beer revolution. How to best infuse flavors? What flavors work best? What are we missing? There's a great deal of room there to play in.

There are a few things we have in development right now that I'm excited about. One of them will actually hit market in about a month or two!

trophyguy4 karma

Hi fellow NY'er. I think I heard about your distillery on the local (Utica/Rome) news. With the way our winters are up here, what happens if there's a bad year for local maple syrup?

bobroland7 karma

If you're ever in Buffalo, let me know. I'll buy you a Black Squirrel somewhere!

Year before last was pretty bad for syrup, apparently. We work with a farmer who has a pretty big strategic reserve, so we think we'll be pretty good if a bad year happens.

It impacts the price, however, so it's a concern. We'll be diversifying over the next few years into some non-maple based products. We just have to get through the next year without a disaster.

Or we could just make crappy vodka like so many other craft distillers make. Ugh.

(Just kidding. We wouldn't do that.)

trophyguy2 karma

Have a friend in Alex Bay who has a distillery also. It's fun visiting. Also Adirondack Distillery here in Utica. Too bad I'm not a big drinker.

It's good NY is letting this take off. So far. :-)

bobroland3 karma

Yeah. Relying upon the wisdom of Albany is not the safest of ideas!

a_complete_cock4 karma

Oh, I have loads!

What do you make?

How many columns do you have in the process?

What specs do you use to judge your spirit on?

What kind of capacity can you put through them and how much do they cost?

bobroland5 karma

What do you make?

Right now we produce a craft spirit distilled from maple sugar. It's a terrible name, but the government asked us what we were making, told us there was no name for it, and we couldn't just go and make up a new one. So we are who we are. It's maple syrup, fermented, distilled and aged in French oak. It has a bourbon smoothness, with a rum kick, and a complex profile of flavors with a very slight, indescribable suggestion of sweetness at the end.

How many columns do you have in the process?

Hate to be secretive about it, but I promised the guys I wouldn't go into details about the size or capacity. I'll tell you that right now we have multiple stills, with more coming soon. (Ugh. I hate the secretive nature of distilling sometimes.)

What specs do you use to judge your spirit on?

Well, we're taking measurements at every stage of the process. I can give cell counts, pH levels, the works for the wash all the way through. We're doing some great data collection, and I wish more distillers would do the same.

As for making the cuts (for those who don't know, when you run a liquid through a still you make a series of "cuts". the first liquid to come off is a nasty blend of chemicals known as the "Foreshot". After that comes the "heads" which taste awful, but can be used to fortify later washes. Then you get the "hearts" which are the best parts of the distillation process. Liquid silver. Finally, you get the "tails" which can always be collected and run through the still to get some more "hearts".) although we doing some testing, at the end of the day your taste buds will give better data than any piece of lab equipment. Yes, I'll test it, but my taste buds give the best results.

What kind of capacity can you put through them and how much do they cost?

Man, I'm so sorry I can't tell you. I will say that we measure our output by the gallons each day, but that's about as far I can go.

I hate dodging questions.

a_complete_cock1 karma

Well, we're taking measurements at every stage of the process. I can give cell counts, pH levels, the works for the wash all the way through. We're doing some great data collection, and I wish more distillers would do the same.

As for making the cuts (for those who don't know, when you run a liquid through a still you make a series of "cuts". the first liquid to come off is a nasty blend of chemicals known as the "Foreshot". After that comes the "heads" which taste awful, but can be used to fortify later washes. Then you get the "hearts" which are the best parts of the distillation process. Liquid silver. Finally, you get the "tails" which can always be collected and run through the still to get some more "hearts".) although we doing some testing, at the end of the day your taste buds will give better data than any piece of lab equipment. Yes, I'll test it, but my taste buds give the best results.

I understand the need for the privacy, its no problem man.

But could you tell me then is it a batch process you do and not a continuous one?

bobroland3 karma

We do it in batches. I would love to fill a whole barrel with a single run, but it's a long time before we hit that level.

We keep good track of what goes into the barrels, however. If something doesn't taste perfect, we'll keep it to the side. We have decent consistency.

a_complete_cock1 karma

Do you have brands or you supplying other labels?

bobroland2 karma

Just one brand, just one product. We'll have some more coming soon!

Iam_walterJR3 karma

How as a college student living in small space begin brewing beer? I also need a hobby and love craft beer.

bobroland2 karma

If you can get a seven or eight gallon pot (the kind used for canning), you can actually make beer in your kitchen. It's how I started. Go to your local homebrew shop.

Once you start doing all grain mashes (as opposed to extract), you'll be able to get the price for a pint of good beer down to less than 18 cents. (requires buying grain and hops in bulk!)

lakumoshe3 karma

what do you think about the fact that alcohol is legal and fully socially accepted and weed is still the devils flower? i really want a serious answer.

bobroland2 karma

Sure. I don't smoke pot, and it's been about twenty years since I was a regular user, but I think it's healthier than booze, and people on pot are less prone to violence.

I would rather my son get hooked on pot than drink.

enkae73173 karma

Level of education required to become what you are? I was told I should get into the alcohol making business but I'm curious what degree you require.

bobroland1 karma

There are some degrees available, but really it's based on experience. My interview was based on them tasting my beer, and my knowledge of distilling. That's pretty common.

Be well rounded in your education (people in this industry are all really smart folks who kill it in trivia.) and make product on your own.

shinjuki3 karma

Is booze food?

bobroland2 karma

Fermented grains is the reason we transitioned from a hunter gatherer society to an agrarian one. When we discovered that grains could create a liquid that would allow us to commune with the divine, we began finding new ways to protect those grains...and developed farming. Bread was a mere afterthought.

So booze is food...of the gods.

(First written prayer we have is to the beer goddess Ninkasi. In it, it details how to make beer.)

somedude12341233 karma

How would I get a job entering the field? Is there a code word I can use?

bobroland1 karma

Sure. You need the secret handshake. You put your left hand over your heart while...

Hey! I can't tell you that!

AbeFromanLuvsSausage3 karma

At the distillery I work for in Chicago, we fermented 100% maple sap and are in the process of polishing the distillate. It tastes really amazing. I think its cool that you guys are sticking to the maple spirit route.

Do you make any other products that you sell? Our owner has recently gone crazy with all of these side products, (5 fruit brandies, fermented chestnuts, etc.) but vodka and gin is our bread and butter. We make some really tasty vodka from wheat and rye. What made you want to do a maple spirit instead of something typical?

Finally, what relationship, if any, do you have with other craft distillers in your local market?

bobroland2 karma

Thanks. Yeah, I think it's the mineral quality to the sugar that makes the distillate taste so good. It also makes for incredible cocktails. There's something about maple that gets drawn out when you add any other sugar, such as a simple syrup, to the party.

We were thinking about just going the sap route, but since 98% of the sap was water, we figured it would be easier for the maple farmers to cook it down in the sugar shack and send us the syrup.

I'm actually the crazy bastard in the company who gets obsessed with side projects. If we ever have some breathing room (we will eventually) I'll be able to indulge. Right now it's all about Black Squirrel and a side project we'll be launching in a month.

We did maple because we wanted to do a rum...but we wanted to use New York State products to get the benefits of a farm bill the state passed (you have to use 90% local). Since sugar cane doesn't grow up here....we had no choice.

As for other distillers....

Well, there are three others. One of them are a nice bunch of guys, but I really don't like what they make. I would pick a plastic bottle version over theirs. The other ones are knuckleheads, but they make totally average product. The final one are a good bunch who make a great product. I would actually buy theirs.

It's non competitive as far as we're concerned. They're not hitting the maple/rum market so it's all good.

Send me a PM with the name of you guys. I might be up to Chicago one of these weekends and we can swap bottles!

mmclaug9073 karma

Fellow Western New Yorker here, always love trying new brews around this area with my family/friends. Would you be willing to share a little bit more about your operation (Name/Area/Location/Website)?

bobroland3 karma

Absolutely. I'm Bob Roland, and I work for Black Squirrel Distillery. We're located on Elmwood and Amherst, kitty corner from Volker's bowling alley (a former speakeasy, btw!)

We're sold at major liquor stores, and at upscale dining establishments. (716, ABV, Oshun, etc)

Check us out for tastings!

(Alright. This post is the only shameless plug I'm giving myself!)

Kork3143 karma

Do you have any beginner recommendations for aspiring homebrewers?

bobroland13 karma

When you first start off, check out your local homebrew shop. It'll be full of tubby guys with beards, but it's a great source of information. Brewers love to talk and share.

The difference between a good beer and a bad beer is usually sanitation and temperature. Be insane about sanitation at every step. If you're not sure if something should be washed, wash it anyways. Also make sure that the location where you ferment is temp controlled. Yeast is a living organism. Different strains will have a different range of happy temps.

You should also build as much as you can by yourself. First off, it's cheaper, second it really helps you learn what's going on.

"How to Brew" by John Palmer is a great book for people starting off. Also check out "Brewing Classic Styles" by Jamil Zainasheff and John Palmer.

Finally, get outside opinions about your beer. Why most homebrew is terrible is that you get used to your "house style" after a while, and you think it's great. You inflict your beers on others and they're polite...but they're not giving you good feedback. Enter competitions and listen to the judges!

moderately_extreme3 karma

You wrote "the first liquid to come off is a nasty blend of chemicals known as the "Foreshot"": So where do those chemicals come from? Are they present (but presumably in small quantities) in beer and wine?

bobroland3 karma

Sure, The foreshot contains methanol, acetone and different aldehydes. We're trying to get the yummy ethanol instead. The methanol has a different boilng point, so that's why it comes off first.

I imagine a fermented beverage, such as beer, would have them but in small, trace amounts.

cmsonger3 karma

How real is the danger of explosion?

bobroland3 karma

With an electric heating element, almost none at all. Pressure could, in theory, cause something to pop, but the spilled alcohol would have no open flames to ignite and cause an explosion.

sicboy723 karma

I'm curious about the mash grist. Is it just 2 row or golden promise, or a specific distillers base grain? Any specialty grains?

bobroland3 karma

The spirit we sell is made from maple syrup. Nothing but. We take 100% pure maple syrup, cook it down and put it into a fermenter where we use some incredible yeast (and a blend of yeast nutrients) to eat down a large portion of the sugar. From there we put it into our stills. We go through thousands of pounds of maple syrup a week. It's crazy, since it's one of the most expensive sugars you can imagine, but we love it. It's fun to do what nobody else does.

If you were making a whiskey...well, I tend to believe that a spirit should reflect the region where it's made. A Scotch that isn't from Scotland is going to be different. A Canadian Whiskey needs to have Canadian rye in the mash.

What's native to your neck of the woods?

My favorite grain, however, if I had to pick one would be Maris Otter. It's a winter variety of barley that has an amazingly complex range of flavors when malted. If the schedule ever allowed it, I wouldn't mind playing around with it for a mash. I know some of my best beers used Maris.

sicboy723 karma

I'm in Toronto (Canada), so maple syrup pretty native ๐Ÿ˜ƒ. I really want to get into making whisky (I already make beer), but I've always wondered what the grist would be for a scotch or a rye (I can only assume it's all rye? A mix of base make and rye?)...

bobroland2 karma

The one book I would suggest for whiskeys with really good recipes is a book put out by the guys behind Corsair whiskey. I think it's called "Alt Whiskeys: Alternative whiskeys and distilling" or something.

DontTrustNeverSober3 karma

I used to make whiskey and vodka but after a few batches I had no where to store it so I only stick with beer now. My question: for someone who doesn't own a company or have any options for distributing their craft, how can they afford/store that much alcohol for personal consumption? I had barrels and I couldn't give it out to neighbors and friends fast enough.

bobroland3 karma

Most people who distill as a hobby, I found, don't do it that often. They'll make a couple of gallons every couple of weeks. Some gets aged and fills up their basements, other parts are given away.

Guy I learned from had some people who paid him for it...but I'm not giving any more details than that!

alexs0013 karma

Any truth to the claim that you can put cheap vodka through a carbon filter like a Brita and end up with something comparable to a top shelf vodka?

bobroland4 karma

Yes and no.

So, filtering (or "polishing" as we call it) strips away flavors, giving you a pure neutral spirit. Generally speaking, the better the vodka, the more pure it is.

Thing is, not everything can be stripped away. I did a test batch of a terribly misguided experiment, and wound up with five gallons of an undrinkable distillate. I've now run it through about fifteen filters, and it's still bad.

So really bad stuff can't be fixed, but the lower-mid range can be improved.

atchafalaya3 karma

Given the high amount of regulations, is there a way to do small craft distillation under an existing distillery's license? I would like to start a distilling club, but the taxes and bonded warehousing and so on are too much to handle, frankly.

bobroland5 karma

Two entirely separate licenses. That said, you could make the wash at the brewery (Don't use beer. The hops have fusel oils that really can make a mess of your still.) and then move it to another premises to distill.

Yeah, it's a mess. Then again, so was homebrewing until Carter came along and made it legal. Once distilling becomes legal (and I hope it will) there will be a chance to craft some non-idiotic regulation.

A man can dream.

atchafalaya1 karma

Not a brewery, a distillery. There are a couple of new distilleries where I live. Now that I think about it, though, if I remember right you have to pay the tax on what you produce up front and keep it in the bonded warehouse, which I guess is an expense few craft distillers would want to soak up.

Thanks for the answer, I didn't know distilling my homebrew would mess up my still. How would you clean that up?

bobroland1 karma

First, you can do a vinegar based cleaning run through it. I actually don't like this approach. I think there's a hint of an off flavor after, despite what other people say.

Our stills I disassemble and clean every piece by hand on a basis I don't think other distillers do. I can break down my stills and clean them in an hour (at first it took me three), so I do that every morning.

It's time consuming. After running through a hopped wash, it took me four hours of cleaning everything over and over again by hand and a small brush. Never again!

legitamizor3 karma

I have Celiac disease and cannot consume gluten. There are many opinions on whether or not distilled spirits that start with glutenous grains in the wash are indeed "gluten free". Can you provide any insight on this argument?

bobroland3 karma

I'm not a nutritionist, but I can tell you that my drink is gluten free. We use nothing but maple syrup to ferment with. No grains at all.

Rum and tequila would be other choices. Most vodkas as well, but you can't be sure what they used in their washes.

Wh0rse3 karma

I've been interested in the beneficial side of bacteria within foods and drink, what do you think about beer being unfiltered ? do you think that methods of filtering within beer and pasteurization are a detriment to health or can be beneficial ?

bobroland3 karma

I think unfiltered beer is super healthy, and prevents hangovers. I have no proof of this, other than I can drink homebrew until late into the night, and never feel a twinge of agony the next morning.

I know that the yeasts are full of vitamins, and makes drinking a couple pints the equivalent of eating a banana.

Or so I've been told. I might have heard it while drunk.

FUPA692 karma

Are you an alcoholic?

bobroland6 karma

I'm a drunk. Alcoholics go to meetings.

(That's too flip. Honest answer is that I probably drink more than I should, but it's never negatively impacted my life, and on days when I don't drink, I don't miss it.)

Lo-ItsBabyJesus2 karma

Whadya make and where Bob?

bobroland2 karma

We're located in Buffalo, New York. We take locally sourced maple syrup, 100% pure, ferment it, distill it, and age it in French oak barrels. The end result is somewhere between a rum and a bourbon in terms of taste.

Sadly, there's no classification for what we make, and you're not allowed to come up with a new name for it. We're not allowed to call ourselves a rum, or anything else. On our labels, we can only legally call ourselves "a craft spirit distilled from maple sugar".

It's delicious, however. Obviously, I'm biased, but our only advertising is letting people taste our product. It kind of sells itself from there.

alexs0012 karma

How do I acquire a bottle of this nectar?

bobroland2 karma

Be blessed with the privilege of living in Buffalo, NY!

Right now we're regional. If you were truly ambitious (and let's hope not too many people try this since they're sold out too often as is) you can actually call Gates Circle Wine & Liquor and they'll mail you a bottle of Black Squirrel.

Lo-ItsBabyJesus1 karma

Well if Miller are allowed call Blue Moon (yuck) a "Craft Beer" than smaller producers like yourselves should be allowed make up new drinks and call it what you want!

Interesting reading about the changes in the law in New York State that have allowed companies like yours to exist. And we hear so much about craft beer it has reached overkill at this stage so it refreshing to hear about independent spirits being produced.

bobroland3 karma

The regulations are insane. Even getting approval for a new font on our label requires months of back and forth.

Yeah, NYS did a great job (boy, I hardly ever say that) in drafting new regulations for small distillers, wineries and breweries.

The craft spirit market right now reminds me what the craft beer market was in the 1980's. I think the break out is going to happen very soon, and we're going to see some amazing things over the next decade when it comes to booze.

Breaking_Badger2 karma

Hello, I'm an avid homebrewer (when I have the opportunity; night shift really messes with my ability to brew) and I've been looking into getting materials to study up on making spirits at some point. My next purchase is going to be the Kings County Urban Guide to Moonshining. What other resources could I look into getting, since you said your society is more secretive than beer brewers?

bobroland2 karma

/r/firewater is probably the best ones to turn to. I learned from a moonshiner I knew, and doing lots of reading online. I have yet to find the perfect distilling book.

The industry needs an Alton Brown type figure to break things down and combine the science with the art in such a way to as to bring people into the industry with fresh eyes.

Orray2 karma

How have your drinking habits changed since becoming a distiller? When was the last time you got blackout drunk?

bobroland6 karma

The big difference is more what I drink then how often I drink.

I enjoy my drink, I'm not going to lie. I never drive drunk, and I'm either a happy drunk or a maudlin philosopher type drunk. Never violent or angry.

I have the equivalent of about a shot and a half in the course of my job. Sometimes more when we're making decisions on bottling and if it needs to be blended. At a tasting, I'll often have drinks with people asking about my product, so those nights are messy.

Average day is a cocktail before dinner, and a cocktail after.

Last blackout drunk was May 12th, but I've been getting blackout drunk on that date for the past fifteen years. Personal reasons.

lol-fail2 karma


bobroland2 karma

I couldn't imagine going back to a real job...no matter how tempting the paycheck!

I think you're right, and it's a good thing. When I was a teenager, you had a choice of five or six beers...and they almost all tasted the same. Today it's a world of unlimited choices. My grocery store has hundreds of different kinds of beers...and because of the diversity, some great new ideas and flavors have emerged. The spirit world is heading to that same point.

What's really great is how it allows different regions to develop their own flavors and tastes. So good!

rob4815162 karma

I bet you're referring to Wegman's kickass selection! I'm turning 21 this summer and I'll be in buffalo this fall for my last year of school. What's the name if the product you make? I want to try it.

bobroland2 karma

Welcome to Buffalo! Yeah, you'll need booze for the winter months.

It's Black Squirrel. Check out our website and it'll have a map of where we're sold. Also shoot me a PM. I'll buy you a glass somewhere.

NorbitGorbit2 karma

are there any distillers who will make custom spirits for clients who don't want to do the work of distilling?

bobroland1 karma

Yup...and I have mixed emotions. A large number of the "craft" spirits you buy are made by two or three plants in the midwest and then shipped to "craft distillers". Seems less than honest to me, to be honest, but that's just my opinion.

On the other hand, it's expensive to distill. If the person who buys the raw distillate can do something neat with it, who am I to say?

wnewy882 karma

Hello, Buffalo-area native and supporter of legal home distilling here. I would love to see your still up close, do you offer tours?

What do you think about all the recent micro-distilleries that are popping up in Buffalo? There have been a handful of new ones in recent years, and I know of at least one more that is in the very early stages.

What made you choose Buffalo?

bobroland1 karma

No tours, but we do tastings all around Buffalo, and every now and then we'll open our front room up and serve some cocktails for locals. If you follow the Black Squirrel page on Facebook, we'll create events. Also, if you say "hi" to me at a tasting, I'll pour you something nice. This is me. Say "hello"!

wnewy882 karma

Awesome, thanks!

Still curious why you chose to open up your distillery in Buffalo though. Is it because you're from the area, or is there something that attracts breweries/distilleries, or is this something that's happening in cities everywhere?

bobroland1 karma

Well, for me I moved back to Buffalo a decade ago after leaving the video game industry. I love this city, and think it's a great place to raise kids.

As for why so many distilleries and breweries...well, we're a drunken kind of town. A drinking town with a sports problem. It just makes sense!

notapuppet1 karma

I'll need to remember to try and find a tasting in between all the Duffs and Mighty while visiting my parents in August.

bobroland1 karma

We're at the big stores (Gates, Premier, etc) and in a large number of upscale restaurants. I think we have a map on our web page. If not, PM me and I'll help you find a place!

parsifals2 karma

I toured a local distillery that used hops in its wash--I see elsewhere you commented that they'd be problematic for a home distiller, but I'm wondering what are your thoughts on their impact, if any, on the final product? This distiller was of the (I'd call it) aesthetic perspective that the wash should begin as a drinkable beer.

bobroland1 karma

I've been giving this lots of thought recently, and my best guess is that any hop flavor will either be lost or transformed during the distillation stage. The bright citrus flavor of cascade hops, for example, are all lost (plus damage to your still!). I believe the hop flavor should be infused after distillation. There are a few methods to do this.

Of course, another issue is fermentation. Esters produced by the yeast are also stripped out by distillation. It's why you can have open fermentation for most whiskeys. From the evidence I've read, you don't even need to do the boil stage after the mash. The protein breakdowns you get from the boil are accomplished during distillation itself, since the temp inside a still is between 185-195 F.

In short, nobody knows. We'll find out over the next ten years as the current crop of rebel distillers start playing around!

(Oh, and I love the taste of my wash. I will bring some home and serve it on ice as a sour, tangy maple wine. Other people view me as mad when I tell them this.)

iamboobear2 karma

I just tried a hop flavored bourbon made by 3 howls. I honestly noticed very little to no hop characteristics in it.

bobroland1 karma

Haven't tried that one yet.

Check out Corsair Distillery. They make some hop whiskeys which are really, really interesting. They also make some of the cleanest hooch I ever tasted. They do things right!

DerangedSenpai2 karma

How long does it take to make one barrel and how long do you store it?

bobroland1 karma

I can't give the numbers, but we run through barrels pretty quickly.

The aging process itself is a variable. Soonest was three months, the longest we're still waiting on. It's entirely a matter of taste. We won't bottle until it's ready.

NiceBootyGuurrrrlll2 karma

Hello fellow brewer! What made you switch from brewing to distilling? And do you see craft spirits rapidly becoming more popular like craft beer?

Love that you distill maple syrup. Always wanted to distill mead, will have to give it a go someday.

bobroland1 karma

I had spent four years getting a craft brewery started. We lost an investor at the last minute, and it fell apart. I was pretty broken up about it. Thing is, you never know what doors open. My brewery led me to meeting the people who started the distillery. Life is funny like that!

Mead is fun. I've been aging some for the past five years. Five more and I'll be cracking it open!

meow_meow_rawr_2 karma

What are some ways new college grads can get jobs in this industry?

bobroland2 karma

It's tough. There aren't many jobs that open up, at least on the distilling end.

I would say just apply for any crap job you can get at a distillery, work in warehouses, cleaning tanks or distribution just to get your foot in the door. If you're lucky they could move you up to a distilling job.

The big key is to learn on your own by doing. If you can bring a mason jar of something good with you, it'll help.

Stranger_in_a_van2 karma

There was an interesting article written at or near the beginning of the craft distilling explosion. It compared craft distilling to craft brewing. They made an interesting point that craft brewers had 2 advantages over distillers: 1) Lesser regulation and capitol requirements made it easier to turn a profit and 2) Whereas the big breweries produce unremarkable beers, big distilleries have been producing quality products at a price that is difficult to compete with.

At this point, I wonder: 1) Do you think regulation played a fundamental role in repressing this market for so long? 2) How do craft distillers compare their products to the big guys? Is it better? Too close to call? Or is the goal to just be different?

bobroland3 karma

Regulations were put there to keep new companies out, no question about that. There's a reason why after prohibition all the states crafted regulations that were nearly identical to each other. Remaining companies had the money to send lobbyists to all the state capitals and put in place distribution regulations that would lock out the market. Beer never would have happened if not for gonzo enthusiasts spending decades fighting the feds to make homebrew legal...and sacrificing their livelihoods to get into craft beer because they loved it.

The second point is interesting, and it's not an easy answer.

Let's look at beer. Coors is a remarkable achievement, when you think about it. You really need good science and process to make a clean, consistent lager like that. I don't like it, but that doesn't mean I don't give credit to how well it's made.

I would say that well established distilleries make some incredible liquors. What they don't do, however, is experiment. That's where craft guys come in.

If Jack Daniels wanted to buy all the maple syrup in the world, and make a drink out of it, it wouldn't surprise me if they would make a technically superior drink to what I do. they could take a team of chemists and figure out our yeast/nutrient ratios, our process, and everything else and make it better than I could, on average. Perhaps they couldn't, though. There are very few drinkable scotches made in America.

I guess I just don't know, to be honest.

justyouraveragebear2 karma

Where are you located? What is your distillery named? And are you hiring?

bobroland2 karma

Buffalo, NY.

It's Black Squirrel Distilling.

I wish we could hire. That's a couple of years off!

Zoran1812 karma

Do you have a majestic beard?

bobroland2 karma

Meh. It's average.

Nickvee2 karma

So. What's the difference between a craft distiller and a distiller?

bobroland2 karma

I assume they get better paychecks and vacation days.

Honestly, it's a nebulous term. Is the guy working fermentation tank #57 at Budweiser a brewer in the same way that a guy at Firestone Walker is? Perhaps? Maybe?

I would say if you're under 100,000 barrels a year, you're a craft distiller.

Mr_Library2 karma

I have seen a bunch of craft operations pop up in my neck of the woods. It's an exciting time. My question other than your own tasty beverage, who else impresses you in the craft scene? Also is your product only available in the Buffalo area?

bobroland2 karma

I mentioned them before, but Corsair distilling is doing some of the most amazing things in terms of craft spirits. They'll do 5 gallon batches all the time to test a notion. They're going to crack the hopped whiskey question before anyone else.

[deleted]1 karma


bobroland2 karma

Oh, you can taste a badly produced spirit. If it smells good, go ahead and drink it.

Where it gets "you'll go blind" dangerous is when moonshiners are adding extra methanol in the mix to pump it up. Not done that often.