Hello everyone! My name is Bob Roland, and I'm the Head Distiller for Adirondack Distilling Company here in Utica, NY. I did an AMA a few years back that people seemed interested in, but I had to take it down at the request of my previous employer. Since I'm at a new company that doesn't have that issue, I figured I would give it another shot.

I started off, years ago, as a home brewer with a dream. I left my previous job as a tech consultant, and now spend my days making hooch. I work hard, I work long hours, and I love every minute of it!

Happy to answer any questions people might have about distilling or booze in general!

My proof!

Edit: Wow! What a response. I wish I could have answered everything. I just spent the last twelve hours at work, however, so eventually even I have to call it a day. I'm shutting the stills down right now.

I'll try to answer some tomorrow!

In the meantime, since someone asked, here's a picture of one of our two distillery cats. This one is named Tonic. His brother, Gin, is more camera shy!

Comments: 1141 • Responses: 80  • Date: 

dcbourbon73674 karma

Not trying to be skeptical or negative with this question, I ask it sincerely. Whiskey is sometimes described as a rare industry where corporate giants offer truly superior quality than the craft side, due to the complexities/time requirements/high costs associated with aging, batch control, etc. As a craft distiller, what do you see as the endgame for the consumer who may buy your bottle? Is the goal competing with the big guys and taking on corporate hegemony? Is it representing an area, in this case NE, through spirits? Is it being unique? Is it a sincere belief that craft bourbon can be as good as something like Booker's, since they are usually in that price range? I'd like to try more craft whiskeys, including yours, but I have never met one that wasn't young, hot, and weak, and in the words of the great George Dubya, fool me once....sorry if this question is too direct and abrasive.

bobroland1107 karma

Not abrasive at all! In fact, I agree with you.

Right now craft vodkas and gins are better than the big guys, in many cases.

Aged spirits? Well, that's a different story.

Most of the craft whiskeys I've had have been disappointing. Even when I know the guys and gals involved, I wouldn't buy a bottle of their product for myself.

I've been lucky. I've worked for two companies who have been able to make a great product. Even so, I'm the first to admit that my bourbon isn't the best bourbon a person can buy. It's good. Really good, but it's going to be years and years before I bottle something that will go from "really good" to "best drink I ever had". It may be that a barrel I lay down this month will be opened by my son in fifteen years and be amazing. Hell, I'm almost 50. I may not be around.

That doesn't mean that I don't wake up every day trying to be a little better. Learning something new. Approaching a new idea. It's part of the job that drives me.

I do think that in the future, with more experiments being tried, that the craft explosion will pay off. You mentioned representing an area. That's a great example where I have an advantage over the big guys. I'm proud to use local corn, and I'm happy that it produces a flavor that represents the area.

Most craft distillers will fail. Some that remain will be bought up. In time, and within this decade, there will be some amazing age spirits from the little guys. That will help change the landscape.

The key, I feel, is having a model that allows for sales that don't rely upon aggressive aging or NGS. Here at Adirondack, we're diverse enough to allow us time to age our products...and that's just going to make what we bottle better and better.

Bananannanana447 karma

What do you usually order at a bar?

bobroland785 karma

I'm a scotch drinker, at heart. If they have a nice peaty scotch, I'm a happy guy. If I know the bartender, I'll have a drop of water, but other than that I prefer it neat.

Other than that, I'll order the bourbon that I make, if they have it. I have to admit, I still get a thrill tasting what I make all day!

AnyDogWillSuffice291 karma

Why do you only order the water drop if you know the bartender?

bobroland626 karma

Well, I've seen bartenders who are unable to understand what a drop consists of. It's also a pain in the ass for the bartender. I served my time on the other side, dealing with customers. I get it.

One should always go for a bartender they trust!

PorkRindSalad164 karma

What's this about a drop of water? I'm not a scotch drinker so I'm asking as a voyeur.

bobroland233 karma

It helps to open up the flavors and aroma. It doesn't get to a point of hydro-stasis so it doesn't really make it watered down, either.

dmandnm137 karma

So I bought a bottle of Laphroig 10 the other day and have enjoyed it quite a lot. You're saying a drop, like a literal drop of water will make it better?

bobroland113 karma

yup! Give it a try!

Deruji69 karma

Does it bother you to say scotch? I know it's the term in America, but if you're talking an Islay whisky, we've at least similar tastes.

bobroland57 karma

I'll raise a toast to that!

willbo2013417 karma

What about your job keeps you in high spirits?

bobroland490 karma

Ha! I'll drink to that question!

Which, then again, is the answer to that question now that I think about it!

Gajatu126 karma

After watching the show "Moonshiners," I'm left wondering... if you're looking to produce a quality whiskey, are you better off having a high alcohol content and distilling once (for example, adding sugar to the mash and using yeast with a really high attenuation) or going with a lower initial alcohol content and then perhaps distilling twice?

Does the lack of a pool of (legal) hobbyists in any way affect innovations in whiskey production? Specifically, I'm thinking of how home brewers and smaller breweries affected the current craft beer market.

bobroland150 karma

Well, I think you should ferment down as low as you can. That said, I'm a fan of doing a stripping run and creating a low wine before making a whiskey. It helps to avoid off flavors and let you really dial in where you want to go. (Remember to never distill anything more than 40 proof in your still! One vapor leak and suddenly you're without eyebrows!)

Buttock110 karma

I'm probably too late but screw it, I'll ask anyway. I started working at a local distillery a few years ago. As I was completely new to the scene I worked for free for just under a year to kinda earn my place. Eventually, the head distiller stuck up for me and I managed to actually get paid to assistant distill. Not long after, the boss decided he didn't like paying me and laid me off.

After that, I got a job at a much bigger place in NY. However, they only needed a bartender and I was only working on ciders and such temporarily. I got hit in the head with a keg and laid off while recovering.

Every boss and higher up I've met in this business is a complete scumbag and takes advantage of their employees. Almost every distiller, assistant distiller, cider maker, etc I've met is miserable. The pay blows, the hours go way over normal every week, and the bosses are terrible. Almost everyone seems to be trying to get out of the business.

I've lost faith in the whole ordeal, as the only people that seem to be starting distilleries (at least in NJ) seem to be rich assholes that have no idea what they're doing and won't lift a finger to help. Not to mention, they all think workers live to work.

Do you think there is any hope? It seems like the start up costs for distilleries are just too high and only rich people have a shot.

bobroland139 karma

Well, there is hope.

I got lucky with both the distilleries I worked at. In one case, I knew the owners previously. In this case, I got lucky. I wasn't going to take the job unless I got along with them and was given some autonomy. Fortunately, the owners are great, the product is great, and everything is well funded.

Can't say I've met many unhappy distillers. Then again, I only hire people who love what they do...plus they see me busting my hump harder than they do!

Hours are long, and pay isn't great...but I've never been happier!

Keep an eye on /r/thedistillery . When I'm hiring my next assistant distiller I'll post there. I'm a scumbag, but I think I'm a pretty decent boss!

jetsdude99 karma

How did you get involved in making homemade liquor? And do you have any tips? Been making wine at home (out of a box kit) but it very much feels like a gateway.

bobroland149 karma

Well, I should point out that currently it's against the law to distill spirits without permission from the feds.

However, /r/firewater is a good starting point.

Also, not that I would suggest anything against the law, but one problem people have is starting too small. You need to be able to make cuts for good liqour, and that requires a larger volume.

Bn_scarpia31 karma

What would you suggest is a good starting volume for a home distiller? 5gal? 10 gal? More?

bobroland75 karma

I would say never less than 10. I've never been able to make proper cuts on a smaller size!

mattreyu93 karma

Any stories of brewing gone wrong while you were making the jump to a new career?

bobroland191 karma

Oh, when I started I was the worst homebrewer!

It started while sitting on a porch and bemoaning how I couldn't find good beer around me. My buddy and I then decided to make our own beer. We bought a can of malt extract and made every mistake known to man. Exploding bottles, infections, off flavors. Tell you, though, that first beer I made still remains as a sense memory for me as the best beer ever.

As for early distilling disasters...well, I sure would never admit in public that I might have had a homemade still with some real quirky issues!

Bn_scarpia52 karma

Thanks for doing this AMA!

I found an old copper still in my late grandparents old barn. Probably 20-30 gallons.

Im planning on cleaning it up and trying to make a batch for me and my friends. All of the instructions I can find online talk about throwing away the first 50mL foreshots. This seems to be for 10L or so of wash, though. Should the ratio scale for a larger run? I dont want to go blind.

bobroland77 karma

Well, don't worry about going blind. That came from when the government was literally poisoning alcohol during prohibition!

So, coming up first is the foreshot, even before the heads. All sort of nasty stuff you want to ditch. Don't worry, the smell and taste is unmistakable. It's the easiest cut to make.

Here's the thing. Without knowing the starting gravity of the wash, it's impossible to say "throw out x number of liters". Making cuts relies as much upon your sense of taste and smell as it does what should be the expected yield.

suaveitguy42 karma

How do you stay on top of alcoholism? Is it an issue in the industry? You must be required to taste booze while making it, and then at industry events or promotional events?

bobroland120 karma

I figured it out the other day. I consume, just through tasting, the equivalent of three shots every day. When I go home, I have a drink every day. That puts me at 4 drinks a day as a baseline during the week.

Toss in social events, and just enjoying some beers and there's a problem.

Honestly, people in this industry are functional alcoholics. There's almost no way around it!

poopsmitherson39 karma

Ive got a few questions.

1) I’ve heard pros say both that the raw material is really what makes the difference and that the quality of the malt/grain doesn’t make much difference since you’re distilling. What’s your take?

2) What kinda of yeast do you use? I assume this would make one of the biggest impacts on final flavor profile since the fermentation byproducts of different yeast strains can be so varied. (Home brewer here)

3) What do you think the end product would be like if you have the malt a ferulic acid test and then fermented with a Hefeweizen strain to really give it a powerful banana/clove flavor in the wash?

4) Do you think any of the difference between bad booze and delicious booze is running a clean fermentation, even if it’s going to be distilled? I’ve seen many distillers claim fermentation doesn’t matter as much but I don’t buy that.

5) What actually carries through from a sour mash that makes sour mash whiskey so distinct? Does the lactic acid actually come through in the distillate?

6) thoughts on what the end product would be of a Brett/pedio/sour beer-style fermentation/aging prior to distilling? (Not practical from a business perspective I know)

bobroland51 karma

1) Oh, the base product matters so much. My sour mash doesn't taste like other sour mashes because of the corn I use. If I had to use different corn, I wouldn't get the same flavors! (Vodka, on the other hand, is a different matter. When making whiskey, you want flavors from the mash to be present!)

2) We use a yeast from Lalvin that makes champagne yeast look weak. Yeast absolutley has an impact on flavor, but not nearly as much as it doesn with beer.

3) I've pondered that before. Sadly, I have yet to really experiment.

4) So this was the hardest part of going from brewing to distilling. The idea of just opening up a fermenter to take a measurment? Not sanitizing the tanks first!? What madness!! So at my first job I went as anal with the ferment as I did when I was brewing. After a while I realized it didn't matter. Not even a little. At this point I would comfortable if I came in and found a hobo bathing in a fermenter. Long as the sugars get converted.

4) Nope. Good booze and bad booze is based on the beginning materials, the skill of the distiller (and equipment!) and the barrels used after.

The other two questions? I'm just not sure. God knows, folks have theories. Someday I would love the time to examine them!

Jim10539 karma

Most people have heard of Great American Beer Fest (GABF).

Is there a Great American Whiskey Fest? Or something along that line?

bobroland53 karma

Not that I'm aware of. Then again, there's not much on the planet like GABF. One of these years I have to go back to that...assuming I ever have a day off in the next five years!

I will be doing a smaller and more regional affair at the end of this month, Buffalo Whiskey Fest. 75 distillers will be presenting. Since it's my second home, it seems like a good time to poke my head away from the stills!

rottinguy21 karma

There is a Craft Brewing and Distilling Festival in Watkins Glen every year. It is amazing. I'd love to see you there this year.

bobroland14 karma

I'll look it up!

CelticRockstar35 karma

Have you ever made a "bad" batch of whiskey? What did you do with it?

I bought the best bottle of whiskey I think I've ever had, from Bainbridge Organic Distillers. It won double gold medal or something, but more to the point, was amazing. As a fancy gift for a friend two years later, I bought another two bottles, one for me and one for her. Upon opening my bottle, I was horribly embarrassed I had gotten one for her as the flavor was nowhere near what that first bottle had been, and honestly was pretty terrible in my opinion.

I tried to (politely) inquire if they had any changes to their process (they had begun to get "big" in those two years) and they were very cagey as to why the two whiskys taste so different.

Do you think they went the neutral spirits route after becoming more successful? Or just rushed the batch?

bobroland48 karma

So far I've been lucky. There was one batch I made at a previous company that was far too astringent. Dumping product is tough. It's a bunch of money down the drain.

Then again, a distillery is only one bad bottle away from permanently losing a customer. I refuse to put out something that's inferior.

In the case of Bainbridge, it could have been a situation where they changed distillers or changed process. Impossible to say. It could have been in the middle of holiday rush and they didn't take the time for quality control. God knows, distilleries get crazy between November 1st and the end of the year.

Finchypoo32 karma

Does your distillery have a cat? It's traditional, pls post picture of said cat.

bobroland41 karma

We have two! Their names are Gin and Tonic!

Here's a picture of Tonic. Gin is somewhere around here.

LongDistRider31 karma

How much does alcohol content actually effect the flavor?

bobroland53 karma

Well, whenever people come to the distillery, I let them taste the distillate coming off the stills. It's extremely high proof and it's hard for the taste buds to really get a sense of.

grandejugoso26 karma

Crazy to see another person from Utica on here, let alone someone doing an AMA. Do you sell your product to just bars around Varick? And do you ever find yourself competing with the Cooperstown Distillery or is that too far away

bobroland33 karma

Oh, we're in 22 states already! More to come!

I'm not sure I view other distillers as competition, exactly. I think the market is big enough for even more. I plan on stopping by Cooperstown after the busy season ends so I can check them out!

If you're in the brewery district, stop by and say hello! I'll give you a tour and pour you many samples!

grandejugoso17 karma

Yeah im right up the road from the brewery district so ill be around when i can. And Wow i wouldnt have realized how extensive it is, mostly because im too young to buy it myself lmao. Ill take you up on your offer in a few years

bobroland17 karma

Ha! We'll still be here!

cheatreynold23 karma

Fellow Head Distiller calling in from Canada! Glad to see you love it like I do.

  • I'll be honest I just like talking shop, especially equipment. Number of plates in your still? Manufacturer? Do you ferment on or off the grain?
  • What's your opinion on which gives a better quality product: fermenting on, or off, the grain?
  • The barrier to entry in making Bourbon seems to be really high, even more so as a startup, given the need for new oak barrels. What do you feel you did right to make it work for you?
  • Lastly, how is it working with mashing and fermenting corn? We deal with wheat and rye exclusively, and while it's something I'm interested in working with the need for additional equipment (such as a pressure cooker to gelatinize the corn) makes it look cost prohibitive.

bobroland18 karma

Damn! If not for the border I would suggest swapping bottles! (If you're ever close to the Niagara Falls border, let me know! Perhaps we can do some smuggling like in the old days! I still commute back to Buffalo on the weekends!)

I suspect with wheat, the brewers have the right idea when it comes to fermenting. For corn it's a different story.

Barrels are actually not really an expense any more. I use a barrel for bourbon and then for whiskey. After that, I sell them. It's amazing how many people want them. I have a waiting list for them that I will never be able to fully meet. I'm almost able to turn them into something that generates a minimal revenue instead of being an expense.

Corn is tough. I mean, it smells great when we're cooking it, but it clogs pumps, is a pain to keep from putting back into the water supply, and on mash days I'm sure to be covered head to toe with it. I now keep a change of clothes here just for mash days!

Nats_Fan22 karma

Hi! I have a couple of questions:

  1. Some ryes, like Sazerac Rye, have minimal spiciness, while some bourbons with fairly low rye bills, like Wild Turkey, can have a pronounced rye profile. Someone on another sub commented that it has to do with how the rye is treated, like if the sugars are fully boiled. Have you experimented with extracting sugars at different temps?

  2. Do you use full size barrels for aging?

bobroland40 karma

It's funny. I've worked with so many materials in distillation. I've distilled from Maple syrup, honey, wheat, corn, apples, wines, etc. I've never worked with rye. No idea why not. I love rye whiskey. So, I guess I don't feel qualified to give a good answer on that.

As for barrels, we use a variety. It allows us to aggressively age in smaller barrels, while the majority age in big barrels. The art of blending is to find a way to make our product consistent, while still continually improving. I appointed a "cellar master" at the company, so that I can have a flavor profile for every barrel we have at the ready. When a big barrel is ready for harvesting, I have some options to play with the flavor profile.

Tasting booze for a living. It's a tough job, but somebody has to do it!

LongDistRider15 karma

What is the keys to the perfect bourbon?

bobroland17 karma

Well, in my mind it starts from the corn. We order locally grown sweet corn that smells incredible from the minute I start cooking it.

Next important part is the distilate itself. So, obviously the idea is to extract as much ethanol from the fermented sugars as possible. Still, there are a number of byproducts that come up in the course of distillation. Most of them are bad, some of them are good. It's not just making "cuts" at the right time, it's continually monitoring your stills.

Then there's the barrels. So much flavor comes from the wood!

Finally, there's knowing the perfect time to harvest from the barrels. I only bottle when the time is right. Only way to tell is to taste every month to know where you're at.

xynix_ie12 karma

Hmm. I'm growing my own corn right now (I'm in South Florida, all year growing season). It's purely organic sweet corn. Can I use that to make my own bourbon?

bobroland16 karma

Hell yes!!

LongDistRider6 karma

Thank you for your reply.

So much flavor comes from the wood!

How do the different wood species and variations influence the flavor of the finished bourbon?

Would you be interested in trading a bottle of a local Woodinville Whiskey bourbon for a bottle of yours?

bobroland13 karma

Well, I used to make a product that was aged in French oak as opposed to American oak. I can tell you that the flavor difference is worlds apart!

One of the things I find fascinating is the differences in each kind of barrel. We've tried a number of them, and makes the process of blending a very interesting affair.

I would love to do a swap!

trophyguy14 karma

Being a Utican, can I get some free samples?

bobroland22 karma

Stop on by during the weekday! I'll show you around and pour you many a sample!

tcruarceri13 karma

Hey Bob, i run the spirits dept of a small shop on LI with my coworker. Would love to taste your products and maybe get them on our shelves, are you self distributing or going through someone?

bobroland11 karma

We have distributors, but we can also self distribute. Shoot me an email at [email protected] and I'll pass it along to our sales guy!

Dthibzz13 karma

Hi! So my little brother is now at the head of a small craft distillery here in Wisconsin. He's only 26, just wound up in the right place at the right time and busted his ass earning it, I'm incredibly proud of him. What advice would you have for him as he works to advance his career?

bobroland18 karma

Wow! I would have been terrible t this when I was 26! Good for him!

Never cut corners. Be the first to show up, and the last to leave. Stand your ground, and be willing to say "no" to the owners. Never sacrifice quality.

Oh, and make sure you drink for pleasure after your shift! It's an industrial job, and there are many ways to get hurt if you're drunk!

diamondsealtd12 karma

I thought bourbon can only be made in Kentucky?

bobroland16 karma

It can be made anywhere, but currently the best come out of the south.

Give me a few years! I would like to see a day where somebody says the best bourbon comes from Utica!

mrseras10 karma

How does price reflect qualify of produce? Is there a point where you’re just paying for branding? What advice can you give someone who would like to buy a “nice” spirit.

bobroland9 karma

It's tough. Usually price reflects quality, but not always.

It's an odd thing to buy for someone. We become "set" in our preferences, you know?

MajorHop10 karma

I'm from the Central New York area, and have tried one of the older batches of the 601 bourbon. I have to be honest that I wasn't much of a fan. It had herbal flavors mixed with a very sharp grain bite. I know that being craft its hard to have aged stock like the big guys, but what are your long term plans for aging your whisky offerings? Your bourbon was also a 100% corn mashbill, if that's the case is there any reason behind why you chose not to use rye, wheat, or barley as either flavor or germination grains? Why not pursue a actually Straight Corn whisky instead?

Don't get me wrong, I would love to see the local small guys succeed, the 601 is just not what I'm currently looking for in my bourbon flavor profile.

bobroland30 karma

Well, sorry you didn't have a good experience.

Honestly, I did enjoy it when I first tasted it. I was prepared to tun down the job offer, since I couldn't imagine making something I didn't drink myself.

I will say this, however. As head distiller I'm working on making our product better and better every day. We now have a system in place for tasting barrels on a regular basis, and only harvesting a barrel when it's ready...and I'm a stickler on that.

I also put in place the idea of continual improvement. We move the needle every single day. It's not big changes all at once, but a process of ongoing change.

Give us a try in a year or so. Or stop by and I can walk you through what we're doing, let you taste from our barrels, and see the changes we're making!

Plus our whiskey is pretty damn tasty. I'll pour you some!

htc010 karma

How much does water quality influence distilling? Is there a benefit to using spring water over other water sources?

bobroland7 karma

Water is incredibly important. Water is always added to cut it down to proof. We use a great filtration system, and we're blessed with some great water here!

suaveitguy9 karma

What's the best cheap whiskey? Anything good at rotgut prices?

bobroland21 karma

NYE, I was at a dive bar watching the Bills win. Only whiskey they had that I wasn't aware of was Paddy's Whiskey. I know nothing about it, but I was pleasantly surprised. Not nearly as bad as I thought.

I also think that some low end rye whiskeys make for great cocktails.

VividElites15178 karma

Do you think it’s fair that making whiskey can be a career but growing weed is a crime?

bobroland18 karma

Nope. I'm all for legal weed as well! I would love to make a THC infused vodka!

suaveitguy8 karma

What's the best hangover cure?

bobroland35 karma

For me, it's a fatty breakfast with lots of carbs and lot's of spice.

I'll take a good roll, butter it and lightly grill the botom. I'll add some spicy sausage and eggs. Then I'll pour on the Frank's hot sauce. Seems to work.

Oh, also try to drink a glass of water for every drink you consumed that night. You won't be able to, but try your best!

ifiwereabravo8 karma

How did you start in this trade?

bobroland17 karma

So, I started as guy who loved good beer but was also a cheap bastard. Figured it had to be easier to make beer than pay for it, right? (It isn't. Brewing beer quickly becomes an expensive hobby!)

Along the way I became pretty good at it. Good enough to think about starting my own company. I arranged for the location, built the brand, etc. At the last minute, the funding for the brewery fell through and I was accepting of giving up my dream.

Funny thing is, along the way, I made contacts.

I think I've become really good at my job. I hope so at any rate. I came in with a background that makes me a pretty good manager, and a stickler for details.

Oh, and a cast iron liver!

Wolframinn7 karma

What do you feel when people mix your whisky with other things lije coke or energy drink?

bobroland13 karma

Thankfully, I make a "forget about the things witnessed tonight" potion, so I can block such things from my mind!

Luckyaussiebob7 karma

Hi Bob, nice name

What are your thought on the mini barrels and the mini barrel aging? Do you or would you sell new make spirit for folks to purchase and age themselves?

bobroland7 karma

I like the idea, but the problem is that every new package takes about six months to get federal approval for. It's a crazy process.

That said, we make a white whiskey that's pretty damn amazing. Someone buying that and a small barrel might just be able to make something real tasty!

PrometheusSmith10 karma

A local distillery has started doing their custom service that lets you age your own barrel of whiskey for as long as you'd like, but it stays on the premises. When you're ready they'll bottle it for you. I've thought about doing it, but prices start at about $5000 for a 10 gallon barrel and I'm not exactly flush with cash.

bobroland6 karma

That's.....really interesting. I'm not even sure how you do that legally. I love the idea, though! I'll talk to our lawyer about it!

Fittritious6 karma

Do you start from neutral spirits, or truly from scratch? I don't know anything about the industry, what is standard? Do some distilleries start with purchased neutral spirits?

bobroland20 karma

I start with 2,000 pounds of crushed corn, and go from there. Nothing else.

Yeah, neutral spirits are the dirty secret of the industry. So many "craft" distilleries are using ethanol they purchase from a large factory. I wish there was some way for consumers to know, but there really isn't.

When I started distilling, I promised myself I would never do it, and I would never work for a place that did. I kept the promise.

suaveitguy5 karma

What do you think of Innis and Gunn?

bobroland14 karma

I love using barrels with beer. The end results are always so tasty.

I've been selling our used 5 gallon whiskey barrels to home brewers. Just started last week and I'm creating a list of people who want them. I expect some beer from them in return!

dawdawditdawdaw5 karma

Am I wrong in my line of thinking that a Vodka, is a Vodka, is a Vodka? You see some pretty crazy expensive Vodka but after it is triple filtered charcoal reverse fuxored is it not just a clear distilled spirit just like the cheap stuff?

bobroland4 karma

Well, two parts there. First is what the vodka is made out of. Really makes a difference. Next is how careful the distiller is with his or her cuts.

Most vodka though, in my opinion, is overpriced.

Gidget_Pottyshorts5 karma

I've never tried distilling/brewing anything (not sure I've got the terminology right), but I'd like to try. Any tips on what I should try making and how I could go about it cheaply and relatively easily?

bobroland7 karma

See if there's a home brew shop in your area. You'll find the owners are going to be really helpful and friendly. Best bet is to spend about a hundred bucks for some buckets, some extract and other little things. Will you make a great beer? Nope. Might taste it to you, but not to others. Still, you'll learn the basics and understand the importance of process.

Warning! Eventually it'll be so much fun you may wind up with twenty gallons of kegged beer in your basement. Happened to me!

stoneocelot4 karma

What would you recommend as a set up for producing 50,000 gallon a year of finished spirits? Half going to clear spirits half going to the barrel.

bobroland9 karma

I would recommend having twice as much money as you think you would need!

Honestly, that's pretty aggressive. You would want at least two 3,200 liter stills and about six 4,000 liter fermenters.

That's just back of the envelope thoughts, mind you.

hacksawgrahamdugan4 karma

Any thoughts about the big Japanese distillers (nikka, suntory) going from age statements to no age statements?

bobroland7 karma

I like transparency when it comes to the spirits I buy. That said, the regulations covering labels are already too obtrusive and lack flexibility. I'm sure there's a happy medium there somewhere!

kenderwolf4 karma

How do you feel about people who drink scotch different ways? I forego the water for a couple small ice cubes and receive a lot of judgements from people who don't even drink scotch.

bobroland18 karma

I know how I like my booze. I'm pretty particular.

That said, I never judge a person for the way they drink. That's some pretentious nonsense, and in my mind the point of booze is to strip away pretension.

If someone wants to make a milkshake with everclear, NyQuil, Thunderbird and milk, I wouldn't stop 'em. Wouldn't drink it, but I sure wouldn't judge 'em for it!

Jorp_Porp3 karma

I work in the beer industry and I have two questions -

1.) How's the pay in the industry? Do the medium sized/big guys maintain a QC lab with people specifically hired as lab techs?

2.) I've noticed that excessive alcohol use is a fairly big issue in the beer industry. Is this also an issue in spirits, and if so, is it being addressed?

bobroland7 karma

1) Oh, the pay is terrible. On the bright side, you get to work long hours and break your back. On the more serious side, I make far less than what I used to. Even at the top, I make less than what I could make as a guy in an IT department.

I can't think of a single distillery or brewery that has dedicated lab techs. I'm sure they exist, but it's a luxury. usually the lab work is done by everyone. You have to wear lots of hats.

For me, it's the best job in the world. I've never been happier. It was a trade off that worked for me.

2) Just as bad in the spirits world. It's hard. I mentioned in another answer that just the duties of my job requires consuming the equivalent of 3 or 4 drinks. Now, it's small amounts over many hours, but it still exists. There's also the social side of the business, where everyone is there because they love booze.

No good answers to be found, for sure!

PMmeyourspecials3 karma

I have a question about allergies. I am allergic to wheat, rye, barley, etc,. And as a result I cannot try many brown liquors. I understand that it's fine after the distillation process, but some makers add a 'dossage' (?) or original un-distilled 'dose' back into the liquor after distillation. Mostly for color and flavor. Since many times that information is a trade secret, I have a hard time finding which liquors I can and cannot drink. Any ideas or suggestions?

bobroland4 karma

Sounds dumb, but call the distillery. If it's a small distillery, odds are the head distiller will be available to talk to you.

In our case, it's nothing more than corn. Nothing else.

DirtyThi3f3 karma

How do you feel about craft distillers using sourced whiskey?

Is this generally accepted as ok until a business is old enough to have some actual aged product?

Should a craft distiller have to finish somehow?

Should the industry organize and set some standards?

Do you see the big wigs trying to suppress craft growth? (this has been a huge issue with beer up here in Canada).

bobroland7 karma

It's a tough subject, and I have no answers.

i know that I would hate to sell something I didn't make with my own two hands.

Then again, I also don't buy bread. I make it myself. Jam as well. Not that store bought jam and bread are bad, I just like the process of making them.

I like making real, honest to god, whiskey.


What are your thoughts on further maturing whisky in non-invasive vessels post-oak barrels via glass carboys and/or stainless steel tanks?

If you believe that resting in glass carboys further matures/alters the whisky, how is that process different from having a bottle of whisky rest in its 750ml glass?

Thank you!

bobroland2 karma

I can't see any mechanism that would lead to whiskey maturing when in glass, or any spirit for that matter. We use glass, after all, to keep the flavor the same.

Steel seems to transfer flavors after a bit. Who knows if it's my imagination, though!

sweetlemon122 karma

What do you think is the best way to go about becoming a professional brewer?

bobroland7 karma


I mean, you learn by doing in this industry. Most breweries I know won't hire anyone unless they were a home brewer.

It's a tough job, like distilling. Both are 90% janitorial, 5% lab tech, 4% lifting heavy objects and 1% art. That 1% is the best part!

The_Full_Moon_Wolf2 karma

As a head distiller and a maker of alochol, how do you feel about the drinking age? Should it be 21, 18, 16 or another age?

bobroland3 karma

Oh, I would rather see there not be a drinking age. I think parents should allow their children to sample wine and beer, so they learn how to drink responsibly and not binge.

Then again, I'm also for legal weed and the like, so obviosuly nobody ever asks me!

SafeInTheArdennes2 karma

One thing that I’ve always been confused about with new distillers: home distilling is illegal, but seems like a common way to get experience. How do you (hypothetically) make the jump from home distilling to working in legit distilling? Can you imply somehow on a resume that you have home experience without implicating yourself?

bobroland8 karma

There's the rub. Not saying that the first job I interviewed for involved a mason jar full of shine, but I'm not saying i didn't, either!

suaveitguy2 karma

What do you think of flavored whiskeys?

bobroland4 karma

Tough one. It's nothing I normally enjoy drinking, but it's important to never be closed off about new ideas. I will say that I just experimented with something that I think has potential. I'll let you know in a few months!

Marcbmann1 karma

What percentage yield are you getting from a ferment? Rum I've seen 10% of the ferment volume translate to final bottled volume (i.e. 100 liter ferment yields 10l @ 80 proof) . How do your whiskey ferments compare?

bobroland2 karma

Here's what drives me crazy. I don't have enough data yet. When I started, nobody had kept any records on the subject. I started doing it from day one, but I've also been playing around with the grain bill.

I should know in about three months or so what the real numbers are.

To people starting distillers, anal record keeping of data is the only way you get better!

BeckWreck1 karma

I like most things Suntory makes. What do you recommend I try next?

bobroland2 karma

I love Hakushu. I love it so much.

Hmm....now I'm checking my bank account to see if I can afford to get any tonight!

Snakebite71 karma

If you specialize in making other spirits, why have you not contacted one of those "ghost chaser" type shows for easy advertising?

I feel like if you have the means to create spirits or other varieties of ghosts on command they would love to get into business with you

bobroland3 karma

Necromancy is the first step to becoming a distiller!

WildOscar661 karma

Bob, are there any other craft distillers in the northeast that you think are doing a particularly good job? Privateer Rum jumps to mind for me, but I've tried several from Vermont as well.

bobroland3 karma

I really love Uncle Jumbo's vodka out of Buffalo. So damn good. Black Squirrel, my former employer, makes some great product ( rum made out of maple syrup).

Phlox_carolina-1 karma

Why should I believe that your are a distiller?

bobroland4 karma

Stop by the distillery and I'll pour you a drink?