Amber: Hi I’m Amber Ambrose and I have Evan Hughes here of Central Standard Craft Distillery here in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. So welcome to the show.
Evan: Very nice to be with you Amber, appreciate it.
Amber: What is Central Standard Craft Distillery?
Evan: So we started in 2014; we’re a craft distillery, we’re all grain to glass. We produce a number of different spirits. We produce a Wisconsin Rye Vodka, you get a lot of that flavor from the rye, it’s delicious. We just won a gold medal at the International Spirits Competition.
Even: Thank you very much. We have a very floral gin with things like – it’s not like the London dry gin, it’s a very floral, really good warm weather drinking gin. So it has things like rose petals, lavender, schisandra berry, so you really get a floral bouquet; it’s wonderful. We have a coffee vodka; we work with a local coffee maker called Anodyne. They make a Brazilian roast for us. We take our Wisconsin Rye vodka, marry the two together, all natural process – no sugar. And then one of the large reasons we started a distillery was for the brown spirits, so we have a bourbon and a rye whiskey as well. And then outside of the products we make under the Central Standard brand, we also do some contract business as well and we make the spirits for the Kohler company; so we make a Dark Chocolate brandy and a Mint Chocolate brandy.
Amber: So that is contracted out but you’re still doing the actual process.
Evan: Yes, it’s a great partnership and they’re wonderful to work with and the products are fantastic.
Amber: You mentioned something in the beginning and it’s kind of – I hate to say a buzz phrase, but it is – but it also means something very important, grain to glass. For people that don’t know what that means that are watching right now can you explain it for us?
Evan: Yeah, sure. What that means is as a distillery we try to source everything local and understand really well where all our materials are coming from. So everything we source is actually from Wisconsin with the exception of a few of the botanicals in the gin, but we source everything local and we actually make all of the liquids.
Amber: And so obviously it’s a process to where some of these are aged and some of them don’t have to be, as far as a startup – because you guys started in 2014 –how did that process go as far as deciding what to put out when?
Evan: It was tough honestly. We started the business because we really liked brown spirits. Well we didn’t have the magic wand nor do we have the magic wand yet so we had to be very patient in the aging process. So we initially released a vodka, gin and an oat whiskey and the oat whiskey we do still make and serve at the tasting room. It’s a very unique product, it’s great in a Wisconsin Old Fashion, but again it’s un-aged whiskey; it’s essentially moonshine.
Amber: So there’s a little bite to it.
Evan: Yeah. When we started we had those three products, my wife and Pat’s wife – my partner Pat McQuillan – they both said that we learned a lot about patience as husbands. I don’t think that that was necessarily true but we did have to wait for the bourbon to be ready.
Amber: What was it like when you got that first bourbon out of the barrels?
Evan: It was amazing; it was like a dream come true. When we pull a barrel of bourbon we pull at least 4 barrels and then we mix them all together so we have a consistent flavor, but the whole process moving up, as it started aging every couple of months we’d check to see where it was, and as it became closer and closer to 2 years we started tasting a lot more frequently so it was great.
Amber: What was your plan? How did you ramp up to that? It a new product release; how did that go? Did you make a big deal out if it?
Evan: Well we tried to make a big deal of it but in a small business marketing sometimes becomes a little difficult. You have this really good plan I the future and then all of a sudden the future is next week and oh my gosh. We had a great release party for our bourbon, it was very well-received. Going back to the process for making the bourbon, we knew about what flavor profile we liked so we knew what we were putting in theoretically what it was going to turn out as. But again as a small business, as a new business, a lot of it is really just you try it. So when we first started we had put a number of different versions away so we could see how it started and then we found which one we thought was going in the right direction and then we started really ramping up that production.
Amber: Tell me about the origin story of Central Standard.
Evan: Well as I mentioned earlier I have a partner, Pat McQuillan, he’s a great guy; when I moved to Milwaukee about 10 years ago we met right away. We had gotten together about monthly to dry different rye whiskeys and bourbons and we really enjoyed it, got into craft spirits and one of those evenings I remember somewhat well we over served ourselves a little bit and decided this was what we wanted to do.
We had talked about starting a small business, creating a brand here in Milwaukee with something, and what better than spirits? We started the business to minimize our risk; we have a great, beautiful tasting room with a small distilling footprint but we knew that we could prove the concept before scaling the business. So in February we bought a building over near Marquette here in Milwaukee. It’s 12,000sq ft so we’re really going pro now.
Amber: Did you know how to distill?
Even: Theoretically we did, we never had distilled. The biggest difference really between brewing and distilling when you’re going to start a craft brew you can legally home brew. You can try different things out, you can figure out if you’re going to be pretty good at it. For distilling it’s a leap of faith. It’s illegal to home distil so it’s interesting. We really did have to take a leap of faith and hired bright people, smarter people than us with the right science background that definitely knew what they were doing.
Amber: That makes sense. Speaking of, I don’t think we can do this episode without tasting your product.
Evan: Well obviously.
Amber: So please guide me through the different flavor profiles.
Evan: Absolutely. So if you stick your nose in you’re not going to breathe through your nose, you’re actually going to inhale through your mouth. So put it right by your nose and then breathe in and then it really coats your tongue. So you can get a lot of those flavors from the start and then you just tip it back.
Amber: So this is the proper way to drink a good bourbon?
Evan: It is, absolutely.
Amber: Mouth breathe it in.
Evan: Yep, you coat your palate and then just taste it. You’re going to get a lot of caramel and vanilla flavors followed by a lot of oak from the barrel.
Amber: And a tiny little bit of candy or brulee type of thing.
Evan: The best part about flavor profiles is you’re never wrong because it’s whatever you taste.
Amber: That’s true. On that note, cheers Evan.
Amber: Thanks for joining us today on BusinessMakers.
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