Workhorse PaleHorse Rye "LeBaron" Whiskey
"As a bartender I was underwhelmed by the lack of terroir in whiskeys in general and the lack of quality grain and diversity of aging styles in American whiskeys in particular. Starting at the grain is probably the best way to communicate the expense and distinction of this product. The first thing to note on all Workhorse distillates is that the grain I source is really different and I am hoping the word “terroir” can be accepted in the whiskey world. It’s not available in a catalog or shipped to your door in a bag*. It's not as difficult as coffee sourcing but hey, my main farmer doesn’t even have a website or email listed, and to boot he is in the middle of nowhere, so that was a particularly hard one to find although immensely rewarding.
This grain is non-irrigated, non-sprayed; a die hard method with healthy and flavorful results that I’ve seen and touched. In this age of tangibly felt and seen climate change, I am more confident than ever that going this extra mile is the best thing to do. It also produces more delicious and vibrant flavors naturally. Such is why I like to keep the oak in the back seat with the grain and distillation style in the front.
This rye grain is considered extremely low starch, therefore it has low conversion into sugar, therefore low yield of alcohol. Why is that desirable? Well, we don’t JUST care about the alcohol right? We of course also care about the flavor made alongside it. The enzymes, vitamins, acids, minerals, bacteria, etc inherent to a truly organic plant make for a very healthy and fruity ferment. Healthy and complex yeast colonies create more flavor/phenol compounds that are able to be latched on to ethanol molecules during distillation. The premise of aging in barrels for years is that alcohol is digesting various acids and does so more rapidly with plenty of oxygen to help deteriorate, aka oxidize, these new volatile compounds into more “caramelized" and palatable flavors and aromas. So just like with natural wine you have a more living thing from the very beginning of the plant before it even gets to your glass. Another thing to note is that we distill once and on the grain, so this allows for a very robust and direct connection to the grain while still being precise and clean.
-grown without sprays and without municipal irrigation
-two rye sources in California: Tulelake and Grass Valley, both grown by independent and passionate farmers, both are comprised of rich volcanic soil
-picked up fresh, direct from the farmer
-in 2018 we started using the new operation Admiral Malt in Oakland who source epic quality, non-spray, dry-farmed California barley
-fermented to 12% ABV on the grain
-slow, single distillation
-300 gallon copper pot still
-top diamond cut of hearts only
-recycled condenser water
-80% of all our cooperage is used (whiskey, wine, rum) casks for both spirit-forward (as opposed to barrel-forward) flavor and sustainability reasons
-new casks are exclusively from Kelvin Cooperage in Kentucky, one of the only American cooperages utilizing European quality methods (2-3 year air dried staves, handmade, and slowly toasted)
-most are finished in glass before being proofed and bottled, this allows for further development of the spirit without further barrel development. Most of the practices I employ are from Europe, Peru, Mexico, and Japan. Glass aging, various barrel blending, bottle resting, and solera are all borrowed from international spirit producers.
*EXCEPT for the source that Tartine shared which is Camas Heritage Mills in the Willamette Valley, they don’t have a catalog but you can call them and order grain. So besides that my farmers are *soooo punk rock* that they really only sell their grain to local co-ops or bakeries, my farmer does not have another brewer or distiller client. This is important in talking about uniqueness but also when it comes to ethos, these folks grow in an expensive fashion, and lose crops routinely based on wind or lack of rain or pests. It sucks to lose crops like Grass Valley Grains did last year (their entire rye harvest) but their methods are still important and still worth using so they kept on keeping on despite the set back."