Emily Pleasant I Big Fish Spirits
When small businesses work together, the result can be hugely successful. That is why these distilleries work with local farmers to create craft spirits from farm-to-glass.
Distilleries can gather the best ingredients from around the world, shipping it across oceans and into their stills. And while this can create well-rounded, quality spirits, it can also create a large carbon footprint. Not only that, but it becomes a product that can be replicated any place with access to those ingredients.
These are just some of the many reasons why people choose to make their craft spirits farm-to-flask. (Also known as farm-to-glass, plow-to-pint, seed-to-spirit, grain-to-glass…you get the idea.) There are several ways to name it, and even more ways to practice it.
So, what is a farm-to-flask distillery? Let’s break it down.
The core of farm-to-flask is gathering ingredients from nearby farmers and using them to create your spirits. Whether that means the farms are an hour away or right outside your door, if you know the steps that led the corn, wheat, and barley from the soil to your hands, there’s a good possibility your business can qualify as farm-to-flask.
Some distilleries grow all of their own ingredients, which gives them the title of a farm distillery. Just like how a square can be a rectangle but a rectangle can’t be a square, the definitions of farm-to-glass and farm distilleries overlap.
“Farm distilleries” can be called “farm-to-flask” because they’re involved in the process from the harvesting of ingredients to the final bottling. But “farm-to-glass” distilleries don’t always qualify as “farm” because they don’t grow the ingredients themselves. Both are excellent ways to cut down on emissions from traveling and provide a true taste of their surroundings, one is just a little more involved than the other. These methods of distilling can help customers and creators alike develop a relationship with the land and the people who call that land home.
“It is important to be an informed consumer and to know that the produce is grown in an environmentally sound way.” - Mallory Miller, Solar Spirits
Jan and Chuck Morris started The Hardware Distillery after retirement in Hoodsport, WA. The Hardware Distillery uses grains that are grown in Washington state fields, fruit grown in Washington orchards, and honey from Washington beehives. Their water flows to them from the Hood Canal Watershed in the Olympic National Forest next door. Their spirits are aged in the distillery’s basement so the barrels can breathe the fresh salt air from the Hood Canal. From start to finish, Washington is present in these products. “In Washington State, there are 2 types of licenses for distilleries. One of them, the craft license, requires that all of our products must be made from at least 50% Washington grown products,”Jan Morris, Owner of The Hardware Distillery explains. The Hardware Distillery specializes in gin, aquavit, and fruity spirits that fall between mead and honey spirits, otherwise known as The Bee’s Knees. They gather raspberries from Spooner Farms, 40 miles away from their distillery, the peaches and pears are grown in Yakima, WA, the plums are from a friend’s tree, and the figs are grown up the road.
“The honey is from Hive5Bees in Rochester, about a one hour drive south of us. One of the orchards/farms where the bees pollinate is Helsing Junction Farm, which is also in Rochester. Helsing Junction Farm has a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture.) By coincidence, we are members of that CSA...It is fun to think that our vegetables and fruits were pollinated by the same bees that make the honey for our Bee's Knees.” Despite the higher cost of local products, The Hardware Distillery has continued to work with the surrounding farms and orchards to create a genuine Washington product that supports them and the business they partner with. “Many of our customers recognize the farms/orchards, especially Spooner Farms, and like to buy products made from the same fruits they purchase at the local roadside fruit stands...We are in talks with Hive5Bees to carry jars of their honey in our tasting room.”
Owner and Head Distiller of Clayton Distillery, Mike Auberdine, grew up on a dairy farm, a property his brothers and sister now own. So when Mike decided to open a distillery, sourcing from local farms seemed like a no brainer. “We are a destination distillery in a small tourist town and thought it was important to use all local ingredients,” Mike says. “We get rye from our own property and my cousin’s organic dairy farm next to our property. Our corn comes from Gracie Farms in Watertown New York and the malted barley comes from 1886 Malt House near Syracuse New York.” There isn’t a mile radius that they restrict themselves to, just the state of New York, but typically Clayton Distillery only travels seventy miles for their ingredients. “The main benefit [of working farm-to-glass] is supporting other local businesses. Since I'm in an agricultural area and have farm background, I have not experienced many challenges in regard to farm-to-glass.” To further the relationship between the farms and the distillery, Clayton Distillery sends their stillage back to the farms so they can use it as feed for beef cattle.
Fish Hawk Spirits is the only distillery in the world that uses Florida-grown tangerine as their basic raw material. Florida is famous for its citrus and rightly so. Fish Hawk feels it is the flagship agricultural product of Florida and were determined to feature its citrus in their products. “It is our goal to showcase Florida agriculture in our finished products,” Master Distiller and COO Matthew Bagdanovich says. “We source all ingredients by proximity to our location, if we can find in Marion County, we do, if not, in Florida. As far as I know we are the only distillery Certified by the Florida Department of Agriculture as Fresh From Florida. There are a few ingredients we use that do not grow in Florida so we source from US growers. We grow many of the botanicals we use here on the property. Why….we like to do business with our neighbors!”
Fish Hawk works with Ricky Philpot, the Sanchez Family Farm, Island Grove, and others to gather ingredients all around their county. Island Grove specifically provides them with blueberries and blackberries to create their line of 100% fruit vodkas, Island Grove Vodka. “The benefits [of being farm-to-flask] are obvious to us, we know where our ingredients come from and how they are treated prior to us getting them. Challenges…..well sometimes we want something and it simply is not available.” They produce 3-4 thousand pounds of spent grain each week from spirit production. To give back to the farms, they provide them with this spent grain for animal feed. Every now and again, Fish Hawk will receive a pig or lamb from them and hold a communal barbeque for everyone.
Buddies Jeff Robinette and Alan Davis channeled their love of great whiskey into crafting Chambers Bay Distillery's first batch in 2014. Drawing inspiration from Puget Sound, this Washington-based distillery aimed to feature as much Pacific Northwest terroir as they could in their spirits. Jeff and Alan will travel up to 200 miles to gather the best in-state grains available for their bourbon. Not only do they get their grains from surrounding farms, but they also utilize their surroundings for resources like wild yeast for their bourbon mash, and sea salt for their vodka. Working with farms like Reffett Farms, San Juan Island Sea Salt, and Ryan Farms help them “exhibit complete Pacific Northwest terroir from yeast to grains to the salt air [the spirits] take on during the aging process,” Alan Davis explains.
“We source our salt from the San Juan Island Sea Salt farm in Friday Harbor, WA. Their salt is solar evaporated and hand harvested in unheated hoop-houses. Unlike mass produced sea salt, which is 99% sodium chloride (NaCl), their salt is 80-85% NaCl with trace amounts of calcium, magnesium, potassium, etc. This high minerality packs a lot more flavor—a reminder of the sea from which it came.” Each of Chambers Bay Distillery’s products have at least one unique, highly desirable characteristic, carrying with each of them a compelling backstory. Together, these qualities define Chambers Bay and their uniquely extraordinary spirits.
“...it’s important to remember that we don't need to source from 100's or 1,000's of miles away. Most items needed to make a quality product are in our backyard...” - Keith, Gristmill Distillers
Solar Spirits have dedicated themselves to creating eco-friendly products. They use solar power to work their stills to minimize their environmental impact and create a sustainable future. They’ve committed to being farm-to-flask in order to limit their carbon footprint and to showcase the unique produce being grown in Washington State. “We like to say we take a berry-to-glass approach of the farm-to-glass movement.” Solar Spirits’ Marketing Director Mallory Miller says. “There is no mile radius limit, just the state lines that dictate where we travel. Our furthest ingredient that we use are the cranberries [from Miller Cranberry Farms, LLC], grown near Grayland, WA, which is 230 miles from the distillery (one way).” They also work with local wineries to gather pomace for their Grappa Brandy.
“A benefit of being farm-to-glass is that we know exactly where and how our ingredients are being grown. It is important to be an informed consumer and to know that the produce is grown in an environmentally sound way. The challenge is the seasonality of working with the fruit, and the distance. Then there is the fact that cranberries are harvested yearly in October, so we need to plan in advance how many we need for the year.” By using local ingredients, distillers are restricted to the timelines of harvest season and the amount each harvest brings. Despite these challenges, the result is high-quality, often limited, and therefore in high demand to those who have enjoyed it in the past.
On May 24,1926 the six Rubens brothers opened the doors to what became known as the Rubens Rialto Square Theatre. Rob heard many stories growing up about the theatre during the Roaring 20’s and prohibition days. These stories inspired Rob to leave the corporate world and continue the Rubens family tradition of taking a vision and making it reality. R6 is a grain to glass distillery specializing in whiskeys and bourbons, namely, Los Angeles' first Bourbon. “We believe in sustainable practices and supporting our local economy,” Founder and Head Distiller Rob Rubens explains. “Beyond that, it comes down to our relationships with our farmers and the quality of grain they produce based on their knowledge and generations of farming.” They responsibly source California grain from farmers in Woodland, CA and transform that grain into vodkas, gins, rums, and whiskeys at their El Segundo distillery. To further the relationship between R6 Distillery and local farmers, they donate all of their spent grain to Southern California farms for cattle feed.
Litchfield Distillery call themselves 'The Batchers' in honor of the early farmers of northwest Connecticut, a region that became known for its ample yields of wheat, sweet corn, and barley. The Batchers' philosophy is rooted in the local movement and the art of small-batch craftsmanship. “We are actually committed to a farm-to-bottle-to-farm philosophy. As we launched the distillery, we decided that we would do our best to source from local farms and local vendors. [We] try to find sustainable uses for our spent grains. Most of it is returned to local farms to be used as livestock feed. We’ve also had local artisan bakers procure some to make baked goods like biscotti and other treats.” David Baker says.
“Supporting our local economy is important to us and by sourcing local ingredients we have become a major buyer in the northwest corner of Connecticut.” 95% of all their grains are grown within 30 miles of the distillery, and all of their corn and rye is sourced from a local farm in Sharon, CT. They believe the mineral-rich terrior of northwest Connecticut produces superior sweet corn, and ultimately helps them produce superior spirits. So much so, that they have become the #1 purchaser of corn and rye at Lion Rock Farm. Litchfield Distillery also produce seasonal flavored vodkas with hand-picked fruit from Connecticut farms. They create one batch of flavored vodka per year, based on the harvest of each fruit, whether it be blueberry, strawberry, apple, or peach. “By using fruit picked at its peak of ripeness, we create incredibly fragrant and flavorful vodkas that are unlike any other. Once we sell out, customers have to wait until next year. This approach helps reinforce demand with each release.” The strawberries and blueberries are sourced from March Farms, while the peaches come from Bishop Farms.
“Having a compelling local story makes a difference to our consumers who constantly ask us about sourcing. They appreciate hearing that various local businesses are working together to support the local economy...Perhaps our best example of interacting with local businesses is our relationship with Maple Craft Foods, which produces some of the best maple syrup in our region. Once we disgorge our bourbon barrels, they are sent to Maple Craft where they are filled with maple syrup and aged. This syrup eventually becomes our Bourbon Barrel Maple Syrup, which is a popular item at the Distillery Store,” David Baker explains. “After the syrup is drained from the barrels, they are returned to Litchfield Distillery where we fill them once again with our Straight Bourbon Whiskey. After further resting, this bourbon becomes our Maple Bourbon, which picks up maple flavor and additional sweetness from the residual maple syrup left in the barrel.”
Gristmill Distillers strive for quality, working to make smooth, classic spirits that can be sipped straight, but are just as good in a cocktail. They’re a New York state farm distillery as homegrown as their products, with water that flows straight from a spring outside their door and barrels from the oldest cooperage in the northeast, which happens to only be a couple towns over. “In a world that has moved to a global economy, it's important to remember that we don't need to source from 100's or 1000's of miles away. Most items needed to make a quality product are in our backyard, which results in supporting and growing the local economy.” Owner of Gristmill, Keith, explains. “Our grains, cider and barrels are all from within 30 miles of our distillery...We share our barrels with Black Rooster Maple, [they] take our used bourbon barrels to age their maple syrup. Once they are done aging their maple syrup, we take them back and age our maple flavored whiskey in them.” Their corn is grown by Adirondack Organic Grains and the apples that create their brandy are harvested from Rulfs Orchard. “[By working farm-to-flask], we have the ability to see our ingredients grown and deal directly with those that are growing them.”
Owners and Barnard residents Peter Jillson and Anne Marie Delaney began SILO in 2013 with the belief that by utilizing Vermont’s naturally rich bounty, they could provide a wonderful vodka for people looking for a local option. “More than 20% of Vermont land is still used for farming, and the majority of these farms have been operating for decades, supporting the land-conscious Vermont mindset. We are fortunate to be located in a state with one of the richest natural bounties in the country.” Head Distiller Erin Bell says. “Our network of local resources allows us to offer premium spirits that create a native sense of where the products come from—an intimacy between location, product, brand and consumer.”
Vermont is known for its enthusiasm towards local businesses, and the people of SILO Distillery are no different. By working with these local businesses, SILO Distillery aims to provide their customers with superior products and provide local farms with a long-term partnership. They also provide livestock farmers with spent grain mash for their pigs. “When we can rely on each other and the local market, that trust leads to a comfortable ability to reach outside the box and discover new local potential that has been untapped. The challenge lives in the development of those relationships. What you want at the moment for a new product might not be available to you locally, and so you need to sow the seeds of interest with potential partners and gain the trust that if they were to cultivate what you need, your business would be steadfast and beneficial to them.”
“When sourcing our ingredients, we like to think in terms of a tier: immediate local community first, then statewide community, then regional to New England and New York (our neighboring states), then national. All of our corn and rye is sourced from Grembowicz Farm in North Clarendon, Vermont, and has been for the last 5 years. Other local farms we source from are: Springmore Farm, Woods Maple, Moore's Orchard, Vermont Lavender Essentials,” Erin Bell explains. “We are nothing without our community, and our Vermont community survives on an agriculturally-minded economy, among other things. Being able to source from local partners supports the state's economy as a whole, and drives money and support back into Vermont.”
“When our neighbors flourish, we do too.” - Erin Bell, SILO Distillery
Sourcing ingredients locally not only helps the farmers, the environment, and the distillers, but it helps the spirits themselves. Every step is monitored, controlled, and cared for, from the moment the seeds are planted to the moment it reaches your glass. There’s a certain level of love and consideration for these resources that’s hard to beat, but easy to taste. These distilleries have dedicated themselves to farm-to-glass in different ways and degrees, but each experience is as unique as the terrain they harvest from.