Peters ’14: Gaining Experience with (Kindred) Spirits

A couple months ago, while reading over the various descriptions of available internships through Wabash, I read the words, “Our intern will have to wear a lot of hats.”  The description belonged to my current summer employer StilL 630 in St. Louis, MO and could not have been a more accurate description of the position.  After a resumé submission, a phone interview conducted while my car was breaking down on the Pennsylvania turnpike, and a mad dash to secure summer housing, I made the move to St. Louis to begin working with David Weglarz ’03 at his start-up craft distillery.

I’ve been at the distillery for three and a half weeks and I feel as I’ve done every job in the distillation business.  David uses the tagline, “From Grain to Glass,” to describe the process of making our whiskey products, and again he is spot-on with his description.  We start by combining water with our chosen grains for the spirit (malt rye, barley, winter wheat, etc.) in a mash tun.  The mash tun is about six feet tall and holds 500 gallons.  It also requires regular cleaning, a perfect job for a summer intern no doubt!

Here I am cleaning out the mash tun, where the whole process starts

The process continues with the mixing of these ingredients during various heating and cooling steps.  The “mash” is then brought to one of our four fermenters where yeast is pitched in to begin breaking down the usable sugars provided by the grain into alcohol (getting interesting right?).  While it is in the fermenter for a 2-5 day period, the mixture is now called distiller’s beer; think Sam Adams without all the hops being added.  The distiller’s beer is then brought to our still, which was handmade right here in St. Louis.  At StilL 630, our current spirits our double distilled, which means we run the liquid through the distillation process twice.  The first run, called the “stripping run,” boils off usable alcohol, leaving water behind.  This alcohol is about 45% alcohol by volume (ABV) and will be run through the freshly cleaned still (also the job of an intern) again in a “spirits run.”  This is the good alcohol that will end up in a bottle or a barrel.  We make cuts of this alcohol first however, as the spirits come off in three categories: heads, hearts, and tails.  Hearts are the good alcohol that is drinkable (once proofed down, even for college kids) while heads remind me of moonshine.  Tails are used when a whiskey is barreled for aging.  The esters of the tails react well with the charred barrels and give it the amber color that we are used to in whiskey.

While running, the “mash” has to be broken up to produce sugar

But like I said earlier, lots of hats are worn.  I’ve bottled our whiskey, labeled it, and then sold it by walking to bars and giving tastings.  Right now we survive on word of mouth advertising and social media buzz (follow us @STILL630 or on Facebook).  So instead of hats, I wear a suit as often as a dirty work shirt.

With all this work being done, that doesn’t mean we don’t have fun however.  I personally love going out to different venues to run tastings and talk with patrons, bartenders, and restaurant owners.  We get to drink the whiskey that I helped make and get to spread our proud product around the city.  I’ve even taught David to play some lacrosse in our down time.  Also, David and I were lucky enough to score free ultimate BLT’s from Crown Candy Kitchen, a historic STL kitchen that has been featured on Food Network multiple times, for just talking to them!

It’s bigger than my head!

David, his wife Sydney, his newborn son Mason, his big dog Jake, and I actually just returned from Louisville, KY.  David and I went on a bourbon trail distillery tour, visiting the likes of Maker’s Mark and Heaven Hill, to do some research but also have a great summer experience.  And so far that’s exactly what this summer has been.  I’m extremely happy to have been chosen for this position and I would like to thank the Small Business Internship Fund and Wabash College Career Services in helping me earn this position!

One last thing however, you over 21 year-olds need to keep your eyes open for Rally Point Rye Whiskey and Big Dog Jake White Whiskey on a shelf near you to help some Wabash brothers out!  David is on his way to taking over the industry, I’m just glad I can be here for the first few steps.

Cheers!

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