Aspire Magazine Issue 1 - Page 64

/////////// REL ISH < MIXED MIX MASTER Considered the dean of the liquor world, third-generation distiller Robert Birnecker is helping launch small-batch distilleries across the globe. BY MARK ELLWOOD 62 ISSUE ONE | ASPIRE Koval Photos courtesy of Simpson Photography J UST A DECADE AGO, THERE WERE barely two dozen independent distilleries in America, producing handmade, small-batch liquors, mostly whiskies. Today there are more than 400. It’s an astonishing uptick, and most of the credit behind this boom lies via the efforts and expertise of a single man: Chicagoan Robert Birnecker. Birnecker is a master distiller, and a third-generation liquor maker. OPPOSITE: Acclaimed distiller He and wife Sonat co-own Koval Robert Birnecker and wife Sonat Birnecker Hart; CLOCKWISE (, an 8-yearFROM TOP: Scott Harris, owner of old operation known for its Catoctin Creek Distilling Co.; potion in motion at Kothe Distilling; impressive roster of more than a cocktail hour at Few Spirits, which dozen different artisanal whiskies. produces gin and whiskey. Birnecker isn’t simply a distiller but also de facto dean of the liquor Washington, D.C.-based defense world’s answer to Harvard, Kothe contractor Scott Harris is case in Distilling ( point, inspired to follow his passion Via both his basic distilling courses after “working on the 30th revision of (three days, $899 per person) and his a PowerPoint package, which I knew newly introduced intensive workshop nobody would ever read.” Now he makes (five days, $2750 per person) Robert has small-batch rye and unaged whisky helped birth at least 1/3 of those new small under the Catoctin Creek Distilling Co. batch set-ups across the country. “We’ve ( banner. Paul had 1,400 people through workshops, Hletko was one of Kothe’s first graduates, and 5 to 10 percent of them have started a former patent attorney who cheekily distilleries,” he explains. Alumni of launched his gin- and whisky-making Birnecker’s course are using the skills startup, Few Spirits ( in the gleaned to operate small-batch start-ups Chicago suburb of Evanston, which was across the country. so dedicated to Prohibition it remained a dry county until 1972. “There’s a huge spread of people interested in distilling. We’ve had people from Estonia, the Isle of Man, and Canada–even someone from Belize,” Birnecker says. “The biggest measure of success, at least to me, is that none of the people we have trained have gone bust yet.” “We’ve had 1,400 people through workshops, and 5 to 10 percent of them have started distilleries.” —ROBERT BIRNECKER EXPERIENCE KOTHE DISTILLING HOLDS A SERIES OF “SENSORY SEMINARS,” WHERE ATTENDEES GAIN INSIGHT INTO PROPERLY TASTING VODKAS, WHISKEYS, GRAPPAS, AND LIQUEURS. KOTHE-DISTILLING.COM ASPIRE | ISSUE ONE 63