“That’s the black box. That’s where the magic happens.” says Scott Feuille, founder, head distiller, and visionary at Taylor Garrett. Suzanne responds with a pout… “and you’re really not going to show us the magic? Dammit!”
Last summer, we had the chance to sit down with Scott and while we left with happy palates, we also left—frankly—a little mystified…
But first, let’s take a step back… The Crafty Cask embraces a number of various criteria to determine the brands and products we love, feature, and consider craft.
What is Craft?
Our tenets include artistry and a hands-on approach during the production process, independent ownership, control of source material through to the end result, and using real ingredients.
All science and technology without any art? Not for us.
Majority ownership by a major corporation? Definitely not.
Buying a finished product and slapping a label on it? That’s marketing… not craft.
Making products reliant on syrups, colorants, or similar additives? Sorry, nope.
For spirits, one of the most important ways we distinguish craft is ensuring the product is distilled by the brand shown on the label. We also love to keep an eye out for spirits produced to reflect a unique concept or vision using a combination of traditional or innovative techniques with regard to the fermenting, distilling, blending, influsing, or aging processes.
Of note here is the endorsement of both traditional and innovative techniques. Why ride when you can fly?
“As a comedian once said, back 150 years ago, to go from New York to Los Angeles would take you three months and half of you died on the trip.”
The Crafty Cask adores tradition and it also relishes in innovation and technology advancements. Enter Taylor Garrett Whiskey.
Meet Scott Feuille, Founder of Taylor Garrett
A former Naval Aviator and commercial airline pilot, Scott is poised to advance the spirits industry in a way that transportation hasn’t been shifted since the Wright brothers set off (UP!) on Kitty Hawk.
Named for his two children’s middle names, Taylor & Garrett, Scott brings traditions to the forefront while also creatively incorporating elements of his time as a pilot to create his products. The logo suggests airplanes flying in formation, displaying thrust and acceleration. Their tagline? Accelerating Tradition.
The Spirit of Tradition
In terms of tradition, grain-to-glass is the name of the game when we talk about craft spirits. Ownership of as much of the process as possible leads to better control over the end result. Taylor Garrett embraces this ideal through careful grain selection as well as in-house mashing and fermentation, distillation and aging.
Numerous yeast strains were tested to find a fermentation wash absent any undesirable aromas. Lean, judicious cuts during distillation produce a raw spirit heart expressive of the mash bill represented. Taylor Garrett slowly toasts the wood they use during the aging process in-house to a homogenous vanilla profile. Then, they chars the staves to a uniform level 2 or 3 designation, depending on the spirit intended. Nary a handful of craft distillers have hands-on control of the wood regiment. Any distillers out there envious yet?
Heck, if it were feasible to also farm the barley, rye, corn, or wheat I bet Scott would be on board… although that wouldn’t leave him much time to enjoy his whiskey!
“One of the biggest differentiators between the Taylor Garrett line [and others in this niche] is that Taylor Garrett is grain-to-bottle. We basically mash, ferment, distill, and age all of our own spirits. So, none of our products are sourced. And that’s why we used ‘Accelerating Tradition’ because we are a very traditional distiller in terms of the product that we make.”
Accelerating Tradition? What, exactly, is accelerated about Taylor Garrett whiskeys? It’s Scott’s approach to this innovation that’s captivated our attention.
Innovation at Taylor Garrett
Through Scott’s appreciation of traditional distillation methods and his fascination with innovation, Taylor Garrett has arrived at an exciting way to bring genuine grain-to-glass spirits to you in an expedited manner through the use of proprietary accelerated aging techniques.
This may be the point where we lose you. And, honestly, you wouldn’t be the first.
Maybe you haven’t heard of accelerated aging? Well, there’s certainly a reason you haven’t heard about it from us here at The Crafty Cask before. Simply this: the brands making spirits using accelerated aging thus far don’t align with our definition of craft spirits. They’re made with distillate purchased from MGP or another distiller who has already aged them. This already discludes them from being highlighted on The Crafty Cask.
Moreover, their claim of ownership of the accelerated aging is overstated. There’s a vital development of spirits during the first 12 months in the barrel—a period of time during which these brands have no involvement with the spirit.
“I basically dove into the science of aging and I stumbled across an article in a completely unrelated field that has the heart of our process, which is an oxidative breakdown of some of the compounds in raw spirit that creates a compound called ethyl acetate.”
After an arduous trial-and-error process, Taylor Garrett developed an innovative process to replicate an essential component of traditional aging without the time consumption. If you’re familiar with the idea of aging spirits, you likely know during the time a spirit is aging, there are a myriad of things that occur. The most commonly addressed is the extractive process of pulling flavor, aroma, and color from the oak barrels the spirit rests within.
That Oaky Goodness
The oak extraction certainly isn’t something overlooked at Taylor Garrett. In fact, their diligence and attention paid to assuring as much fidelity to traditionally aged whiskeys is remarkable. Other producers who espouse engineered aging do so solely with respect the oak extraction process discussed prior. Some submit their spirits to ultrasonic waves. Some add wood chips and shake the product for days with the equivalent of paint can mixers. Chips are added based on weight, with no concern or ability to assess the comparative surface area their spirit contacts.
In Taylor Garrett’s case, Scott toasts and chars the all the oak staves used for aging. He closely monitors the amount of surface area in contact with the distillate. Each of Taylor Garrett’s spirits see oak contact at roughly 50-55 square inches per gallon, to replicate traditional barrel aging. Another testament to Taylor Garrett’s fidelity to tradition—while not wasting time before that goodness can hit your lips.
Yet, what’s important to understand is the flavor profile of aged whiskey is not solely defined by the time spent in contact with the oak barrels. While this extraction is important, there is a process beyond oak contact that is inimitable.
Aging is More Than Barrel Time
While barrels are watertight, they are not airtight. You’ve likely heard of the loss of product during aging due to evaporation, commonly referred to as the “Angel’s Share” or, nefariously, the “Devil’s Cut”. The interaction of spirits in barrel with their environment also allows for a slow, but vital, oxidation process.
Time to dust off your chemistry books! In fact, when writing this article I was compelled to reconnect with my chemistry professor to ensure my grasp was sound… so let’s go back to school to talk whiskey!
EtOH So Complex…
During aging, the alcohol component of the raw spirit (ethanol, chemical formula C₂H₆O, abbreviated EtOH) combines with minute amounts of oxygen in the atmosphere, reassembling to create another molecule (acetaldehyde). This, in turn, is oxidized to create acetic acid. In time, acetic acid combines with remaining ethanol to make an ester (ethyl acetate). The creation of ethyl acetate is the culmination of a complex oxidative equilibrium reaction, which is responsible for many of the familiar flavors and aromas of aged whiskey (and many other delicious tipples).
This reaction can only be expedited when the environment is properly controlled.
Scotch Whiskies of note are rarely seen on the market at less than 12 years of age. The climate in Scotland dictates this. Scotland is a decidedly cooler climate than, say, Kentucky where most Bourbons are made and hit the market much faster.
Maybe you’re familiar with the fact that water boils at 212°F? Did you know that it boils at a lower temperature at higher altitude? If air pressure is lowered, vapor pressure is lowered and the chemical conversion of liquid to gas (i.e. boiling) shifts. The same goes in the other direction. If you tried to boil water in an environment with double Earth’s air pressure, you’d have to heat it to 248°F. Manipulating the environment in which a chemical process occurs will change the rate at which the process occurs.
To The Horizon
We’re excited to introduce Taylor Garrett here at The Crafty Cask because Scott has developed a proprietary way to shift this equilibrium reaction towards finality using solely physical influences (i.e. no chemical additives or catalysts). While we’re not at liberty to describe precisely what Taylor Garrett does to bring their product to market in days instead of years, suffice it to say that it shows incredible progress and promise in the niche category of accelerated aged whiskeys.
Scott in front of his “black box” – PFM-01 stands for Pure F’ing Magic 🙂
In no small part, we feel Taylor Garrett’s approach in developing the grain mash bill for each spirit, carefully selecting specific strains of yeast for fermentation, making precision cuts during distillation, and their exemplary dedication to the wood regiment used supersedes the relatively minor changes they’ve incorporated into the final stage of speeding up the aging of their whiskeys.
Not to discount this innovative development, far from it! What more could you ask for from a distiller than to make delicious whiskey using traditional methods and have the ability to iterate on a concept so readily?!
You’ve all had whiskey aged in oak. Who hasn’t? It’s pretty much the only aged option on the market. Does that mean it’s the best? Ever tried whiskey aged with Pecan wood? Or Acacia? Cherry? Chestnut? Juniper? With a turnaround time of weeks, Taylor Garrett is poised to redefine the options to create incredible whiskey.
“From an experiential standpoint, where people can go in and blend from different barrels in a distillery, they can come to us. And the vision is that they can blend their own whiskey using the different flavors that are derived from these different woods.”
Moreover, the sustainability of making a product using Taylor Garrett’s approach means 75% less wood is being used. Even more so when you consider that the wood used doesn’t require the quarter-sawn technique required to make barrel staves, which is comparatively wasteful.
Maybe it doesn’t matter to you how environmentally beneficial this approach is. Or how fucking cool this innovation sounds written down. What matters is, “How does it taste?” Well, we would strongly encourage you to decide for yourself. Because the best whiskey is really just the one that tastes good to you, amma right?
The American whiskey pulls elements from the bourbon mash it’s based on comprising a lingering grain profile reminiscent of grits and cereal, with the corn base delivering a balaced sweetness and the barley component giving a slight floral essence.
The Rye whiskey flips the mashbill used for the American whiskey with rye at the forefront, replacing corn, pushing a savory note that we love. Elements of pumpernickel bagels bolster a rich brioche texture that holds a firm spice and elusive sweetness.
The last of Taylor Garrett’s core products is their Rye Rum which defies some descriptors… The subtle aroma of molasses from the inclusion of Taylor Garrett’s sister brand VARA’s aged Rum, brings a depth of flavor reminiscent of chicory and coffee cake.
Embracing Skeptics, Dispelling Pretense
We’ve shared these spirits with many aficionados and whiskey enthusiasts. There’s been two responses. From people who know at the outset that they’re not aged for years in barrels… and people who don’t.
The thing that we’ve found defines the experience of tasting Taylor Garrett’s whiskeys for the first time is more about preconceived notions and, sadly, the feeling of being “duped”. The first time someone drove a car instead of riding a horse was probably a bit… disconcerting. And, to be fair, that technology took some time to become seamless. As Jerry Seinfeld said, “The Space Shuttle rockets have 20 million horsepower, is there any point in still comparing it to the horses?” But for some, the old ways will always be the gold standard.
Gaining Acceptance of True Innovation is Hard
It always has been. Here’s how some conversations with people trying Taylor Garrett whiskeys go:
Enthusiast: “Oooh, this is good!”As Scott says about these situations, “Okay, I can’t change your mind. If you think this spirit would’ve been better in a barrel for five years, then I can’t change your mind because we don’t have anything that I put in a barrel for five years. There is an element of the population, and I think it’s a growing large element, that is perfectly willing to accept advances in technology.”
TCC: “Right? Now let me tell you how it’s made, there’s some really cool innovation going on here…”
Enthusiast: “Oh. Well, hmmmm. Actually…”
TCC: “Hold on, but I thought you said it was good with some excitement before. Do you like what’s in the glass?”
Enthusiast: “Well, yeah, but I’m a traditionalist.”
While skeptics and naysayers will always exist, we believe there are true innovation shepherds. Scott is humble enough to know that his role isn’t to convince EVERYONE of the merits of his process, he only wants the opportunity to make those with open minds happy. And we’re certain a dram of his delicious whiskeys can even make the most dour grin.
Evan has spent 10 years bringing craft alcohol enthusiasts, like you, to wineries, distilleries, cider houses, and breweries on tours with Max Napa Tours. As a certified sommelier, cider professional, and craft alcohol enthusiast, he has a deep knowledge that he is passionate about sharing in a way that is engaging, approachable, and fun.