7 states, 7 distilleries, 7 characters. These are the cornerstones of Corn Trooper that made our dram dream a reality: to create an all-American union of Craft Straight Bourbon Whiskeys. We collected a myriad of special casks that were married, and aged during our statewide adventure to find the best Bourbon for your glass. We traveled the US, trying every Straight Bourbon we could find that could capture the crux of each provenance.
From Washington, Colorado, Texas and South Carolina to Kentucky, Michigan, and New York, each state imparts a special character. Corn Trooper is an homage to each state’s terroir, and in the end our co-founder and master blender Grisa Soba conducted a tasty symphony of seven distinct Whiskeys from seven Craft distillers across the country.
Corn Trooper 2020 United Craft Bourbon is an ode to American Spirit. For us, it’s as much an incredible Whiskey as it is a map of memories and America itself. So pack your bags and gas up the car, it’s time for a distillery tour.
1. First stop Oola: the kings of corn
This Seattle distillery is named after its founder’s German Shepherd who was, according to Kirby Kallas-Lewis, the greatest German Shepherd who ever lived (sorry, fellow dog owners, this is a non-debatable, completely unbiased fact).
For Kirby, distilling is the pinnacle of capturing the essence of something exquisite. In Kirby’s words “I grew up in the Midwest, the epicenter of all things corn! The corn plant itself is masterful - creating a perfect balance of sweet and savory. The opportunity to distill the essence of this balance into a beverage spirit was both a challenge and a goal. I'm so excited and confident in the results of my 13 years of pushing this envelope!”
The master ingredient could not be trifled with, and OOLA did not disappoint, packing the high corn content in the blend. As we meander down I-70 through the wild west, you'll notice the magical Glenwood Springs and ethereal Yellowstone National Park on the way to our next destination.
2. Next Stop: Breckenridge Distillery
A whopping 1,300 miles and 1200 minutes later, we’ve arrived in Breckenridge, at the world’s highest distillery. If you smell something funny in the air don’t worry, it’s legal! Founded in 2008 by Dr-turned-distiller Bryan Nolt, this distillery sits at a staggering 9,600 feet. They are quite literally at the top of the Spirits world.
Their line up is an incredible example of what Craft distilleries can accomplish. In the short period since its inception, Breckenridge Distillery has become a paramount player in the industry with their critically-acclaimed Whiskeys, Vodkas, Gins, and Rums. After winning countless awards, their heart still belongs to Whiskey, making Corn Trooper a perfect match.
“The idea of searching the states for the most fantastic Bourbons and uniting them for an ultimate blend, instead of competing with them, is exactly why I love this industry. We are all passionate about what we do as Bourbon producers, and it will be exciting to see the different nuances of our products blended together to create a unique product and collaboration,” says Hans Stafsholt, Head Distiller at Breckenridge.
From Breckenridge we'll hook up to US285 and stop by Great Sand Dunes National Park before picking up I-25 again in Walsenburg on the way to our next big stop: Texas.
3. Balcones Distilling: small batch, big flavor
As we make our way to the halfway mark between Dallas and Austin, a small distillery is hard at work distilling some of the best Spirit in the country with a pair of handmade stills that produce a range of Whiskeys and Rums with over 140 awards. Welcome to Balcones Distillery.
Now this distillery may not be big like everything in Texas, but for what it lacks in size it sure as hell makes up for in flavor. The motivation behind this distilling dream came from a passion to create a true Texan Single Malt that honors the distilling traditions unique to the state. What was the result? A timeless Spirit that breathes new life into centuries of distilling tradition with classic techniques and ingredients adapted for New World tastes.
“We’re thrilled to collaborate on a project so original and authentic. It’s an honor to be part of such a unique union,” says Mr. Erik Allen, the distillery director.
Now you’ll have to hang tight and put on some good road trip tunes now, as we make our way accross Ol' Man River and pass through a whopping four states: Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia before reaching the next member of our Corn Trooper family.
4. High Wire Distilling Co: humbly handcrafted
As we make our way further into the south, you’ll notice a slight change in dialect...and Whiskey. Situated in the historic heart of South Carolina, High Wire is known for their creative and culinary outlook.
These folks are firing on all cylinders and their paradigm shifting distilling approach is exactly oomph Corn Trooper needed. High Wire is the epitome of skilled craftsmanship, using only the best ingredients. Their colorful lineup of Spirits are as unique as they are tasty, batch distilled in a hand-hammered, German copper still, delivering top-quality, sumptuous Southern Spirit.
When we pitched the Corn Trooper idea to husband and wife team, Scott Blackwell and Ann Marshall they said: "We love the idea of our Whiskey being paired with other top notch craft Whiskeys for this one-of-a-kind offering!"
Time for a quick pit stop...
1. Contrary to misbelief, Bourbon doesn’t have to be made in Kentucky, but according to the Kentucky Distillers Association the state does produce 95% of the world’s supply (which contributes to the misconception).
2. Bourbon is named after the House of Bourbon, a powerful French dynasty.
3. Barrels of bourbon outnumber humans in Kentucky (there are now almost two barrels for every person living in Kentucky).
4. After the barrels have been used once they can no longer be used for Bourbon again, and are often recycled to use for aging Scotch.
5. Hartfield & Co.: The hart of Kentucky
Bounded by the Ohio River in the north and the Appalachian Mountains in the east, Kentucky is without a doubt the Bourbon motherland. Corn Trooper wouldn’t be complete without juice from the epicenter of Bourbon, and this Kentucky distiller draws from a century of knowledge and experience.
Hartfield & Co. is named after a branch of Andrew’s family that dates all the way back to 1700s Germany and Andrew Buchanan, the co-founder of the distillery, put the Bourbon back in Bourbon County for the first time since 1919.
They remixed the traditional Bourbon recipe, amping up the percentage of malted barley (19%). Buchanan sees the collaboration with Corn Trooper as beneficial to the growth of the craft industry: “Collaboration is key to the growth we have seen in the Craft industry. So, to be part of a project like this, and to be included among some of the distilleries that I looked up to when I started down this path is incredibly humbling,” says Mr. Buchanan.
Next up, we're parting ways with Derby Country and crossing state lines, through the Buckeye state to reach our next distillery.
6. New Holland Brewing: started from Beer, now they’re here
The next stop on our journey is the land of the Great Lakes. Over 20 years ago in Michigan, two college buddies with a love of Beer (shocker) set out to transform the standards of flavor and enrich the lives of those around us.
New Holland Brewing took a small detour in 2005 to produce their second brainchild: Craft Spirits. Beer is still the foundation of everything they produce but they’ve evolved into a Craft distillery that offers unique expressions, including their own signature Beer barrel finished Bourbon (of course).
Their old prohibition-era pot still produces such unique Spirits made with care and expertise, from the grain to your glass. So what inspired them to be a part of Corn Trooper? Brad Kamphuis, their Director of Distillery Operations, said “I really like this idea you guys have about bringing together multiple craft distillers for this project. There are a lot of us now, and we will certainly be stronger together for sure.”
Now we're onto the Seaway Trail, driving past Lake Erie as we approach the final destination on our Bourbon journey: New York!
7. Last stop, Kings County: big apple, small batch
Kings County is the first New York Whiskey distillery since Prohibition (how bout’ them apples). Founded in 2009, quality and simplicity are the crux of their craft, and this approach certainly pays off. With their Scottish copper pot stills, Kings County has become one of the highest acclaimed microdistilleries in the US.
They have successfully mastered the nexus between creativity and tradition, producing unique Whiskey that defies convention. These folks have pushed the boundaries of American Whiskey in their distilling process, adapting to a continuously evolving Bourbon world through a combination of creativity and boldness, which made them a perfect fit for Corn Trooper.
"With so many standout small Bourbon makers, it was only a matter of time before the idea of blending these together. Blends are often looked down on by American Whiskey drinkers, but that is purely cultural and an outdated way of thinking. It's exciting to be a part of this project." –Kings County Distillery
And there you have it, our seven pioneers of the Bourbon frontier. Thank you for joining us on this tasty trip, and although we may have come to the end of the road the journey doesn’t stop here, it’s only just begun.
Grab your very own bottle of Corn Trooper and continue the tasting adventure!