WHISKEY AND BASEBALL
My wife is slowly becoming a whiskey fan. She has fallen hard for wheat whiskies. She has worked her way into enjoying a few wheated-bourbons. Now, she even likes some ryes (I’m a happy husband on this note).
But, something she has been a fan of since early childhood is baseball. By baseball, I specifically mean the St. Louis Cardinals. This creates some tension in our marriage because I happen to be a fan of the Cincinnati Reds. Unfortunately, she’s gotten the best of the rivalry for some years now.
Since the Cardinals made the playoffs again this year I decided to surprise her with tickets to a playoff game. Knowing they were playoff tickets and the series was against the Cubs she was thrilled beyond belief when she opened the envelope (much less thrilled when they lost the game and eventually the series). While I was somewhat excited to go to the game with her I decided to get something out of the deal.
I logged onto the ever-reliable Google and searched for ‘distilleries near St. Louis.’ I was instantly rewarded. There was a relatively new distillery just down the road from the stadium: StilL 630. I put a plan in place. We would get up early, drive to St. Louis, visit the City Museum, take a tour of the distillery, grab a bite to eat, and then head to the game. It was bound to be an epic day. It turned out better than I’d hoped.
IS THIS REALLY A DISTILLERY?
Fast-forward to the visit to StilL 630. We’d just fought our way through traffic and the maddening crowd and found a parking spot close to Busch Stadium. I looked at the trusty digital map on my phone which indicated we needed to walk past the stadium, under the highway, and the distillery would be on the left-hand side of the road.
As we walked the streets got less and less crowded. Old boarded-up buildings and empty grassy lots littered the streetscape. “There’s no way there’s really a distillery on this street,” I said to my wife. I could feel her grip on my arm getting tighter. It was the classic sign she is wasn’t comfortable in our current surroundings. As we approached the street corner on which the distillery was supposed to be located there was a hamlet of a building. “Surely this isn’t a distillery,” I said. “It reminds me of a scene out of a horror film,” my wife echoed in a mostly sarcastic voice. “This is the place where we die.” We laughed!
We walked a little closer to see a sign on the building which read: StilL 630. This was it. “I don’t know how someone could run a distillery out of such a small building,” I thought to myself. As we walked up to the door we were greeted by David Weglarz, StilL 630’s Founder and Master Distiller. Thinking we might be wanting to park in his lot for the game he asked us what we needed. We explained how we had signed up for an afternoon tour of the distillery. He transitioned quickly from parking lot attendant into distiller and invited us in.
We entered into the diminutive structure and were greeted by the smell of old wooden building and the sight of a still, mashtuns, and racks of barrels. “This is a distillery,” I comforted myself. After pleasant introductions, David jumped right in and gave us the full tour (even though we know the basics of distilling and aging whiskey we always like to here it all again – you never know what you’re going to learn).
THE BEGINNINGS – DAVID’S STORY
*Photo courtesy of David Weglarz and the StilL 630 website*
David told us the story of how it all began. He started off his career as a stock trader in Chicago. But, it eventually got old. “I was sick of trading and the intense day-to-day stress and I wanted to pour my time and energy into something I was more passionate about.” He had always loved whiskey and rum and had recently discovered craft beer. He fell in love with it and started brewing with a friend. As more and more craft breweries began popping up all over town he realized there were relatively few craft distilleries. As he looked into the art of distillation he got “hooked by the vast range of nuances and tastes brought about by aging.” As he learned more and saw the scene was begging for his contribution he decided to start a distillery. “The idea of starting my own distillery from nothing and building it into something that generations of my family could share in irrevocably hooked me.”
After a lot of research it was time to get things going. David had to locate a bulding and purchase equipment. It took some months of searching for an affordable place to house his operations. “Finally, my wife noticed this beautiful, old structure.” This glorious building was an old Hardee’s (it still has a few tables and chairs from the old dining room). Thankfully they were able to acquire it because the current tenant, a florist, was moving out. Now, it was on to the equipment. David worked with Jim Schultz of Metal Fabrication Designs in Williamsville, MO (just the first sign of his commitment to using local as much as possible) to create their still. They built a 150 gallon custom pot still. It’s hand-operated and the “pot still style with a large helmet and extended lyne arm” lets them “craft richer, more flavorful spirits.” They also acquired a 500 gallon mashtun, 4-600 gallon fermenters, and of course a bunch of barrels for aging their fine craft spirits.
The distillery was officially opened in 2012 as StilL 630. The name has several origins. None of them are thankfully trumped-up myths or fake family gibberish. The ‘StilL’ portion of their name of course references the use of a still, in their case pot still, for distillation. But, the interesting spelling of ‘StilL’ is a reference to ‘St. L.’ an abbreviation for St. Louis which is home to the distillery.
Now, ‘630’ also has several meanings. First, the distillery was officially opened on June 30, 2012. Second, the serial number on the pot still is #630. Third, the height and width of the famous St. Louis Arch is 630 feet. All of these things add up to a pretty unique, catchy, and fitting name.
David runs the entire operation along with help from his assistant, Adam. They are pumping out a variety of spirits (all of which are double-distilled) on a constant basis. Their product line-up includes:
- Big Jake White Dog Whiskey – An un-aged rye whiskey coming in at 90 proof. It consists of 90% rye and 10% barley. It is also named after the distillery mascot, Jake, who is David’s dog and best friend.
- Big Jake Breakfast Brew – A collaboration between StilL 630 and Kaldi’s Coffee. First, green coffee beans are barrel-aged for weeks in a used RallyPoint Rye Whiskey barrel. Then, they are roasted, consentrated, and infused into Big Jake White Dog Whiskey. The result is a rousing 81 proof flavored whiskey.
- RallyPoint Rye Whiskey – The aged version of Big Jake: same distillate and proof. This one is almost 2 years old at this point. Let’s hope this one becomes a straight rye whiskey very soon.
- RallyPoint Maple Sunset – This is the regular RallyPoint which is extra-aged in an ex-bourbon (the latest batch using an ex-bourbon barrel from Four Roses), ex-maple syrup barrel. Hint: My favorite of the entire lineup!
- Soulard Island Rum – A secret recipe of the Barrera family, owners of the local Gran Cru Cigars. It is aged for 6 months in oak barrels.
- S.S. Sorghum Whiskey – This is a 100% sorghum whiskey coming in at 90 proof. The next release will have been aged for 1 year.
David obtains most of his grain from local farms. The rye is the farthest travelled and it comes from Wisconsin. The barrels are mostly produced in Missouri. He is trying to obtain most of the items he needs for operation from local producers and suppliers.
Currently, there are 60-53 gallon barrels aging in the StilL630 “rickhouse.” The “rickhouse” is the former kitchen of the former restaurant. Barrels are currently stacked three levels high and are rotated using a forklift. The temperature inside the entire building was really pleasent the day we visited (David said it can get a bit overwhelmingly hot when he is distilling) so I asked if it was temperature controlled. He indicated it was not which was a good thing to hear knowing that fluctuations in temperature create a good environment for aging.
StiL630 also has over 30-15 gallon barrels aging experimental spirits. I asked David if he could share about any of the experimentations. He gave me and now you a tiny peak behind the curtain. “The sorghum is still basically an experiment since we’ve only released one (award-winning) batch. I’m very interested in smoke in spirits, so there’s some of that. I love the nuances produced when finishing spirits in other barrels, so we’re playing around with that too. Rum and bourbon are two of my absolute favorite spirits and I will continue to experiment with them too.” A unique side note: two special barrels are set aside for his sons when they grow-up. He said he’d share some with them if they good and earned it!
We finished the tour with a tasting of all their current products except the S.S. Sorghum Whiskey which is currently sold out and will not be available until their next annual celebration: 630 Day. You can find out more about 630 Day here. I know I will be there in 2016.
I was floored by nearly everything in the line-up. The only product which didn’t sit completely right with me was the Big Jake Breakfast Brew and even that was a good product. David is a passionate and talented man. His nose and palate are on-point. The mashbills and proof points for all the products are spot on. Now, I’d love to taste the RallyPoint Rye Whiskey at cask strength, but at 90 proof it’s an everyday sipper for the novice and experienced tippler.
MY FINAL WORDS
I don’t usually nor do I like to swear on this blog, but get your ass to St. Louis. StilL 630 is the cream-of-the-crop when it comes to craft distilleries. Their spirits are fantastic and there is something for everyone. I picked-up more than a few bottles on my way out and will be reviewing them over the next few weeks.
DAVID’S FINAL WORDS
I asked David if he had anything else he wanted to share. He said, “I’m a guy actually doing it myself, trying my damnedest to make the best spirits I can and live out my American Dream.” I’d say you’re doing it David. Keep up the great work. Cheers!
For more information check out the StiL 630 website: http://still630.com/