Edible Rhody Spring 2012 : Page 14
Left to right: Bryan Ricard (PR/Marketing), Mike Reppucci (Founder/Distiller), Danny Murphy (Sales), Chris Guillette (Distiller). Local Proof By Johnette Rodriguez Photos By Chip Riegel Sons of Liberty From Barley to Barrel: Single Malt Takes Hold in Peace Dale Mike Reppucci is nothing if not thorough. The Narragansett High and Brown University grad tasted many of Scotland’s single-malt whiskeys while getting his master’s in finance at the London Business School. Then, a few years later, when he decided to seriously pursue his own question of why there isn’t a great American single malt, he read a 200-page book on oak barrels, attended seminars in Kentucky and did intense tutorials on the chemistry of distilling with retired Maker’s Mark Master Distiller Dave Pickerell (who’s still a paid consultant with Reppucci). Last December, he launched the Sons of Liberty Spirits Company in Peace Dale, with his first branded whiskey called Uprising, and a logo that stylizes the five stripes from the Sons of Liberty flag. “The Sons of Liberty were merchants who literally stood up for what they believed in,” Reppucci explains. “We want to revolutionize whiskey in this country.” Reppucci is referring to himself and his cousin Chris Guillette, his right-hand guy and the person who built out the whole distillery in the 14 spring 2012 EDIBLERHODY.COM chipriegel.com
By Johnette Rodriguez • Photos By Chip Riegel
Sons of Liberty
From Barley to Barrel: Single Malt Takes Hold in Peace Dale
Mike Reppucci is nothing if not thorough. The Narragansett High and Brown University grad tasted many of Scotland's single-malt whiskeys while getting his master's in finance at the London Business School. Then, a few years later, when he decided to seriously pursue his own question of why there isn't a great American single malt, he read a 200-page book on oak barrels, attended seminars in Kentucky and did intense tutorials on the chemistry of distilling with retired Maker's Mark Master Distiller Dave Pickerell (who's still a paid consultant with Reppucci).
Last December, he launched the Sons of Liberty Spirits Company in Peace Dale, with his first branded whiskey called Uprising, and a logo that stylizes the five stripes from the Sons of Liberty flag.
"The Sons of Liberty were merchants who literally stood up for what they believed in," Reppucci explains. "We want to revolutionize whiskey in this country."
Reppucci is referring to himself and his cousin Chris Guillette, his right-hand guy and the person who built out the whole distillery in the Peace Dale Processing Mill, which had been zoned for a distillery sometime in the last century. He grew up with Guillette, the two of them learning winemaking from an Italian neighbor (they've named the still "Mario" in his memory). Now 32, Reppucci is married, with an 18-month-old daughter.
"This business is about sacrifice–we've been living with my parents the past two-and-a-half years," Reppucci reflects. "It's about the American spirit–on bottling and labeling days, our whole family, including my 92-year-old grandmother, pitches in. This is about 30-somethings taking a shot and trying to make it."
Does he sound passionate about his product? And then some! He's eager to guide a novice through the steps of making the whiskey, from barley to barrel. A single-malt refers to a single grain (American whiskeys are made from rye, wheat, barley and, for bourbon specifically, corn); the malting process involves wetting and then roasting the whole grains.
At Sons of Liberty, they've chosen a dark-roasted barley, which they grind in their own grain mill before loading it into a lauter tun, a large vat with a false bottom. There it is mixed with hot water (not boiling) before the solids are separated from the liquid. Making whiskey begins just like making beer, minus the hops, Reppucci emphasizes.
The liquid then goes into five square fermenters, where it is fed a yeast strain used by Glenfiddich (the famous Scottish single-malt brand) and fermented slowly and gently (longer time, less temperature than bourbon). After five or six days, it is transferred to the still.
"We run it low and slow–we don't want burn notes, and we can run it at about half of the normal pressure," Reppucci says. "We're doing a young whiskey, so we have to take care all along the way."
They also do a double distillation and they only take it to 130 proof (bourbon is usually 160; Irish whiskeys 189), because they want to retain the taste of the beer they started out with. Then they begin the first part of the whiskey's finishing process: tasting for the sharpest parts of the run (called heads), for the "body" (called hearts) and for the oily streaks (called tails).
"As it's coming off, we're tasting, and we're trying to siphon off the heads and the tails–the hearts are what we keep and make whiskey," Reppucci stresses. "It's not clear-cut–that's the art of whisky making."
The other art has to do with Reppucci's careful study of oak-staved barrels and of Rhody's "terroir." For the barrels themselves, he found a Missouri company that doesn't char them during curing (which lends a distinctive caramel taste) but rather heats them to a point that can give mocha or vanilla hints to the whiskey aged within their staves.
One climate factor in Rhode Island is the salt air–he's aging his barrels close to the ocean for a whiff of sea salt in the whiskey, as they do in the islands off Scotland's coast. Another is the temperature differential–the difference between the highest and lowest temperatures.
Here, it's in the 60s (in Scotland, 30s), and with the higher differential, there's a faster maturation of the whiskey.
"We were already thinking that we wanted to just touch our whiskey with oak," Reppucci recalls. "Our whiskey is light-colored, very smooth, very light–it's only aged a month. I think of Uprising as a beer-forward whiskey; the others are more oak-forward. It doesn't have the viscosity of some whiskeys, but it has backbone and complexity. We want it to finish like a Guinness stout, with roasted grain characteristics."
As for marketing, Reppucci has confirmed what he suspected: "Local and limited is big; small-batch whiskey is very cool."
"Made in Rhode Island" translates to sales. They're currently restricting distribution to Rhode Island (100 locations) and the Boston area, because, as Reppucci has learned, "It sells so much better if I can say to people, 'Hey, I'm Mike, you wanna try my whiskey?'" eR
Johnette Rodriguez is a food, travel and arts writer published in Yankee, Saveur, The Boston Globe, The Providence Phoenix, the South County Independent and The Westerly Sun.
Tours and tastings Wednesdays 10 am–4 pm and Saturdays 10 am–2 pm.
Sons of Liberty
1725 Kingstown Rd., South Kingstown, RI;
Uprising Over Ice
Unless you prefer your Uprising neat, Reppucci offers these suggestions. Amounts will vary with preference and glass size, he points out.
Nor'easter: Uprising, Barritt's Bermuda Stone ginger beer, dash of bitters, over ice.
American Ginger: Uprising, ginger ale, over ice.
Liberty Cola: Uprising, cola, over ice.
True Patriot: Uprising, lemon peel, over ice.
Read the full article at http://onlinedigeditions.com/article/Local+Proof/998874/102973/article.html.