We recently interviewed Darek Bell, owner of Corsair Distillery in Nashville, Tennessee. Read our full Q&A with him, below.
1 What craft spirits does Corsair Distillery offer?
We have historically played in almost every category. That’s really the root of the craft spirits boom—having the desire and speed to play mad scientist. However, as we have grown, we have been forced to focus a bit so we don’t overextend ourselves on the operations side. As of right now, we have our core four items (Triple Smoke American Single Malt Whiskey, Dark Rye American Rye Malt Whiskey, American Gin, and Barreled Gin). We also have a support line really catering to the on-premise channel that contains our Vanilla Bean Vodka, Spiced Rum, and Red Absinthe.
2 What makes your whiskey stand out?
[Note: In making its whiskeys, Corsair Distillery uses alternate grains as well as grains, yeasts, and techniques typically used by brewers but not distillers.] It means a lot of R&D. We have tried everything from malted oatmeal, to quinoa, to tritacale. When I started distilling, I knew I couldn’t compete with the big guys making standard offerings so I thought how can I play with the ingredients, smokes, distillation process, aging techniques, etc. to come up with truly unique products? With some of those grains, you have to become much more efficient or patient because they don’t act like barley, but the end products are always interesting. By doing this, I think we are able to create flavor profiles that others can’t with a traditional process or grain bill.
3 What makes your other spirits different?
We make our whiskeys in-house so you know the liquid is different from 50% of the brands out there because we don’t source. Even in a really established category like gin, we purposely use the non-traditional vapor basket distillation process because we want a crisp, mixable end product. And we take liberty with the botanicals as well—like adding cucumber or chamomile. We also like to be a little more modern in our look; we’re not trying to be a heritage brand, we’re trying to be more forward thinking and innovative.
4 Have you noticed an increased demand for craft spirits?
Absolutely. Spirits offerings have exploded in the last 10 years. It’s great for consumers but creates a bit of pressure on accounts and distributors because their time and attention can be stretched.
5 What led to the decision to re-image the brand?
It has become more and more difficult to visually stand out, but the proliferation [of craft spirits] has also raised the quality of packaging across all craft brands. Customers expect quality packaging in addition to a good liquid. Our old pack was very time consuming to hand label, it was also very difficult to consistently hand label in a quality way – the
new one is screen printed, which eliminates all of those inconsistencies and time waste we had.
6 Does Corsair have a footprint in the on-premise market?
We do, and we think the on-premise channel is key to the craft movement. This is how many consumers try new things so it’s definitely a focus for us. All of our products are created or at least heavily influenced by the on-premise channel. For Triple Smoke, we wanted a smoke that wasn’t overpowering but would stand up
in a cocktail. With Dark Rye, we intentionally take out those green notes you get in a typical rye so that it is more mixable and the pepper would shine through. For our Vanilla Bean Vodka, we don’t add sugar because we know a good mixologist will want to control the sugar content of the final cocktail. We are distributed in about 35 states currently.
7 Any advice for using your spirits?
I would recommend they think laterally. Try spirits that haven’t traditionally been an ingredient in that cocktail—a great example is an old fashioned made with our Barreled Gin. The cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove in the gin just brings it to a whole new level and the result is surprising. All that to say—play around, just like we do to find new and surprising flavor profiles.