Rosemary and I made a trip to Cincinnati with our friends, John and Carlene, this past week so Rosemary and Carlene could visit the Rookwood Pottery in the historic Over the Rhine neighborhood. Next to Rookwood is the Northern Row Brewery and Distillery. They were not open at that hour, but thanks to some help from a member of the Rookwood staff, we were able to get into the distillery for a visit and I am glad we did. It turned into a very good visit and I had a chance to talk with their distiller/brewer assistant Justin Devilbliss, and one of the owners, David Berger.
We took a quick look at the stills and discussed distilling with Justin. They are a very recent distillery and have only been open to the public within the last year. They had planned to open to the public in April of 2020, but Covid 19 shutdowns hit and everything was put on hold. They managed to keep their team together during those hard times making hand sanitizer until the restrictions were lifted. David also talked about how planned to enter this business with other distilleries and was advised that making it a combination brewery and distillery was a good way to pay the bills while the whiskey was aging. They also make gin, vodka, rum and some peach brandy as well, but more on that later.
They are making a Bourbon, in smaller barrels at first, but now they are putting it into 53 gallon barrels. They are making about three barrels a week at this time. They seem to be experimenting with their barrel entry proofs still, but it does seem they are looking at something less than 125 for their Bourbon.
They are aging the barrels in the cellar of the building. It is part of an old pre-Prohibition brewery and was designed originally as an ice house for cold storage of beer. It is a brick building with walls of brick about three feet thick and even thicker in the cellar. The basement is very well insulated as a result.
This aging program will be interesting as David told me that there is about a 30 degree temperature swing with a high at about 75 degrees. It will make aging very uniform, but it will be a slower maturation rate. They are looking at aging elsewhere for a more traditional aging as well. They are still a young distillery and space in the cellar is just now becoming a factor. If it was me, I think that they could find a more traditional aging house for barrels and pick the barrels they want to age for a longer time – eight or more years, and place them in the cellar.
They are making other products. One of the best is the unaged peach brandy they made. In 2020, they purchased over 800 pounds of peaches from the Peach Truck. They used a 19th century wine press to make juice from the peaches and then fermented the juice, but also decided to ferment the skins and pulp left over after the press. They then distilled the fermented cider from both processes and bottled the unaged brandy. They started selling it in their gift shop and bar, but also reached out to some local cocktail bars. It became a huge success and they have sold out of that first batch. Fortunately, the Peach Truck was just in Cincinnati and they are making more as I write this blog, so I have plans to get a bottle.
David was generous and allowed us to taste many of their products at the bar. Rosemary and I were impressed with their gins. They have a traditional London Dry Gin, a “Winter Gin” with lots of cinnamon and spice flavors that were not overpowering and well balanced, and an “Herbal Gin” they made using hops in the gin basket that was very interesting. David likes to drink it with a squeeze of lemon in the summer. I think that would be very refreshing. We also tasted a rum aged in used peated malt barrels that gave it an interesting blended Scotch-like flavor and an aged gin that had a strong citrus note that I found very tasty. He offered to let us sample some beers, but we had to drive home and promised we would be back to take him up on that offer.
The whiskey is still aging and he did not have a sample handy for us to taste. David offered to go to the cellar and pull some samples, but we did not want to put him to that trouble. I can say this – their distiller, Josh Quattlebaum, seems to have a good deal of ability as a distiller. All of the other products are very well done, so I expect the whiskey to be equally well done. I hope to get back up there soon and I will contact them before-hand this time. Hopefully, we will be able to taste their beers and their whiskey.
The people at Northern Row Brewery and Distillery were very welcoming and their products are very good. If you are in Cincinnati, I would recommend a visit to this historic brewery and distillery and do as I did and purchase some of their products. I came home with bottles of the London Dry and Winter Gins and I am looking forward to getting some of their peach brandy.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller