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Know Your Distillers: James Quade

Antler Run Distilling's owner and distiller, James Quade, discusses his journey from brewing beer to crafting distinct Bourbons. He values hands-on production and supports local grains.

Learn about the history of Antler Run Distilling from James Quade, the creator of its distinctive Bourbons. Quade's love of excellence is evident in everything he does, from his modest beginnings producing beer to his path toward creating extraordinary spirits. Find out more about his methods for distilling and his goals for the Finger Lakes region's craft spirits sector. Discover the amazing aspects of his distilling adventure by reading the entire interview.

Tell us a little about your background and journey into distilling.

I'm the owner and distiller of Anther Run Distilling. My name is James Quade and I didn't know it at the time but my journey started with my Dad when he taught me how to brew beer. He started brewing beer as a hobby. He wanted to drink beer from Belgium, Germany, etc. At this point, the craft revolution had not occurred. The options available were greatly limited. This led him to build his brew system. Unlike today he had to use a sports cooler, kitchenware, and random plumbing equipment to create what he needed. I remember him and his friends that he made through brewing beer getting together, sharing techniques, and showing off the different systems they created. I have been distilling professionally for 5 years and am happy to say that the sharing of techniques and in-house-created equipment is alive and well today. It always impresses me how the craft distilling industry comes together to grow and expand. 

Brewing beer was the perfect stepping stone for me to become a distiller. Learning the science behind how to take grain and turn it into sugar to ferment into alcohol is an amazing process. Learning how the smallest of changes in the ingredients or process can change the flavor. I brewed beer for 18 years and have been distilling for 7 years. 5 of those years professionally. I have taken all this knowledge and am applying it to creating unique and complex Bourbons.

I started distilling on a small 8-gallon still in my barn. At first, just learning how a still operates. I was amazed at how just opening the garage door would affect the still. The rush of cold air from the outside would completely stop the still from running almost instantly. After a little over a year of distilling in our barn we decided it was time to try distilling professionally. 

I'm now running my distillery with a 300-gallon mashtun and two 150-gallon stills. We produce approximately  30 barrels a year of Bourbon whiskey. My favorite Bourbon to make is called Howling Dog Bourbon. We use a specialty malt in this Bourbon traditionally only used in making beer. The use of this malt adds complexities to the Bourbon that always amazes anyone who tastes it. Unlike many distilleries, we do not use synthetic enzymes to convert our grain starches into sugar. We use only the naturally occurring enzymes in the malted grain. We find that nature has set itself up to create a perfect balance between unmalted grain and malted grain to have a fully balanced flavor palate. This paired with a slower single distillation creates a unique unmatched flavor in our Bourbons. Many small distilleries try and copy what the large distilleries out of Kentucky do. The Kentucky distilleries run continues stills to strip the alcohol off the grain, then they do a finishing run in a pot still. Since we do not use a continuous still, we see no point in doing this process which ultimately strips flavor from the finished product.

Antler Run Distilling is nestled on a hillside overlooking Keuka Lake. The Finger Lakes have a history of alcohol production starting with wine. The craft brewery revolution took a strong hold here as well. And now every year more and more distilleries are opening up. We love to see each new distillery open and flourish with us in this area. America has long had a history of distilling spirits and we are happy to continue that history.

Your current role and what does your day look like?

I'm the Owner and Distiller at Antler Run Distilling. I pretty much wear every hat you can think of here. Most days I'm creating a mash or distilling a mash. I also get to run the tasting room which is one of my favorite parts of the business. Being able to share my passion with others, teach them how I create my spirits, and tell them my story of how and why we exist. I spend time on the road as well. I go to farmers markets, craft shows, and tasting events around the state. We have a small distribution area for liquor stores at the moment. But that will change this year as we are bringing a long-time friend on to assist me with expanding my distribution from the local area to the region.

What inspired you to become a distiller?

My Father. He has always supported me in all of my dreams. My first step into the world of being an entrepreneur was creating a lawn business. Together we built a small lawn business that I ran while I was in college. We sold the business once I graduated. I started to pursue careers but knew in my heart that I was going to run my own business again. For a long time, I dreamed about owning a brewery. But, by the time I got around to it, I was I little behind the ball in the craft beer revolution. My father suggested that I look into distilling spirits. And as he says those are the words that ended up with him being unretired. 

What are some of the most important skills for a distiller?

The most important skill in distilling spirits is twofold. The first part is your grain. Finding high-quality grain to use is extremely important. The next is understanding the mashing and fermentation process. These two steps is where all the magic happens. If you can create a great mash and fermentation. You can create an exceptional spirit. I always suggest that people who want to get into this industry start by brewing light beer. Beer with little hops to cover up mistakes. IPA is easy to make, but the hops will hide a lot of mistakes in the mashing or fermenting process. if you can make a great pilsner you can make just about anything. 

How do you think a distiller can help in driving marketing and sales personally?

We can bring our enthusiasm about what we love to do out of the distillery and to the people. We can tell our story, we can give tours. We can just talk to people and show them why we love what we do.  

Define a good distiller.

Is someone who cares as much about the grain they use, and the spirits they create, as they care about the customers that they sell it to?

What is the hardest part of a distiller's job?

For me, I'm not only the distiller but also the owner. And its just my Dad and I that do it all. So the hardest part is the amount of hats I have to wear. I'm the distiller, the bartender, the event coordinator, the salesperson, the grunt man, the janitor, accountant. you name it I do it. So balancing all these roles and knowing which one needs to take priority is the hardest thing to do. Luckily we are in a position to hire our first employee this year and they will be able to take on a few of these roles. 

What are the current challenges the spirits industry is facing according to you?

The greatest challenge for the craft spirits industry is dealing with antiquated regulations and a distribution system that is unfriendly to the craft spirits industry. As the craft spirit industry grows stronger I believe we will see other distribution systems created with the help of distiller guilds or collaborations of craft manufacturers coming together to break open the hold the large distributors hold over the liquor stores. The craft spirits industry is growing and we won't be stopped. The powers that be, might be able to put roadblocks in our way but that will not stop the growth of the craft spirits industry.   

What is your idea of a good life?

Being around people that make you happy and doing something that makes you happy. 

Which is your go-to drink and what is the perfect setting you enjoy it in?

My favorite drink is a Manhattan made with our Antler Run Bourbon & The Cherry Stuff. And I enjoy sitting out in front of my distillery looking at Keuka Lake enjoying the view. 

Your favorite 2-3 distilling or spirits books?

The Joy of Home Distilling by Rick Morris & Dead Distillers: A History of the Upstarts and Outlaws Who Made American Spirits by Colin Spoelman and David Haskell

What do you look for in a supplier when sourcing bulk spirits / NGS if you do?

We do not source any bulk spirits. Everything that we create is created in-house from local grain.

Take us through your process of blending.

We create all single batches, single barrel bourbons, and whiskeys so we do not blend. We focus all our attention on creating incredible spirits every time without the need to blend.

How do you take care of production waste?

We compost our stillage into topsoil. The topsoil is used by a local construction company that builds houses. So our stillage becomes people's lawns. The foreshots we use to clean our fermenters. 

If you had to give a quick elevator pitch on why an account should bring in your product for its consumers, what would it be?

Antler Run Distilling is a family run operation focusing on creating high-quality products using local grains. We look to keep pricing reasonable while at the same time providing top-shelf quality spirits. We are a handcrafted operation in a hand-crafted setting. You just cant beat it.

How do you explore new markets for your spirits and focus on business development?

We look for as many direct-to-consumer opportunities as we can find. As a New York Farm Distillery, we are allowed to go to farmers' markets and craft events around the state. These events and markets allow us to get our product in front of the consumers. We then follow up with liquor stores in the areas where we attend markets and events. This provides us with multiple ways to deliver our products to our target markets.

What trends do you anticipate in the beverage industry in the coming months? Or where do you see the domestic craft distilling scene going? What's next for the industry?

I expect to see more states opening up direct-to-consumer shipping laws. This is one of the ways the craft industry is trying to break out of the hold of the large distributors, which creates a major difficulty with getting craft products onto liquor store shelves.

Call for domestic and international submission is now open for London Spirits Competition. Enter your spirits before 31 August 2024 to get super early bird pricing. Register now and ship later to save.

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