“A medium sized craft distiller” was all that my travel guide said. I didn’t quite know what to expect. After having scanned the walls of their Nashville Headquarters the headlines made it clear: this is quality. Corsair is the new kid on the craft block. One of the wackiest whiskeys ever, The Huffington Post writes about the Corsair Oatmeal Stout Whiskey. Entering the canteen I am welcomed with Booze for Badasses in huge neon lettering coming from their Corsair website.
Compliments tripping over each other wherever I look. The Tarantino like label on the bottle really helps to get people interested. The visitors’ centre is living room size and filled with names like Oatrage, Ryemageddon, Pumpkin Spice Moonshine, Barrel Aged Gin, Red Absinthe, Quinoa Whiskey and Triple Smoke. “Corsair has been honored with about 800 medals,” says Kara, our guide on duty. She is one of the 32 employees and active today as host, bottle filler, label sticker lady, barrel roller, office worker and so forth. “That’s what everybody does at Corsair. Active on all positions and we love it.”
The BBQ way
“Whiskey small batch, rum, absinthe, genever, craft beers, gin. You name it…we make it,” says Kara while standing in the bottling area. No fancy bottle filling machines, but just a tube hanging from the wall behind us attached to a 4-bottle tray. How simple is it? “We all take turns in labelling the bottles; a dreary job but it has to be done.”
There is another interesting feature that is revealed to me this afternoon. A lot of craft distilling companies seem to get away from the old fashioned way of smoking the grains. Peat is by a long way not the only main source of smoking. In my European view, Corsair has a BBQ way of dealing with this.
From grains to grapes
They are creative in using a plethora of firewoods like apple tree, pear tree, persimmon, black walnut, etcetera. The varieties are endless. The barley for their Triple Wood whiskey is smoked with a little bit of peat, beech and cherry wood. The Hydra whiskey, which is an American malt whiskey, is really going over the top. This barley is smoked with pecan, black walnut, maple, apple and persimmon, all to culminate into the ultimate taste of smoke, leather and firewood.
On Bells Bend Farms west of Nashville Corsair created a farm distillery with a malting house and a grain smoker. On the same premises Corsair grows grapes like Marquette, Baco Noir, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Traminette, Noiret, Nebbiolo, Zinfandel, Chambourcin and Petite Syrah. All this to prepare for their first wines and brandy.
On the table next to the front door I pick up a recipe book called ‘Alt Whiskeys’, written by Corsair founder and owner Darek Bell. I leaf through a slew of cocktails which I also recognize from the Corsair website. How about Bang Bang Cuba Libre made with 2 oz Corsair’s Spiced Rum or a Vanilla Mint Moscow Mule with a shot of Vanilla Bean vodka?
After the tour we end up at the bar ready for a taste of today’s line-up. Kara generously fills seven plastic cups in one go. Each with one of Corsair’s signature whiskeys. Serving a dram in this artistic way is another one of her special skills. Kara reassures me that the Ryemageddon (92 Proof /46% abv) I want to take home on the plane to Amsterdam will be in one piece when I get home …… and I trust her.
 Bell, D. (2012).Alt Whiskeys: Alternative Whiskey Recipes and Distilling Techniques forthe Adventurous Craft Distiller. American Distilling Institute.
I write about all sorts of beverages of which whisk(e)y is my favorite. Traveling, interviewing and writing are combined in most of the stories on my blog. I have to admit that the occasional cigar is a companion that I love to pair with food, (port) wine, cognac and again...