Black Patch Distilling Company

Black Patch Product Line

Black Patch Distilling Company

I was privileged to pay a visit to Black Patch Distilling Company in Madison Alabama on January 9th 2019. Black Patch, owned by Clayton Hinchman and operated by his wife Leslie and stepfather Gary Cooper, opened in June 2018. The Black Patch label proudly proclaims that the distillery is owned and operated by a combat veteran. That vet is Clayton. Clayton is a graduate of the US Military Academy at West Point and an honor graduate of the Army’s prestigious Ranger School.

He was grievously wounded in Iraq while on a combat patrol. In Iraq, Clayton served with Task Force 17, also known as Task Force Ghost. The task force’s missions included finding and eliminating high value enemy personnel. Due to the secretive nature of their work their did not use standard issue Army patches . Instead, they wore only two patches, an American flag and a black patch. It was this experience which provides the inspiration for the name for the distillery.

Gary Cooper Master Distiller

Master Distiller Gary Cooper
            Master Distiller Gary Cooper

The distillery’s Master Distiller is Gary Cooper, Clayton’s stepfather. Gary, a polymer chemist with lifelong employment in the petrol-chemical industry, had for many years longed to leave that work and instead open a distillery. Clayton and his wife were able to bring that dream to fruition. Like most distilleries, Black Patch produces and sells bourbon and rye whiskeys. However, for this visit I wanted to focus on the two products that are unique to Black Patch, Órale and H.E.A.T..

Órale, currently available in Platinum, is an unaged spirit made from 100% blue agave syrup. Blue agave is challenging to work with and produces low yields of alcohol. However, Gary is quick to say that only 100% blue agave can produce the easy sipping sweet and favorable spirit that he wanted. H.E.A.T., a very different drink, is a blend of Canadian whiskey and handmade cinnamon candy. Cinnamon whiskeys are very popular today, but almost all use chemicals to work they magic. To make H.E.A.T. Gary opted for the labor intensive homemade candy recipe to avoid the plastic aftertaste that plague the other competing products.  These characteristics bring life to the distillery’s motto “our passion is on the inside of the bottle, not on the label”.

Since its founding last summer the distillery has become a popular gathering place for the locals. This popularity drove the owners to invest in a bar and a place for a food truck to park inside the building. Now, fans of Black Patch can spend some time sharing food and fun in addition to the full range of Black Patch products.

Black Patch Órale Platinum Ingredients

Órale Platinum
Órale Platinum

Gary describes Órale as an enjoyable sipping liquor, but one that also stands up well when used with a mixer. The main ingredient used to achieve this balance is 100% Blue Agave syrup sourced from Mexico, New Mexico, and Arizona. This is the same agave that is used in Mexico to produce that country’s finest Tequilas. Gary adds water sourced from Madison City municipal water department. He treats the water with a carbon filter and water softener to remove organic compounds, as well as chlorine, iron, and calcium. All of which can give the final product a funky color or taste.

To convert the sugar into alcohol, Gary uses a dry yeast especially formulated for agave syrup and yeast nutrients. This is a mixture of protein, free-form amino acids, minerals, enzymes, vitamins, and fibers that increases the yeast’s ability to convert sugar into alcohol. To boost alcohol production even further Gary adds alpha-amylase and beta-amylase to the mixture to break down complex carbohydrates and simple carbohydrates in the blue agave syrup into simple sugars to aid in the production of alcohol.

Since Órale Platinum is a bottled unaged straight off the still no barrels are used in its production. The Reposado version is aged for at least 2 months months in used bourbon or rye whiskey barrels.

Making Órale Platinum

Gary mixes 25 gallons of blue agave syrup and 240 gallons of water in his mash tank to make a batch of Órale wash. Once mixed, he heats the mixture to about 160o. He then adds the alpha-amylase and allows the mixture cook for about an hour. Next, he cools the mixture to about 140o and adds the beta-amylase into the mixture. He then allows the mixture to sit overnight in the mash tank. This ensures the complex sugars have been broken down into the simple sugars the yeast will need to produce alcohol.

The next morning he uses his transfer pump to transfer the mixture into his fermentation tank and cools the mixture to about 80o. Now he adds the yeast and yeast nutrients which will use the sugars in the mixture to produce alcohol.

Now the waiting begins. The yeast need anywhere from seven to ten days to fully convert the sugars in the mixture into alcohol. At this point fermentation activity is complete and the mixture now has an Alcohol by Volume (ABV) somewhere between 3.5% and 4.0%. Once again using his transfer pump, Gary transfers the fermented mixture into his still for its first distillation. This first distillation is called the stripping run and bypasses the column portion of the still. The spirit at this point is about 40 proof or 20% ABV. This stripping run converts the original 265 gallon batch of water and agave syrup into about 55 gallons of 40 proof alcohol.

Gary collects 4 batches together then runs the second distillation, called the spirts run. This run uses the still and the 4 plate column to produce the raw Órale distillate at about 135 proof. Gary then adds filtered water to bring the proof down to 80 for bottling. Gary reserves some of the batch which he places into used bourbon barrels for a minimum of 2 months to produce his Reposado Órale.

H.E.A.T Cinnamon Flavored Whiskey

H.E.A.T. Cinnamon Flavored Whiskey
    H.E.A.T. Cinnamon Flavored Whiskey

Sticking with the military theme of the Black Patch Distilling Company, the distillery team named this cinnamon flavored whiskey after the military’s high explosive anti-tank weaponry. Taking the military theme one step further, the label includes a graphic of a lovely lady riding a bomb that is reminiscent of the nose art that adored many World War II bombers.

H.E.A.T. starts with a base of four year old Canadian Whiskey with a mash bill of 75% corn, 20% rye, and 5% malted barley. This corn heavy whiskey provides a solid sweet base for the final product. Black Patch makes their own cinnamon candy on site to flavor the whiskey. Doing this makes a big difference in the whiskey and truly differentiates it from competitors such as Sazerac’s Fireball or Jim Beam’s Kentucky Fire.

These mainstream cinnamon whiskeys use propylene glycol to keep the oils used in making the whiskey in solution. This keeps the whiskey from looking look cloudy. The US Food and Drug Administration does consider propylene glycol safe for human consumption. However, it does add somewhat of a synthetic plastic taste to the whiskey.

H.E.A.T. is Black Patch’s biggest seller, but is not yet available in any Alabama ABC stores. You’ll need to go to the distillery or find one of the bars or non-ABC liquor stores in Alabama to buy your shot or bottle. H.E.A.T. is a great sipping whiskey for anyone what doesn’t ordinarily sip whiskey. I love sipping H.E.A.T. while I am reading a good book.

Jim Beam – Behind the Beam Tour

Jim Beam Distillery

This was the third distillery tour I enjoyed on our Kentucky Thoroughbred and Bourbon Land Cruise in May 2018. The Jim Beam Behind the Beam tour costs a whopping $199.00 and lasts four hours. Because of those two factors, my wife declined to join me for this tour. The tour was a fun and educational experience and, in my opinion, well worth the time and monetary investment. It was a delight to spend time with our guide, Jennifer, the distillery’s Trade & Hospitality Manager. She ensured that everyone’s questions, and I asked many, were fully and clearly answered.

The highlight of the tour however, was the 90 minutes or so that our group of 24 spent with Master Distiller Fred Noe and his son Freddie. Both men were plain spoken, open and honest in their answers and explanations, and fun to be around. Fred Noe was especially entertaining, but did tend to use some salty language. Not an issue for an old Soldier like myself, but I can imagine some folks might be a bit put off. I highly recommend this tour for the serious bourbon enthusiast.

Jim Beam Ingredients

Jim Beam uses the famous Kentucky limestone filtered water, drawn from a nearby well, at each of its two distillery locations, for all its whiskeys. The well water is used as is for fermentation, but is demineralized for gauging or cutting the proof for barreling or bottling. Jim Beam sources its grains from multiple locations. It obtains corn from Kentucky and Indiana, rye from New England, and malted barley from North Dakota. All grains are milled on site on an as needed basis. Jim Beam uses a yeast strain, which they propagate themselves, that dates back to the 1930s. Jim Beam obtains its barrels from the Independent Stave Company. Each barrel receives a level 4 char, which requires about a 55 second burn. The barrels are not toasted before charring.

Jim Beam Product Line
The Entire Jim Beam Product Line

Jim Beam uses these ingredients to make a phenomenal number of products from the basic Jim Beam White Label to the highly regarded special “Booker” bottlings, such as the recently released Booker’s Bourbon Batch 2018-03 “Kentucky Chew”. This wide range of products helps explain the company’s dominance within the bourbon industry. There’s something for every taste and pocketbook. Between its two Kentucky distilleries, Jim Beam produces about half of all Kentucky Bourbon. Since about 90% of all bourbon produced in any given year comes from Kentucky, this means that Jim Beam is producing about 45% of the world’s bourbon. That statistic does come with an asterisk however. Jim Beam gets to claim its bourbon dominance only because the good folks at Jack Daniel’s choose not to call their fine Tennessee Whiskey a bourbon. If they did, they would be the world’s leading bourbon producer.

The Whiskey Making Process at the Plant #1

The milled grains and water drawn from the well are combined in the mash cooker. The cooked mash is then pumped into one of the plant’s 22 fermenters where the mash spends about 72 hours (3 days) to allow the yeast time to work its magic converting sugars into alcohol. Jim Beam, like almost every major bourbon producer, uses the sour mash technique, so some of the back set from an earlier distilling run is added to the fermenter along with the fresh mash. Once fermentation is complete, the mash, now called distiller’s beer, is pumped into the distillery’s column still.

The column still at the main plant in Clermont has 23 plates and stands about five stories tall. The distillate from the column still, known as low wines, comes out at 125 proof for most of the product line. Low wines for the Booker family of products comes out at 115 proof, which means more flavor and aroma compounds, good and not so good, are still in the distillate. The low wines move from the column still to a doubler that increases the distillate to 135 proof. Once again, the Booker line is handled differently and comes off at 125 proof. Plant #1 usually produces about 800 barrels per day, while the Booker Noe Plant produces about 1,100 barrels a day.

Dumping Old Overholt Rye
Dumping Old Overholt Rye

The new make is pumped into barrels and stored in one of Jim Beam’s many rickhouses. The company has more than 100 rickhouses scattered over the surrounding countryside. As of May 2018, Jim Beam has a little more than 2.2 million barrels of whiskey aging in its rickhouses. Once the aging process is complete, the barrels are returned to the distillery to be dumped. During our visit, they were dumping 3 year old Old Overholt Rye Whiskey. The whiskey is moved from the dump station to the bottling line, and then shipped out to wholesale outlets around the world.

Our tour took us to the Knob Creek Single Barrel dump station and bottling line. One person in our group had the honor of dumping a barrel, then we all moved to the bottling line. Once there we all had the opportunity to clean an empty bottle using Knob Creek left over from a prior bottling run. Also, for an additional fee, we had the opportunity to get our own personalized bottle of Knob Creek Single Barrel. I, of course, could not resist the siren call, and bought a bottle. Later, in the gift shop, I was able to get my bottle custom laser engraved, for yet another additional fee.

Tasting the Whiskey

Fred and Freddie Noe
Fred and Freddie Noe

Next stop on our tour was to Jim Beam’s oldest rickhouse, where we linked up with Fred and Freddie Noe. As I noted above, both men were a joy to be around and openly shared information with our group. As an example, one person asked how Devil’s Cut was made. I expected a marketer’s answer suitable for a TV ad. Instead, Fred Noe told us they simply add some water to the barrels after they have been dumped, and allow the water to sweat out some of the whiskey trapped in the wood. The extracted whiskey is then blended with other Jim Beam bourbon to make the final product. Once inside the rickhouse we sampled some Jim Beam straight from the barrel, using a commemorative glass that was ours to keep. Our 12 year old sample was dark, 118 proof strong, and full of flavor. Some really good stuff.

We moved from the rickhouse to the T. Jeremiah Beam Home where we ate lunch and sampled more whiskey with Fred and Freddie Noe. Here is what we sampled:

  • Basil Hayden Dark Rye – A blend of Kentucky straight rye, Canadian rye from Beam’s Alberta Distillery, and California port-style wine. Bottled at 80 proof this was tasty and very easy to drink.
  • Jim Beam Distiller’s Masterpiece – 10 year old Jim Beam finished in Pedro Ximénez sherry casks, bottled at 100 proof. I liked this one, but not enough to pay its high price to add to my bar.
  • Knob Creek Cask Strength Straight Rye – This has no age statement, but Fred Noe said it was aged for 8 years in Warehouse A. Bottled at 119 proof, it is a challenge to sip neat. It is better on the third sip than the first. It is full of flavor and would make a wicked good Old Fashioned cocktail.
  • Little Book “The Easy” Blended Straight Whiskey – the first whiskey created by Freddie Noe, it is a blend of 4 year old Jim Beam, 13 year old corn whiskey, 6 year old rye whiskey, and 6 year old malt whiskey. Freddie told us his goal was to recreate Jim Beam’s mash bill using finished whiskeys. At 120.48 proof, this really needs some ice or even some water to enjoy.

Of all the distilleries, large and small, I have visited over the years, this tour was head and shoulders the best. The tour was very informative, but the time we spent with Fred and Freddie Noe was what made the tour worth its $199 price tag. I enjoyed the experience so much that I intend to do it again sometime in the not too distant future. Assuming of course, I can convince my wife to let me spend the money.