It’s no secret we’ve acquired a taste for good bourbon. But it’s not just the smooth flavors that we appreciate: trips along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour, and other random places we’ve tracked down have taught us so much of the back story that we appreciate each of the ones we’ve personally visited even more.
Each tour starts the same. There’s always corn, then sometimes wheat, rye, or barley. There’s a mash that goes to the still, and a point in the process where moonshine is an option to pull from the line. The differences come from how they choose their grains, what recipe is their trademark, how long they choose to leave their product in a barrel, and what shape of bottle they fill. Then there are seemingly small variations that can make a big difference, such as the amount of char in a barrel, switching barrels at a point in the aging process, or mixing two different barrels.
But the stories and history are amazing. The more we learn about how a product came to be, the more we can appreciate the pour in a glass that is no longer considered simple. And that interest in wanting to know the people and the history are what lead us to the Wood Hat in New Florence, Missouri.
Let’s backup to last November, when we went to Whiskey in the Winter with the Jacksons, held in downtown St. Louis. If you can picture a huge hotel ballroom filled with different distilleries offering tastings and stories of their product, you would probably imagine it difficult to remember anything specific. But the Wood Hat stuck out that night, and listening to that bearded man tell part of his story while wearing his handmade wood hat left a mark in our minds—especially with the Jacksons, as they develop their soon-to-be café named The Wooden Tie. See a correlation?
The Wood Hat opened in 2003 by the bearded gentleman who has chosen to take his experience in agronomy and woodworking and marry them into a dream retirement of making whiskey: choosing varieties of corn (they use locally grown white, yellow, red, and blue corn in their mash bills, with 2 acres of corn even growing right behind the distillery), cooking corn and wheat into a mash, distilling, and then holding that product in wooden barrels also acquired locally until it’s ready to be served as Wood Hat Whiskey or Bourbon. It’s an insanely intimate production line, with the same few employees handling every step of the process while also humoring the customers who step in for a glimpse of that process and a taste of the end result.
The Wood Hat used to be the only distillery in the nation that cut its own wood to provide heat to cook the mash; now they are one of 2. They do everything for their whiskey and bourbon in a relatively small building with a line of containers in the back which hold all of the barrels for aging. The barrels are chosen, bottled, labeled, and loaded onto pallets all in that building.
It’s nice to see hard-working people carefully craft a product that has the end-result of being fantastic. While we enjoyed every part of the tasting, the Wood Hat Rubenesque, a 100 proof bourbon, is definitely their crown product. And now that we know how a single man’s dream, pride in agronomy, interest in woodworking, dedication to locally sourced inputs, and skill at creating quality products can all come together in a tiny Missouri town, I am excited to pick this out of a line-up on a shelf and I also look forward to seeing them grow.