Were an artisan distillery in Northern Nevada. We’re distilling whiskey, rum and other spirits in new and unique ways! Branded Hearts Distillery founders, Joshua Nichols and Ryan Cherrick, offer a perspective on life and business that is as unique as the spirits they engineer. When Josh and Ryan took a dramatic detour from their careers in law enforcement, they didn’t look at themselves as aged, but as imprinted. Their attitude toward creating unique and powerful flavors in their whiskey and rum is the same. As partners in the Ventura sheriff’s office they have a history of taking on challenges together.
The distillery allows them to creatively engineer each part of the distilling process, from charring the oak of the barrel to printing the labels for the bottles.”The science behind it is quite romantic,” Ryan explains, “but that’s not what the name implies.” He goes onto explain how a branded heart refers to the portion of spirit kept during distillation that is aged in charred oak barrels.”When you walk away from something having had a good experience, it stays with you. You now have a branded heart,” Josh explains, adding that he enjoys being able to approach his new venture both scientifically and artistically.
Ryan, I would like to kick off by asking what the backstory is to setting up the Branded Hearts Distillery, how you came to be involved and what drew you to the project? Tell us about the name.
RC: My partner Joshua Nichols and I came up with the concept of Branded Hearts in mid 2013. He turned me on to Scotch about a year prior and from there I developed a love of all types of whiskey.
The name comes from the process of making spirits. The, “Hearts” is the mid range liquor pulled usually between 160-60 proof which is kept during the distilling process. Basically, its the good stuff. The hearts are introduced to oak which has been fired and charred black. Spirits do not, “age” like wine. Their development is relative to the environmental conditions which they are subjected to. To say a whiskey is 10 years old in Scotland and is, “older” than an 8 year old southern bourbon for instance is true only with regards to our understanding of the linear nature of time. The new oak and the warmer climate of the south in this case would impart far more flavor into the bourbon than the Scotch would be able to obtain in colder, wetter northern climes. Spirits more accurately, “Mature” or what we like to say they take their respective barrels’ and environments’ Brand. Hince, Branded Hearts.
What exactly does your job entail?
RC: About 80% of what I do for Branded Hearts is business in nature. Keeping books, inventory, taxes, etc. The other 20% is spent planning, brewing, and cleaning……a lot of cleaning.
What have been the main challenges involved in setting up a new distillery?
RC: The government, the government and the government
That seems to be the one that everyone has the most trouble with. What has been the part you’ve enjoyed most?
RC: I really enjoy doing the tours and explaining the process to my customers. Not many folks
know how spirits are made and I am confident when they leave BH they will not look at spirits the same way ever again. This is yet another way we get to Brand Hearts on a day to day basis.
What whiskey expressions do you currently produce?
RC: We make a wheat whiskey made from a mixture of hard red and soft white wheat, and our bourbon is made with oats as a secondary grain. The wheat whiskey has strong flavors of flora and maple while the bourbon is oily and creamy with big notes of vanilla and brown sugar. Our wheat is all locally sourced.
Is there a flavor profile that you aim to achieve when distilling? Do you select casks to achieve this flavor profile?
RC: We do what we can with yeast, grain, and bacteria mixtures to create a myriad of volatile acids in our mashes. When distilled, they are mixed with the flavors our barrels will impart. The barrel also lends a great deal of carbon which acts like a glue and bonds the acids and the ethanol. The results are tremendous ranges of flavors which change almost weekly due to our climate in Reno.
Our barrels are hand charred at the distillery. We only use large 63 gallon casks made from oak which has been air dried for years. We disassemble the barrels, char them by hand, (it took some experimenting to find the best char for our high desert environment) and then we put them back together in preparation for spirits branding.
Our climate has three dominant factors: High elevation which means a thinner atmosphere (easier for air to move through the barrels), very low humidity (Nevada is the driest state in the nation), and the mixture of the previous two factors gives us very extreme temperature swings, both from night to day and season to season. Coupled with softer oak barrels, the result is a wood to whiskey flavor transfer that is rivaled by few other localities in the world.
Do you think that your product is distinctive? If so, what makes it distinctive from other whiskies on the market?
RC: As previously stated, our environment plays a huge part. Reno, in the high rain shadow of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, is considered a hyper active maturation locality. But what really makes our whiskey different is our willingness to use local grains, innovative bacteria and yeast combinations, and the fact we are willing to use alternative grains such as oats and wheat.
What’s the best thing about working at Branded Hearts?
RC: Good conversations with folks who drop by. So many awesome people have walked into my life because of the distillery.
What attributes would you say are most important for a master distiller to possess?
RC: Audacity plain and simple. You have to push the envelope just a little bit. Sometimes you will loose a batch, sometimes a project will not turn our right, it is through your failures that you gain the most experience and insight. I have had barrels of whiskey I almost re- distilled and turned into vodka they were so terrible because I took a chance on a new process or theory. That same barrel a few weeks later took a turn for the amazing and was like a lavender bomb!
There is no shortage of vanilla spirits from larger manufacturers out there. Don’t get into the distilling business to sell someone a more expensive version of vanilla.
“We want to be known as those crazy little Bas#%$#@ down by the Truckee River making some really interesting stuff.” – Ryan Cherrick
Describe your whiskey in 3 words:
RC: I don’t have three words but if you tried it, you might need 3 glasses.
Haha, that’s great Ryan, I can only imagine! Walk us through the distillation process. From grain to glass? Is there a flavor profile you’re looking for before bottling the whiskey?
RC: BH is a project distillery. Every project we set out to a desired end. Only once have we been able to obtain more than 90% of our desired end. The flavor profile changes with the intent of the project. For instance, our double oat’ed bourbon barrel rum we desired to make taste like an Irish whiskey. We wanted to take our rum to an Irish pub and see if people would catch on. We did a good job on that project. That is the kind of stuff we like to do. We are grain to glass, or sugar to glass. Nevada prohibits us from using any kind of spirits made from another distillery.
What is in the pipeline for 2017 that we should look out for?
RC: Craft beer aged in our barrels. I have challenged our new partner and mater brewer, Joshua Maxwell to come up with a winning 20% ABV or above barley or wheat wine that totally bends the senses. When the right barrel(s) comes along were going to make it happen.
Where or who do you feel is the driving, innovative force behind our craft distilling industry right now?
RC: Our customers. They are the people whose expectations we strive to live up to and for which we exist. It is their participation in our industry and willingness to back our products which keeps everything moving forward. To all my customers, thank you!
What are your hopes for the distillery 5 years from now? What do you want to be known for?
RC: We hope to still be around to host all the great folks who have come through our doors. We want to be known as those crazy little Bas#%$#@ down by the Truckee River making some really interesting stuff.
Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
RC: Find that little distillery in your area with a dude or dudette that is just a tad CDO (that’s OCD in alphabetical order like it should be) and support his or her innovations. At the end of the day, we have more in common with an art studio than a commercial distillery. The big dogs will spill more whiskey accidentally than we will make all year. Our products are like an ice sculpture. While the artist is capable of carving the same sculpture twice, it will never be exactly the same. We just enjoy it for a short while, until the barrel is gone, and then we make more. There will always be subtle differences though.
For more information on the distillery, please visit the links below:
website: Branded Hearts Distillery
facebook: Branded Hearts Distillery Facebook