Mark, let’s just get into it. Tell us about yourself and what were you involved in before getting into the world of spirit distillation?
MN: Before starting J.P. Trodden Distilling in 2010 I was a restaurant executive for many years and prior to that I was a Chef. Distilling feels like slow motion cooking to me so I think I came by my distilling skills more easily than most newcomers do
(Photo credit – Seattle Eater)
Please tell me how the distillery came about? Tell us about the name.
MN: My wife Jennifer and I created J.P. Trodden when I was at a career crossroads. I was ready to try something new and I wanted to create a product that could endure over decades. We were both itching for the road less traveled when we landed on distilling out of a passion for Bourbon and then just jumped in headfirst. To this day we are the only distillery in Washington State that is focused solely on Bourbon. We have never dabbled in any other spirits.
When it came time to name our distillery and our Bourbon it was pretty easy. We used my grandfather’s name, J.P. Trodden. Grandpa was a mail carrier for a time in the Okanogon Hills of North Central Washington State during Prohibition and had the ability to stuff a few bottles of whiskey in his mailbag when he crossed the British Columbia border where it was still legal. He and his friends survived that horrible drought thanks to the U.S. postal service
What exactly does your job entail?
MN: For the first 6 years of operation I literally did every job myself from distiller to janitor. Literally a one man show. A year ago I finally hired a production assistant who is doing an excellent job of mash cooking and beer stripping runs which allows me to focus on the finished product, aging and running the business.
What was the vision for JP Trodden Distilling.
MN: From the start our vision was to create a memorable Bourbon. One that is approachable to Men, Women, Bourbon fans, Scotch fans and folks who are altogether new to whiskey drinking. I think we pulled it off so that’s what we will continue to do
What whiskey expressions do you currently produce, and how are they all different?
MN: My main product is J.P. Trodden small batch Bourbon which is 3 year aged and bottled at 90 proof. I also do an occasional release of a Single Cask 4 year old 100 proof Bourbon and this coming January I will begin releasing my 6 year Bourbon.
Talk for a minute about your choice of still – how did you know it would create the flavor profiles you were looking for?
MN: When I selected my still as with all my equipment the first requirement for me was that it was built in the U.S. Since I make Bourbon and it can only be made in the U.S. I thought it was appropriate to go all in. I found a coppersmith in Eugene Oregon who designed and built a copper Alembic pot still that I fell in love with. It has very classic qualities I knew would work with the classic Bourbon I wanted to create. It was a bit like a Chef picking out a pan that felt perfect for the job.
Walk us through the distillation process. Is there a flavor profile you’re looking for before bottling the spirits?
MN: I have always been a fan of Wheated Bourbons so when I created my mash bill I knew it had to contain a healthy amount of Washington grown winter wheat. My Corn comes from the same farmer also. I like the softer qualities that wheat imparts and I developed my style to be a bit less on the sweet side. I wanted every sip to impart that great warming sensation that good Bourbons have and a full round, long finish. When it comes to the distillation I tend to make deeper cuts than most craft distillers. I don’t produce a huge amount so I wanted to be sure each batch really maximizes the Hearts. I’m all about quality over quantity.
In terms of aging I didn’t want to rush J.P. Trodden to market so I stuck it out for the first 3 years before releasing. Most folks comment that it tastes well beyond it’s years. I’m really excited to release the 6 year. It’s really good.
Do you believe now is the most exciting time for a whiskey lover?
MN: I think this is a great time to be a whiskey fan. With the emergence of so many craft whiskey styles there is no end to the exploring. You may find a few frogs out there but there are lots of princes and the frogs are growing and improving all the time.
Do you have any role models in this industry?
MN: My role models in Bourbon span both sides of the distilling industry. I was lucky enough once to meet Booker Noe and I appreciated the fact that as arguably a guy born to the blue bloods of Bourbon he still stepped out to create his own signature style and the other is Julian Van Winkle. Not born to the blue bloods but created a legend in Bourbon all the same. They were both undaunted by history and unafraid to do what they did. I’d like to think I have a bit of that spirit in me.
How do you expand your spirits nationally? Any plans to do so?
MN: My current distribution is primarily here in Washington State but I also allocate to New York and New Jersey and a bit to British Columbia. I sell every matured drop I have. I doubled production as of a year ago so sometime down the road J.P will be more widely available in many more states but I haven’t decided whether to increase production again or leave that to the next generation
What are your hopes for the distillery 5 years from now?
MN: Over the next 5 years J.P. will expand it’s reach into other states. It seems to be enjoying a bit of a cult following and I will be happy to see that continue. Mostly I just want to see more and more folks enjoy it because that’s the best part of this whole operation.
Do you think that your product is distinctive? If so, what makes it distinctive from other whiskies on the market?
MN: I think J.P. Trodden is a very distinctive Bourbon but that’s what makes Bourbon great. We all have to follow the same rules of production and yet every Bourbon has it’s own fingerprint and there are 100’s of factors that play into that. I’m incredibly happy with J.P.’s fingerprint. It’s mellow with just the right amount of bite and it has some deep complexity of flavors you don’t usually find in a Bourbon this young
Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
MN: Making Bourbon is the hardest job I’ve ever had but the most deeply rewarding. Part of the reason I named it for my grandfather was that when I put his name on the bottle I knew there was no room for shortcuts or a product that was less than great. After all he’s no longer here to defend his good name so it had to be a whiskey he would have loved and been proud of.