BLACK BEAR DISTILLERY
So, what makes Black Bear Distillery special?
It is hard to know where to start. I struggled with this. Do I stick to just the facts; stay politically correct? Or do I touch on deeper subjects like the definition of “craft” and our philosophy? I finally decided to do a little bit of both. No offense meant to anyone. I have to admit that over the past few years this has grown from a simple base philosophy into a life-altering crusade. Every time I visit a “craft” “distillery” and they have no still I want to cry. Seriously. I sit in the car with tears in my eyes. I think about the last three years of suffering and turning wrenches and welding and getting burned and all-nighters and I shake my head. Am I just stupid? This was a dozen times in the last year. I am not judging anyone. I love everyone and know how hard this business is, so people do what they must to survive; but to make a “craft gin” by buying dollar a gallon neutral grain spirits from another state and flavoring them seems a little un-craft. Slapping your cool micro-artisan-craft label on your vodka which you bought in a stainless tanker and ran through a carbon filter pump seems a tad unfair to those of us who stay up all night trying to control steam temperatures and increase the copper contact in our pot still while battling banging hissing pipes dripping boiling condensation on our bald heads. I wish I could pump NGS from a tanker to my bottling line. Oh wait, I don’t have a bottling line, unless you count my kids. Some of those guys are “micro”, sure, but “craft”? Well, Black Bear is, for lack of a better word, the opposite of all that; ultra-artisan and standing in difficult, expensive, and dangerous opposition to this non-craft anti-artisan micro trend.
Did I alienate enough people? I don’t want to, but I recently overheard liquor store owners talking about how craft doesn’t exist and how all these brands give them upset stomachs and they are about to start recommending the big brands again since they can’t trust us. THEY CAN’T TRUST US. True story. Real conversation. Now we should all be scared. If you take a 190 proof NGS and water it down you forget that it is crap. You think that since moonshine and vodka and gin are clear and need to be filtered and smooth that you can just run them through carbon. It doesn’t work like that. The lack of flavor and the cheap initial ingredients and vast over-proofing for profit actually makes people sick. It gives them headaches and stomach aches and if we are not careful we are going to lose the advantage we gained over the last decade. WE HAVE TO MAKE SURE THEY CAN TRUST US.
So, that is our philosophy. We will stand strong, even it means being poor. Last week I was offered any amount I wanted of clear spirit for what amounts to 50 cents a bottle, from a barrel to a tanker truck. Fifty cents. That is hard to turn down when you would sextuple your profits overnight and don’t actually have to do any work. But, we know the farmers, and we don’t mind the sweat, so let’s look at the details of what makes Black Bear Special.
Groundbreaking Innovations and Ancient Values
1. We created and protected the word CRAFTSHINE to represent what we do. True craft, true shine. We call it “Ultra-Artisan”. All of our products will follow these true craft guidelines, but our first release is the CraftShine “Queen’s Gambit” Artisan Moonshine and its more complex older brother, CraftShine Reserve.
2. The “Queen’s Gambit”, a reference to the Prohibition Era Chess Opening, is not only our opening, recalling our long history, but refers to the honey (queen) and wild yeast (gambit) we incorporate into this innovative spirit.
3. Our corn is heirloom varietal corn called Bow and Arrow produced by the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe out of their reservation in Towaoc, CO. It is a sustainable, all-natural, and non-GMO product of ancient organic origins. The use of non-industrial non-standardized grain obviously provides a more unique deeper flavor, and the profits support the tribe.
4. Our honey is produced partially in house by our own captured feral bees, but mostly by another small sustainability conscious farm called Blue Raven in Pueblo, Colorado. Bill and Diana LaMorris have orchards of apples, peaches, cherries, and plums which combine with the wildflowers and local sage to make their very special honey. We use it not only for complexity, but to take a little edge off the shine and smooth it out for sipping (not too sweet) and use in artisan cocktails.
5. We ferment the Bow and Arrow Sweet Corn and Blue Raven Honey mash with another innovation called Green Mountain Yeast. An extremely rare concept in the world of distillation due to its inherent dangers, we wild caught this yeast from our mountain air and than promoted drift mutation with high alcohol tolerant distillers’ yeast creating a product of immense flavor, some random variation, and a moderate non-turbo fermentation speed and ABV (five days and 13%). We control the variations to the best of our ability in our yeast lab, but allow flavor profile enhancements.As far as we know no one else, or at least almost no one else, is doing this in the micro-distilling field. It is completely crazy by the way.
6. We are also unaware of anyone else promoting the new industry brand category of RESERVE MOONSHINE. Not that someone might not be thinking this (like those awesome guys in Asheville), it is a small world, but we are fairly certain we are pioneers in this arena. So, why “Reserve Shine” and not just whiskey? The first reason is our general branding as cutting edge. Like Jack Daniels, who use a simple charcoal filtering method to create a mostly illusory distinction from bourbon, the main reason is standing apart. But, we have a core value of promoting the truth and history of shine. In fact, we also trademarked the term “History of Shine”. My grandfather did not make thousands of dollars a month by having rough harsh spirit; it was smooth and delicious, and that is what we are promoting. Like the small family run Mescal producers in the mountains of Oaxaca who have suffered from the cheap awful versions of mescal and have fought their way back to a respected artisan product, we want the world to know that moonshine is not hooch or swill. We are tired of the buck-toothed hillbilly labels on mason jars full of NGS.It is offensive. Real Shine is a deeply rooted, truly artisan, small batch, pot still product that is as important as any other spirit on the planet.
7. We also make a distinction in recipe, considering that most whiskies and bourbons contain elements of barley and rye and not honey, sure, many of us use mostly corn, but we still consider our recipe different enough to represent moonshine as opposed to whiskey, scotch, or bourbon. We then rest that lightly infused product in wood casks, another innovation that adds complexity and yet more smoothness as well as a touch of color. Whiskey tends to be more aged and Bourbon uses fresh casks, so again we suggest a separation as we only age a few months and only for a slight color and complexity. Moonshine and Corn Whiskey tend to be clear, but we have that light golden hue, again separating our vision. Hence “Reserve Moonshine”. A smooth lightly infused artisan shine mellowed briefly in used charred casks, as far as we know, a “New Category”, or at least, an advancement of one.
8. Another part of our vision involves patriotism. With Vets on staff and in our families, we promote buy American, so not only is our product all American (in fact all Colorado), but our bottles, corks, and labels are all also made in America.
9. What is not from America are many of the African and South American products in our gift shop. They are from hard working entrepreneurs in underprivileged foreign cultures and represent the Mission Side of our vision. Black Bear is a Mission Distillery in that much of our sales and many of our gift shop products go to support missions worldwide (for example our grain supporting a Native Tribe), but working with Yobel International we also provide as much support to uplift families and communities in less affluent societies. We are dedicated to helping and giving back and this is part of our core vision, which, popular or not, is Christian. We are a staff and family of believers and we realize that for many people that is difficult to reconcile as a distillery. To that we can only say that God does what he likes, and in our case, He built a distillery.
10. Going Green. Our last innovation is a work in progress. To date we have incorporated the following Green Initiatives. We use the heads and tails of our runs to create all natural cleaning supplies which can be re-filled in our gift shop. We have solar panels to run the grinder and pumps and a double recycling system that we had to create from an old refrigerator for our cooling water. We have closed our system as tight as possible to lower our carbon footprint and plan to be completely off the grid through a well and more solar within the next couple years. We still rely partially on city power and water but that use has been halved twice since we began renovations and will hopefully be eliminated entirely soon. We will probably always need natural gas since our steam system is so much safer than burning wood or coal, but we will always do the best we can to remain sustainable and environmentally conscious.
That is Our Top Ten Innovations for now....