By Richard Thomas
America’s two major whiskey states are Kentucky and Tennessee, and only one distillery straddles them: Corsair. With stills in Nashville and Bowling Green, Corsair is a micro-distillery surrounded by the majors. If that weren’t enough of a bold statement, Corsair’s innovative approach to whiskey-making has earned it a place in the forefront of the craft whiskey movement. It’s that innovation that is on full display in Alt Whiskeys, penned by Corsair owner Darek Bell.
After spending substantial time working on the American craft whiskey movement, one of the things I took away from that was just how many micro-distilleries sprang from the craft brewing and home brewing scene. Time and again and in operations great and small, I have heard about how this distiller was tinkering with beer in his basement for years while working his white collar job, but his real love was whiskey, or shaken hands with a guy who worked in breweries for a dozen years before making the jump to distilling. That connection between beer and whiskey is strongly made by Bell, as he draws a line in both his thinking on the craft distilling movement itself and in his own recipes for whiskey.
It’s the latter that serves as the bread and butter of Alt Whiskeys, with dozens of mashbills, yeast choices and procedures for making some very wild spins on whiskey taking up most of the 200 pages. It reads very much like a cookbook, but for a distillery rather than a kitchen. For that reason, this is a technical work and therefore has only three natural audiences: diehard whiskey nerds; those who are newly entered into or thinking of entering craft whiskey-making; and devoted fans of Corsair Artisan. My favorite parts were, in fact, the recipe entries detailing the whiskeys Bell chose to bottle, offering a peek behind the curtain on some celebrated creations as it were.
Alt Whiskeys is definitely not for the casual whiskey fan, and from the drinkers point of view it best suits the type who has the Four Roses yeast strains memorized. It’s a manual written by one of the “Four Kings” of American craft whiskey, and its best service is found among the burgeoning ranks of distillers who followed in the footsteps of Bell and a handful of others.