By Richard Thomas
If you pay attention to drinks articles dealing with the best craft bourbons or the best bourbons not made in Kentucky, then you have probably come across the name “Watershed Distillery,” since the Columbus, Ohio micro-distillery has appeared in most of them. We’ve taken a keen interest in Watershed and it’s “Buckeye” bourbon for a couple of years now, and following a recent expansion I thought it was time to catch up with Watershed’s Greg Leman.
RT: The distillery opened in 2011, but when did you set out to start it?
GL: The distillery actually opened in 2010, but we began work on the business plan in 2008.
RT: My mistake. What inspired you to open it?
GL: We were hugely inspired by the brewing industry, and at the time thought the brewing market was already saturated but saw an opportunity to do something similar by getting into craft distilling and helping to grow this industry. We were also inspired by everyone making our community relevant and wanted to be a part of that movement.
RT: And what was the single largest challenge you had to overcome in making Watershed a reality?
GL: Leaving our day jobs with paychecks and benefits was probably the hardest part of making Watershed a reality. It was a big decision for both of us [Lehman and Dave Rigo], but we were able to overcome this because we had spent years researching and writing business plans and were so sure about Watershed that we felt like we had eliminated as much risk as possible.
RT: One of the most interesting characteristics of your bourbon is that it is twice wheated, using the usual wheat plus spelt. What inspired you to reach for spelt, and not some other grain?
GL: Many people don’t know that Ohio is one of the largest spelt growers in the country. Historically, when distilling distillers would utilize what was found in abundance around them. We like the characteristics the spelt imparts on our bourbon and also view it as a nod to Ohio agriculture and reinvigorating the distilling culture.
RT: Last October, you all announced you were quadrupling capacity. How has the expansion gone?
GL: We installed the new still from Headframe this past May, which has allowed us to increase our production significantly. In addition to increasing the production capacity, we are also in the process of adding a bar and restaurant to the distillery now that the legislation has made it possible for us to apply for an A-1-a permit. Our hopes are the restaurant will be open to the public early first quarter 2017.
RT: Right now your line includes one whiskey, two gins and a vodka and some other items. Do you have any other types of whiskey barreled up and stocked away? Or perhaps some of your bourbon left for extra aging and destined for a different expression?
GL: We are always experimenting with different products. We have some apple brandy sitting in barrels right now that we are pretty excited about. We also have been working on a mash bill for a rye whiskey and have toyed with the idea of a single malt, but we are pretty focused on the brandy project right now.