How one independent Nashville distillery is using biology, chemistry, physics and math to produce superior sorghum spirits and more
“Tennessee is known around the world for its music and whiskey,” says Bruce Boeko of Nashville Craft Distillery.
“Here in Nashville, Tennessee’s capital city, we make plenty of both in varieties that appeal to all different tastes and preferences.”
Nashville Craft Distillery opened their doors to the public in 2016, and Bruce likes to joke, “My lawyer says my title is president. But I prefer distiller or founder.”
Regardless of the title he and his lawyer decide on, Nashville Craft Distillery is Bruce’s baby.
After a 20 year career working in human identity test laboratories with forensic DNA analysis and crime scene evidence, Bruce turned his full attention to the distillery, telling us, “I work at the distillery full time.”
“I love making things,” says Bruce, who had, to this point, spent decades home brewing and making wine as a hobby.
Now he’s busy making craft spirits at one of the best distilleries in Nashville.
“Working in a small distillery is very rewarding, including the sounds and smells, the physical exertion, and the opportunity to meet people who are enjoying themselves tasting spirits and learning about their production.”
“There are many rewarding parts to being a distiller,” Bruce insists.
“But doing the actual production, from mashing grain to fermentation, distillation, barreling and bottling, is what I like best.”
A Nashville distillery busy perfecting the process
One of the things that helps set Nashville Craft Distillery apart from the crowd is the way in which they produce their exceptional craft spirits.
This is where Bruce’s scientific background starts to come into play.
“We have a particular focus on science,” says Bruce. “Which is the organizing principle we use in our daily production and in the tours and training we provide.”
“Basic principles of biology, chemistry, physics and math are a central part of our everyday work.”
He breaks down the Nashville Craft Distillery process, “Nearly all distilled spirits are made by boiling fermented alcoholic beverages and cooling the resulting vapors and condensing them back into liquid which now contains a higher concentration of the lower boiling point components, including ethanol, than the starting material had.”
Bruce goes on, “However, every spirit is different because every distiller has his or her own recipes, yeast strains, fermentation temperatures, distilling equipment and procedures.”
“At Nashville Craft, we use top quality equipment including a beautiful four-plate
hybrid pot still from Vendome Copper & Brass in Louisville, Kentucky.”
Bruce ensures every part of the distilling process is optimized at his Nashville distillery.
“We have optimized each step in the fermentation and distillation process, including the number of distillations, the use of plates and/or the dephlegmator, or partial condenser, and perhaps most importantly, when to separate the first and last flows of spirit, the heads and tails, which are not consumed, from the middle flow, the hearts, which become the final spirit.”
But there’s no “one way” of doing things at Nashville Craft Distillery.
Bruce tells us more, “Each product has its own process. For example, our Traditional Bourbon Whiskey is double distilled with two flooded plates while Crane City Gin is distilled four times with four flooded plates on the first three runs and no plates on the final run where the botanical ingredients are added.”
“This attention to detail and to giving each product the specific process it needs
produces spirits that excel in their individual categories.”
“A single or double distilled sorghum spirit in our process would be too earthy but a triple or quadruple distilled bourbon would be too bland and neutral. Learning how to optimize each step of the process is one of the most enjoyable parts of distilling.”
A Nashville distillery that shines a light on sorghum spirits
What Nashville distillery isn’t going to have its own signature bourbon?
Nashville Craft Traditional Bourbon Whiskey is classic and handmade from scratch with mash consisting of corn, rye and malted barley.
Mashed, distilled, aged and bottled on site, this medium body, all-American classic craft spirit boasts notes of caramel, cherry, dark fruit and vanilla with just the tiniest hint of spearmint.
Nashville is a city on the rise. As more new buildings get added skyline to the skyline each year, the horizon seems perpetually filled with construction cranes.
It’s earned the town it’s nickname of “Crane City”. And Nashville Craft Distillery pays homage to that inspiring moniker with their award-winning Crane City Gin.
Seven different botanicals, juniper, cardamom, fennel seed, coriander, lemon peel, angelica root and orris root are added to a homemade base distilled from wheat and malted barley to produce a blanched and super smooth spirit with a full, rich body and well balanced flavor.
Nothing says Nashville like sweet and spicy coming together as one.
That’s exactly what you get inside every bottle of Nashville Honey Spiced Honey Liqueur.
Real Tennessee honey and sugar is added to a mix of ginger, cardamom, lemon peel and cinnamon to create a deliciously sweet, balanced and all together unique craft spirit that’s full bodied and something much more than your average whiskey.
Nashville Craft Distillery puts their hometown in, and on, every one of their craft spirits.
Perhaps the most interesting ingredient that’s used at Nashville Craft Distillery is sorghum, a cereal grain that grows tall, similar to corn, that is often used for sweetening.
Nashville Craft Distillery uses this local grain to make their delicious sorghum spirits.
Bruce continues to explain the process behind making their unique sorghum spirits, “We make Naked Biscuit and Golden Biscuit entirely from locally produced sorghum syrup. It is made by crushing the stalks of sorghum, a sweet grass related to sugarcane and corn, and cooking the juice until it becomes a dense, 75%-83% sugar syrup which will not spoil because of the high sugar content.”
He continues, “We dilute the syrup with water, add yeast, ferment and then triple distill it into a spirit that is somewhat like a rum but has its own unique character.”
“The unaged version is sold as Naked Biscuit. The aged version, which goes into used bourbon barrels to add oak, vanilla, and other notes, becomes Golden Biscuit.”
“I love them all,” Bruce admits.
“But Golden Biscuit is the one I go to when I want to show another distiller something delicious and unique.”
A Nashville distillery that’s pure Tennessee
“We like simplicity,” states Bruce.
“Nashville is where we live and work and is a central part of our identity. Craft spirits are what we make.”
The local community plays a huge role in the success of Nashville Craft Distillery.
The local community is a big part of the reason why Bruce and his Nashville distillery have found success in Tennessee and beyond.
“We are supported in particular by our fellow distillers in Nashville and in the
Tennessee Distillers Guild, which has made great progress in legislation and tourism for our industry.”
“Other distillers and brewers make up a mutually supportive group who help each other out with supplies, contacts, technical expertise, and more.”
But it’s more than just fellow distillers that have assisted Bruce and National Craft Distillery along on their journey. It’s been the people of Nashville too.
“We also have great members of the community who love small local businesses and support us by purchasing our spirits and bringing visitors for our tours.”
Looking towards the future at Nashville Craft Distillery
It’s been quite the adventure for Bruce and his team at Nashville Craft Distillery. And he’s made wise decisions along the way that have helped him find success in Music City.
Bruce offers just the slightest peek behind the Nashville Craft Distillery curtain, “Our strategy includes producing and selling unaged spirits like Crane City Gin, Naked Biscuit, and Nashville Honey. But it also includes producing spirits for other companies under contract to generate cash flow immediately.”
It’s a solid game plan. One that’s helped introduce sorghum spirits to a much wider audience. A game plan that is helping Bruce achieve what is his ultimate goal with his Nashville distillery.
Bruce loves to educate Nashville Craft Distillery’s visitors on all aspects of distilling.
“I would like people to enjoy the spirits we produce and to have great memories of visiting Nashville Craft. I hope that visitors walk away with a better understanding of the science of fermentation and distillation, and a greater curiosity about how things are made and how we fit in, and depend on, the natural world.”