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ForWhiskeyLover's One-On-One Interview with Alpine Distilling's Rob Sergent

Since our inception almost 7 years ago, ForWhiskeyLovers has had the honor of getting to know some of the most exciting and innovative distillers in the United States...the folks who are breaking the rules… experimenting… pushing the envelope and going where no distiller has gone before.

These are the folks who are placing American whiskey at the epicenter of a global obsession with brown spirits and the reason you read so much about whiskey shortages (real or not) where products sell out within hours of becoming available.

Recently we sat down with Rob Sergent, the founder and Master Distiller of Alpine Distilling in Park City Utah and the poster-boy for  everything that is right with the American whiskey industry today, to learn more about his distillery, his products, and his personal philosophy questions on whiskey and life.

Before Alpine Distilling, Rob had a successful career with Johnson & Johnson and the NFL. Eventually Sergent got bored with corporate life, and set out along a different path to start up a company of his own from scratch in the state of Utah. A devout father and family man, when starting Alpine Distilling he was determined  to “teach his kids the value of hard work, and give back to the community he and his family love.

 

FWL's One-On-One Interview with Rob Sergent

Questions about Alpine Distillery:

Doug Stone: When did you open your distillery, and what made you want to open it / become a distiller?
Rob Sergent: “My father is a distiller (dentist by trade but a certified distiller) and my family settled in Kentucky in the mid 1700s.  If you farm in Kentucky you most likely distilled.  My family had farms in Scott County and East in Harlan.”

DS: Tell me about the actual still, design and capacity etc
RS: “We own both a steam and Bain Marie still but currently are doing the cooking/distilling on a 4-plate, 8” copper stacked Bain Marie 165g still only.  Using indirect heat is a gentle and controlled way to extract flavor and we even pack in more copper plates on the top column to ensure the “conversation” between copper and the distillate is a little longer and where we desire - resulting in a light and clean product.”
 
DS: Why choose to make a whiskey at all and why the spirits you make?
RS: “Whiskey has been the spirit that was shared with family & friends as long as I can remember.  Being a Kentuckian, Bourbon Whiskey is the “mother’s milk” of the state and carrying that tradition forward with a sense of innovation is an exciting challenge.”
 
DS: What is total annual output of Bourbon per year?
RS: “We’re focusing more on our single malt right now until the supply levels are where needed to match demand for our Traveler’s Rest and Spur whiskeys.  We have ~400g of Bourbon distillate aging on site and hope to increase that starting in the Spring.”
 
DS: How well has your Whiskey been received and what else do you have planned?
RS: “We have won Double-Gold and Gold for our Single Malt whiskey and Gold for our Apricot, Primrose and Cinnamon Bourbon whiskey (Lafayette).”

Questions about Alpine’s IPA-Finished Bourbon:

 

 

DS: Tell me about your collaboration with Park City Brewing – How long have you been collaborating with them? Do they supply beer for you to distill, or just the barrels you aged your whiskey in?
RS: “The Ray brothers (owners) of PC Brewing are actually from my hometown, Lexington KY and our fathers went to High School together (Lafayette).  We’re friends and this project is more a passion project than a business objective.”
 
DS: What is the mashbill for the whiskey?
RS:  I used a typical bourbon mashbill of 75% #2 dent corn/ 21% mid-west Rye/ 4% 2-row American Barley
 
DS: How long do you age it for?
RS:  I aged the spirit in new, charred and #3 slow-toasted Sequin Moreau barrels for over a year.
 
DS: What makes this whiskey so special/different from other Bourbons?
RS: “After the initial aging, we then laid the bourbon down in barrels that had been used by Park City Brewery to age the barleywine they make to create their IPA.  The barrels held the Barleywine for about 9 months.  We put the Bourbon in the IPA casks early January and will pull at end of March, for a total of around 14 weeks”
 
DS: You give several cocktail recipes on your website for the Bourbon – do you feel that it’s an ideal style of Bourbon for cocktails?
RS: “It will be interesting to see how the final profile holds up to classic Bourbon recipes.  We notice that there’s a citrus, oil note from the Hops that may lend really nicely to a Manhattan or something like a Boulevardier where some of that can be put towards balancing the sweetness.”

What Makes Rob Sergent...well...Rob Sergent?

DS: What is your favorite word?
RS: “Family.”
 
DS: What is your least favorite word?
RS: “Hate.”
 
DS: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
RS: “Mindfulness, meditation - being in the moment.”
 
DS: What turns you off?
RS: “Pretension - especially in the whiskey world were people are intimidated to drink what they like.”
 
DS: What is your favorite curse word?
RS: “Fuck yea.”
 
DS: What sound or noise do you love?
RS: “My kids laughing.”
 
DS: What sound or noise do you hate?
RS: “My kids screaming.”
 
DS: What profession other than distilling would you like to attempt?
RS: “Social historian.”
 
DS: What profession would you not like to do?
RS: “Anything corporate again.”

DS: When you aren’t drinking your own spirits, what are you drinking?
RS: “Ginger tea.”
 
DS: What inspires you when you are making a whiskey or other spirit? Are you influenced by other whiskey makers and, if so, by whom?
RS: “I feel a great pressure when making whiskey to produce something that my ancestors would be proud of. In the distillery there are pictures of my family distilling in the woods, on the farm and old profile pics dating to the early 1800’s. It’s like they’re watching…”
 
DS: Are you inspired by other artists like chefs or musicians? If yes, who are they and why/ how does their work find its way into your whiskey?
RS: “Very much so.  We collect art and have built a nice portfolio.  I went to culinary school and love the timeless craft in that field and music is constantly playing and driving energy levels.”
 
DS: How will you measure your success?
RS: “Are my kids proud? do I have more time with my wife?  Are we mindful of the “now” and how fragile this experience is?”
 
DS: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
RS: “You weren’t perfect - but you made decisions based on values and the bar is open.”