Recently I made a visit to Driftless Glen Distillery, a relatively new craft distillery, located in Baraboo, WI. Craft distilleries have become a national phenomenon and have also become so ubiquitous that it’s worth giving them a critical look. It’s no longer good enough to be “local” as most bars, restaurants, and even retailers can attest. In the recent past being the local distiller in your region held some cachet and on this merit alone, sales were achieved. Today a buyer has numerous local spirits brands knocking at their door and nothing clarifies like competition.
Driftless Glen Distillery offers a wide range of spirits keeping in concert with the craft distiller wont to produce a scatter-shot of products to fit a multitude of needs and customers. Their products include Vodka, Gin (four varieties), “Moonshine,” and Brandy, as well as Bourbon and Rye, which is largely slumbering away awaiting maturity. They do offer a “Young Rye” bottled at cask strength from a single cask. It is a bold 75% Rye Whiskey that is quite nice, even in its youth.
While so many craft distillers are struggling to lay down Whiskey in any meaningful number, Driftless Glen is producing 2,000 barrels of Bourbon and Rye Whiskey a year.
Driftless Glen is currently running a Vendome 550 gallon copper pot still adjacent to a Vendome 42 foot continuous column still. Both are beautiful stills and they have a third still on the way. As you may have guessed, they aim to provide Whiskey far beyond Baraboo, Wisconsin.
Driftless Glen is owned and operated by Brian and Reneé Bemis. The pair is very hands-on and involved in most every aspect of the operation. It’s clear after meeting them that they have a great of passion for Driftless Glen and the products they are making.
Brian is a lifelong entrepreneur having been quite successful in an eclectic collection of businesses including 12 automotive franchises. Renee Bemis has been equally successful in the art world. Renee is a world-class sculptor and a collection of her of work can be seen at the distillery.
The pair wanted to have a business that they could share and one that could utilize their unique skills. They had no previous experience in the distilling world so they dove in headed first working with a high-profile consultant and taking a series of courses. Like most first-time craft distillery owners their education is a work in progress. However, given their dedication, common sense, and work ethic I’d say they are well on their way.
The Spirits of Driftless Glen
The distillery is strategically located near a great natural water source, a deep aquifer in the heart of cliff and lake country with sandy soils great for growing the grains they require. State of the art stills, quality grain, and great water are necessary ingredients but it’s all wasted if not in the hands of a capable distiller. Luckily Driftless Glen has a very capable distiller in Nik Flora who has won multiple gold medals in the San Francisco World Spirits Competition for his Gin and Vodka. While tasting through the collection of spirits at Driftless Glen it’s evident that Nik has the right touch and instinct. I could not find issue with any of the spirits created at Driftless Glen and in fact I would say they were all much better than average.
Their Gins include their New American Gin, a citrus forward Gin with bright clean flavors and great flexibility. A favorite of mine is their Navy Strength Gin – a daring style choice for an American craft distiller. It is bold and beautiful with a certain juniper forward point of view. The cheekily named “WisconGin” is a lighter style offed at 80 proof is very floral with a bright spearmint note. The final Gin is a barrel aged, “Double Casked” Gin that is aged in both a new charred oak barrel and a former Bourbon barrel. While the spirit is bright and texturally pleasing I feel that the barrel is the dominant force. Considering how well-balanced and stylish their Navy Strength Gin is I would have loved to have seen a 45% barrel aged Gin with the subtle use of a near neutral barrel.
The Vodka and two flavored Vodkas (lemon and cucumber) are very clean and pure with a nice balance and silky texture.
The Driftless Glen Brandy is the only product that they don’t create at their distillery. Rather it’s a five year-old Brandy sourced from France and then finished in a former Bourbon cask at Driftless Glen. When in Wisconsin a Brandy is virtually required and this Brandy is actually damn tasty with the Bourbon cask finishing adding a pleasing and unexpected nuance.
Their Young Rye is surprisingly good and gives a tasty glimpse at what their Whiskies will be when aged for four years or more. The balance is impeccable and the depth of flavor and complexity shown at a young age gives me great hope for the future.
In Sum – Driftless Glen Today and Tomorrow
Driftless Glen has been distilling for a short time having created their first drops of spirit in November of 2014. As stated in my opening paragraph, “nothing clarifies like competition.” It’s no longer sufficient to be local or to slap the moniker craft on your labels. Driftless Glen is a true craft distiller going from grain to bottle and doing so with care and dexterity. While I believe that many of today’s craft distillers will be nothing more than a memory in a decades time, Driftless Glen will be standing and in my estimation, thriving.
In the spring of 2015 they opened a beautiful restaurant, bar, and gift shop on site. The entirety of their bar looks out on to the Baraboo River with outdoor seating available in the spring and summer. The food is tasty and the drinks are good as well. The distillery is well-equipped for guided tours that are offered daily. Being located just about 20 minutes from the Wisconsin Dells, one of the state’s biggest tourism draws, there is no doubt that Driftless Glen will be an added to many summer excursions. I recommend a visit.