The Breathtaking Beauty of DIY Whiskey Distillation

By Tom Anderson | 06.18.12 12:03 PM

Whiskey Distileration

“Almost all innovation in the spirits world is coming from the craft players,” David Pickerell says. He’s not talking about ghosts; he’s talking about hard liquor. It used to be that the nouveau riche wanted to produce their own pinot noir. Nowadays they’re making their own bourbon. Since 2003 the number of licensed craft distillers has quintupled to 400, according to the American Distilling Institute. And Pickerell is eager to help upstarts—for a fee.

Pickerell is at the forefront of the boutique booze biz. The 55-year-old was a master distiller at Maker’s Mark for more than 13 years and now produces WhistlePig rye whiskey, which earned a 96 from Wine Enthusiast. But since 2008 he’s made a business out of helping newbies set up micro-distilleries, advising on everything from the right grains to the style of bottle.

In the past, high setup costs (several million dollars) and long maturation time (at least four years) made it hard to break into whiskey distilling. A revolution in aging techniques has addressed half of that problem, allowing decent whiskey to be made in just 16 months.

Pickerell keeps costs down by offering equipment in just a few standardized sizes (do you want a still that’s 125 gallons—or 1,000 gallons?) so you can set up shop for a million or less. He gave us a breakdown of the gear and materials you’ll need to start a micro-distillery that’s bigger than your bathtub: If you’re aiming for an initial batch of 3,000 cases, you can do it for just over half a million dollars with the gear that’s priced out here.

Of course, this list doesn’t include the facility, consulting, labor, or licensing costs … Maybe you better sit down and pour yourself a stiff drink.