Striving for Perfection.
Air Force engineer Curtis Calder used his 16 years experience as a TIG welder to make all his distillery equipment apart from the body of the steam jacketed pot still. Certified in the welding of seven different groupings of metal including stainless steel, which is a particularly difficult metal to work with, making the column still, and in particular the sight glasses proved particularly challenging. Never the less, he has build an elegant ‘flute-like” column still, which is the first I’ve seen that has been self-made from stainless steel.
The 6-inch column above the stripping (pot) still is also self-made and is packed with copper windings that serve to extract the sulphate (a by-product from the yeast) from the spirit. Curtis believes these copper windings work equally as well as having a copper pot, but will ensure his still last considerably longer.
The use of premium raw ingredients is hoped to be their differentiator, with the cost being over four times as much as most other distilleries. Rye from Germany and malt barley from Belgium, the UK and the US are milled for the distillery off-site and are brought in to feed the mash tun. Unusually, the mash tun is square rather than circular and that’s because it’s self-made; converted from a basic milk chiller. Its backbreaking work trying to stir the grain in a square vessel so a new conventional shaped steam jacketed mash tun is on its way.
Everything has been calculated backward from the objective of filling one 55-gallon barrel. This equates to a 110 gallon finishing run through the spirit still, and to 300 gallons per batch through the stripping (wash) still, a fermenter tank and the mash tun.
Only the shorter, four-plate column is used when distilling whiskey and rum with the plates left open, effectively working as a batch pot still. The second, taller column is only used for making vodka.
According to Curtis, one of the benefits of using a column still is that it is easier to see when to cut the heads and tails and when to draw off the good spirit. In determining the cut offs, Curtis has a clear and commendable policy, stating “Im not afraid to throw away good whisky in order to get great whisky!”
Oak spirals and aeration (air bubbles pumped though the cask) are used to assist in the maturation process of the whiskey that is made from 54% corn with the remaining 46% from rye, winter wheat and caramel and chocolate malt. On sampling, I found the whiskey to be smooth and very palatable with signs of some complexity, which was a surprise for such a young whiskey.
Not being a particular fan of sweet spirits, I was apprehensive but very pleasantly surprise with their Apple Pie, which is also made from premium ingredients. Definitely a drink worth having in the liquor cabinet.
Distillery stories often start out either with tales of illegal distilling, years in making a craft beer or exploits traveling Europe. Curtis’s however, starts with Apple Pie! Using a whole Vanilla Bean Cinnamon stick with his other spices, word of his rich and well-balanced drink spread quickly and eventually lead him to believe that he could make a living it. Even while serving in Afghanistan, Curtis was known for his much sought after Apple Pie moonshine, which his wife Asia was able to send out to him, and helped set him on course to establish Cockpit Craft Distillery.
Current Key Products (Named after the US military aircraft)
P-51 Whiskey (Named after the Mustang aircraft)
FG-1D Rum (Named after the Corsair aircraft)
P-38 Apple Pie Lightning Moonshine (Named after the Lightning aircraft)