SaloonBox Behind The Scenes: St. George Spirits Master Distiller Lance Winters
In our June cocktail kit, we are featuring St. George Spirits' Botanivore Gin. As part of our continued series of speaking with the people who make the amazing products that we put into our kit, we had a chance to chat with Lance Winters who serves as the master distiller at St. George. Lance was generous to answer a few questions and you'll find the answer extremely insightful and interesting:
How did you come to work with St. George and what intrigues you about the brand?
Twenty-five years ago, I started to really enjoy single malt whiskey. I was a brewer, and realized that as a brewer I was half-way to being able to make whiskey. I set up a still in my garage and started experimenting. The experiments were going really well, but I had no idea WHY my whiskies were working. I needed to learn from a real master the craft of distillation.
I was drawn by St. George's reputation and founder Jörg Rupf's exacting approach to the art. In February of 1996, I started working at St. George and learning the craft. In my 20 years at St. George, I’ve had the opportunity to experiment with and develop all sorts of spirits without much restraint. Creative freedom and the chance to express myself through the language of spirits is what it’s all about for me.
What are some challenges you face?
The biggest challenge we face as distillers is trying to push past the damage that's been done to the image of distilled spirits since Prohibition. With a few notable exceptions, spirits have been treated as commodities whose real value was the ability to physiologically intoxicate. An artfully crafted spirit transcends that and has the ability to inspire and transport the drinker. The rest of our challenges are really just the hurdles on the road to demonstrating that message.
What’s your opinion of the current gin market?
It's mixed. There are some truly lovely gins being produced. There are also people putting out product just to grab a slice of a growth category. Those products make it harder to achieve what I was just saying above.
What have you seen in terms of rises and falls in gin popularity among recent years?
In recent years, I've only seen rises. At some point, it'll have to level off and even drop, but for now it continues upward in popularity.
What makes a St. George Botanivore Gin different from any other gin on the market?
Instead of attempting to emulate any existing style of gin, to make Botanivore we tore gin down to all of its individual components, studied them on their own, and then built Botanivore from the ground up.
What are the markers of excellence in gin?
An excellent gin is all about using botanicals to say something beautiful.
What was one of the most exciting moments for your brand?
Launching our Absinthe Verte was pretty exciting. We were the first American distillery to release an absinthe once the 95-year U.S. ban was finally lifted in 2007. People lined up around the distillery to try it and buy bottles, helicopters flew overhead, and we sold out of our first batch within hours.
What’s next at St. George? Any plans for new versions or products in the pipeline that you can talk about right now?
We always have ideas brewing… but having just launched two new spirits in the last few months (Baller Single Malt Whiskey and Bruto Americano, our new aperitivo), we’re taking a bit of a breather before we jump into anything else new.
Photo credits: St. George Spirits