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Fueled By death cast



Fueled By Death Cast Ep. 6 - RICK SICARI

ALBANY DISTILLING COMPANY - RICK SICARI

“In the sense of praise - to start a business, you have to be an idiot.” Rick Sicari, Albany Distilling Company

 

PREVIEW:

 

ON EPISODE 6:

Scientists have discovered a 'new' organ in the human body! The organ was actually always thought to be part of something else, but new evidence suggests otherwise and Dustin and Jeff are completely shocked on Science. Then, it can be hard to find your calling in life, but if you distill the information you gain from experiences you can find what motivates you, and that is the topic of What Fuels You. Finally, Death Wish Coffee has partnered with the video game company Ubisoft to release some special bags of coffee for an upcoming game.

ABOUT RICK SICARI:

Rick Sicari is quite the brewing nerd and loves the science behind brewing the perfect spirits. The podcast goes on location at Albany Distilling Company to talk to Rick about how he studied brewing beer and alcohol from the masters in Europe. Plus he talks about he origins of Albany Distilling and how they collaborated with Death Wish Coffee to create Death Wish Vodka.

TRANSCRIPT:

Jeff: Yeah, we have a special guest.

Dustin: We have a fourth guest.

Jeff: Yeah.

Dustin: We've got Cooper the kitty cat.

Jeff: Who lives between the barrels.

Rick Sicari: Loves his life here.

Jeff: Yes.

Dustin: Who needs to make an appearance now that we've started recording.

Rick Sicari: Couldn't be happier. Yeah.

Dustin: I tried to get him up here earlier, but he didn't want it.

Rick Sicari: Cooper does what he wants.

Jeff: So you started, personally, you started brewing beer.

Rick Sicari: Started brewing beer. I started brewing beer in college, and I'm pretty sure it was my first batch I fell in love. I said, "You know what, this is for me." This was in 2005. When craft beer was definitely growing some legs and I went to Oneonta for my undergrad. So I'm less than 20 minutes from O and the gang. As soon as you have three philosophers, forget about it. That's beer for you and that's what you want to do.
So that was the origin, and we'll talk about that but I want to talk about Death Wish and how we ...

Dustin: How did the vodka come? How did Death Wish vodka come?

Rick Sicari: So that's the thing, so like I said, for us it is whiskey. Whiskey's what we do. That's how we make it. Me, as a brewer, going from ...

Dustin: You make a damn good vodka though.

Rick Sicari: Thank you. However, let's let the story unfold. Dustin, Jesus.

Dustin: Sorry.

Rick Sicari: I don't want to have to say it to him again.

Jeff: Yeah, it's okay.

Rick Sicari: That's where I'm going ...

Dustin: Sorry. I'm going to stop complimenting you so much.

Rick Sicari: So, again, whiskey distillers, that's what's in our brain. When you figure out that making whiskey don't make you any money because you have to store it all and you have to age it, we want to have a two, three, four-year-old whiskey, you have to make vodka. So we had this plan. We were like, "All right. We're not going to make vodka. What we're going to do is collaborate with other companies because collaboration is so fun. You get to put someone else's brand in the spotlight and really get to showcase what they do. So we had a couple ideas as to who we wanted to collaborate with. Fort Orange General Store and Season Skate Shop and Dirty and couple of these other companies. Because you guys were already infusing our whiskey into your coffee, it made sense for us to infuse your coffee into our vodka.

Jeff: Yep.

Rick Sicari: So it was an easy connection, but I do remember talking to both Swedish and Mike about this and both of them were kind of on the fence. They were like, "Eh. Coffee, vodka. It's not good. I haven't had coffee vodka that I can be wowed with."

Dustin: Right. It's mostly just this sweet shit.

Rick Sicari: Sweet, syrupy, vanilla, caramels, extracts, all these different things.
Good, boy. Come here, bud.

Dustin: Ow.

Rick Sicari: Yeah, he came at you. That'll be in the outtakes.
So like I said, that's kind of the logic. It's never really done right, but again because you guys are who you are and because you make the coffee you do, you have that organic, that fair trade organic and because we are looking to do everything handmade, the logic was let's really take your coffee and put it in front of a very mellow, very neutral vodka. So I started just messing around, and I think we probably did 20 different versions of Death Wish Coffee Vodka.

Dustin: Some of them stayed in the cabinet for a while. They were all like different percentile of cold brew and vodka. It was like, "I'll take a little nip."

Rick Sicari: We messed around with so many different versions because, again, I kind of agreed with them. But once we kind of narrowed in on what we wanted, I presented I think our top three or four or five or something like that to Swedish and Mike and both of them drank it and were like, "Yeah, no. Let's do that. I'm sorry we had any reservations about it. Let's make that happen."

Dustin: Awesome. So can you talk a little bit about the process of making the Death Wish Coffee Vodka?

Rick Sicari: Yeah. So we started with a neutral spirit for the vodka itself. So what I'll actually do is, again, it starts at 96% alcohol distilled from corn six times. I filter that down or, excuse me, I blend that down to 57.73%. That's in my math brain what 70-30 comes out to be because I wanted to have it 30% coffee. I wanted to have that really coffee forward flavor. That's when we send it through activated carbon over and over and over again. That just filters out any of those off flavors. It just makes it very, very clean. Then from there we just blend down the vodka the rest of the way from that high proof, from 57% down to 40% with cold brew coffee, and this is what's great about this product is I get to collaborate with Old Saratoga Brewery as well where I used to work. So to kind of do that and work with that company and now to kind of come full circle and now work with them on a collaborative product is great.
So they make enough coffee, cold brew coffee, at a pound per gallon. So that's really just serious coffee, which we can then blend down again, that 57% vodka down to 40%. We do touch it with a little bit of sugar. I think that's what that masses are looking for. We want a little bit more ...

Dustin: A little more palatable.

Rick Sicari: I do like to save a little bit of just straight coffee vodka without the sugar just because.

Jeff: I prefer it without.

Dustin: You gave me some a while ago, and I liked it better that way.

Rick Sicari: You got to be a serious coffee fiend to want it.

Dustin: Check/uncheck.

Rick Sicari: Yeah. Exactly.

Dustin: So how much caffeine would you say is in ...

Rick Sicari: I'm basing it off your numbers. Swedish sent me some lab tests of the cold brew when you guys did ...

Dustin: Authentic.

Rick Sicari: Yeah, when you guys did that experiment because we're using about 10 and a half ounces of coffee per bottle, and oddly enough, your can is about 11 ounces. So it's pretty damn close and I think I got figures close to 469, something like that. So I figured there are about 450 milligrams of caffeine per bottle because we're not running the coffee through any distillation. We're not burning it off. We are literally blending down the vodka with the coffee. So for all intents and purposes, it should stay in there without losing any of that caffeine.

Dustin: Yeah, which is why cold brew has more caffeine usually is because it's at that colder temperature. You're not burning off the caffeine, and you're continuing that process and keeping it cool and keeping it high in caffeine content. Actually, that surprised me. I didn't think there was actually that much caffeine in the vodka. But maybe I just drink too much coffee.

Jeff: How has this affected the company? The Death Wish Vodka. Have you guys seen like ... It obviously has gone well on our end.

Rick Sicari: Sure. Yeah. Of course, it's going well on our end too. I mean, again, kind of going back to that collaboration. It's fun to work with other businesses and see your customers and their excitement about everything. It's also nice to not be a one-trick pony, to be honest with you. Again, just because I'm a whiskey nerd doesn't mean that everybody's a whiskey nerd. So even just going to farmer's markets, going to events, going to shows, going to liquor stores to present my product. To say, "Hey, I have whiskey, rum, and vodka," instead of just saying, "Hey, I've got whiskey." Because if you don't like whiskey, then ...

Dustin: Goodbye.

Rick Sicari: Yeah, you're done. So to kind of have that portfolio has been great. Certainly, obviously, from the other side, your reach as company nationally and internationally has ... It's kind of a double-edged sword, to be honest with you because it's like it's great to be in front of all these people, but it's also like, "We can't sell to you." The amount of emails that I've responded with, "Unfortunately, the federal government does not allow us to ship to you. I'm sorry. You can go to one of these retailers that can do it." It's just that extra layer. That's the booze industry.

Jeff: That's the nature of the beast, yeah.

Dustin: I think the demand for it is so through the roof that we're seeing it pop up everywhere now.

Rick Sicari: Yeah. New York State, it's flooded, but still, there's ... We look at it and there's still so much room to grow. It's making its way to Western New York. It's making its way down to the city. Obviously, there's so many people and so much territory to cover even in the Hudson Valley that I think it's just the tip of the iceberg at this point. We've done well with it but we have lots of growth still out there.

Dustin: So where are you? Are you able to keep up with demand versus are you trying to get it out there more?

Rick Sicari: Brands have to grow the way the brand is going to grow. We don't want to force it from our production capabilities. We're still a company of four people. It's myself, my business partner, I have Alecia Hendricks who runs our sales division and she's division, meaning her. She chooses what she does. Then we have Luke Challan who is I can't speak more highly about him. So like I said, as we produce anything, we're limited in that. So we can only produce so much, but not only that is we can only sell so much. We're now in the hands of a big distributor that can really put it out there. But, again, it's still going to be growing my critical mass. So we can't just expect every single bar, every single liquor store in the entire world to have it overnight.

Dustin: It's not like a one-hit wonder.

Rick Sicari: No.

Dustin: I should say it's not like a hit song or it's like overnight, it can be spread out on every single radio station. You got to make this shit.

Rick Sicari: Got to make it.

Dustin: It's not easy.

Rick Sicari: No. That's the thing, it takes some real time to blend it. Although you guys make great coffee and Saratoga Brewery does a fantastic job with the cold brew process to get it to us, that takes time, first of all. Then when we get it into our hands, then we need to blend it the way that we want to blend it. Again, the federal government doesn't mess around. We have to be very, very clean on our numbers. Everything is tracked, everything is put together, and we want to make sure that we're always kind of putting out a good product.

Dustin: Totally.

Rick Sicari: So that's the other thing, it's like if the demand is there, and nationally there are people in Texas and Arizona, California, wherever, Chicago, Florida that want it. It's like believe you me, I want to get it to you. But it's not like I can't just call up the distributor and say, "Hey, I got a product." They say, "All right, peon."

Dustin: Right.

Rick Sicari: Get ahold of us, exactly, the right way.
We don't want to grow ... Again, we don't want to grow too fast. We want to make sure we're maintaining the quality of the product. We want to enter new cities, new territories the right way where we actually have some sales force so people can explain it.

Dustin: Okay. Can you talk about a little bit the origin of Albany Distilling Company, how you got to where you are now? You're here in the Pump Station, Albany pump station. The local's know it's like the place to go after you work your business day.

Rick Sicari: Yeah. I mean, the Pump Station I think it solidified itself as ... Neil Evans is a pioneer. There are no two ways about it. He started in to craft beer way before it was a viable business model. He bought this giant warehouse. I can't imagine. I sit down with him and I talk to him about his kind of story, and every time I'm blown away. What an idiot he had to be to do it.

Dustin: Yeah, because this is a huge location for those who don't know. It's a giant two-story restaurant with a microbrewery inside of it.

Rick Sicari: It used to be the pumping station for Albany. So I mean, I can't ... I don't know exactly how many square feet, but it's got to be in the 20,000 square feet with 75-foot ceilings, giant cranes and these chains from the late 1800s.

Jeff: It's right off the highway, right off the main drag of the capital.

Dustin: You see it as soon as you get off the exit. You see it all lit up and awesome.

Jeff: You can't miss it.

Dustin: They have just this whole warehousing back here, which you've found your home.

Rick Sicari: Yeah. So, again, let's go back to Neil being an idiot.

Dustin: And a pioneer.

Rick Sicari: In the sense of praise. I mean, you have to be. I think to start a business, you have to be an idiot.

Dustin: Pioneer and idiot go hand and hand?

Rick Sicari: 100%. Yeah. It's just one of those things that if you're going to start a business from scratch, you got to have a different ... You've got to have a screw loose.

Dustin: Right.

Rick Sicari: That would be my business partner John Curtin. He definitely has a screw loose, again, in all the greatest ways.

Dustin: Birds of a feather, my friend.

Rick Sicari: He started the company actually with Matt Jager back in 2011. They just started filing paperwork. Honestly, from every story that I've heard with John, it's he ... This law came out in 2007 saying that you can be a farm distillery. We are going to make it very easy to get your license in the state of New York. We're going to make it very cheap. We are going to make the ability to really reach customers much easier than distillation laws of past. So John literally started filing paperwork to see where the roadblocks were in 2011 because it's four years now. Four years had past and no one in the capital district had done it. So he's like, "Well, why?" So he filed paperwork, filed paperwork, filed paperwork. Never found a snag. So low and behold, look at John Curtin. He has a distillery. He did that with Matt Jager and again Matt is also one of those crazy pioneer people who just wants to kind of pave his own road.
They ran into some trouble, but that's I think what you're going to find with any small business.

Jeff: Totally.

Rick Sicari: But they built such an amazing groundwork for the company to grow.
As time went on, I think late 2013 probably, Matt had an opportunity to move on with some other guys, Scott and Walt, to form Yankee Distillers. They're up in Clifton Park.

Jeff: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dustin: I've had their vodka.

Rick Sicari: Yeah. They do a great job I think across the board. They have a huge facility. I think that was kind of Matt's idea. He wanted to see what these next two guys had in store and what he could do to help them. It just happened to be at the same time that I was moving back from Germany. I had just finished up a brewing program. It's called the Siebel Institute. So it's based in Chicago, but it has a kind of sister cool in downtown Munich called the Doemens Academy.

Jeff: It seems to me if you want to be a brewer, you should go to Germany or at least one of those older European countries.

Rick Sicari: Brewing is nerdy. You can't just say, "Hey, look at me, I'm going to make beer." I want to take the starch and turn it into sugar that turns into alcohol and say, "Boom, look at me. I got beer. I'm going to put some CO2 in it. Great." That's not making beer. There are layers upon layers of problems that happen when you're dealing with microorganisms that do what they want.

Dustin: Yeah.

Rick Sicari: Yeast is a crazy, crazy thing. So if you really want to understand it, honestly, that's what brewers are. They're problem solvers. So I come back. Matt is getting situated with the guys at Yankee to move on, and Johnny, he was just like, "Listen, I can use some help if you don't mind." It was actually a friend of mine, Seaborn Jones, who is the smallea over at 6-77. He had introduced us because I used to bartend over there and Johnny and Seaborn went to kindergarten together. Lifelong friends. So it just happened to work out perfectly. I mean, I literally, I got back into the United States I think in June-ish if my memory serves me. But not really that important. My girlfriend and I were ... I was planning to move, planning to look at opportunities because there are breweries all over the country. I love beer, and it's great. But I'd also have such a connection with spirits my entire life too because at 18 I was working at liquor stores. I actually worked at a liquor store in Saratoga where I grew up, and I worked at a liquor store in Oneonta where I went to college. So for me, that connection was always there. I'd always liked booze.
So, again, it's kind of just did I mention I'm a nerd?

Dustin: You're a booze nerd.

Rick Sicari: You look at these things and they're just so interesting.

Dustin: What got you interested in it? Did you have family members that got you into it?

Rick Sicari: No, I mean, my dad ...

Dustin: What attracts you to this?

Rick Sicari: I don't know. My dad's 35 years sober.

Dustin: That's what it is.

Rick Sicari: Yeah. I don't know. It's just interesting.

Dustin: Is it? Do you think it might be like it was something you were told not to do?

Rick Sicari: No, my parents have always been very supportive of what ...

Dustin: That's cool.

Rick Sicari: They're fantastic people. There are no two ways about it. So I think for me ... I don't know. I've always been interested in entrepreneurship. I've always been interested in business. I went and got my master's in business over in Sweden. So I spent a couple years in Europe, but I wrote my master thesis on how to financially run a brewery. I've just always been very ... I just think that to be in this environment takes so many layers. It's just interested me. I mean, I don't think you can explain why you like what you like.

Dustin: Yeah.

Rick Sicari: You just do. So, again, five years in liquor stores, five years behind a bar. Time in breweries and studying brewing.

Dustin: I think that's what they call a calling.

Rick Sicari: I was called.

Jeff: Heck yeah.

Rick Sicari: That's amazing.

Dustin: You ended up here.

Rick Sicari: Ended up here. I came in. We had had ... Johnny and Matt had released Coal Yard White Whiskey, and then they had released the first Iron Weed, the bourbon. Then they had just released Rye a couple months before I came in. Initially, I was actually just looking to help out. I was like, "I like booze. I'm a brewer. I got the training in this as to how to do it. I kind of want to learn your process and see what you guys have been doing." I think I was in here three days before John was like, "Let's make this a thing."

Jeff: You said earlier that it's not that dissimilar brewing beer as brewing spirits, right?

Rick Sicari: You got to make beer.

Jeff: It's the same kind of thing?

Rick Sicari: We make beer, we boil beer, we take out the spirit, we take out the ethanol. We isolate it, stick it in a barrel. It tastes delicious.

Dustin: Really? You start with regular booze and turn it into ...

Rick Sicari: So we go grain. This here's our mash ton.

Dustin: Yeah.
By the way, people, we're on site.

Jeff: Oh yes.

Dustin: Here at ... That's the echo, the hum, the meowing. We're on site at Albany Distillery.
So this does the beer thing?

Rick Sicari: So essentially that makes beer. I want to be clear, we make really shitty beer.

Dustin: Yeah, it doesn't need to be good. Nobody's drinking this shit.

Rick Sicari: No, all right. It's tough for me to describe what we do without getting into scientific detail, but because this is my business, my life.

Dustin: I'm into the science.

Rick Sicari: I just talk and it just comes out.

Dustin: No, bring it.

Rick Sicari: All right. So, essentially what we do is this is a mash ton without a false bottom. But for all intents and purposes, this is essentially the exact same thing that they do in making beer. What we do in that tank is take the starch that is in the grain and we convert that into simple sugars using an enzyme that breaks down starch. That enzyme is naturally occurring in the germination process. So essentially they wet grain and they trick this grain into thinking that it's going to grow. They dry the grain out in a process called molting, and that activates this enzyme. So we have now this very powerful piece of grain.
We add that grain to our mash, essentially our cooked starch, our cooked grain, and at a very specific temperature, at a very specific pH with very important minerals, this starch will break into small, tiny little sugar molecules. That sugar molecule is food for yeast. So from there, we'll pump the mash over to the fermenters with yeast and yeast will start to do its thing. From here, we're almost the exact same as a brewer. The brewer will actually filter out the liquid. Again, they have a false bottom. They essentially have a colander. So they drain the liquid out and leave the grain behind.

Dustin: Okay.

Rick Sicari: We don't do that. We can actually bring the grain right with us because we're not going to be drinking it.

Dustin: Right.

Rick Sicari: Brewers have to take that out or else you got grain in your beer. No one's happy about that.
So, again, from here we're almost the same as making beer. When the yeast ferments, it creates alcohol. 50% alcohol, 50% CO2. Again, no different than a beer. The big difference in that fermentation process is that brewers and the way yeast eat sugar is it will spit off a lot of these different flavor compounds known as esters mostly. That can be good or can be awful. Belgian beers are known to have these very interesting banana clove esters that are desired, and that specific yeast drain that they're using for that beer is they want to do it.

Jeff: Wow.

Rick Sicari: For us, we're fermenting this beer at a very, very high temperature with a very, very aggressive yeast strain that creates flavor compounds like crazy. They do not taste good. However, once we ferment out our mash, we have all these flavor compounds that we can get rid of, and we can get rid of them in the still. So when we make a beer at 8% alcohol with all these different terrible flavor compounds, we'll transfer the beer to the still and we'll boil it out. Ethanol actually boils at a much lower temperature than water does.

Jeff: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Rick Sicari: Water, as you guys know, will boil at 212 Fahrenheit.

Dustin: Right.

Rick Sicari: Or 100C. Where ethanol will actually boil at 78 degrees Celsius or 173 Fahrenheit. So if we heat it up above the boiling point of ethanol but below the boiling point of water, we'll actually pull out the ethanol, turn it into vapor, isolate it. It builds pressure in this dome up here, travels down this pipe, up the column, condenses back into liquid, and then turns into a spirit where the water stays behind.

Jeff: So neat. Mad science.

Dustin: Not to stop your mad science, but is there a reason why these are made ... This is copper, right?

Rick Sicari: Oh yeah. If that was steel, you're not going to retain the heat that you need to keep it in vapor form.

Jeff: A heat retention thing.

Rick Sicari: Yeah. It's funny too because of that garage door. I mean, we're in this ... Outside of this tiny room that we're in, we're in a very ... It's not insulated up there.

Dustin: Yeah. It's not warm.

Rick Sicari: It's not that warm. You open that garage door still turns off because the cold airs going to hit that dome, done.

Dustin: Oh. Wow. So do you think the best still in the world would be made out of gold?

Rick Sicari: No. No.

Jeff: I like how your brain works.

Rick Sicari: I like the idea. It would be blingy. But no. Copper is really important. I mean, it's very, very conductive.

Dustin: So that's the go to?

Rick Sicari: Yeah. So, again, if I can kind of back up in this explanation here as to why I make shitty beer and why I cannot care about my shitty beer is really because, like I said, I boil this ethanol out, I condense it back into liquid. I leave all my water behind, but I will not actually ... All of that comes over and condenses into liquid, I will not keep. I actually collect 70 high proof liters per day, but only 30 of those liters become whiskey and what we call the hearts. So there are these four shots that are these aggressive alcohols. They're what we call heads. This transitional period in between the poison that you get right off the rip in ethanol, and then you also get these tails. These are these higher alcohols that have this very musty kind of sweet, earthy flavor that, again, you don't want.

Dustin: What do you do with them?

Rick Sicari: Some of them we use as cleaners because you're producing nail polish remover and just these poisons. Some of them will actually have quite a bit of ethanol in them, just not pure. So we can actually redistill some of them.

Dustin: Okay.

Rick Sicari: If you're looking at these tanks here actually, the white bucket over there is poison. In this smaller bucket here ... Dustin, do not drink that white bucket.

Dustin: Shit.

Rick Sicari: The smaller PV50s here, they're 50-liter tanks that are holding not pure ethanol.

Dustin: Okay.

Rick Sicari: Where the larger the PV100s are holding hearts.

Dustin: Interesting.

Rick Sicari: So, again, if I can go back to shitty beer one more time here, there are all those flavor compounds that we don't want in beer are in those smaller tanks there and the white tanks. But they don't make their way into hearts. Hearts is the good stuff. That comes off the still at 76/77/78% alcohol before we blend it down to 59% and stick it in a barrel. That's, again, the whole other transformation process. Whiskey is very, very interesting.

Jeff: So okay. This company has been, for the better part of ... I mean, we're at 2017 now. So for the better part of five, six plus years. You guys produce whiskey, your rye, your bourbon, and whiskey just straight.

Rick Sicari: Yeah. We got three whiskeys. We have bourbon, rye. Mean, whiskey's an umbrella term. So whiskey encompasses all of it.

Jeff: Right.

Rick Sicari: It's a straight malt whiskey.

Jeff: Malt. Yeah.

Rick Sicari: Malt, bourbon, and rye.

Jeff: Then you also got your vodka and also your rum, which congratulations, you're rum was just featured in Food and Wine Magazine for the end of their end of the year issue.

Dustin: It's beautiful.

Rick Sicari: Everybody's excited.

Dustin: It's a good rum too.

Jeff: They named it ... Was it two different rums of yours or just one?

Rick Sicari: Yeah. Two different rums.

Jeff: Two different rums.

Rick Sicari: Yeah. So Food and Wine is featuring us as ... They're calling rum the spirit of the year. They say 2017, drink rum. There's going to be this resurgence. Again, we're talking a different type of rum. We go back to the flavored coffee vodkas that aren't so good because they're using all these artificial chemicals and flavors and extracts. Same logic with rum. If you're making rum with molasses and this fancy grade molasses that we use, it tastes like rum and it's so good. It's really like this very Caribbean style, done right. That's our white rum. You get a lot of these tropical, caramel flavors. You get a lot of these almost butterscotch notes, which is great. Then, again, back to being whiskey nerds, we decided, "Well, why don't we stick it in a barrel for two years and see how that transforms it." So now you bring all the whiskey flavor, the bourbon. It oxidizes so it mellows out. It brings in more vanillas, more caramels, more butterscotch flavor, and it's just interesting.
I think one of the reasons though that Food and Wine picked us up on it is it's an interesting story as to how we were able to get the recipe.

Jeff: Okay.

Rick Sicari: I'm just going to touch on that a little bit here because John explains it so much better than I do. We're actually going to be leaking out a lot of the story over the next couple weeks.

Jeff: Oh, excellent.

Rick Sicari: It's interesting. If you want just the footnotes here, again, we started as a whiskey distillery. But Albany is really known throughout history as a rum city. Right at the gates of Fort Orange, which is the original name for Albany, once stood the Quakenbush Still House in the mid to late 1700s. It was one of the biggest inland distilleries in its time and producing rum for the colonies as well as across the ocean into England. It was shut down in the mid-1800s, little after the War of 1812 and forgotten about. Then the latter half of the year 2000, they were digging and building this parking garage that sits there now, and they found, they discovered this still. They just noticed that there are these tanks. So then they started digging more and they found the equipment. So they halted construction. They brought in these archeologists and they dug it out. They put the still actually in the Albany Institute here, the museum, and they went to John. They said, "Listen, do you want to ..." When we opened up our doors, they said, "John, do you want to recreate this rum?"

Jeff: Whoa.

Rick Sicari: "That's been buried for 300 years."

Jeff: That's so cool.

Rick Sicari: Of course, we said yes.

Dustin: It's like the Machu Picchu of ...

Rick Sicari: It's wild.

Jeff: That is really cool.

Rick Sicari: Yeah. It's just very, very interesting. They were using Hudson River water.

Dustin: Maybe it wasn't so bad back in the day.

Rick Sicari: Not really what we want to do.

Dustin: Maybe there weren't so many dead people floating around back in the day.

Rick Sicari: Well, I'd say less dead people definitely.

Jeff: I don't know. We just got done with a war at that point.

Rick Sicari: Like I said, honestly, that's just the tip of the iceberg for the story. Like I said if you really want to delve into it and hear more about it ...

Jeff: You guys will be releasing more, right?

Rick Sicari: Yeah. Johnny's going to be talking about it a lot over the next couple weeks here. He's going to be writing a lot about it.

Jeff: Excellent.

Rick Sicari: John is a very unique character. I can't speak highly enough about John. He's just a plethora of knowledge. So he tells this story and you literally just stop what you're doing and you just listen to ... It's unbelievable. I can't even do it justice until you talk to him about it.

Dustin: Future pod.

Rick Sicari: Future pod.

Jeff: Going into 2017 then, is there anything coming up for the company that you can talk about? I know a lot of times it's like you guys ...

Rick Sicari: There's always stuff coming up.

Jeff: Stuff behind the curtain, but, I mean, you guys got anything like planned for this?

Rick Sicari: There's lots of stuff behind the curtain, man.

Dustin: You've got to give us something.

Jeff: Can we get a little taste? I mean, we're tasting something right now.

Rick Sicari: As a company here in Albany, we feel as though we have put so much stock into the brands that we've created so far. Iron Weed is only four years old so we want to go with that. Death Wish Vodka is now eight months old. So we really want to continue to build on that and really establish these brands. Again, we just talked about the Quakenbush rum and the notoriety it's receiving with Food and Wine, so we want to see where that goes. But, I mean, there are always new products that we're working on. Again, I talked about the collaborative vodkas, the whole series that we want to do. There are more products that I'm always talking about doing with you guys. So you might see some more Death Wish spirits.
We need to grow as a company or we need to grow as a facility in this area. I mean, you guys cant' really see here on the radio, but we are in a very, very small home. So that's on our brain.

Jeff: Just sounds like a lot.

Rick Sicari: I don't know. We're all very humbled at this point walking into 2017 just saying like, "Wow. What the hell are we doing?"

Jeff: That's so great. That's so great. One thing we always ask all of our guests is for doing what you do, what fuels you to do that? I feel like, after this conversation, I don't even need to talk to you about that because you said it yourself, you are a nerd for this.

Rick Sicari: I love it.

Jeff: This is something that ... It's so...

Dustin: You're like Jeff wish comic books. It's crazy.

Jeff: Well, it's so refreshing to talk to somebody who is in the business, not only that they enjoy what they went to school for or something like that, but that you have a deep inherent love for.

Rick Sicari: It's fun.

Jeff: You sound like you get out of bed every morning and like are excited to come to work.

Rick Sicari: I don't even get out of bed. I'm in bed and I'm thinking. I got this. I got that. It's crazy. But you come into work. We love having people come to the distillery.

Dustin: I love being here.

Jeff: Yeah. Me too.

Rick Sicari: When I can explain ... I mean, I gave you guys a, what? Four, five-minute explanation of how we make whiskey. When we do tours here, I mean, I talk for an hour. I could talk for an hour and a half about how it's done and way too much detail. I find sometimes where I look at people who are just like huge grins on their face like, "Oh my god. What is going on?" I have people that are just like completely eyes glazed over. Like, "What is going on?"

Jeff: It's passion.

Rick Sicari: But that's the thing like when I talk, so often, especially when I'm talking about this, I don't always register what and who my audience is. I try to. I try.

Dustin: That takes handling, man.

Rick Sicari: I try my damnedest.

Dustin: That's great.

Rick Sicari: Yeah. Sometimes I'm just like, "This is what I do on a day to day basis. This is why I do it. This is why we're from ..." But that's just who I am. I can't.

Dustin: You're an alchemist.

Rick Sicari: Can't keep it down.

Jeff: I have a feeling I know the answer to this question. But final question out of everything that you produce, you personally, your favorite?

Rick Sicari: Oh. I don't know if you know.

Jeff: I kind of ...

Rick Sicari: I think I'm going to throw you a curve ball here.

Jeff: Okay. Okay.

Rick Sicari: I will say this love the Death Wish Vodka. It is for me ...

Jeff: I wasn't fishing.

Rick Sicari: No, for me, the Death Wish Vodka is just I think because there's not anything out there like it, it's awesome. It's something that, again, we ... I like to be able to really engage with customers on that because it has that real appeal. From a like building block side of things, I like bitter. I like intricate. I like interesting. So the rye whiskey for me.

Jeff: That, honestly, was going to be my guess.

Rick Sicari: Is where I thought I was. I literally thought I was.

Dustin: He was going to stick with it, but then you didn't want to be pigeonholed.

Rick Sicari: No. No. No. So that is, for me, what I thought too. Until we opened up the most recent batch of two-year-old barrel-aged rum. At cat's strength. We open this thing out. So we filled the barrel now two and a half years ago at 59%. It does its magic over the two years. We open it up. It's 57.1%. So we had lost a little bit more ethanol. Sometimes that actually spikes. It's crazy to see.

Dustin: Weird.

Rick Sicari: So we open it up at 57.1% and it was just like I cannot wrap my head around how delicious it is.

Jeff: Your face is lighting up just talking about it.

Rick Sicari: I don't know. There's just something about how rich and delicious it is, and for 57%, it's way too delicious.

Jeff: That's awesome.

Rick Sicari: But, again, I think we go back to ... Let's go full circle on this from a company and from a small business doing what it is ... I guess not every day's the same and sometimes the products you make don't turn out to be what you thought they would. I had no idea that this two-year-old rum would be as delicious as it is. So we were very pleasantly surprised and we only made 132 bottles of it. Gone. Gone.

Jeff: Wow.

Rick Sicari: That's probably because ...

Dustin: Is that a ...

Jeff: Ah, got to have this.

Rick Sicari: Try this, try this, and I pushed it on people.

Dustin: Passion's contagious, and that's why we're here. For real. Hearing your story, it makes me feel a lot comfortable in my own settings because it sounds a lot like how Death Wish was and is still happening today. You're dealing with the how far do we grow, how fast do we grow. We don't want to compromise our quality, period.

Rick Sicari: Yeah. You got to be very careful.

Dustin: It's very cool. It's very comforting hearing the same struggles in a different setting. You have that extra layer of the distributor as far as that goes.

Rick Sicari: Booze is tough.

Dustin: It's legal drugs, but so is coffee. Maybe that's why we get along so well.

Rick Sicari: Must be. It must be. It's funny too because it's working with you guys is so much fun. We really enjoy that because you guys are, like you said, you don't know always what you're doing. You're kind of just doing it.

Dustin: It's not a fucking factory, for sure.

Rick Sicari: No. It's not. But that's so much like we look at this across the entire capital district. So we formed what we called the Capital Craft Beverage Trail. It originally was the Albany Craft Beverage Trail. It basically started because we're in the building of the pump station, and Nine Pint Cider is right down the street and Drothers is less than a mile from us. So you're talking you have four alcohol producers within a mile of each other. We're working together all the time because, like you said, sometimes we don't know what we're doing or sometimes we have these creative ideas. We're like, "Hey, what do you think about this, this, and this?"
So it's awesome to either bounce those ideas off of each other, create new products. That's a huge part of our business. So from those four, we started adding all of Albany County. We said, "You know what, Indian Ladder Farms," who was actually recently in the news today. They are also doing an amazing thing for Northeast, and I'm not just taking New York state. I'm talking the entire Northeast for agriculture and the hop world and for molting barely. So we wanted to bring them in. They started a cider and a brewery on their farm. Altamont Wineries there. We've got other producers in Albany County. But then there's Schenectady County and Troy, Rensselaer County and Saratoga County. There's just all of these guys and all of these women who are working hard and putting out these interesting products that are, like you said, sometimes not what they thought they were going to be, but they taste great.

Dustin: It's a fucking snowflake. It's beautiful.

Rick Sicari: It's weird. It's just fun. So like I said because I have a passion for it and because these other people have passions for it, it's just great to work together. So we don't want to stop that. We want to just keep on coming out with new products, and that's why I want to keep a lot of things behind the curtain because there are always things that we're working on. Sometimes there are things that are not behind the curtain that are going to be out and we didn't know that they were going to happen.

Jeff: Well, obviously this partnership's amazing. We're going to be doing more things together between the two companies, and all you listeners out there can obviously follow the Albany Distilling Company on all of the social media, plus your dot com where a lot of these awesome stories are going to be coming out very soon. We'll be linking back to all that kind of stuff.
Thank you so much for welcoming us into your awesome little area here and taking us down memory lane. That was a ...

Dustin: I love you, brother. This was amazing.