Gin - it's not just for James Bond anymore! We visit Hardshore Distillery Company to see how founder Jordan and distillers Evan & Tristan create their delicious spirits in Portland, Maine and to find out why Sanita safety shoes come in handy when spending ten hours on wet, slippery concrete floors.
Since its founding in 2017, Hardshore Distilling Company's tasty gin has quickly become the top-selling Maine-made spirit. Under the guiding principle of "Do fewer things, better", the trio of founder Jordan and distillers Evan and Tristan have perfected their handcrafted botanical gin and grown distribution into 18 states. Working for over 10 hours a day on their feet in the distillery or behind the bar in the tasting room, these guys know a thing or two about footwear that can perform in tough working environments. Everyone in the small team navigates on wet, slippery concrete floors, climbs up and down metal steps, and stacks barrels all day long.
We chatted with them find out why they love Sanita's non-slip safety shoes and how exactly wheat, juniper and rosemary turn into a classic drink. And, distillery dog Hudson made a special appearance, too!
Jordan, why did you start Hardshore Distilling?
Jordan: I started Hardshore to show people that gin could be more than the dry, juniper-y spirit people always associate with James Bond. There's infinite possibilities and unparalleled creative latitude in gin-making and we're here to change the way people think about gin.
How did you get into distilling - do you have a professional background that led you here?
Jordan: Nope. I often say it was sort of how most people get into golf - buy a set of clubs and start swinging. I've always been interested in spirits, and eventually I had a small copper still made and started making cuts. I was just terrible at first, but with practice and attention to detail, it began to come around.
Evan: Before my venture into the distilling world, I spent about 13 years as a Toyota auto technician. I spent a lot of time learning how things operate on the fly. I met Jordan and Tristan at an awesome restaurant across from the distillery…and we all hit it off. I was pretty burned out on mechanic life, I already had an interest in fermentation and distilling, and saw a great opportunity to start a new career path.
Tristan: I started distilling about 6 months after my start of employment with Hardshore. The company was very young and Jordan couldn't juggle everything by himself, so he began training me to help out with the sales side of things but it quickly grew into an “everything that happens at Hardshore” role. Now, I distill full time with some extra hats for the job here and there.
"There's infinite possibilities and unparalleled creative latitude in gin-making and we're here to change the way people think about gin." - Jordan
How do you make your gin?
Tristan: We begin with milling wheat to expose the endosperm and starches found inside the husk. After a day of mashing and breaking long starch chains down to simple sugars we add (pitch) yeast with the grain still on into our wort. After a few days of fermenting we cut the process a little short to keep a little residual sugar in when we distill the grain to create our low wines, going from a ~12% beer to a ~60% low wines.
With our 60% low wines we load that back into the still to do a very long and slow neutral grain spirit run. Taking the time to separate the less ideal alcohol, methanol, acetate, from the ethanol you would find in your typical spirit. This comes off the still at 95%. After we finish our NGS run, we proof (water) down the NGS and filter it through charcoal to make sure no impurities are getting through. We then soak our botanicals (rosemary, mint, orris, juniper, coriander) like tea for a few days.
We distill this alcohol one last time to create our gin. After another filtration we do a tasting panel against previous batches and then we all sign off on the final flavor. We then bottle everything by hand in our facility.
What kind of training do you need to operate the machines?
Tristan: A lot of the training is on the job. Home distilling isn't a legal practice so we have spent time building, maintaining, and learning all the machinery we operate as it comes up. Obviously the manuals help but a lot of the time you won't know the answer to a problem until it happens and you have to learn how to deal with it.
What's the most important thing to pay attention to while making gin?
Jordan: It depends on the stage. We start making gin by growing the grain, which means soil nutrients and maturity are the most important factors. When mashing and fermenting, pH and mash temp are the key variables to control. When distilling, still temperature and the taste/smell of the distillate emerging from the still are paramount. However, the most impactful part of gin making is ingredient selection. You cannot improve your raw ingredients or botanicals once you've begun, so if you don't start with the absolute best you can possibly find, you've already doomed your final product.
Evan: The quality of the raw materials, diligently following the correct steps at the right time and temperatures. Cleanliness of equipment.
Tristan: I think the most important thing to making gin is having a base neutral that really allows the botanicals to shine and very conservative alcohol cuts when tasting the spirit flow off the still.
"We care too much about what we do to let anything short of our best work leave the distillery." - Jordan
What makes Hardshore Distilling's gin so delicious?
Jordan: Haha, leading the witness? There are a few things, I think. The first is the unconventional botanical mix - we use fresh rosemary and fresh mint in our gin and it's just leafy-green wondergin! The second is that we care too much about what we do to let anything short of our best work leave the distillery. The final thing is probably perception bias. By the time you've met us and seen just how much we love doing what we do and teaching others about how awesome and outside of people's expectations a gin can be, you really, REALLY want to like it.
Evan: Hardshore gin is rare in that we make the neutral spirit base from excellent grain that is sourced from our founder’s family farm. We then incorporate the finest and freshest botanicals we can get our hands on and spend many hours making sure these elements work together as perfectly as possible
Tristan: I think what makes Hardshore gin delicious is the fresh herbs for each batch, the attention to detail as far as sourcing goes for our other botanicals, and that in the culinary world mint and rosemary play really well with such a wide variety of flavors. This makes it easy to mix as well as stand on its own.
Was footwear discussed with you when you started this job?
Jordan: No, but from the first day we launched, it became painfully obvious that we needed great footwear at Hardshore. We're on our feet pretty much all day!
Evan: Everyone here has spent a lot of time on hard/ slippery surfaces, we’ve tried a lot of different footwear… from straight up steel toe work boots to running shoes. It’s a pretty regular conversation.
Tell us a little bit about what the environment you're working in is like and why you need good footwear:
Jordan: Easy: wet, unforgiving concrete. You trying spending 10 hours on it and let me know how it goes!
"After a long day of wearing these shoes I find myself doing something I don’t usually do with work shoes… I wear them some more! Home, bars, out to get food, etc." - Evan
Do you consider shoes a tool of the trade?
Evan: Shoes are one of the most important tools of the trade. No one is happy when their dogs are barking halfway through the day. Same goes for knees! Good footwear needs to be super durable and fit properly. Now that we’ve got Sanita, it looks good to boot! ( pun intended!)
Tristan: Since working on my feet for the past decade, I would consider footwear a tool of the trade. Nothing worse than standing on concrete for 12 plus hours and your body resenting you when you're finally off your feet for the day.
What was your first impression when you put on your Sanita shoes?
Jordan: First impressions: these look killer. Second impression: these feel as good as they look!
Evan: The non-slip performance of these soles is the best I’ve encountered so far! Distilling is all about liquids…all kinds of liquids… everywhere! On ladders, on polished concrete, metal etc. Non-slip is essential so as to not send yourself into early retirement!
Tristan: They were very snug at first but after a couple days of wearing them around they fit my feet very comfortably
Tristan, you mentioned you also wear these to your other job? What's that experience been like?
Tristan: I wear these while bartending and I couldn't ask for a better shoe, the slip-resistance helps all the time behind the bar. It also doesn't restrict the quick pivots you make when working around people or when the bar gets busy.
Is Hudson the dog a good boy?
Jordan: I mean, he knows he is. Probably because I tell him so about nine thousand times a day.
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