Alpine Distilling was the only U.S. distillery invited to international spirits conference
Co-owner discussed ‘Evolving Whiskey Tastings’
Tastings in the spirit industry are continually changing, and the owners of the award-winning Park City-based Alpine Distilling went to Scotland to discuss how these changes can positively affect the industry.
Col. Rob Sergent, who co-founded Alpine Distilling in 2017 with his wife Sara, was invited by the Institute of Brewing and Distilling to defend his poster abstract, “Evolving Whiskey Tastings,” at the Worldwide Distilled Spirits Conference that ran from May 8-10 in Edinburgh.
“It was exciting for us to be there on two fronts,” Sergent said. “It was my first abstract to be accepted into the distilling industry. So on a professional note, it meant a lot to know that there is interest in some of the work we are endeavoring out of Utah.”
The second exciting aspect of attending the conference was knowing Alpine Distilling, which has won numerous national and international awards for its whiskeys and gins and facilitates the Park City Social Aid and Pleasure Club, was the only whiskey distiller from the United States that was asked to attend.
“It was interesting to go to the reception and know that I was the only American whiskey distiller who was invited to speak,” he said. “It was pretty awesome. And if nothing else, it was nice to know there was interest in the novel way to take the craft of distilling and make sure we are responsible stewards of the craft and driving it forward. It was a great opportunity to demonstrate our commitment towards contributing to industry improvement.”
Sergent’s abstract is about the evolving tasting parameters that he is learning from the distillery’s efforts from its bar in Park City.
One of the key points of the abstract is the concept that distillers like Sergent are facilitating whiskey tasting journeys, rather than settling for whether or not someone likes the liquor.
“The whole premise of my proposal is that we’re all on a journey, and what you like when you’re 21 is going to be different than what you like at 30,” he said. “And there’s the idea that we can create aroma, chemosensory and tasting profiles that help drive that tasting journey.”
In addition, if someone is willing to invest in their whiskey journey, it’s important for them to know some of the aspects of the spirit’s production rationale, Sergent said.
“You should know how it was aged, what yeasts were used, what equipment was used and what type of water was used to cut it to proof — all of which influence the flavor,” he said. “I think the more consumers are aware of those choices, the better their experiences will be.”
Supporting the abstract was much like defending a doctoral thesis, Sergent said.
“They give you a certain period of time to speak to an audience in support of the abstract,” he said. “People are there to challenge it. So, you have to express your hypothesis and your case examples, and defend why you think further investment in this space matters to the industry.”
Sergent was the second poster of the day, and he found himself still fielding questions 30 minutes past his allotted time.
“As you can imagine it was quite a thrill for me,” he said. “And what captured my enthusiasm was the diversity of the Q & A participants.”
There were coopers, or barrel makers, from Spain and France, as well as two distillers from Japan who shared their experiences with Sergent.
“The people from Japan were very excited to be there, because there is such a love of complex flavors that is inherent to Japanese cuisine,” he said. “And it was exciting for me to talk about how Alpine Distilling partners with local chefs to find food stimulants that can drive tasting profiles.”
Although Sergent grew up in Kentucky and uses traditional Kentucky distilling methods for his spirits, he felt a sense of freedom during his presentation, because Alpine Distilling is based in Utah.
“If I were distilling in Louisville or Scotland, there would be certain expectations,” he said. “But being from Utah, which is not the distilling center or the United States, I felt like I was working with a blank piece of paper on which I could talk about almost everything without any type of burden.”
Still, Sergent did feel a sense of responsibility in representing the Beehive State at the conference.
“We are a state that has a high tolerance of people trying to be good, and I’m very proud to represent a state and region that is sensitive about its natural resources, especially water,” he said. “All of that reinforces the way Sara and I see our work in this beautiful state, which is a state of innovation, responsibility and craft — be that agriculture, arts, winter sports or distilling.”
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