Adnams was established 1872, but it wasn’t until 2008 when they announced they were installing a distillery. A few eyes blinked, but they went onto win a cocktail of awards, including the World’s Best Gin. Yet Adnams’ foray into the spirit world isn’t unprecedented. Across in the US, Rogue, Ballast Point, Dogfish Head, Ska and Anchor have all been distilling, and now BrewDog is getting in on the act with Lone Wolf. Hoptical caught up with a couple of brewers-turned-distillers who rank among the best. Make ours a double...

From an industry perspective it seems that the spirit world and the beer world rarely meet.

A notable coming-together is when an imperial stout is poured into a second-use bourbon barrel for aging. After a year in these barrels – previously used for whisky, tequila or even mescal – the flavours and aromas in the wood are imparted into the beer itself, adding richness and recapturing some of the character of what went in before.

But how easy is it to make the jump to distilling itself? Dave Thibodeau, co-founder of Ska Brewing, recently launched Peach Street Distillery. From Colorado, he told Hoptical?that the overall process, while different in many ways, also has certain things in common with brewing.

“Depending upon what you’re producing, you may use a similar mashing process, but the beauty of spirits is that much of the time you can have, for lack of a better term, a ‘dirtier’ mash or fermentation due to the fact that it will later be distilled. The interesting thing is that the magic of distilling begins after fermentation, whereas much of the magic in brewing is the fermentation process,” explains Dave. “A lot of the time it starts with an idea, as it often does with beer. An idea usually sparks some research and development – or as we call it, ‘drinking’ – and something genius is born.”

They’re certainly having fun. “For our bourbon, our mash process is similar, but for something like our fruit brandies, we often let the fruit ferment naturally with the wild yeasts on its skin.

"The amazing thing about Palisade [the area of Colorado where they’re based] is that there are so many orchards and vineyards, and wild yeasts that really course through the town’s veins. The high desert flora and fauna are vibrant and alive throughout the growing season, and those unique flavours, combined with the energy of the town and the farmers, truly do manifest themselves in the drink.” It’s a similar story at the Adnams distillery, located at Southwold, overlooking the Suffolk coast. Two great distillation towers rise several storeys high, with regular port holes allowing for inspection. And my, are they beautiful: gleaming red coppers that to 21st century nostalgists look like part of a steampunk pipe organ, or perhaps a Jules Verne contraption to plunder the mineral riches from the centre of the earth.

Head distiller John McCarthy told Hoptical: “The production of our spirits takes place in the same brewhouse and fermentation room as our beers. We use the same grains, water and yeast. You then have an idea or suggestion from someone, and off you go!” Whatever they’re doing, it’s working. They’ve won a Bronze Medal for their Triple Grain Whisky, a Silver Medal for their Absinthe, and, most coveted of all, the Copper House Dry was voted the World’s Best?Gin at the International Wine & Spirits Competition, alongside dozens more accolades. Not bad for a distillery that only got going in 2008. Alongside the gins, vodkas and whiskies, meanwhile, are more playful drinks such as the Pomme Pom apple spirit – although there’s no beer schnapps yet. Beer what, we hear you ask? Come again? Back in Colorado, I ask Dave what on earth beer schnapps is. “It’s a spirit distilled from, you guessed it, beer. We make one out of our Steel Toe Milk Stout that we age in oak for two-plus years – you could actually refer to it as ‘beer whisky’, and that’s really what it tastes like, a really amazing whisky with nice subtle hints of chocolate and cream attributable back to the beer.”

Now there’s our kind of spirit. “We like to say that we’re?a band of misfits making unreasonable spirits the hard way,” Dave says, before heading back to work. Cheers to that.