When someone tells you they work in a distillery, it may conjure visions of tasting spirits in the fading afternoon light at a farmhouse table, nose deep in a snifter, making notes in a journal with a quill pen:
A lovely nose with subtle camphoraceous tinges of cardamom and coriander.
Quite dusty, very anti-modern with a hint of soot.
Assertive yet balanced with a marked acidity and spice.
The truth, as with most fantasies, is slightly more complicated.
The job of a distiller is not only creative, but scientific — one must apply principles of chemistry and yeast physiology, ensure that the proper weight and blend of grain is steeping within a precise temperature range and for a precise amount of time, understand when it’s ready to be moved to the fermenter. One must collect samples, analyze them, problem solve when abnormalities arise and oh yeah, know how to mop.
“The floor gets disgusting and the room is huge,” laughs Brandy Pieper, a distiller at Oregon Spirit Distillers. “I used to get this weird elbow thing from the repetitive motion of the mop when I first started. It was the middle of summer and I’d come home at midnight hot and sweaty with aching arms.”
But that was two years ago when she was fresh out of college, new to Oregon, and had nary a thought in her mind about becoming a distiller.
“When I moved to Oregon it seemed to make sense that between my degree in biology and experience bartending, I’d get a job as a brewer in a brewery,” Brandy says. “Fermentation science is interesting to me, so I thought bread … maybe beer … I’d love to learn how to make wine or vinegar one day, but I never thought about distilling.”
In retrospect, Brandy says what she was really looking for was a chance to learn; for someone to share their knowledge with her. As it turns out, she ended up not only learning but falling in love with an entirely new craft.
And while sure, part of that craft entails taste-testing and note-taking, it is also physically and mentally demanding and at the end of the day, like most, she likes to unwind with a delicious drink. The only difference is, Brandy’s got a stocked bar at her disposal 24/7 and not only stocked … but stocked with the good stuff.
Below are Brandy’s top-five favorite songs to wind down her work day to, paired with their corresponding sips — tasting and listening notes included:
Sips & Songs
Gillian Welch, “Silver Dagger” & Stone Barn Brandy Works’ Apple Brandy, neat*: A down-home feel-good melody paired with oaky, well-distilled non-muddy apple brightness.
Mipso, “Everyone Knows” & The Walter Collective’s Gin, on ice**: Introspective, mysterious/swayable beats and welcoming vocals are a perfect companion for thought-provoking gin flavors.
David Rawlings, “Cumberland Gap” & Oregon Spirit Distillers’ Rye, neat: Southern Gothic and Rye. Yes please.
Valerie June, “Astral Plane” & Corpse Reviver no. 2, cocktail (recipe below): both cocktail and sounds, on paper, seem imperceptible; once you experience them, without question, they make perfect sense and the perfect pair.
Paul Simon, “Hearts and Bones” & Amaro Nonino, neat: My long-time favorite musician, Paul Simon, tells stories that are both personal and mysterious. This Amari is an un-fussy, but complex spirit best enjoyed at room temperature. Kick back and let the song be revealed through your own life lens as the spirits’ complexity slowly unravels.
Corpse Reviver no. 2
1 ounce each Gin, Lillet Blanc, Cointreau, Lemon Juice (Meyer lemon preferably)
Shake all ingredients together and strain into an absinthe-rinsed glass.
To absinthe-rinse a glass, toss a bit of absinthe in your glass, swirl it around, then dump it out. If you don’t have absinthe, just skip this step — the drink remains delicious without.
*Neat – without ice
**On ice – pour the drink over ice; preferably, one large rock to let the spirit dilute slowly.
What do you listen to at the end of a long day? What is your go-to drink? Send us your playlist and recipes below!