Minnesota Whiskey Distillery Brother Justus Founder Explains How He Found a New Use for Peat in Whiskey
Peat has been used in whisky for centuries, predominantly in Scotland. The decomposed plant matter is traditionally used to smoke malted barley prior to distillation, often imbuing the grain with a distinctive flavor. But an unlikely distillery in Minnesota has discovered a new use for peat in its whiskey — one that’s entirely different from the traditional burning process.
On Tuesday, The Spirits Business released an interview with the team behind Brother Justus, a Minnesota-based distillery responsible for launching the world’s first “cold-peated” whiskey and implementing a patent-pending finishing process. The process of “cold peating” involves a new use of peat that Brother Justus says both filters out impurities and yields a terroir-driven dram.
The CEO of Brother Justus, Phil Steger, shared with The Spirits Business that he had a longstanding fascination with peat that dated to his high school days.
“I started to notice references to boglands and peatlands and all these different places. I was 17, so I wasn’t really interested in whiskey at the time, but I was becoming really interested in the peatlands and bogland, and the place that they hold in the imagination… They’re this completely inaccessible landscape, tinged with danger, and folktales and fairy-tales.” Steger said in an interview with The Spirits Business.
Steger shared that his initial idea of founding Brother Justus came to him during a distillery tour in Kentucky. The distillery’s tour guide shared that the facility sourced ingredients from out of state, which gave Steger the idea to create a whiskey using ingredients exclusively found in Minnesota.
“The tour guides were taking me through the tour and we’re talking about the water coming from the limestone aquifers. I was like, I’m from Minnesota – we have 10,000 lakes,” Steger continued.
In addition to 10,000 lakes, Minnesota has a native white oak forest, barley and 6 million acres of peatlands. Steger wanted to be the first to use Minnesota peat in the distillation process and create something the industry had never seen before.
The team behind Brother Justus submitted patents in multiple countries like Scotland and Ireland for their unique process that uses peat during the finishing process in lieu of smoking malted barley in the nascent stages of distillation.
Bottled at 86 proof, Brother Justus cold-peated American single malt is available to purchase from the distillery and retailers throughout Minnesota.
The Brother Justus Cold Peating Distillation Process Explained
Brother Justus implements its patent-pending “Aitkin County Process,” which uses Torv Rök peat. The peat is manufactured by American Peat Technology in Aitkin County, Minnesota. The APT facility uses harvested and stabilized peat from peatlands that have been drained before 1985.
Because the peat isn’t burned, it imbues the whiskey with a different sort of peaty flavor disparate from its traditional smoky profile.
“It’s very herbal, it’s earthy, has a minerality to it. I like the umami quality, kind of like mushrooms,” James Jefferson, director of production at Brother Justus, said of the peat’s flavor.
It took the team at Brother Justus multiple passes to figure out the best way to implement peat within the distillation process. Ultimately, they chose to be the first distillery to use it in the final stages of the whiskey’s aging process.
Jefferson described the peating as “a duel-filtering process,” explaining that the peat both adds flavor and removes certain flavors from the matured whiskey.
“It made me really confront the question, well, what legacy do I want [that] to make? If I’m going to be the first I have a choice, whatever we do will be the precedent,” Steger concluded.
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