The whiskey world has many interesting characters, not limited to the ones of bygone years and centuries. Time to meet a contemporary distiller “at arms” up-close and personal: Mr. Andrew Lang, owner and operator of Leatherwood Distillery.
Andrew started brewing wine and beer in 1996. His main passion was creating special Southern sweet wines such as muscadine, peach and strawberry. After a little dabbling in making beer with different grains and yeasts he realized that there wasn’t a lot of difference between creating a must for beer and a mash for whiskey. This is when the light bulb went on. Andrew was making wine and beer for friends, family … and then going out and purchasing whiskey. He wanted to change that and did some research on stills and how to build them and came across some plans for a simple column still utilizing copper pipes, a beer keg and a turkey cooker.
It made sense to him, being a Green Beret, to build a still utilizing only parts that could be found anywhere in the world.
Let’s take a step back to the invasion of Iraq, while waiting along the border of Kuwait to invade. Andrew told a buddy that he could make wine out of items in an (MRE) Meal Ready to Eat. One pack of Skittles, a water bottle, a piece of shelf stable bread and the wine started fermenting. It was like drinking a glass of skittles but with alcohol content. During the next 16 years Andrew perfected the art of fermenting and distilling utilizing ingredients available to him wherever he was. His favorite recipe has always been variations of what is today Sweet Feed whiskey. The first batches were undrinkable but after time it became a Green Beret staple. Sweet Feed whiskey would become a special mix of different grains, cooking, distilling techniques and wood finishing taking him to today what is fine sipping whiskey.
Completely out of the box, just as one would expect Green Berets to operate.
Andrew's passion for distilling was interrupted by the Army for 25 years (well, sort of). His army career began as an infantryman. His passion for being unconventional pushed him to become a Green Beret. He was deployed three times in Afghanistan and seven times in Iraq. In 2003, after the invasion of Iraq, Andrew spent nine months out of every year deployed there, only leaving a month at home then it was off to prepare for the next deployment. The mission always came first.
Andy’s original hand made still is now displayed at his own Leatherwood Distillery. The new Leatherwood still is designed much the same as his homemade still — homemade spirits from a homemade still design.
Making Andy’s passion for distilling his own business was not easy. Just like the Army, it takes a skilled support team to succeed. Prior to his retirement Andy shared his passion and some of his Apple Pie and Sweet Feed Whiskey with his neighbor (now a partner at Leatherwood). Andy’s supporters urged him to explore his passion by opening a distillery.
When asked again to open a distillery Andrew’s reply was, “Right, a retired veteran with no business experience; I’m pretty sure I can't just open a distillery.” Andy’s neighbor said, “You might be surprised how easy it is.”
He was wrong! The research and planning began. Local government permits, zoning, approval for this and that, what a nightmare. Federal and state regulations are long and detailed. Financial backing and setting up a business organization was a whole new world that is not the Army. After 18 months, the discussion for his dream was taken up by a county’s planning and zoning; Pleasant View, Tennessee and its mayor, with open arms, welcomed a veteran owned-and-operated business and helped make it happen.
Andy’s passion became a reality. The support team was the key. Andy had enthusiastic support from a loyal team who had faith in him. Andy opened Leatherwood Distillery in 2016, not a distillery of fine aged spirits at first, but a distiller of out of the box and new ideas that could go to the market quickly. “It was to easy to go to the store and buy a bottle of whiskey, but it has always been another story to try to go find something new and special.” This is Andrew's philosophy for creating new spirits and aged whiskeys at Leatherwood Distillery. He is on target!
The Whisky Couple
Thanks to David Pudlo for bringing this story to our attention.