Tapped - Mountain Spirit Distillery

 
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Dan Paquin and John Whiteman, co-founders of Mountain Spirit Distillery

Dan Paquin and John Whiteman, co-founders of Mountain Spirit Distillery

By Tim Behuniak
Photos by Damian Battinelli

“When it comes to the different types of alcohol, vodka is the purest of them all and there’s nothing as pure as the Driven Snow,” explained co-founder of Mountain Spirit Distillery, John Whiteman.

“When it comes to the different types of alcohol, vodka is the purest of them all and there’s nothing as pure as the Driven Snow,” explained co-founder of Mountain Spirit Distillery, John Whiteman.

Unique to its kind, their Driven Snow vodka does not use potato or cereal grains as its main ingredient. Whey, a byproduct of dairy, is the base material associated with Mountain Spirit’s vodka. They use an enzyme from California in their yeast to convert the lactose from the whey into sugar, a technique for reassurance that any residual will not end up in the final product.“The goal while making Driven Snow is to reach 190 Proof when the vodka leaves the still,” said Whiteman. “It’s really important that it’s no lower, and it’s nearly impossible for it to be much higher.” This is an exact science that these two entrepreneurs seem to have mastered.

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Hidden in what is now the industrial area of the retired Air Force base at 35 Florida St. is a true gem of a local business built inside an old Explosive Ordnance Disposal building. Two compatible men of diverse generations and social pockets came together by chance to create something Plattsburgh and its surrounding areas have not seen in decades; a distillery. 

Peru based J. Hogan Refrigeration and Mechanical was the birthplace of the beautiful partnership. John Whiteman and Dan Paquin shared more in common than their full-time job and skilled trade. The combination of their separate personalities and interests was the recipe for a successful business in the stilling equation.“We both had made moonshine on our own, but a lot of the liquor we create today was a learning process for us along the way,” said Whiteman. Paquin provided the wit for scientific details and Whiteman backed the social aspects, fueling what is now Mountain Spirit Distillery.

From inside the metal structure a whiskey-making idea was born. The two men used a bourbon recipe of corn, supplied by a farm in Malone, and malted barley, bought from North Country Malt in Champlain. Like many small, local craft businesses, the distillery is restricted by law to create their products from 75 percent New York-grown materials. Whiteman and Paquin found a way to make whiskey with an efficient, innovative technique of liquor aging. Traditionally, whiskey is aged for lengthy periods of time in barrels made from white oak. Mountain Spirit’s “Workin’ Man” is aged for two brief weeks over oak chips. 

It smells like a whiskey, tastes like a whiskey, has a kick-start and smooth finish like a whiskey, but in classification of New York liquor standards, is labeled as a spirit. 

What do you get when you don’t age whiskey in a barrel or over oak chips? Moonshine. Fun fact: Moonshine and White Whiskey are one in the same. The term moonshine is used only when liquor is bought or sold tax-free. That being said, Mountain Spirit’s Adirondack Glow White Whiskey is no joke! Standing at a solid 100 proof (50 percent alcohol), this liquor will knock your socks off! Whiteman and Paquin use the same recipe and stilling process to create their white whiskey as they do with the Workin’ Mans Spirit, but the aging technique is where the differentiation comes into play. Both whiskeys are stilled at least twice – a process combining distilled water and corn and barley mash, followed by the intricate proofing procedure. That’s when Adirondack Glow and Workin’ Man part ways. The white whiskey is not aged like the Workin’ Man, but instead is immediately bottled for distribution. Two liquors compiled with identical ingredients find themselves at opposing ends of the whiskey spectrum, all with a little help from time and nature. 

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These savvy liquor connoisseurs have been cooking up some ideas for new recipes for the future of Mountain Spirit Distillery. Whiteman explained that they want to spice up their vodka with flavor and give people something not already found in stores. Using coffee beans from Adirondack Coffee Roasters and their signature oak chip flavor, the birth of “Morning Wood” vodka is in the works. The comical name is almost as enjoyable as this distinct spirit. Now we wait in anticipation for delicious White Russians and Martinis complemented with oak and coffee goodness.

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Next on the drawing board is a twist on their whiskey. The two distillers have set their goals high to use an ingredient that all of us in the North Country are very familiar with: sap. Paquin and Whiteman are dreaming up a plan to produce a mouth-watering maple whiskey by incorporating local sap into the fermentation process of their Workin’ Man and Adirondack Glow recipe. This sticky substance is a more sensitive component to use while stilling than the artificial maple flavoring that is typically found in mass-produced maple liquors. There is something to say about a business that will challenge themselves with a difficult task in order to create a more legitimate local product.

Only time will tell test their dreams of bourbon. This particular spirit is regulated by American traditional standards. The bourbon has to be aged in brand new white charred-oak containers and from a mixture of at least 51 percent corn. The aging process has to carry out a length of at least three to five years. We will all sit on the edge of our seats patiently waiting a smooth woody-bourbon to hit the shelves in the next decade, but until then we will have “Morning Wood,” maple whiskey and… gin! All it takes is the Driven Snow vodka bottled with botanicals and left to infuse in a cool, dark place.

John Whiteman and Dan Paquin have brought back the magic of Mountain Spirits to our North Country community for the first time since the prohibition of alcohol. Not only have our towns experienced craft brews, but now original craft booze! The passion of organic creation in Mountain Spirit Distillery liquor shines through in every sip.