Interview

The Whiskey Rebellion

Meet the man behind the whiskey of Sons of Liberty

Posted

Whiskey is something that exudes tradition. Whether it’s scotch, bourbon or rye, whiskeys all tout their time honored traditions and their pedigrees. Sons of Liberty have all the history they could want in their home at the Peace Dale mill, but as their revolutionary name suggests, they’re unapologetically questioning the standard practices of the old guard. Their innovative new styles of flavored and seasonal whiskeys are an elaboration on traditional process, rather than a gimmick. It’s this synthesis of the new and the old that places Sons of Liberty on the forefront of a craft distilling movement that is fast gathering steam. I spoke with president and founder Mike Reppucci about what makes their whiskeys different, but you can find out for yourself throughout Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut at select bars, liquor stores and restaurants. You can also join them at the mill for a tasting on Fridays and Saturdays.

American craft beer has changed a barren landscape into a vibrant one in only a couple decades.  The sales of spirits, and particularly whiskey, have been up in recent years especially among newer generations of drinkers.  Is this is a moment of sorts for craft distilling?
One hundred percent. There is no question that we are in the middle of a craft spirits movement with a big focus on American whiskey, specifically. Whiskey itself has gained a tremendous amount of popularity and interest from a combination of factors; i.e. pop culture (Mad Men, celebrity endorsements), mixologists and cocktail-centered bars, and of course the number of craft distilleries that are now operating in the United States.  It’s definitely a fun and exciting time to be a craft distiller and to be contributing to the intrigue consumers now have in the entire distilling process.

There are only a few small distilleries doing flavored whiskeys... I imagine the traditionalists grumble haughtily?
Whiskey is a very traditional category, so we anticipated a lot of resistance towards our whiskeys, especially our seasonal line of flavored whiskeys. And we don’t blame people. Look at what happened to vodka, there are literally hundreds of flavors in the vodka aisle and most have you scratching your head. A major reason for the dislike in flavored whiskeys is the thought that the entire whiskey category is going to veer in the wrong direction, which is a fair worry. We’ve made it a point, when making our flavored whiskeys, to respect the whiskey. 

Can you explain the difference between your single malts and those that we might be more familiar with? 
I went to London Business School and instead of studying I visited a lot of the distilleries over there. During the tours they kept mentioning “distiller’s beer” so eventually I asked, “what the heck is a distiller’s beer?” Turns out a distiller’s beer, which is what whiskeys are distilled from, is basically beer as everyone else would understand it, but without hops or carbonation. The weird thing to me was that distiller’s beer is historically very light and basically flavorless. So I thought, “Why isn’t anyone brewing the beers I love, and distilling that into whiskey?” In 2011 we launched Sons of Liberty with Uprising, the first ever Single Malt Whiskey distilled from a stout beer. This was followed by Battle Cry a year later, distilled from a Belgian-style ale.

What is your tasting/testing process, and can I come?  
It’s definitely a lot less scientific than most probably think, so you’re probably qualified to join us. Really though, it’s been a learning process since day one with a lot of trial and error. One example of trying to get the right taste for a new product before screwing up a very large batch is our Pumpkin Spice Flavored Whiskey. We use real, locally grown pumpkins to flavor the whiskey - no artificial flavoring. The problem with this, especially when we had never made the whiskey before, was that pumpkins aren’t really ready until September, which is when we wanted the whiskey to be available in stores. So, we actually used squash in a few small test-batches to perfect the flavor as much as we could before getting the real pumpkins. 

Sons of Liberty
1425 Kingstown Road, South Kingstown
284-4006