StilltheOne: A Journey from Hedge Fund to Honey Vodka
Blue Hill at Stone Barns is well known in the New York food world as the emblem of fine food and quality ingredient cooking, and the empire's reach is about to expand into custom spirits, distilled with the help of StilltheOne Distillery. StilltheOne opened the doors to its vodka and gin distillery in August 2010; since then, proprietor Ed Tiedge has been on the forefront of developing several award-winning products, and local establishments have started to take notice.
Tiedge began his distilling career after being laid off from his second job in two months at a hedge fund. "In Wall Street, you get two swings at bat, but you usually don't get a third one," Tiedge says. "I didn't want to be a security salesman because I didn't want to take people's money to sell them crappy products, so I decided I was going to make something." After some experimentation and brainstorming, he opted to move forward with opening a distillery.
"We came up with the idea of making vodka from honey," he says, referring to himself and his wife. "I'd done some wine-making. And then I made some mead -- and it didn't taste terrible -- and then I ran it through the still and it tasted really interesting," he explains. Vodka, unlike all other alcohols, is determined by the process, not the ingredients. All that is needed to qualify a vodka is a proof of 190. What you make it from is entirely up to you.
His wife insisted he take the business one step at a time. Step one: Can you come up with something that tastes good? Step two: How do you make it even better? "Picking the best honey and yeast combination took dozens of trials," he explains.
With the career shift came a lifestyle shift, for better and for worse. "Naturally, I had to sell off some of my toys," he says. "There are weeks when my bills are due that I miss the paycheck, but I do not miss the job at all. My wife doesn't miss that job even though there was more money in our checking account. She describes me as a much nicer person, and I'm probably the happiest I've been in awhile. My kids seem to like me a lot more. I'm not grumpy or mad at the universe for a trade not going my way. If you make something of quality, you can feel good that you've made something of quality."
After a few years spent perfecting the honeyed Comb Vodka and Comb 9 Gin, Tiedge turned to whiskey and brandy. "We just released a malt whiskey that we did with Captain Lawrence Brewing Company that's made from their malted barley beer," he explains. "I had an epiphany a few years ago that if you're making whiskey from beer, you're making a malt whiskey, so we took about 10,000 gallons of Scott [Vaccaro]'s Freshchester Pale Ale and ran it through the still. We've been aging it in New American oak barrels and we've just released the first 75 cases in November. It's an incredibly different product. It's awesome. It's probably the best thing we've made."
Tiedge loves the fact that he can push the envelope and create something no one else has done. The Captain Lawrence whiskey project is called 287 Whiskey, named after the highway that connects the brewery to the distillery. Tiedge expects the whiskey to start outselling their staple Comb vodka.
As for that collaboration with Blue Hill at Stone Barns, the restaurant is releasing its own gin and grappa, distilled by StilltheOne. Already a customer, the team approached Tiedge to make something special for the restaurant. "We started out talking about things they'd like," the distiller recalls. "Sometimes they want things that are grown on the farm in Westchester to be incorporated, so they give me a bunch of herbs, I take my ingredients, and then I make a couple of different versions. They taste them and see what they like and narrow it down. And then we have a finished recipe."
In the coming months, both the gin and grappa will be released under the name Barbers, and Tiedge hopes the collaboration will continue. "We'll probably do a whiskey as well," he tells us.
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