The journey wasn’t always easy. Ransom wasn’t able to capitalize on a century of reputation like a lot of whiskey companies today; they started in 1997 with nothing. Over the last ~17 years, Tad Seestedt and his team managed to grow Ransom Spirits into one of the country’s premier craft distilleries and small-batch wine producer.
Taster’s Club had a nice talk with Tad Seestedt himself about his company’s history, values and how they make such good stuff.
Enjoy! As usual give us your feedback in the comments below!
TC: You started Ransom Spirits back in 1997 with all your savings, maxing out credit cards, etc… A pretty gutsy move! What was your motivation?
TS: As you mentioned, I had a small life savings, and decided that I had saved enough to either put a down payment on a house, or start a business. I decided to start my own business to have greater creative control of the products I made and techniques I used. I wanted to work without a lot of modern technology getting in the way of the expression of the raw materials, and without the cautious tone of investors getting in the way of my desire to produce unique products. It also meant a lot to me to be my own boss—little did I know I would have to push myself far harder than any boss ever had. I sacrificed a lot of financial stability, especially in the early years, but Ransom has also grown into a larger, more dynamic, and more fulfilling project than I ever could have imagined.
TC: In 2007, you started doing grain-based spirits (i.e. gin and whiskey). As you know, we’re big whiskey fans here at Taster’s Club. Are there any plans for new whiskeyreleases in the future?
TS: We will be releasing Henry du Yore’s Rye Whiskey in Fall 2015. We love the flavor and texture of rye whiskey, and are excited to add it to our lineup. We’re also beginning to develop another whiskey mash bill for a few years down the road.
TC: The Emerald – Straight American Whiskey – has won a Double Gold Medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Congrats! Tell us more about this whiskey, howis it different from your competitors’?
TS: The Emerald is at once quintessentially a product of the Irish whiskey tradition and also a modern craft spirit. Thanks to folklore passed down through generations, we know that the Irish whiskey of today little resembles its 19th century predecessors. Unfortunately, there was none left of the traditional whiskey to taste in our quest to recreate the long lost gems of Ireland. Fortune gave us two good turns; a British excise agent who recorded an Irish mash bill in 1865, and our friend David Wondrich, who found said recipe poring over the microfiche annals of history and passed it along to us.
With this mash bill as our guide, we set out to create our own interpretation of a traditional Irish whiskey. To call our version modern might be a bit of a stretch—We grow a percentage of the barley organically on our farm, our grains are milled, mashed and fermented in small batches at our distillery and farm in the emerald hills of Sheridan, Oregon, and we distill according to our senses in our handmade, direct-fired alembic pot still. The Emerald matures in a mix of French and American oak for three years.
The result is a highly aromatic spirit with the weight, ichness, and complexity of its forbearers. We believe it is not only one of the finest craft whiskeys on the American market, but also one of very few whiskeys produced anywhere using this type of mash bill that speaks meaningfully to the tradition from which it is born.
TC: It’s clear that Ransom Spirits are fond of values like craftmanship, small batch sizes and high quality ingredients. How do you think that translates to the spirits you’re making at Ransom?
TS: Each batch of our products smells and tastes slightly different, and we embrace the uniqueness of each batch. It starts with the finest ingredients—they are the most expressive, and allow us to produce spirits of purity using traditional pot distillation. The seasonal variation we see in degree of extraction from the barrels and the botanicals, the slight differences in texture from batch to batch based on variations in how our mash went—these are all parts of a story of spirits that speak to the hands that made them and the fields that grew them.
That being said, we have a lot of consistency in our recipes, so there is always a strong coherence between batches. We’ve said that the three pillars of our production ethic are craftsmanship, historicity, and terroir—we aim to make only products that speak meaningfully to all three of these values, and we feel you can taste this meaning even before we articulate it in words.
TC: You’ve come a long way since 1997. What’s next for you at Ransom?
TS: We plan to remain a small business comprised of passionate individuals (five, at the moment) and continue to produce our core lineup of wines and spirits. Our sweet vermouth will be released this fall-that’s a product five years of research and development in the making!
In addition, we are currently installing a larger direct fired, alambic Prulho pot still. This will allow us a little more flexibility in our production schedule and allow us to better keep up with the growth we’ve seen in the last few years.
TC: The members loved tasting your releases! Were you excited to be a part of the Taster’s Club’s July package?
TS: Organizations like Taster’s Club are one of the best ways for people to expand their palate, learn about new and different producers and styles of whiskey, and gain a deeper appreciation for our craft. It is a huge service to our industry, and we are honored and excited to be included!