Mosswood Distillers is All About the Barrel
Business and life partners Therese Agnew Chevedden and Jake Chevedden founded Mosswood Distillers in 2013 after falling in love with whiskey—and each other. “One of my college professors taught me to distill,” explains Therese, “which is right around the time I met Jake.”
A former consultant to the hospitality industry, Jake had long been curious about the production side of the products he sold behind the bar. Eventually, he managed to procure a still, but didn’t know how to use it. “That’s how things started,” laughs Therese.
The Benefits of Barrel Finishing
While distilling might have brought Therese and Jake together, it’s barrels—specifically barrel finishing—that actually powers their business. Mosswood Distillers is one of the most fascinating members of the new wave of American independent bottlers. Instead of distilling spirit themselves, they purchase spirit from other distilleries, then age, finish, blend, and proof it according to their own specifications. It’s a time-tested model in Europe, but less common the United States.
Why go the independent bottler route? Like so many things in life, it came down to a combination of money and priorities. Starting a full distillery is extraordinarily expensive. Not only can the equipment run well into the millions; the permitting, facilities, and legal costs are also significant. Unless you’re independently wealthy, launching a distillery typically means taking on outside investment or a major business loan, which often results in a loss of creative control or simply too much risk.
And, after all, it wasn’t a love of mashing or making cuts that brought them to the spirits industry. A shared passion for creative, distinctive whiskies was their driving force, and a recent consulting project had shown Jake there might be another way to achieve that dream while staying independent.
“Jake consulted for a bar that opened up with a really intense barrel aging program,” explains Therese. “They had 100 different spirits that they aged themselves. He kind of spearheaded the whole thing, and got to see what worked really well and what he enjoyed.” Perhaps Mosswood, too, would be a place where Therese and Jake could explore new ideas in cask finishing, viewing the wood as a primary ingredient equally worthy of focus as the spirit itself.
How Casks Create Character
Cask finishing—also referred to as Additional Cask Enhancement, or ACE—is a relatively widespread practice in the Scotch industry that’s been making inroads in the United States. It refers to the practice of resting mature whiskey in barrels that have been formerly used for other drinks—Port, sherry, Madeira, or wine are all common choices. Over several weeks or months, that whiskey takes on an additional dimension of flavor, aroma, and sometimes even color from the secondary cask. It’s a relatively fast and effective way to create something totally new, and the opportunities for creativity are enormous.
From the beginning, Jake and Therese knew they were interested in exploring the outer reaches of cask finishing. Over the years, they’ve finished bourbon, rye, light whiskey, Irish whiskey, and rum in wine casks, sherry casks, apple brandy casks, sour ale barrels, barrels used to hold coffee, nocino barrels (an Italian black walnut liqueur), Umeshu barrels (a Japanese plum wine), and Scotch barrels. Finished with labels designed by Therese, the resulting products have been remarkable.
Therese says the collaborative aspects of cask finishing are rewarding, too. “We love working with other producers who use barrels too,” she says. “It can be like a symbiotic relationship. Like right now, we work with Drake’s Brewery. We age whiskey in their beer barrels, then they age beer in our whiskey barrels, and it keeps going.”
A Spirit of Experimentation
One of Mosswood’s recent releases, Sour Ale Barrel Aged Whiskey, was the result of a project gone fortuitously awry. Interested in creating a beer barrel aged whiskey, Therese and Jake had orchestrated several test batches utilizing small five-gallon barrels before committing to a full-sized batch. One small barrel had been filled with a floral hopped red ale to soak into the oak before adding the whiskey. “It was right around the holidays, and that small barrel of red ale got a little neglected,” says Therese. “When we got back to it, it had naturally soured. When we opened it, the bung shot way into the air. But it actually smelled really nice, so we decided to try it anyway, and that’s how we landed on one of our main lines.”
Have any experiments ever failed, we wondered? Therese said they’ve avoided outright failure, although they’ve definitely tried things that never made it to wider release. “We did a test batch of imperial stout aged whiskey,” Therese says. “It was interesting, but not quite balanced enough for us. The whiskey was profoundly coconut flavored!” She also said that super intensely flavored bourbon isn’t always a good choice for cask finishing, because it already has so much character on its own. “That’s part of why we moved to light whiskey, which really shows the finish,” she says.
“Mosswood isn’t the first company to source whiskey and finish it before releasing,” writes Christopher Null at DrinkHacker. “But it might be the most interesting one operating today.” We couldn’t agree more, which is why we’re so excited to share an exclusive bottling of Mosswood Barrel Aged American Whiskey with some of our club members this month.
Just for us, Therese and Jake created a special blend of light whiskey and bourbon finished in cabernet and zinfandel casks from nearby Napa Valley. Vibrantly fruity and gently spiced, it’s a delicious example of the incredible chemistry that can happen when the right whiskey meets the right cask— fitting for a distillery whose origin story was a romance.