Q&A: Smith finds calling in distilling

  • Comments
  • Print

Bryan Smith, Hard Truth Distilling Co. master distiller (photo courtesy of Hard Truth Distilling)

Bryan Smith joined Hard Truth Distilling Co. in 2015 as a distiller, despite never having actually made spirits before.

But he had made beer and wine and he loved science, so he took quickly to the job at what was a fledgling part of a collection of companies that includes Big Woods

Restaurants, Quaff ON! Brewing and now Hard Truth Hills.

Smith, 46, now the company’s master distiller, has had a hand in creating some of Hard Truth’s biggest sellers, including its Cinnamon Vodka and Toasted Coconut Rum, and is preparing the launch of its Straight Rye Whiskey. Hard Truth also has bourbon aging in barrels that it hopes to release next year.

Why did you decide to become a distiller?

I was an only grandchild and one of my grandmothers was an incredible cook. She had me from a very, very small age up on the counter, putting weird food in my mouth, and developing my palate. And so I’ve always had a passion for making things that taste good, but I’ve never had an opportunity professionally to do that.

I had a friend who was working for Quaff ON! Brewing Co. … and the company had just gotten its distilling license. I’d been doing some research about distilling [and applied]. And ever since that moment, I’ve just been a nonstop student of the craft.

How do you make spirits that stand out in a crowded market?

There are pretty standard recipes for vodka, gins and rums. So … you have to differentiate yourself. One of the things that I hold as a personal practice is that, whenever I make anything to eat for someone, I want it to be the best version that I know how to make.

With this beverage, it was the same thing. I wanted all the products to taste premium. We use natural ingredients. We don’t skimp on ingredient costs or process costs, because ultimately we want to have a premium product. There are plenty of just regular run-of-the-mill vodkas, gins and rums out there, so we really wanted to have a product that people would notice when they tried it.

When in the process do you add a specific flavor?

It’s typically done either during distillation or after distillation.

In the case of our gin, we soak the botanicals in some spirit that’s already been distilled once, but then run it back through the still again.

With whiskey, it’s a little more about blending the flavors in a much more subtle and nuanced way—and you do it by the type of barrel you choose, the type of char and toast on the barrel, and where you get your grains.

My role is to create flavors that are complex and balanced. … My favorite thing is making the whiskey because there are hundreds of decisions that you make, from talking to the farmer about the grain until you put it in the bottle. Each one of those decisions shapes the flavor.

How can you stand to wait while new concoctions age?

You keep yourself insanely busy with other stuff like marketing, packaging, sales, all the other things that go into what makes my job my job. But it’s definitely hard to wait.

Right now, we’re evaluating a lot of the experimental stuff I did a year and a half ago. The good news is, it all tastes really good, and it’s going to be exciting to pick out the things that we really love the most and run with those.•

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

Editor's note: You can comment on IBJ stories by signing in to your IBJ account. If you have not registered, please sign up for a free account now. Please note our updated comment policy that will govern how comments are moderated.

One thought on “Q&A: Smith finds calling in distilling

Get the best of Indiana business news. ONLY $1/week Subscribe Now

Get the best of Indiana business news. ONLY $1/week Subscribe Now

Get the best of Indiana business news. ONLY $1/week Subscribe Now

Get the best of Indiana business news. ONLY $1/week Subscribe Now

Get the best of Indiana business news.

Limited-time introductory offer for new subscribers

ONLY $1/week

Cancel anytime

Subscribe Now

Already a paid subscriber? Log In

Get the best of Indiana business news.

Limited-time introductory offer for new subscribers

ONLY $1/week

Cancel anytime

Subscribe Now

Already a paid subscriber? Log In

Get the best of Indiana business news.

Limited-time introductory offer for new subscribers

ONLY $1/week

Cancel anytime

Subscribe Now

Already a paid subscriber? Log In

Get the best of Indiana business news.

Limited-time introductory offer for new subscribers

ONLY $1/week

Cancel anytime

Subscribe Now

Already a paid subscriber? Log In