Wood Hat Spirits is a true, local, field-to-glass distillery producing heirloom corn whiskeys, bourbons and cordials. Gary Hinegardner, owner and distiller of the New Florence, Missouri-based distillery, has incorporated his education, life experiences and ingenuity to create an array of nationally award-winning spirits.
Hinegardner wanted his latest venture to focus on local Missouri agriculture, creating the locavore experience, quite literally from the ground up. He witnessed that barrels used to make scotch and whiskey, both domestically and internationally, were being produced from Missouri oak trees. From there, he quickly ticked through the mental checklist: “We have the barrels, corn, wheat, weather: Why don’t we make our own whiskey? I went to the east coast, west coast, many places in between, and Scotland. I couldn’t find a reason why we didn’t – so I just decided to do it.” Wood Hat Spirits, named for Hinegardner’s signature handmade wood hat, was born in 2013, becoming a true field-to-glass distillery.
Wood Hat’s first distillation was made with blue corn, a distinction from the yellow corn at the base of the majority of American-made bourbons and whiskeys. Blue corn, an heirloom corn, rich in history, holds high esteem in many cultural and religious traditions. “Blue corn is the holy corn, Sunday corn, holiday corn,” Hinegardner describes. “I said, let’s make whiskey with that, something people have determined over centuries is good to eat.”
Since Wood Hat’s conception, Hinegardner has added even more variety to his heirloom corn repertoire, blending red and white corn with his signature blue in the All-American Corn Whiskey. The blend of the three corns creates a unique mouth experience – smooth up front with a subtle finish, but, as he describes, “it gets with it really quick with a spicy, peppery mid-palate.”
Hinegardner works with local friends who farm to grow grain for his mash, which he distills in small batches then ages the distillate in 15-gallon barrels. Rather than using the industry-typical 53 gallon barrels, the smaller barrels allow faster aging and quicker feedback to improve quality. He also began working with a local cooper to select the wood, the age of the wood and the barrel size. They chose the chinquapin oak for its mellow tannins. With the heirloom corn and smaller chinquapin barrel, Hinegardner had, as he describes it, a magic combination.
His variety of distillations now includes an ever-expanding selection of whiskeys, bourbons and one-of-a-kind fruit and nut cordials, carefully experimenting to create his new products. Hinegardner’s Double Wood Bourbon takes Wood Hat’s best-seller, 100-proof Bourbon Rubenesque, and finishes it in a barrel made of charred pecan wood, resulting in a product that has a bigger, longer body and unique, pleasant finish. “It leaves your mouth in just a really nice place,” Hinegardner says.
For his Brew Barrel Bourbon, Hinegardner loans his bourbon barrels to a brewery for aging their beer. When brought back to Wood Hat, the same barrels are refilled with the Rubenesque to further age, resulting in a smooth finish. “Five bourbons are made in Missouri,” Hinegardner says. “And we make four of them.”
Wood Hat has the distinction of being the only wood-fired distillery in the U.S., using scrap wood from a nearby stave mill. “Like using every part of the pig,” Hinegardner says. “We heat with wood and we cool with either ambient air or geothermal. We pride ourselves in using local, renewable resources and leaving a low carbon footprint.”
In between innovation and experimentation, Hinegardner hopes to give Wood Hat Spirits even more exposure statewide. Future plans include broadening their distribution and improving efficiency of production. Wood Hat Spirits’ products are now being distributed throughout the state by Lohr Distributing and can be found in most major liquor stores and a growing number of bars and restaurants.
Wood Hat Spirits, 489 Booneslick Road, New Florence, Missouri, 573.835.1000, woodhatspirits.com