Catching Up With Corsair: The Multitasking Maverick

Corsair is definitely a maverick as far whiskey brands go. Darek Bell and Andrew Webber are also pretty unconventional in their attitude to the art of making whiskey. Theirs is the only craft liquor which does not adhere to regular expectations as to what whiskey must taste like and how it must be packaged. The three men in suits and sunglasses on the bottle (evocative of the Rat Pack, Reservoir Dogs or the Blues Brothers) do nothing but heighten your sense of bewilderment at the blatant eccentricity of the Corsair duo.

In case you haven’t noticed, most of the craft liquor produced in America taste about the same. This does not hold true for Corsair however. The Corsair distillery in Nashville, Tennessee, ensures that enough imagination goes into its making. From Quinoa to oat whiskey, experimenting with wood for the barrels like German beech to American cherry, to not caring two hoots for taking the whiskey through a conventional ageing process – these guys have it down pat. They’ve hit on the perfect formula for keeping things fun and unpredictable. As Bell explains, their ethos is that “if it’s been done before, we don’t want to do it”.

Corsair’s Triple Smoke is their first whiskey. Made of Scottish peat, it is still their top selling. They even have five smoked malts with pecan, maple, hickory, black walnut, and apple, and each of these need to be sampled to believe they exist. Bell and Webber are also flaunting a barrel aged gin. To top it all, they have a woman heading up their distillery. Andrea Clodfelter, 28, started out as a bartender in the tasting room at Corsair. She was moved up to the position of head distiller for her great acumen when it came to decisions concerning the whiskey. And my word, was she right! Today, Corsair is selling in 39 states and across the world for about $50 a bottle and is widening their base in terms of popularity, at about 14,000 cases a year for a few years, from – well, nothing, to begin with.

Corsair’s first creation occurred in a garage. In 2008, after a few successful experiments, and the lack of interested investors, they acquired the distillery in Bowling Green, Kentucky, on credit. It would have been illegal to run one commercially out of Nashville. They soon released a red absinthe – red in colour and hitting fruity notes post the addition of hibiscus – which became a runaway hit. They also made a gin with juniper and coriander hung in a basket above the still, rather than by steeping them in it directly. All of this was very different from the usual approaches of trying to put forward a sense of advanced age and a “secret family recipe” kind of portrayal of new whiskey brands. The tried and tested is not them, as they have shown us. It’s the road less travelled that gets them everywhere. And, as far as Bell and Webber are concerned, it has worked out for them!

The guiding spirit of Corsair has been one of “unabashed youthfulness” which is redolent of an ardent joie de vivre. They have their list of takers as well. In 2010, after a change in legislation, they even opened up their second distillery at Nashville. This became their whiskey making centre. They are currently planning to try their hand at brandy and wine making after they acquire a vineyard or two. The fortunes, as you can see, of the illustrious Corsair duo, childhood friends as they were - are simply rising and rising.

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