Podcast Episode: Jim Massey of Fugitives Spirits
Join me as I talk with Fugitives Spirits' co-founder about helping Tennessee agriculture through Tennessee whiskey.
Listen to the Episode
A surprise Burns Night interview here on Whiskey Lore. I had hoped to do an episode around the Scottish Bard, Robert Burns, but the Whiskey Rebellion kinda took over (as rebellions will). But in honor of a poet with a passion for all things Scottish, I was approached by a whiskey distiller whose namesake's were poets with a passion for the land.
Listen as I talk with Fugitives Spirits co-founder Jim Massey about his whiskey, the inspiration of Vanderbilt University's Fugitives, and getting laws changed so he can benefit Tennessee agriculture by producing whiskey.
In this episode we'll discuss:
- Gypsy distiller
- Emphasizing Tennessee agriculture to bring craft distilling to the state
- Selling his dad on using the farm for distilling
- What about Tennessee whiskey?
- The Lincoln Henderson Angels Envy inspiration
- Doing what Jack Daniel's and Brown-Forman couldn't do
- How craft benefited George Dickel
- My poetry blind spot
- The Fugitives at Vanderbilt University
- Why the Fugitives?
- Artists in Nashville
- The Corsair Papa Smurf tie in
- What is meant by heirloom corn - talk about his varieties
- Playing with varieties of corn and mash bills
- Redbreast inspiration
- Tasting Grandgousier
- Elements that make a whiskey different from others
- How brains out do computers
- Dealing with COVID bumps and will there be a Fugitive's distillery or tasting room?
- The Tennessee Waltz and how it relates to what is in the bottle
- The Tennessee Tug
- Making your own Lincoln County Maple
- Why all the orange in Nashville?
- Where you can find the Fugitive Spirits
Find out more at Fugitive Spirits Website
Welcome to Whiskey Lore, I'm Drew Hannush.
I hope you've been enjoying the Whiskey Rebellion got one more episode coming up next week where we round everything up the battle of Bower Hill is over and now we're going to find out what happens when the dust settles in Western Pennsylvania. So I've got that coming up. And then later next week I'm going to share more of my interview with Dr Jim Ambuske and Jeanette Patrick from over at the Center for Digital Research at Mount Vernon in the Washington Library. So stay tuned for that that's going to be a really good one. And after that we're going to go from this connection of George Washington riding out to put down a rebellion about whiskey, into just two and a half years later, him having a distillery opened up at Mount Vernon. How did that happen? Well we'll find out more about his original distiller and I'm going to talk with Steve Bashore later on in the week and do a great interview you're going to really enjoy the the conversation that I had with Steve Bashore so we talked a lot about George Washington history, James Anderson his distiller, and he's done a lot of research on him. But also what's going on with that distillery because there were a lot of big names that came in there and help them get that distillery set up. So I'm looking forward to sharing that episode coming up and this week I actually have two interviews for you coming up later this week I'm going to be talking with Will Pitchforth who is from Bladnoch and Bladnoch is a Lowland scotch whiskey. And we're going to talk a little bit about the revival of Bladnoch itself the taste a couple of the whiskies that they have and then we'll also talk about the revival of Lowland scotch. And another subject that I'd really wanted to do a whiskey lore episode around which is mothballing, something you may not be familiar with in American distilleries but scotch distilleries have gone through this process of mothballing several times. A lot of them have. So we're going to talk about that some of the repercussions of it some of the things that may be a benefit of having a mothballed distillery so keep close for that make sure you're subscribed to the podcast and I will get to that later this week. But right now I have an interview especially for Burns Night. I had thought about doing an episode around the Scottish bard and about the festivities that take place on Burns Night but because the whiskey rebellion stretched out a little further than I expected it to we're gonna have to put that off until next year I think. But I had lined up an interview with Jim Massey who is the co-founder of Fugitives Spirits in Nashville and I wanted to do an episode with him because his company name his whiskey's name Fugitives Spirits actually evolved out of a writer's society. So I'm going to talk with him tonight and we're going to hear a little bit more about not only the Fugitives poetry society, which I don't know much about poetry I must admit that is definitely a weak spot for me. So we're going to talk a little bit about that and then we're also going to talk about two of his whiskeys Grandgousier and Tennessee Waltz and I went to what 24 Tennessee distilleries this year this past year and lo and behold there's another one I didn't know about. So we're gonna find out a little bit more about what he is doing, what he's what he's creating, his philosophy behind what he's creating and a lot more detail in here. He was actually on the forefront of this move towards bringing whiskey back to Tennessee beyond just the three distilleries that were doing it around 19 or 2010 so so that'll be interesting we'll talk a little bit about that as well. So enjoy my conversation with the co-founder of Fugitives Spirits Jim Massey. Thanks for sending me a couple of bottles of whiskey always good to have an opportunity to taste and learn about something new. And I just recently did my trip across Tennessee and did the distillery trail as much as I could. I went to 24 distilleries this summer in Tennessee. So then when I got an email and and saw Tennessee distiller I thought wait a second I didn't see this one on my map, so give us a little bit of a background on Fugitives Spirits, and you know who you guys are and what what you're what you're doing in the whiskey world
JIM: Yeah well so I guess in the beer world they call them gypsy brewers you know I'm I'm a bit of a gypsy distiller so I want to distinguish that from someone that's just a contract brand I actually go in and do my own distillation. But I go in on other folks equipment. So we're invested in the in the land. You know I wanted to go out and really from the foundational perspective highlight Tennessee grain from an agricultural perspective. And so it's taken me a while to build a network of - and I felt doing that that we wanted to then grow specialty grains in Tennessee. You know it's like it's not worth doing unless I can do it by emphasizing Tennessee agriculture because growing up in the state, even as a little kid my dad will tell you, I wasn't even a teenager I think I was about 10 years old, and I said well why are we doing anything with a farm it's like well it's we can't afford to grow anything it's cheaper for us to put the fields in pick which is basically where the government pays you not to grow anything to subsidize agricultural prices than it is to grow it and try to sell it. And I said well Jack Daniels right over there they got they're bringing in trade cars of corn you know and I would tell them. And he's like well we can't grow it cheap enough you know we can't you know like well you know it's like well then why don't we build our own distillery?
He laughed about that you know
DREW: You're kind of coming from because I'm doing research now on the the whiskey rebellion and of course we talk a lot about farmer distillers and that really is the the backbone of the whiskey industry started with those little farmer distillers who were trying to do something with that that crop of corn they couldn't either sell or get to market whatever it may have been.
JIM: So that's the thing that that people miss you know whiskey is an agricultural product and it should be celebrated as an agricultural product and those farmers when you know if you put the corn in the bin and then the webles will get to it and it'll ruin and then the cattle still eat it but it's not as good for them and you know you can't you don't want to make grits out of it when it's got you know when it gets too trashy. So how do you preserve it? Ihe best way to preserve it make whiskey out of it and then and then you have something to actually appreciate some value now. So that's where you saw most of the original distillers were millers to begin with so they had the extra grain it's like okay well if we're not selling it for bread or for what you know for whatever uses there are outside of distilling then they turn around use that extra grain and distill it and then that way it preserves the value so it goes back you know obviously centuries not just the united states but you were talking about Scotland and Ireland you know and even you can go back to desolations in ancient Egypt so you know you know fermentation is going on so. But from American perspective it is an agricultural enterprise in that’s where I feel like we got the most traction when we got the laws changed I was one of the guys when you see the picture of the governor signing the bill to allow for the the distillery the new craft stores in Tennessee you'll see my big face behind him and we got when we got the bill signed and I was really excited to be able to bring you know some bipartisan support in there to that's a good thing about spirits it's a it's a you know it's a non-partisan.
DREW: Right yeah everybody likes to have a sip here there yeah. Well we'll talk about that because you started doing this from what I understand around 2016 were you already kind of in the thought process of getting a distillery up and running back in 2010 or so?
JIM: It goes way back further than that I saw an article it may have been in New York Times or the wall street journal where a buddy Lance Winters out in California was making a bourbon and I didn't know him at the time so I flew I was like oh wow somebody's making bourbon in California because I had again since I was 10 years old I'm like we need to make another we need to do our own whiskey when my dad said well you you can't compete with the big guys you know and and in the 70s and 80s bourbon was not you know there were distilleries closing you know in Kentucky.
DREW: There was no craft distilling yeah.
And so went to California I was like wow if they're making bourbon and getting some momentum I want to be I want to at least get on the sidelines to see what's going on and at that point the American Distillers Institute there may have been 10 members at that point in time I mean there weren't many so I went ahead I joined right there it was mostly engineering type guys that were looking into it it was it was off the radar for most people. But I wanted to get in and and see what was happening there to get a ringside seat and see how can we do this in Tennessee? Now the hurdles were really really still high in Tennessee because the law the state law didn't allow for new distilleries to come in so - it's like look we can really make a business out of it. I can make a pitch to the legislature to make those changes happen and I had worked at the Senate finance ways and means committee for senator Henry from Nashville who was the head of it. So I had some familiarity with the processes down at the legislature. And it didn't hurt I've got family members a family member that's been a lobbying group. And my dad actually was the head of the Tennessee wine and spirits retailers association for over 25 years okay so I kind of grew up at the dining room table talking about what you know what whiskey's selling and why and he he's all about scotch I'm like and again as a little kid I'm like well why can't we make Tennessee whiskey as good as scotch. He's like oh it's made different you know it's not it's not the same thing. I'm like well we should be able to make the best whiskey in the world here as well. So all these things over decades came together for me to then I had I was like you know I'm gonna go down and and talk to some folks in the legislature about let's look at getting a craft spirits bill going in terms of the opportunity that it'll give for Tennessee farmers. I looked at it as not just an economic impact which obviously it's had or an employment impact but really as an opportunity to help preserve the farmland. And one of the things that breaks my heart is if you you just did a recent trip in Tennessee as you travel across the state and we have lots of people moving here and then all the farmland gets built on because that's easier to build on for various reasons and then it's like wait we're losing what's beautiful about Tennessee and that just goes to my marrow of who I am as a person. And you know the the Tennessee countryside is is very important to me. To say that the Tennessee foreign agricultural aspect is in I mean it literally is worn into my hands and my and you know in into my soul. So those things were important but I also from an entrepreneur entrepreneurial standpoint I realized that there were some real opportunities for Tennessee as well. And of course bourbon was getting all the the play because you can make bourbon in any any of the lower 48 right? Bourbon was being made in in you know in California Michigan and and then New York and the you know the Ralph and Gab Lorenzo I got to met you know when they before they had even started you know as they were getting up and going up at Tuttle Town in New York met them and we're still great friends. And I made some great friends in the industry you know Wes and Lincoln Henderson that started Angels Envy wes and I are great buddies and and met you know decades ago and I. You know enjoy I actually was with them when they bottled their first bottles of Angels Envy they oh I still have the Lincoln wes gave me the the nosy glass we were using and Lincoln's like that's my nosing class you came all the way Jim came all the way up here let him have that I'm like you know I probably should give that back to Wes so.
DREW: This all had to be in inspiring you even more because while they were you know right around that same time here what fascinates me is that you had people like Andy Nelson at Nelson's Greenbrier and H Clark Distilling and all these different distillers all at the same time kind of coming to this idea at the same time it's almost like it it it was just meant to be to get it there. I mean it's like all these people are sitting back there going wait a second we have this whole state that's known for whiskey why are we not doing something?
JIM: Well that's interesting I hear it like it just happened a minute ago you know Charlie calling me out with a big baritone I guess we're two big bearded guys as well you know. Charlie calling up going hey so what's going on with the this distillery you know. He played an integral part. He actually had the bill drafted for the craft distillery bill and got a senator to bring it into committee they anyway that's that's a whole other podcast so yeah they really you know. It's interesting Jack Daniels had actually tried to get the Brown-Forman for Jack Daniels to try to get that law changed and allow for distillery to be able to come into Nashville a couple of years before that and it got shot down in committee. It's like well how did a bunch of guys that really aren't political and don't have the budget yeah and how did they get it done when we didn't. There were a whole bunch of little balls in there and it's really intriguing from a political from a political standpoint about how that actually got passed. But suffice it to say that you know Thelma Harper Senator Thelma Harper who was the legendary voice down there she she got behind it we were I was able to get get her to understand how the impact it could have on Nashville and she was able to get behind it and brought the Black Caucus in to help support the bill and then some folks out the trucking industry Averitt Eexpress as a trucking company it's like what do they have to do with whiskey if it hadn't been for them I'll just tell you the bill wouldn't have gotten passed because they called it and said hey look we think this this is a this will be a good thing you know for us. There's there's some interesting other real juicy tidbits about the other guys in the industry that didn't want to see it happen yeah because they didn't competition. But the great news was that the big guys like Jack Daniels and Diageo that own George Dickel yeah were very supportive of so that helped as well that's great yeah yeah.
DREW: Well it does nothing but bring more attention to the to the state in terms of of whiskey and I think everywhere I go these days it seems that George Dickel is taking advantage of you know these distilleries open opening up and taking some of their supplies of whiskey and helping them get started so.
JIM: It's a farm team you know for them it's free it's it's it's free product development for the most part yeah that they you know it's like oh we don't have to invest in it we'll let them do it when we will we'll just acquire it right.
DREW: So I think part of your what's interesting in your your bottles is the the name here Fugitives Spirits and me not actually being someone who is - I started reading up on on the Fugitives I'm gonna let you tell a little bit about who they are and how they inspired you, but we're going into the realm of poetry and I it's just like okay this is the one thing where I have a blind spot. Because I just really haven't dived that much into the idea of poetry. So it was really interesting when I started researching for this this podcast because I said wait a second okay all right I am really out of my element here. So describe the Fugitives to me where that name comes from and how it inspired you to make that the name of your company.
JIM: Well the Fugitives first of all were a group of folks around Vanderbilt University and then a hundred years ago. They considered primarily five core members Robert Penn Lauren, John Crowe Ransom, Alan Tait, Donald Davidson, Laura Jackson so they had a defeat you know female member of the Fugitives yeah and and in a men's group as poets and artists. They warned against the dehumanization of industrialization they said we want the makers the farmers the people doing the work we need to celebrate them that's where you find yourself that's where we as a people as a as a country can be bigger. Because we need to have that sense of identity. A lot of the futures were known as the agrarians because you look at it's like well let's celebrate the the efforts of the farmer as opposed to just industrial opportunism. So those people and the Fugitives include some other great notaries and you know Nashville anita certainly Ridley Wills and and Jesse Wills were members of the very well-known family here in Nashville but you also had Sydney Hirsch who was a flamboyant and actor. I mean so it wasn't just poets but these guys really so wanted to celebrate the farmer the agrarian make the makers and they saw that as something is what you know to aspire to our identity. It's really about the creative aspect of who we are and John Crowe Ransom and Donald Davidson were from Giles County my so I grew up knowing about the Fugitives because it was a racy name it's like the future so it's like oh it sounds oh the fusion John Crowe Ransom you know he the church you know your grandfather knew him well. My grandfather used to quote a line from a poem one of John Crowe Ransom's great poems Grandgousier won one of his award-winning poems but it was one that my grandfather liked to quote to me so the Grandgousier Grandgousier is how you would say anyway so that's well that's where the name comes from from Ransom's poem. But what I saw you know you know in hindsight I probably should have named the whiskey company you know James Massey's whiskey because everyone's like well who Fugitives is that what company is that it sounds like some other entity I'm like no it's me you know I'm like that's my name on the ball where's the...
DREW: Where's the one-armed man?
JIM: That's right yeah but you as we talked earlier before we started the you know the the poet who are the poets who are the people who are a barometer on who we are as a people? And and to me when you know I moved to Nashville in the late 80s back up here in the late 80s and there's a core group of artists and creatives that you know I believe served as the foundation of what has made Nashville now the its city. And go oh well is it you know the money that HTA invested in downtown their the engine. No it's because the we are a creative community you know Jack White the musician moved here you know the because there's a core creative community within the and it's artists as well as musicians. And you know it's it's not a big group but it's it it gives us a sense of I'm fortunate to to to be friends with a lot of those guys and and and really celebrate them. I thought you know that's really what makes Nashville special. I said it's kind of like the original Fugitives you know that these poets are leading the sense of creativity and I was like wow you know. So the confluence of those ideals I thought you know I want to just name it the Fugitives because they celebrated the farmer in an artistic in poetry and in writing and and I want to celebrate the farmer and our creativity and how I make whiskey. And so I thought you know that's I probably shot above my fighting weight on that ideal I aspire to and it's one of those things that you know very few people know know who they are they're like most people see Fugitives like they think of the because the moonshine thing took off so much they're like oh it's an allusion to the moonshiner it's like. Yeah it's kind of on the other end of the spectrum yeah this is the sophisticated farmer is who we're talking about the guys that you know it's that believe in and you know it's a sense of reflection on who we are and you know what has gone into this bottle. You know it's not just a flash in a pan marketing piece.
DREW: So the fun part for me is that having lived in Nashville I've seen that creative community. It's it's amazing you can go into any coffee shop and hear talent that should be performing you know on a national stage. And I actually moved to Nashville with the idea back in 1995 of jumping into the music business because I had gotten a degree in music engineering and I said okay you put up or shut up go. I was doing some songwriting on the side. And I went to my first Songwriters Association meeting and as if that weren't overwhelming enough one of the guys that was playing his song up on stage was a song called Don't Laugh at Me and it was maybe six months later I that song was number one on the country music charts. And you know they're getting up there and they're putting their heart out on the stage and you see this this artistic talent and and the passion that they put behind it and I mean it just you you go from thinking of oh Nashville it's just the center of country music to wow there is really a lot of creative talent in that city. Let's let's talk a little bit about how you got your distillery set up kind of the journey to get there.
JIM: Yeah so we're currently using the facility at Corsair those guys are awesome just really really cool and let me come in and call it the big got a big pot still 850 gallon pot still called Papa Smurf down there. It's it's great we're I started in another place outgrew them pretty quick and but again I had to find that infrastructure for those heirloom grains that I wanted grown so and then you know and make it affordable and then know that we you know before we could start the brand. So I went in and helped a another farm family start a distillery down in Louisiana. And really proud of that and it's still going and doing and doing well down there with that ethic of grain to glass. So with Fugitives you know of course we aspire to to go build our own facility. What I want to do is establish that that our grains could make a a premium whiskey. The relationship with corsair has been really good and I don't see that changing for a while because that's you know for me to go and build that and have that same facility and doesn't make a lot of sense.
DREW: A lot of expense to get distilleries up and so it sounds like your focus right now is on the grain that you're used. So talk about the corn and and and why this particular grain what the grain is and and why it drew you in?
JIM: That was a real hunt for me and originally I wanted to go to Tennessee Red Cob because it was something that grew up with my my grandmother always kept Indian corn around we always grew in the garden and so those heirloom corns were all always intrigued me right and you know it's like all the flavors are involved. And when I got in with the American Distillers you know 20 years ago back with those guys and looked at that I'm like wait there are a lot of you know the congeners that can come through on the distillation nobody's talking about the corn. You know they want to talk about oh it's a rye or a wheat just in those two big general terms right and then you know working with Lincoln you know distilling with Whobear Jermaine Robin out of who does brandies and a number of other folks you know Fred Noe from Beam that got me really was like hey I'm really excited about this idea let's find a great corn. One of the oldest varieties is a hickory cane they call it Dent corn it is a white corn it didn't need great soil to grow in the ears grew tall on the cob so the deer couldn't get to it it doesn't it doesn't get quite the yield that you know modern hybrids do or especially what a GMO hybrid but it's got a great flavor and it makes great grits. And so when I found someone that was growing it and growing it sustainably without using pesticides and herbicides and I'm like wow let's get it so I had to pay a real premium for it and so I was really excited to steal that. And then I had another not it's still an heirloom variety but not an ancient heirloom variety that was grown by the late Alfred Ferris up at Windy Acres it's an organic farm the Ferris family's been a great friends of ours forever and Alfred is a Joel Salatin type character or was, he passed away this past year, but just a real just way ahead of his time a great organic farmer and then. So I that we use a variety of his corn for our number one mash. When I say heirloom what I mean is open pollinated so you can grow your corn and you got your quarantine you don't have to go pay a corporation to get your coin seat yeah. Alfred's corn was our first smash bill our number one match bill and then the hickory cane - it's very interesting so when I got the hickory cane I was like I really want to see what this will do and so I did a high corn percentage on the mash bill just to see what the flavors were going to be you know what cottoners would come through and that first isolation was beautiful and I was like wow. I like well hey there you have it yeah I tweaked it a little bit and then that's what became Grandgousier because it was it was beautiful from the start. I sent a sample out to Anthony Diaz blue at the tasting panel that wasn't even a year old and I scored a 93.
DREW: Oh nice so this is a Tennessee whiskey. And it from what you're describing when you say it's like 95 corn probably in that that range and no rye or
JIM: No no right yeah I had one whiskey self-acclaimed whiskey expert literally yell at me it's like there is rye in this I'm like I know I made it there's no there's no rye yeah that's but it is I will tell you from the malted barley actually Tennessee's now getting the place where we could we're getting some high quality barley growing and so we may migrate to it but when I was having to go get barley I was like well if I'm gonna get barley let me get the best. What's my favorite drink barley? And I was like well I'm a real big Redbreast fan okay yeah so I actually imported my barley for that from the Red Breast region yeah so I used Irish barley from that so they're like wait you're not true Tennessee because you're not well I see us migrating there we're now I'm working with a couple guys and we've got a new malting facility that's happening here where we're gonna be able to then create a mall locally that can hit that quality so but for right now we use the irish malted barley.
DREW: And I think that's what some people miss is that to be a Tennessee whiskey the rules don't say that all the grains have to come from Tennessee so just like bourbon in Kentucky if it's straight Kentucky bourbon it can have grains coming from Minnesota and that's that's fine. So so this one really off of off of the nose is it's got a lot of there's a lot of apple in this to me. And it's not like a sour apple that you sometimes you get a lot of green apple I think in scotches. But this one really comes with a with a sweet apple smell with the I mean it's got… The other thing that I sometimes have to relate first and say it it almost has kind of a yeasty kind of smell to it but then I hear a lot of people refer to that as as biscuits, butter and biscuits.
JIM: Well that's a there isn't right there's a butter biscuit kind of aspect but you it's like that fruit note like where is that. And it's interesting because the first bottles we put out were were younger what you have there is four years over four years old okay you know those notes went from a Persimmon sort of to a Persimmon apple kind of thing happening I don't know if you you know Persimmons yeah Persimmons more closer to a fig you know is a fruitier not as sweet as a sweet prune but there's a tartness like the apple right. You know again I can't claim that that's just what the corn did right yeah people asked me like well where are you going to go with it I'm like you know. I sit there talking to the dean of agriculture for one of the big universities here about it's like well what would you do experiments I was like well I was like man I said in a month I could have a hundred barrels up here just with my one variety of corn looking at different ways that we could distill it and then we would need to age those for 10 years so that we can see exactly what those flavor profiles do. You know what you know at the bottom line what we know is we're not gonna make it's never gonna be bad it's gonna be it's gonna be great whiskey no matter what is it just extraordinary and so you know we're we're tweaking that. You know one of the great things I've been able to do at where I distill now is really control our fermentation temperatures and really lock that in. You know there's some give and take. You know you want to get some of those you know that high caramel popcorn kind of notes that come through that you get that you know folks will pay you know for Pappy Van Winkle that you know it's like wait or or some of the guys that are releasing stuff it's like wow that's really extraordinary he's like where do you get those notes? I really like I said go back to Hubert and his distillations with with brandy and seeing you know the the choices that he was making and it's like wait this is what this tastes like at two years but look at what it did yeah five years and here's what it is in eight years. I'm like oh my goodness. So then you're like well how does that translate into the whiskey world? And that's something that folks we you know we got a number of brands you know some by a lot of folks repackaging stuff you know guys actually making unique whiskeys in Tennessee there there are a few here. I tell people I mean we could have 200 and nobody's really going to be com you you're competing with each other but there are we can make that many varieties out of just a few heirloom corns you know?
DREW: Yeah well because you've got other grains that you may be working with the to you know create your your mash bills. It's how you treat it whether you're doing it as a Tennessee whiskey whether you're doing it as a bourbon. Yeah there's so many different variables that you can add in. And then we're talking about pot stills and the different shapes of pot stills or if you're using a column still to do it so that's going to change some things. What you do with your barrels and how you're aging them. What types of barrels you may be using if you're gonna do a finishing or something like that so I mean - it it does it's it's amazing that you can really hand the same mash bill to two different people and you'll end up with two different types of whiskey just by their history, how they distill whether they ferment ferment the grains longer than you know somebody else does. So many variables the yeast that you use yeah it's just endless the the different things that you can do so.
JIM: A lot of fun. That's where the fun
DREW: Yeah yeah well and then replicating that that's that's so so where do you get to the point where you say oh we nailed it now how do we did somebody write that down so that we can do that again.
JIM: Well I do I do have a profile for for both that I want to hit it's interesting I actually a really good friend Larry Zwiebel who's the Cornelius Vanderbilt chair of research at Vanderbilt University is a great friend of mine. Really really smart. He he knows words I can't pronounce one of his mentors was earned the nobel prize a few years back and they he Larry said well you mind if we come down and and walk through the distillation with you I'm like sure that'd be great so I'm sitting here this country boy from Tennessee talking to the Cornelius Vanderbilt Chair of research at Vanderbilt and the Nobel Prize winner and a number of scientists you know for a couple of hours and I'm like wait I you how did I get here right
DREW: Yeah yeah why are they asking me questions I should be asking them questions
JIM: Interesting one of Larry's specialties is is is researching congeners for taste congeners for insects actually and I said I said well you know I'm doing this distillation I said you know I'm tasting it as is coming across I know where the cut is. You guys probably have instruments and measurements that you can have and I'm sitting here talking like this is a big deal and and you guys probably have instruments so you can measure where I'm doing the cut you can go okay well we can mechanize that. And Michael the the nobel prize winner was said he was like no no no no he goes the brain works way faster than we can. He goes we can't replicate what you're you know we we actually could do that yeah yeah it does have to be a hands-on process. You know and so it's good to get some affirmation from some of the top minds in the world saying no that's a real you know that it does take a talent to do that and you know and really approach that. And so I will say it's very interesting you you know there are dials and there are measurements on the still. You can look at the vapor temperature. You can look you know certainly you can look at what the proof is as it's coming off but every every ferment and every distillation are different. But what's interesting is by the time I combine the spirit run I'm and I look at my samples I'm really re I've got I'm pretty darn consistent with it. So that's nice. I'm also doing some stuff that my I've had some guys in the industry saying we don't know anybody else that's doing that from a an approach standpoint I don't I want to keep my cards close to my chest.
DREW: No secrets being revealed on today's secrets
JIM: Being revealed so we have some real special you know you know in hindsight I wish I had more so so for me right now is a real dance you know covet covet rocked everybody rocked the world I mean the big guys ended up selling a lot more through you know people stocking up. For us you know things were a little more uncertain you know we sell more out of the airport than anywhere and of course airport traffic went from 14 15 million people went through before COVID for the in the prior 12 months to like nothing like 10 percent. And so you know the tourists were gone and so you know we really took a hit on kind of where our you know how our cash flow was going. Anyway so we've got some other things that are happening as well you you're asking about location. We're talking with two different locations downtown to put in a tasting room to put in so that we can not not only do I need to access the my the still that I'm currently using but I could use more capacity and so we would in addition to that create more capacity at a new location. And and that I'll knock on wood but I feel by the end of the year we'll have that in place as well.
DREW: Very nice another place I mean Nashville's got a few things going on with distilleries downtown but it's it's there are a lot of little tasting rooms and places but Nashville is a great place to go downtown and hop from one place to the next. Walk around. That's it's part of what I miss about Nashville now living in South Carolina is I live in the great town Greenville South Carolina but Nashville is considered a big city so you get big city events there and we get some events here but not not a ton of them and you have all that talent floating around so man if you have entertainment dollars to spend you can go downtown now and you can go sip some whiskey, then you can go to a club and and watch some great musicians play, and and always feel comfortable walking downtown Nashville too so it's just a fantastic spot to to visit. So yeah so what do you think you will be right downtown or.
JIM: We're gonna be we're we're the we're looking at two locations right now and then it's interesting just yesterday I had some folks coming we got there's some other spots so Nashville was growing so much before COVID it's like to try to put a distillery in because then it's production space right and so to look at the retail rates they wanted it was like okay this is just… But we but the opportunities come along are coming to us I don't know use this maybe somebody's on there like well I've got this building I want you in there. You know there's some restrictions about you know it's like well wait we're going here but these guys are going to let us go ahead and you know you know we there's some minimum square footage that we need to actually put this still in and then you know for what… It's like I want to give people an experience a real whiskey experience and let them enjoy you know some of the processes that we do. You know I I've got friends that I've sent off you know all the experience like Tennessee Waltz you know I probably did a hundred different versions of that when we were originally when I was really originally profiling that and as I was friends they'd come over I'm like well here just take this with you the remnants of a bottle man where can I get more of that like oh I you know I don't even know what that was now.
DREW: So talk about Tennessee Waltz because that's the one I'm nosing right now and this one you decided to go with a bourbon profile instead of running it through charcoal what was your reasoning behind deciding to go bourbon on this one?
JIM: So I had some whiskey that came from another distiller and it was not even it was from a bourbon mash bill. It was okay it was okay it was good it wasn't you know but there was nothing remarkable about it was and and it come to me I was like let me have a couple barrels and let's see what's going on with it. And our number one mash was so beautiful our Alfred Farris grain. Maybe Alfred's family might be looking at this but love Alfred hope you I know you're doing well and smiling down on us. I said you know what I had some extra spirit. I was like let me just put this remnant the this extra spirit run typically we're keeping the tote and then the next spirit run then we can use it for the ground like look I'm let me put that in the barrel of this this you know the bourbon mash whiskey that we had. With just a small percentage of my heirloom grain whiskey going into that going you know new make going into that barrel on top of that really really rocked. It was like it took this whiskey that was just yeah it's okay you know it's good come on you know it was a decent whiskey yeah too whoa how about that? And so from that I was like well wait if I'm gonna mess with it you know I'm like well man those really danced together well. And then I said yeah and then as we got to the point I was like hey I got a product here and I was like I thought whoa then that's where the reference was like well that's a really good Tennessee dance that we're doing there like. What's the Tennessee dance? I was like I'm gonna name this you know like it's not a Fugitive's true it's a Fugitives product but is like like what's a Tennessee dance? Well duh the Tennessee waltz right so the Tennessee the waltz came from you know from actually how you know taking two mash bills and and dancing those together initially is how we do it. And then part of that mash bill is treated with the Lincoln County process. And by the way we. We probably want to go back I do want to talk about the Lincoln County process at some point. But the but then taking that with a bourbon mash so you I could call it bourbon but I couldn't call it's not one Tennessee whiskey because the you know to be Tennessee whiskey it needs to go through the maple charcoal prior at spirit proof prior to going into the barrel
DREW: And you're only doing that on one of the two mash bills yeah okay .
JIM: And so that's where it's bourbon. And and and that bourbon Nashville had gone into used barrels so it couldn't have been a bourbon anyway
DREW: oh okay yeah cause.
then what I realized is that the maturity of the number one mash was really a beautiful thing and I'm like wait I'm doing all this fancy stuff to it and really I'm getting away from the true dance of the two whiskeys together. And while that's a lot of fun doing it the other way I'm like well let's go to the essence of what this is. And so what you're drinking now, while I do want to go back and you know that's one of the reasons we I want to open a tasting room. It's not that I want to promote the I'd say it's not gimmicky but you know I do I do like the the profile work that I did. Yeah I'm excited about that that's a lot of fun for me and I think people enjoy it but as in as a general rule I'm like well as a purist and everything let's go ahead and let's make the waltz you know just a burr I don't want it to have to be a barrel stave let's just pull that out so it doesn't look like it's trying to be fancy.The you know with you know age with oak staves and stuff so I mean but I will say though the oak stave work I did for the original waltz was a lot of fun because literally I had a hundred varieties of that as we were looking probably close to it of of those experiments going together. So anyway so the walter drinking now is a bourbon but part of it is it's gone through the Lincoln County process. I go back to my fundamental foundations like well I really want to make the best Tennessee whiskey and it's about Tennessee whiskey and then this is a great segue back and the Lincoln County process is important to me. The Masseys are from Lincoln County my grandfather was mayor of Fayetteville the county seat there's a monument to my family on the courthouse salon in Lincoln County so to say that which goes back to me as a kid it's like well we need to make our own whiskies. The thing that really motivated me was to try to make one of the best whiskeys in the world and for it to be a Tennessee whiskey. So our number one mash bill itself is single barrel we still haven't released that okay it's crazy good okay
DREW: You're ready you're ready to let that one loose when you can huh?
JIM: It's crazy good already so we'll probably release that under a the the waltz did the waltz process gives me some volume to help build our infrastructure. So different than just true sourcing but not quite as and and so I you know I say well taste it you know is it is it the same as the other?
DREW: Yes it's very different it's the to me I mean it still has the there's still that apple that comes through on it it's it's got a little spiciness to it. I think part of what I pick up in this one is the wood. I get a little bit of that smell of the of the wood on the nose and so that's one of the first things that kind of stands out to you. The the rye also kind of I get a rye off of this one.
JIM: That number one mash is a rye mash.
DREW: Okay yeah so I definitely get the rye.
JIM: And the whiskey we get from down the road is also a rhyme as well okay so but not a full ride but it's a it's a corn rye barley.
DREW: And the reason I thought maybe people were picking up rye off of the Grandgousier was because it does have kind of a peppery finish to it. And we always sort of a lot of people I hear relating pepperiness to rye but to me the more I've experimented with rye the more I found that rye without corn isn't quite as peppery. It's more herbaly to me.
JIM: And it kind is stuff right yeah
DREW: And it's that mixed with corn and corn is what gives us that what they call the Kentucky hug I guess do we have a do we have a Tennessee term for that are you you're working on something
JIM: I need to make one though don't I yeah?
DREW: Exactly so you got a little bit of that.
DREW: But but but I think it's almost counterintuitive because the whole idea of the Lincoln county process is to mellow the whiskey down so that you don't get as much of that burn as it's going down or as you're you're drinking it. Sso maybe you're avoiding the Tennessee hug and I mean the Kentucky hug in in some ways.
JIM: So essentially when so I wanted to make a Tennessee whiskey and as we looked at it you know the guys that had started up especially the guys that are sourcing it and just repackaging it you know that were from the Indiana or wherever they were getting it from you know you couldn't call it Tennessee whiskey to begin with because it didn't go through that process. But one of the other hurdles is it's like okay where are you gonna get your maple charcoal and so as we looked at the maple charcoal aspect I'm like well wait okay we can't just go - it's like oh we'll go to the maple charcoal store.
JIM: So or I did have a friend that's got a grill shop I'm like hey y'all have maybe get it out of Canada yeah and then I called the guys in Canada and and they're like well yeah we have maple charcoal. That was that was actually an interesting exercise they all spoke French and so I was like I had to get I had a kids soccer coach was was from France I said can you come in interpret for us because I need
DREW: You you the man with a bottle of Grandgousier that's got to be French!
JIM: My French teacher from high school was probably rolling in her grave. She was from she was from France that actually she's like no you you speak French well I'm like nah I really don't. But I you know their charcoal was fire you know we needed a food grade charcoal and so I'm like well you know what I'm just going to make it myself and I'll make it… So I have a propriety I'll call a proprietary process on how I actually make my charcoal and then the maple that I choose what I found is you know actually making it the part of the tree that I use to make my charcoal matters as well. So a lot of the process you know some of my flavor differences come in actually how I make my you know that Lincoln county process so not only is my charcoal, Do I honor the Lincoln County process but I will tell you that I go down to our farm in Lincoln county just from I just am able to harvest storm damaged limbs off the maple trees on the farm to then make my charcoal from that so the charcoal we use for the Lincoln County process is actually made with maple trees in Lincoln County grown from Lake County now I didn't do that on purpose
JIM: Not even Jack Daniels is doing that as far as we know.
It's free it's free to me right yeah. Another interesting thing so the maple tree my great grandfather great great grandfather planted a number of our great-grandfather planted maple trees around our house at the farm in in in on Massey Hollow Road in Lincoln County in honor of every child to their the all the kids. And those maple trees have since populated the hillsides and so that's why we just have a ton of maple syrup so it's kind of that's what mean it's a it's a little tip somebody that's drinking Tennessee Waltz in New York probably doesn't care about that but it's kind of fun to have that happen.
DREW: So so one of the Fugitives was Felix Massey is he a relative
JIM: No well actually Felix was not a fugitive okay but he was he was a contemporary Felix Massey is Carl Felix Massey was ancestor of mine and it was the dean at the university of Tennessee but he was at Vanderbilt in the 20s and with Ransom and and and Donald Davidson and and actually opened a school in Giles County the massey school which is now part of Martin College that where that was mark and the University of Tennessee has now acquired Martin College so University of Tennessee's gonna have a campus there which is kind of full circle anyway.
DREW: So the the reason I brought that up is because I knew he was a dean of of the university of Tennessee but that he went to Vanderbilt and so when I lived in Nashville it always used to bug me a little bit that I was in the town that had Vanderbilt University but if you walk into any store there's a sea of orange for Tennessee everywhere you would not know that Vanderbilt was actually in the town that it is.
JIM: Yeah it's it's interesting the Vanderbilt / Tennessee games were the… Well because even though Felix was a graduate of of Vanderbilt because he was the Dean at Tennessee my father's generation my father went Swaunee but but uncle's cousins went to Tennessee because Felix was up at Tennessee at the time so we have the Masseys are kind of a the Massey side has migrated to now the you know more of a big orange family but the Abernathy's were all very much Vanderbilt people said my mom my mom and dad could not you know when Tennessee played Vanderbilt it was not a happy place.
DREW: Nice all right well where can we find Fugitives Spirits? Because I think at at this point if somebody was trying to seek out a bottle it's you're you you haven't spread out quite across the nation yet.
JIM: So the quick answer is if you're outside of Tennessee we have a relationship with a wholesaler club now where you can go online we have a link on our website and you can buy online you know I which is great so people can order online outside of Tennessee through our affiliation with the Barrel Station okay. And then we're in Tennessee we're in select stores in Tennessee again we you know we're a higher end product our price point on our 750s is I think at Total Wine in Knoxville they sell it for us 67 dollars and it can go up. We have some downtown stores that sell it for you know closer to $80 for the Grandgousier. The Tennessee Waltz is ranges anywhere from 53 to 59
JIM: You know I got featured because of the heirloom grain I got featured inMall magazine and Masters of Malt all they wanted to talk to me. And then a guy came through town and saw me in the airport and picked it up and he called and said hey this you made this. This is not just of course I did like well I looked at this you're using heirloom grain like yeah man it's like my god he's like how did I not know about this. Like well we don't advertise you know and now yeah that's it we're I'm still trying to build our inventory up and I'm only I only put in the bottle when I'm I'm willing to put my name on it. You know and so we we are limited releases but from that I got a call from New York and and some guys so we're at a few stores in in Manhattan and Brooklyn. So those guys are like wow we really I was like well you know it'd be kind of cool that's a really condensed market and I'm like so we have a relationship with a a great small wholesaler up there that's that's that's feeding us. And again this all happened right before COVID yeah and I was literally going to the airport when my wife called say I don't think you need to go to New York because it and we were going to do a an introduction to the New York market to the you know in Manhattan. And I turned around and came home and said I've been been here ever been here ever since.
DREW: Well thank you very much Jim. I appreciate you walking us through everything and helping educate me on a little poetry a little help with that and and let me tell you some really nice whiskey it's it's it's a fun to taste what each distiller you know thinks is is going to be that hits your palate and that you think that is a good representation of of what Tennessee whiskey is about or what the whiskey from your region is about so it's it's fantastic and I thank you for sharing it.
JIM: I appreciate it. It's it's a lot of fun to watch the growth of the industry and see my friends that have come up and that are that are starting their own you know one of the fears that I had was that you know some guys would there were opportunists would get in and make a would not make very their spirits wouldn't be very good and then you know I didn't want people to associate craft made with inferior whiskey. So so the guys doing the sourcing actually was a benefit in the long run to us because then it got the consumer used to looking for new products on and getting things that were consistently good. And then and it's allowed the guys that are actually making product to then have people interested in introducing themselves to new brands. And you know we're I'm excited to do you know we have plans for growth we are looking at opening a shop up in the airport as well. That should happen this summer so that's good.
DREW: Yeah yeah absolutely all right well fantastic thank you jim I appreciate it yeah good luck to you.
Well I hope you enjoyed that conversation with Jim Massey from Fugitives Spirits and don't forget coming up later this week I've got my interview with Will Pitchforth from Bladnoch. Whiskey Lore is a production of Travel Fuels Life LLC you can find show notes my whiskey journal and links to my YouTube videos at whiskey-lore.com. And until next time sould auld acquaintance be forgot. Cheers and slainte mhath.