Art of Whiskey
“Who here knows how to drive a forklift?”
Without hesitation, Rob Dietrich raises his hand and says, “I do.”
And so the project had their forklift driver – except for the fact that Dietrich had never operated a forklift before in his life.
This is Rob in a nutshell.
The Tao of Dietrich.
“I tend to pick things up quickly,” he says with a smile.
Like that time when he built a diesel bike from an old Czechoslovakian motorcycle that he found in the desert and had it running on vegetable oil because he was all about alternative fuel at the time. Or his time spent in the Army’s 10th Mountain Division with snow and mountaineering training for service spent in the likes of Somalia and Haiti.
Then there were life chapters that included his taking up carpentry and building his own house out of an old bus as well as his career in the music industry where he toured with the likes of James Brown and Greg Allman.
Perhaps the people at Dos Equis should look Rob Dietrich’s way for their next “Most Interesting Man in the World.” The only potential issue here for a beer commercial is that Rob is a whiskey man.
Specifically, Rob is the head distiller at Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey where he oversees the 24/7, 6-day-a-week business that mashes, ferments and distills the unrivaled American Single Malt that the brand is known for. He’s been a part of the Stranahan’s family for nearly 12 years and, as you’d imagine with a man who picks things up quickly, he has served as bottling manager, production manager, barrel manager and maintenance technician before becoming head distiller back in 2011.
So how did a jack of all trades fall for Stranahan’s and its whiskey nectar of the gods? A chance meeting with the previous distiller over a mutual love for vintage motorcycles was all that was needed. The world of whiskey then seduced Dietrich in a passionate trance like no other, “There are so many levels of whiskey that you can peel back like an onion and discover,” Dietrich begins. “Once you’re able to look behind the curtain, it’s a whole new magical world. For me, it was exciting to start training my palate to identify the different nuances in various whiskeys. I challenge myself to write down what it is that I’m tasting – why I like it, why I don’t – while dissecting and creating a flavor profile. For me, that’s where the passion comes.”
For Dietrich, the common denominators in everything that he does includes both passion and discipline, which just happen to be a duo of indispensable traits for this gig. Spending years in the music industry managing stages, events, festivals, bands and tours have translated perfectly to understanding how to manage people and production, and the discipline from his military training and background taught him to stick with a job that’s not always easy.
Dietrich expands, “With distillation, you look at an 800 pound copper still that’s under pressure and full of alcohol at 204 degrees. That’s a lot of pressure to start out in learning. If you do the wrong thing then you could do some damage. My military background prepared me for these types of situations.”
He’s the right man for the job, but he’s also blessed with an incredible team around him that’s comprised of an extremely educated and knowledgable group, many of whom possess brewing backgrounds and top tier distillation training from the industry’s epicenter, Edinburgh, Scotland.
With this solid backing, Dietrich can focus on the future, “To be innovative, we try different yeast strains, casks, ages and finishes to create different nuances. In fine tuning our system so that we’re more efficient in making our developed recipes, I have some fun coloring outside the lines a little bit.”
To hear Dietrich tell it, Stranahan’s is all about living in the past, the present and the future because what’s been produced in the past affects what they bottle today and today’s results will transition to what they bottle in the future. All in all, Dietrich’s role is very clear to him, “I’m a steward of this whiskey,” he says without having to think about it. “I’m not the first and I certainly won’t be the last, so my job is to make this distillery running as efficiently as possible so that when I hand this over to the next steward, I have given them all the tools to build on and continue this legacy.”
Nowadays, spring and summer see Dietrich on speaking tours that educate the country about American Single Malt. While there are 41 types of whiskey under today’s whiskey category – including Bourbon, Scotch, Corn Whiskey, Rye Whiskey, Japanese Single Malt and Single Malt – there is no American Single Malt, which is precisely what Stranahan’s is.
Dietrich aims to change the false moniker, “When we first started out, Stranahan’s was one of the very first producers of American Single Malt in the U.S., but there weren’t enough of us making it to justify its own category. Now we’ve all come together to create a commission called the American Single Malt Whiskey Commission to lobby to create a category to educate consumers. I see Stranahan’s under the Bourbon menu section at bars and restaurants, but we’re not a bourbon. Bourbon, by definition, has to be 51% corn with 49% grain, barley or rye, but we have no corn in our whiskey. We’re 100% barley, so being under the Bourbon section is not truly identifying what type of whiskey we are and it’s also misleading to the consumer.
So Dietrich is on a mission to educate as many people as possible about what American Single Malt is and to make it a mainstream word.
A mainstream word like “Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey” and, in our book, “Rob Dietrich.”
Stay tuned for our next installment with Rob, whiskey, motorcycles, the 10th Mountain Division, behind-the-scenes from Rob’s ventures in the music industry and remarkable tales from a world traveler and a guy who tends to pick things up pretty quickly.