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People from Methuen have produced movies, world-class apple pies, novels and now the latest on the list: moonshine. Actually, now that everything is legal and the smooth amber spirit is sailing off shelves, we’ll refer to it as whiskey. It’s hardly rotgut, that’s for sure.

According to Methuen native Rob Robillard, his Cabin Fever is the only maple-flavored whiskey in these parts. The 1984 graduate of Methuen High lived most of his 43 years on Pelham Street before moving to Chester, N.H., more conducive to his early moonshine operation.
“It started in my back yard. Then before I knew it, half the neighbors wanted it, then half the town and all my relatives. It took me five years to create something good enough for the shelf,” explains Rob who legally gave away the product, as opposed to illegally selling it.
In September 2007, the New Hampshire Liquor Commission told him that if he could sell 104 cases statewide they’d stock Cabin Fever, which is infused with Vermont maple syrup.
“By October we made quota. By December we were selling 104 cases a week,” says Rob. “That gave us momentum because distributors don’t want to carry a product that won’t move.”
It moved to the head of the line of the 850 tasters who attended a Whiskey A-Go-Go event at Julio’s Liquors in Westborough. Hundreds of whiskeys were sampled, but Cabin Fever was the Number One-selling brand at the event.

Rob, who shares a large colonial home with his wife Melissa and children Hunter, 12, and Chantel, 9, says he is on track to sell 20,000 cases this year. Selling 5,000 to 20,000 cases is difficult, but the tipping point – 20,000 cases – indicates widespread social acceptance. At that point, sales escalate and 20,000 to 100,000 cases sold is easier than the first 5,000.
Not bad for a guy who got into distilling on a whim.
An electronics sales manager, Rob was at a pub in London with some Brits. Knowing that Rob lived in area known for maple syrup, they inquired about the quality of maple whiskey.
Rob paused and realized no such whiskey existed. Yet.

He returned from his business trip and sought a still and other components to create whiskey. For two years it was a hobby where he experimented with amber and dark syrups to different proofs and filtered or unfiltered spirit. Then three years ago he began working on his blend full time, taking multiple courses, a Master Distillers class and earning a federal wholesalers license.
He introduced yeast to a “mash” of rye, grain, maple syrup and a few secret ingredients. The yeast consumes the sugar, producing alcohol.
This fluid is then pumped from the fermenting tank to the still where it’s heated. At 178 degrees the alcohol converts to vapor, rises through “separator plates” that purify it before it wafts into the cool copper tubing where it converts back to alcohol and drips at 130 proof (yeeha!) into another tank.
Maple syrup and water are added to bring the white lightning back to 80 proof. But then it’s too sweet, so it’s chill filtered in a refrigerator that reduces sugar.
“We could sell it then, but the flavors are fighting each other. So it goes into (American white oak) barrels that give it a spicy, peppery flavor. After three years, the flavors come together in harmony,” says Rob, who eventually settled on Grade B dark syrup.

The days of a few jugs produced next to his garage are long gone; ingredients are now shipped to a bottling facility in Ohio that makes 1,000 cases a month.
The finished product – which qualifies as liqueur or whiskey – sells for about $20 a bottle. That key ingredient doesn’t come cheap. Rob’s first batch of 500 cases required $650 of maple syrup. The most recent 500 cases saw the cost of syrup to $3,000.

The entrepreneur estimates he makes about $4 a bottle but he … pours all of his profits back into marketing. Cabin Fever – named by his brother John – is sold at the New Hampshire state liquor stores, Andover Liquors, all over New England, Wisconsin and Tennessee. A dozen other states have requested it.

{Source: http://www.methuenlife.com/102009/ML_article2.html}