Defiance Whiskey was one of the first brands to reach out and offer to let me sample some of their fare and I was instantly hooked. My reservations on rye are well documented, but their high rye bourbon is one of the most balanced I’ve come across, blending bourbon savor with rye spice and sweetness. One of their founder’s, Daniel, was kind enough to let me interview him and shed some light on his brand, history, and passion.
Read my review of Defiance Whiskey here. Let’s get started:
What’s your name and official title?
Daniel W. Fort, Instigator, janitor or managing member
How did you come up with the name Defiance & Defiant Spirits?
In early 2011 I was on a mountain bike trail near Defiance Missouri when the idea first occurred to me and I thought that I could build a beautiful destination distillery and restaurant to cater to the folks that travel Highway 94 in St. Charles County , Missouri.
I thought that Defiance Whiskey would be the most amazing name for a brand. I was surprised to find the domain name was available in March of 2011 and I purchased it immediately and that is when Defiance was born.
What inspired you to start your own whiskey brand?
I thought there was room to improve on the old story of “we found grandma or grandpa’s whiskey recipe in the family bible and started making it again…” and since this was not my story I wanted to do something new, with integrity, and since we were not limited by 100 years of history we were able to start with a clean slate and build an approachable whiskey that would appeal to a new generation of whiskey drinkers.
Defiance is a State of Being and the citizens of Defiance are those individuals who have courage to strike out on their own and embrace independence and take responsibility for their freedom.
For me a great example of a citizen of Defiance is my great Aunt Cornelia who was a pilot during WWII and to me she represents the discipline and the spirit of Defiance, she was just one among many women who served this country with passion and dedication. You can read some more about here here.
Since we were not stuck with a recipe in the beginning it was not clear which type of whiskey Defiance would be.
Whiskey is great and bourbon whiskey is particularly good in my opinion. Bourbon is great because of the process and while there are some technologies that have improved the process at its core, the process for making bourbon is still about a fundamental connection to the people who produce it from the distillation to the bottling and finishing of the spirit.
It the same way communication technologies have improved since Alexander Graham Bell first called someone I think modern whiskey is constantly being improved by technology, both in terms of the quality and consistency that can be realized by modern distillation techniques. That being said I do not think that we have found a way to beat the traditional barrel aging process. Defiance is a blend of old and new.
In terms of branding, I grew up in St. Louis and loved watching the brands that were built by a little brewery on Pestalozzi Street.
I really remember the Michelob ads from the 80’s with the epic soundtracks and imagery which made an impression on me. I have also always loved the great Jack Daniel’s ads that came out of St. Louis ad agencies.
In the end, running hooch up from Ste. Genevieve, Missouri is the best idea I have come up with.
Ultimately Defiance Whiskey may not be saving babies but it may help make a few.
You source your whiskey, which makes it much easier and more cost effective for a smaller brand to hit the market before investing in distilling your own.
Really for Defiance it is less about cost savings and more about quality. Working with a distillation partner allowed Defiance to benefit from 150+ years of distilling experience immediately and allowed us to focus on the blending and finishing so Defiance could be a world class product for our customers out of the gate.
In my opinion what makes whiskey great is that whiskey making is a team sport and everyone: the loggers felling the trees; the stave makers; the coopers; the farmers; the distillers; and the folks on the bottling line needs to be committed to their part in the process and if everyone does their job then the goal of putting great whiskey in the bottle can be achieved.
Defiance is not about me, or any individual for that matter, everything is driven by staying focused on the single goal of putting a great whiskey in the bottle because that is all that counts in the final analysis. In the end, everything at our company is about providing the best possible product to customer.
The Defiance business model is great whiskey, sexy bottle, fair price.
Did you work with a master distiller to choose your mash bill, or did you already have an idea of the flavour profile you wanted to go with?
I kind of knew what I had liked and hoped that we could achieve. The goal was to build an approachable whiskey, something smooth that could help us put an end to whiskey face.
There are lots of great craft distillers and others working to develop innovate distillation and aging processes and we interviewed several producers and distillers and even considered employing some of the more innovative aging processes that are available out there in the market.
MGP was always my first choice and we ultimately went with MGP and a big barrel traditional aging process because of their expertise and a traditional aging method gave us the highest odds of producing world class whiskey.
Our blending and finishing process in Ste. Genevieve is also critical to ensure that Defiance Whiskey is a world class product.
When we had the final profiles identified internally we reached out to Gamlin Whiskey House in St. Louis to get some outside input from them before we made our final decisions on Defiance.
Our primary job is to make sure that we take care of the whiskey and help it realize its true potential through the blending and finishing process. I think of myself as a custodian of the whiskey as it ages and until its in the bottle.
You started this brand with your father and under the conditions from your wife that you couldn’t quit your day job or put a pot still in your basement, and you’ve managed to win Four medals thus far:
A Silver at American Distilling Institute along with being named Best in Category (young bourbon) Louisville, KY;
Silver one at the American Craft Spirits Association, Austin, TX;
Bronze medal at San Francisco World Spirits Competition.
This is very inspiring to those that want to start a craft spirits brand but are afraid of the commitment, how have you found the experience thus far essentially managing two careers?
It is nuts, but everything I love is a little nuts. You will have to make sacrifices if you want to launch a brand. I don’t think I had any illusions about what it would take to build Defiance.
Truth be told, doing events where I get to be with people trying Defiance for the first time is fun. Watching people’s faces light up and relax as they first begin to enjoy Defiance is rewarding. I like to say that one drink should remove all doubt about us.
Do you see yourself distilling your own whiskey in the future or remaining a craft sourced brand?
I prefer the term craft produced because I think it more accurately describes our process which includes our participation at every stage of the production process from the selection of the barrels through the finishing the whiskey. I truly hope that the people love Defiance as much as we love making it so it continues to grow and find its way to more bars and homes. Empty bottles are our metric for success.
Why high rye rather than entering the bourbon market?
Defiance is a bourbon. It is the rye that you get on the nose and the front end combined with a smooth finish that make Defiance unique so we chose to label Defiance a High Rye Bourbon.
Will we be seeing any Defiance variations in the coming years such as a straight rye or single barrel?
I certainly have a few ideas I am working on, I’ll keep you posted.
When you’re not drinking Defiance whiskey, what are your go to whiskies and cocktails?
Whiskies are like calories I have not met too many I did not like.
I used to go to a place in St. Louis called the Fox & Hound to drink scotch that was older than me; and I drank a lot of Wild Turkey in Missoula, MT where I masqueraded as a college student briefly. One of the greatest experiences I have had along the way was the opportunity to meet Jimmy Russell and hear his thoughts on the subject of whiskey making.
Angels Envy is great whiskey and their innovative finishing processes represent what is great about whiskey making today.
Defiance Whiskey – Upper East Side; which is our take on the perfect Manhattan. [Recipe below.]
What’s your favorite way to enjoy Defiance whiskey?
With anyone who wants share a tale or two about how they beat the odds.
Anything else you’d like to share with the readers?
Defiance, when the status quo cannot be served.
We’d love to hear how you defy the odds.
You can purchase Defiance online through Wine & Cheese Place for $27 USD.
The Upper East Side Cocktail:
- 2 ounces Defiance Whiskey
- 1/2 ounce Sweet vermouth
- 1-2 dashes Orange bitters
- Drip of Luxardo Cherry Syrup
- 1 0r 2 Luxardo Cherrys
- Pour the Defiance Whiskey, vermouth, cherry syrup and bitters over cracked ice and stir well;
- Strain into in a chilled cocktail glass: and
- garnish with a Luxardo Cherry or Two.