The overnight Hong Kong market was trading hotter than a hoecake on Grandma’s griddle. Mike Reppucci realized that the little baby sleeping in the next room was far more secure than the Brazilian reals he had leveraged with gold and hedged with oil futures. During the quiet hours spent guarding his client’s portfolio against one of those nasty seven-digit swings, the Brown graduate decided to step off the corporate treadmill and pour his efforts into a different kind of liquid asset. He would start making whiskey. The good stuff. Right here in southern Rhode Island. For the first time since Prohibition. Heck, the guys in Newport were producing rum based on a free-booting pirate. Drawing courage from a band of visionary men who led our forefathers out of tyranny, Mike founded Sons of Liberty Spirits Company in 2009 and started the Uprising.
Rhode Island’s collective appetite for quality local produce is a strong and growing bright spot in an otherwise dismal economy. If you can differentiate from your mass-marketed competition you can find yourself, in the words of retired Ben & Jerry’s president Chuck Lacy, “at the head of the right parade”. Rhody wool and honey command premium prices from discerning buyers. Why not something else to take the chill off a winter evening ?? Mike heeded the drumbeat at quick-step. Considerably uptown from some no-account sour corn mash tasting like NASCAR country and smelling like a campfire, Mike’s signature hooch would resemble uisge beatha from the Scots Gaelic. Made from a sweet brewed barley water, the proper dram would be reminiscent of the great single-malts enjoyed in London pubs (usually) after economics class. The War of Northern Aggression rages on.
Applying the same thorough approach that guided him to worthwhile investments, Mike began learning all he could about the “water of life”. Sons of Liberty would specialize in seasonal small-batch bottlings popular among so many of the micro-brews identified with local food movements. Determined to do this thing right, Mike retained the services of Dave Pickerell, retired master distiller from Maker’s Mark in Kentucky, who taught him the mantra “All whiskey starts as beer”. Sprouted barley is roasted to accentuate the flavors and arrest the production of maltose sugars converted from starch. Gently cooked with water and yeast, the mash bubbles away for a few days until the alcohol level becomes toxic to the living culture therein. The brew is then boiled off in a process called fractional distillation. Vapors containing the “spirit” or essence are alternately evaporated and condensed at different levels of the still becoming increasingly purified along the way. The small-batch method enables the distiller to isolate the desirable “heart” of the run from the the thin, apple-flavored “heads” and the oily, astringent “tails” that are often included in the output of bigger commercial operations.
Dave consulted on the start-up and oversaw construction of a fifteen-foot tall copper pot still. They converted an old empty manufacturing space in the Peacedale Mill Complex, installing stainless steel tanks, sanitation lines and a deionizing water filtration
system. With a large amount of seed capital and family support, the place resembles a chemistry lab more than a moonshiner’s cabin. Federal distiller’s license and permits from the state liquor control board took more than a year to acquire. Finally, in September 2011, they were deemed good to go.
There was just one problem. No product. Whiskey drinkers can be a particular lot, set in their ways with a favorite brand, favorite shape of ice cube and favorite pair of socks to enjoy it with. They revere barrel-aged spirits and old family recipes. Mike and his crew could not afford to wait 8 years to cash their first check. Rather than attempt to make a new company look old, they chose to embrace the truth. They would build the best young oak-infused whiskey from a premium stout beer and sell it to a younger demographic with a bottle and label that speaks to a modern industrial techno-aesthetic. Thus was born The Uprising.
The best floor-malted English barley available is mixed with dark roasted barley to give Sons of Liberty’s first release grain-forward flavor with distinctive chocolate and coffee notes on the back end. Lightly touched by wood, the elixir spends a month resting on convection-toasted Minnesota oak staves before bottling. Subsequent batches will be aged in charred oak barrels near the ocean to explore the effects of moist salt air, the coastal “terroir”, on the golden drop. Ask Mike to set one aside for you.