Brent Cowan of Rocking C Distillery

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Interview with Brent Cowan

Brent Cowan is the owner and proprietor of Rocking C Distillery in Princeton Missouri.  Brent is amongst the line of independent distillers who began on a hobby level and moved up into the realm of commercial production having built most of his equipment from scratch and really got to know his equipment and protocols.  Brent and I share an affinity for the raw material and the agriculture behind our industry that really is the backbone of all that we do and we exchange ideas back and forth quite frequently.  I truly look forward to seeing Brent prosper with his project and can’t wait to try some of them myself.

Brent, tell us a little about your background and what got you interested in distillation, when did you start distilling?

I didn’t come from a distillation family. The first time I was around a liquor still was in 2009. That experience got me interested in learning more about the process. So, I started researching to learn everything I could about distillation and fermentation. I built my first still out of a 12-quart stock pot which didn’t work very well so I built a 5 gallon still with a ½ gallon thumper and that’s where I did a lot of trial and error from a hobby standpoint. The more I played with it the more my passion grew for this business and I decided to take the plunge and build a side business of a small-scale distillery.

Tell us about the concept of Rocking C distillery.  How did you come up with the name?

My concept behind Rocking C Distillery is to give people the opportunity to taste true pot distilled liquor not something that comes out of a huge column still. Not that there is anything wrong with most of those products some companies produce some fine products out of them I just prefer the larger flavor profile out of a straight double distilled pot still. As far as the name of the Distillery goes I had a few different options scribbled on a piece of paper I wanted to have the letter C in the name for our last name. And I wanted to go with a county/backwoods theme. So, from there Rocking C Distillery was born.

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Tell us a little about your equipment and your distilling protocols.  Did you build your own stills and cooker?  What was that process like? 

For our equipment, I will start off with that after high school I attended a tech school and received a two-year degree in Industrial welding. From that point, I have been a Union Ironworker in Local 89 for 21 years. Between these two they have given me the ability to build my own equipment.

For stills we have two, one is a 150 gallon and the other is a 50 gallon. I can run these as two separate stills or I can hook them together and run it as one system similar to a retort (Thumper) rig. Both of these stills are direct fired by propane burners and both are housed in brick furnaces. We have two separate condensers for these stills one is a small 35-foot 5/8 coiled copper in a 55 gallon barrel the other is a 60 foot 1 ¼ inch coiled copper in a 275-gallon tote. I fabricated both of these myself. For our cooling water, we built a circulation system where we use one 275-gallon tote that goes through a pump and into a water to air heat exchanger with a high-volume fan blowing through the heat exchanger to cool the water before it goes to the condensers we have valves on each tank to select which one we will be running or we can run both. From there the water gravity feeds back to the tote to go back through the system. For our mash cooker, we repurposed a 180-gallon dairy tank we installed a 60-rpm mixer motor and set it up for direct fire also. The whole process was very challenging and very enjoyable for me.

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You recently came out with Prosecutors Gin, what was your starting point on that project and what kind of profile are you aiming for?

On our Prosecutors Gin, I hadn’t really put much thought into making Gin until a lawyer I was using at the time who is a big gin fan started asking me about making a gin after about a year of research I decided I would give it a try I was shooting for what I think is a more traditional gin a little higher on the juniper with light citrus notes in the background. So, I started off with a GNS and started working on my botanicals. I won’t tell our botanical list but I will say that we do harvest our juniper berries right here in Mercer County. The lawyer I was working with ended up becoming the Prosecutor for Grundy County just south of us so I decided to name it Prosecutors Gin since she was the one that convinced me to try my hand at Gin.

You also make several flavors of Mercer County Moonshine, is this a corn shine or corn and sugar?  Any specific grains you use during production and any reason for those selections?

Our Mercer County Moonshine is a Corn and Sugar Shine. We use yellow field corn that we buy locally. But we also do a starch conversion on the corn to keep that full corn flavor that I feel is key to a good moonshine product. We currently offer this product in a Root beer and a Butterscotch.

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Moving into barrel aged spirits you have Cowan Rye whiskey tell us about that product, any specific variety of rye, percentage of rye in the mash bill?   Double pot still or single pass with a retort (thump barrel)?

Our Mercer County Moonshine is a Corn and Sugar Shine. We use yellow field corn that we buy locally. But we also do a starch conversion on the corn to keep that full corn flavor that I feel is key to a good moonshine product. We currently offer this product in a Root beer and a Butterscotch.

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What’s in the future?  What types of products can we expect to see next?

In the future, we are excited about a Bourbon project and we have been looking at getting into fruit distillation with Watermelon that we plan on growing on site next year. We are also planning on coming out with some more flavored moonshines in the spring of 2018.

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