Interview with Richard Otey of Donum Dei Brewery and Distillery of New Albany Indiana

I first met Richard last year through a mutual friend and quickly found out that he was interested in starting his own “Brewstillery” alongside his existing brewery, we became quick friends and I helped consult with him on the project when he needed a crash course in the distilling arts.  Richard and his wife Kim run a stellar craft brewery in New Albany making some truly delicious beers that are affordable, accessable, and extremely high quality so I am glad to help them where and when I can.  Donum Dei celebrated their third anniversary on March 17’th and launched the new distillery that day as well with DEISHINE Vodka, Whiskey, Gin, and Apple Brandy.  My wife Kim, myself, and my father (who also helped consult a bit) all attended and enjoyed the well laid out cocktails, beer, and spirits.

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Richard, tell us a little about your background, how did you get into beer brewing and how did you learn?

I like to say I’m an engineer by birth, meaning that STEM studies came naturally.  I was a field engineer for 30 years in two different industries. I did however have a desire to be involved in the arts and I was never able to find a medium that I was any good with.  Then I found the fermentation sciences; wine, cheese, sauerkraut and beer. Brewing beer was an aha moment for me, it involved the things I was good at and was an art form.

Most of the learning came on my own with my backyard brewery.  We live in the information age. If you want to learn a specific subject, the information is out there.  I also became a Doemen’s Beer Sommelier and studied under some Colorado breweries.

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What made you and Kim decide to start a commercial brewery and was there a set of essential tenants that you wanted to bring to the world of craft beer?

We wanted to make a legacy for children and grandchildren, didn’t want to work for someone else any more, temporary insanity.

We named the brewery Donum Dei which is Latin for ” Gift of God” .  Beer was much more than a social lubricant in years past, it was vital to sustaining a community.  It purified the water and solved grain storage issues. We would like to get away from the frat boy, let’s get drunk on cheap beer mind set and elevate beer to a higher plane.  Brewers of the past would consider beer a gift of God.

Tell us a little about why you set up shop in New Albany Indiana?

New Albany has been home for the last 25 years.  We live very close to the brewery/distillery. As you get older you start to think in ways of making your life simpler, so proximity was the major motivating factor.  We also choose a location close to an existing brewery ( NABC) in hopes of making the area a destination.

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Why did you decide to enter the world of craft distilling as well, what was the learning process like for you?

The idea of entering the craft distilling world was part of the business  plan of the brewery. We knew that after 3 years as a brewery we could get our artisan distillers permit.  Distilling is a natural fit for a winery or brewery, we make the raw material.

The learning curve was much different than beer.  Making beer is legal for hobbyist, not so much for distilling.  I am a hands on learner and need that ability to learn by doing.  I had gone through classes online, read and asked questions; however at some point you need to do.  It wasn’t until we receiver our federal permit in September of 2017 that I could begin to put theory into practice.  Unlike beer where I had 10 years to learn and make mistakes on a 10 gallon system before moving to a 10 barrel system.  I had weeks to practice on a 15 gallon still before moving to our production system. Thanks to help from Mr. Bishop, we where able to accelerate the  learning curve.

What are some of your current distilled products and what do you have planned for the future?  How often will your base beers become the base of your distilled products?

We currently have a Whiskey made from a malt mash that is aged in used bourbon barrels, Vodka, Gin and Apple Brandy.  Our plans are to find where our niche lays and then work that while expanding our offerings with other brands. The idea is to distribute the spirits to LA ( Louisville Area) with the Dei Shine branding and calling attention to the brewery as well.  That is why we are calling ourselves a Brewstillery. We are the only brewery in the area that can distill.

We want to make as much produce from our beer grain bill as possible.  We know the product and how to make it. This way we don’t have to learn a new process or deal with new grain bills.  “When life gives you beer, make whiskey”.

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 Any big events coming up in the near future at the BrewStillery?

We just finished the most aggressive launch we as company of our size could possibly handle.     The Drunken Unicorn, which is a bourbon barrel age strong scotch age that we bottle. Is usually all we could handle from December to  March. This year we also launched the four spirits, crazy on our part. We have been so focused on that time frame that we need a minute to reflect and refocus on what needs to happen.  We are working to have a pizza truck at the pub on every Friday.

 Now that your into the world of distilling, do you have any advice for up and coming distillers?

My advice would be to get with a local distillery and see if they need any help, volunteer if need be.  Ask thoughtful questions, start a journal for your distilling activates along with the questions and answers.  Read books and online information. This is a business that you need to physically do the process to actually know what your doing.  You need to use all your senses to become proficient with distilling. Learn to brew beer first, you can do that legally and at home and there many local resources available.  

 

The following photos are from the Donum Dei third anniversary and distillery launch which my wife Kim, myself, and my father attended and had a fantastic time!

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