Don Poffenroth built a distillery before he had ever distilled a drop in his life…and that’s no fish tale. Dry Fly Distilling was started 15 years ago by Don through a love of craft spirits, an enjoyment of the outdoors and, apparently, an appetite for taking risks.
Don, following a marketing career in the food industry, trusted in his still maker (Christian CARL of Germany) and local farmers to set him and Dry Fly on currents towards success in distilling spirits. The name “Dry Fly” is inspired by Don’s love of fly fishing and the spectacular, scenic environment he grew up around in Spokane, Washington. This plays into Dry Fly’s commitment to being agriculturally-based. The grains they use are grown within 30 miles of the downtown Spokane distillery and the two farms they use are over 100 years old.
In May, Alan Bishop (Spirits of French Lick) and I co-hosted a show for Bar Cart Co-Op on alternative grains in whiskey. Alan, Kris Koenig (Golden Beaver Distillery) and Don were panelists on that show (which can be found here). On that show Don talked about Dry Fly’s use of triticale as a primary and secondary grain in their whiskeys and bourbon.
Triticale is a hybrid of wheat and rye and was originally created in Scotland in the 19th Century. Dry Fly worked with Spectrum Seed Development to obtain testing seeds out of Scotland. These testing seeds were test-plotted for Dry Fly by Washington State University which ultimately led to the selection of THE seed that would grow the triticale to be used by Dry Fly.
“Triticale is what I call a ‘super-wheat’. It is like wheat with attitude”, Don explained. “I am really proud of this one because we took it from point zero to the top”.
The risks Don took in opening the first distillery in Washington since prohibition with an inexperienced distiller (himself) seem to be based on very deliberate choices. As Don says “whiskey is the sum of a hundred different choices you make along the way”. At Dry Fly they choose to be very particular about their grain. Don makes very narrow cuts in his distillations at Dry Fly. “We want to put the best spirit possible in the barrel. We want the barrel to add character, but not have to correct any errors in the distillate”, Don commented. Opening a distillery, like any entrepreneurial endeavor, is a risk. It is a gamble. Don has bet on himself and choosing to do things the hard way and the artistic way. No cutting corners.
On the Bar Cart show Kris, Alan and I had an opportunity to taste Dry Fly’s three-year old, straight triticale whiskey (the first straight triticale whiskey in the world, according to Don).
The comments from the panel were unanimous in their praise of the Dry Fly triticale whiskey. Alan commented that there is “fruit with a minerality to it with a nice pepper tone. There is a grains of paradise element there as well as a caraway characteristic”.
Kris said that it is “a very, very good distillate and a pleasant whiskey. It has a very nice nose on it and is really well-balanced. I think this would be a great whiskey to use in a Manhattan”.
As for me, I summed it up in a #FatGuyTastingNote of apple butter on wheatberry toast.
There was some talk on the show of how interesting it would be to finish some triticale whiskey in an apple brandy barrel. While I can’t do this project in my house because I am without an apple brandy barrel, I can blend in my glass some Spirits of French Lick Hoosier Apple Brandy with Dry Fly Straight Triticale Whiskey. I can tell you this has an apple-cinnamon turnover quality to it with a hint of ginger. This finishing idea is worth reeling in!
I’ve had the opportunity to try some Dry Fly wheat whiskey products recently, also. Not surprisingly, those are skillfully distilled and aged spirits. A Dry Fly wheat whiskey may (or may not) be included in a blind tasting of wheat whiskeys that will be part of the next Bar Cart Co-Op show on September 28. It’s a blind tasting, so you’ll have to tune in to find out for sure. #WinkWink
The panel on that show will include Lisa Wicker (Widow Jane Distilling), Alan Bishop, Steve Coomes (Bourbon & Banter), and Mike Lisac & Patrick Belongia (My Whiskey Den). I will be moderating a blind tasting of five different wheat whiskeys. Watch social media posts for more details.
Don says that he is not a very scientific person. However, at Dry Fly they routinely do lab testing on grains and distillate and make tweaks to their process in response to that testing. The extreme care given to the distillate, the innovative approach to grain and the consistent efforts to improve make Dry Fly a distillery worth your attention and their whiskey deserving of your time and money. Dry Fly has product distributed to 42 states so, hopefully, you’ll find their spirits available near you. Once you try it, I know you’ll be hooked.