Interviews

Published on February 5th, 2019 | by Darren Paltrowitz

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Benham’s Gin Master Distiller Jeff Duckhorn On The Success Of The Graton Distilling Company & More

The Graton Distilling Company was born out of owner Derek Benham’s love of making stuff cool and his insatiable sense of adventure. Benham got his start selling wine out of the trunk of his ’67 Mustang for a small winery and ended up running the business. Then Benham would strike out on his own and made hay in the wine business before the craft spirits bug bit him. Hard.

Under Benham’s careful guidance, the Graton Distilling Company operates with a fearless commitment to craft. D. George Benham’s Sonoma Dry Gin — as launched in February 2016 — was the first spirit to come from the second. Next up was D. George Benham’s Vodka. Following that was Redwood Empire American Whiskey and a killer 10-Year-Old surprise.

I had the pleasure of doing Q&A with Benham’s Gin Master Distiller Jeff Duckhorn not only about Benham’s Gin, but about how he transitioned from a career in finance into full-time work within the world of spirits. More on Benham’s Gin can be found online at www.gratondistilling.com.

How did you wind up in the spirits industry? Were you ever a bartender?

Jeff Duckhorn: I have a finance background, so I was working in finance for a winery that was planning to open a distillery. Always wanted to be in the production side of the biz and I was able to slide my way out of finance and into production through a series of fortunate circumstances.

What is a typical day at the office for you like?

Jeff Duckhorn: I don’t have a typical desk situation. It’s all hands-on in the distillery, so lots of time on my feet managing the daily mashing, fermentation and distilling along with material planning and lots of paperwork to keep everything straight. We have quite a few full barrels on hand of whiskey that need to be cared for and periodically sampled. We also make gin on a regular basis and that has its own set of challenges. Lots of hand-zesting and hands-on care of the botanicals involved along with very precise individual distillation of each botanical to create our unique gin.

What is the best part of what you do for a living?

Jeff Duckhorn: Every day is a little different. In the distillery, we are always playing with different recipes and ways to do things. I am a tinkerer at heart but also love numbers so we measure everything and try to continue to improve flavors and efficiencies. I also spend a lot of time on the road promoting our brands and meeting lots of great people.

Do you have a favorite variety or offering from your brand?

Jeff Duckhorn: I like our barrel-rested gin a lot. It takes our flagship Benham’s Gin and gives it a great twist through aging in zinfandel barrels. Lots of great wood notes and spice from the zin marry well with our fresh fruit forward gin to create a very unique flavor profile. Great in an Old-Fashioned!

What is coming up for your brand in 2019?

Jeff Duckhorn: We are planning to release both a bourbon and a rye blend this year. We have been able to source some great aged whiskies to blend with our in-house stocks. They are going to be very tasty!

What is your drink of choice?

Jeff Duckhorn: I really like a lot of different things. I am partial to a good dirty Martini, but also do love the classic whiskey cocktails as well. I tend to gravitate to dry more then sweet and love to finish the evening with a nice glass of old whiskey neat — love those single malts!

When not busy with work, how do you like to spend your free time?

Jeff Duckhorn: I love spending time in my garden tinkering with different plants. I have two great kids that keep me pretty busy, too.

As a music-related publication, I must ask: What was the last concert you attended for fun?

Jeff Duckhorn: Dead with John Mayer at Shoreline. They still have it!

Finally, Jeff, any last words for the kids?

Jeff Duckhorn: It’s never too late to switch paths in life and align your profession with your passions.


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About the Author

is a New York resident (and Long Island native) with over 15 years of entertainment industry experience. He began working around the music business as a teenager, interning for the manager of his then-favorite band Superdrag. In the years following, he worked with a wide array of artists including OK Go, They Might Be Giants, Mike Viola, Loudness, Rachael Yamagata, and Amanda Palmer.Darren's writing has appeared in dozens of outlets including the New York Daily News, Inquisitr, The Daily Meal, The Hype Magazine, All Music Guide, Guitar World, TheStreet.com, Format Magazine, Businessweek, The Improper, the L.A. Times, and the Jewish Journal. He has been a member of the SATW and the IFWTWA organizations as a food and travel writer.Beyond being "Editor At Large" for The Hype Magazine, Darren is also the host the recently-launched "Paltrocast With Darren Paltrowitz" podcast, as co-produced with PureGrainAudio.


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