Published on April 6th, 2019 | by Darren Paltrowitz0
Old Dominick Distillery’s Alex Castle On Spirits, Why She Calls Memphis Her Home & More
Based in Memphis, Tennessee, the Old Dominick Distillery is a 50,000 square-foot set of historic industrial buildings that have been restored as a spirits distillery. Beyond its tasting room, Old Dominick has event spaces, a restaurant and a retail spirits shop on-site. Old Dominick Whiskey was founded five family generations ago by Domenico Canale in 1866, and its line of spirits — not just whiskey, but also vodka, gin, rum and absinthe — continues to thrive in 2019.
The Old Dominick Distillery is led by Alex Castle who is notably the first female distiller in Tennessee. In turn, she will be involved with the Spirits & Soul Fest in Memphis on April 26th and 27th, which Old Dominick will be hosting. Spirits & Soul Fest is known as a unique two-day experience which allows attendees to engage with artists, tastemakers, and distillers from across the state.
How did you wind up in the world of spirits? Were you ever a bartender?
Alex Castle: I decided in high school that I wanted to end up in the beverage alcohol world, either making beer or making bourbon — it was a suggestion from my mom — and was fortunate enough in college to co-op with a company that had both a brewery and a distillery. My time at that distillery is what solidified my desire to work in the distilled spirits industry. The last place you would want to find me is behind a bar!! I would make such a mess of things back there! But I have always loved mixology, but more from a consumer standpoint.
And how did you wind up in Memphis?
Alex Castle: I was working as a distillery supervisor at Wild Turkey when I received a message on LinkedIn from a consultant asking me if I knew anyone who might be interested in working for a new distillery in Memphis. I wasn’t really looking to leave Wild Turkey at the time, but I figured why not interview? It would be a mini-vacation at least. And I fell in love with the city and the people at Old Dominick. And just the idea that I could be a part of a new distillery lit a fire inside me.
What is a typical day for you like as Master Distiller at Old Dominick?
Alex Castle: I don’t think there is such a thing as a “typical” day for me! I spend as much time with my production team as I can, making sure everything is under control. I spend a lot of time in the lab working on developing new products, which is my favorite way to spend my time at work. But there is also a lot of administrative work too — monthly reporting for the government, sales numbers, event planning… And then a little bit of sales thrown in just for good measure!
Is there anything that you feel people have wrong about life as a distiller?
Alex Castle: I think people see it as glamorous or even a little romantic. But it’s pretty far from that. It’s dirty, requires a lot of heavy-lifting, and when you’re having a bad day, it’s really bad! But even on the worst day, it’s still the best job I could ever imagine.
Old Dominick is successful with both whiskey and vodka, which is rare. Is everything made under the same roof?
Alex Castle: We are what I call a full capability distillery. That means we can make whiskey, vodka, gin, rum, absinthe, you name it, and we have the ability to make it! Since our whiskey needs to age for a few years, we wanted — and even needed — to make something that could be released immediately, which is where the vodka came from. And coming from the bourbon world, I really enjoyed the challenge that vodka presented. With bourbon, you want as much flavor in the distillate as possible, and vodka is the complete opposite. It was definitely a learning experience for me.
What is coming up for Old Dominick in the coming months?
Alex Castle: I have another R+D line product coming out soon, which I am very excited about. It’s a barrel-rested gin that has come along really nicely. And we have a very special release in honor of Memphis’s bicentennial this year. We’re trying to keep that one under wraps for as long as possible but it’s a very special product for me personally, because of the work that has gone into it.
When not busy with the Old Dominick Distillery, how do you like to spend your free time?
Alex Castle: What free time?!?! Just kidding. I love to travel and read, which I do obsessively. And my husband and I are big craft beer drinkers, so we do enjoy visiting all of the local breweries.
As a music-centric publication, I must ask: What was the last concert you attended for fun?
Alex Castle: I was able to see Milky Chance at Mempho Music Festival last October, and they were amazing!
Finally, Alex, any last words for the kids?
Alex Castle: Find your passion and go after it! And when you get it, put your whole heart and soul into it. To do any less would be to miss out on the opportunity of a lifetime.