By Chris Heagney
About three years ago, Oak and Grist Distilling Company fired up its still for the first time. Six months later, the first spirit was ready for the market: a malty and unique, Jenever-style gin. A Black Mountain establishment, Oak and Grist sources most ingredients from the Carolinas, but the history, training and philosophy that inform its distillation methods has its roots in Scotland’s Edwin Dodson.
Edwin Dodson is the father of Oak and Grist co-founder Russell Dodson, and mentor to the company’s head distiller and co-founder William Goldberg. Edwin’s influence pervades the distillery’s production floor. After a 40-year career in distilling, he retired as a master distiller at Glen Moray in Elgin, Scotland. “I always say that I would probably not be doing this if I did not have Edwin,” says Goldberg. “He has forgotten more about distillation than I know.”
Goldberg spent many years as a cheese maker for Looking Glass Creamery, fascinated by the craft of making things from scratch. “The process of taking a raw ingredient—in this case barley—and turning it into something else is very exciting,” he says. Visiting and studying with Edwin Dodson in Scotland is what shifted Goldberg’s interest to distilling. “I then sought out additional commercial experiences at distilleries across the US,” says Goldberg. “I spent small chunks of time learning from them while continuing to develop and move forward with Oak and Grist.”
By the time Oak & Grist was ready to begin distilling, the developed methodologies were unsurprisingly Scottish. “This includes the style of malt that we are choosing, the way that we are brewing our beer, our fermentation, distillation and maturation,” says Goldberg. “At each step we are focused on the end goal of crafting a single malt whiskey (even if that whiskey will then be turned into a gin). We require two distillations to get to our final whiskey. Many bourbon distilleries only do one; Irish whiskeys get three.”
Oak and Grist prides itself on being the only 100 percent grain-to-glass distillery in Buncombe County. “It is quite common for distilleries large and small to source some aspect of their production,” says Goldberg. “Most distillerie
s that make gin are buying a vodka from a much larger distillery and then adding their botanical selection to flavor that vodka. For our gin, we brew, ferment and distill our whiskey to completion. We then steep our eight botanicals in the whiskey, which pulls out the oils. Finally, that steeped whiskey gets distilled, turning it into gin.”
These efforts have not gone without recognition. In 2019, the American Distilling Institute awarded a gold medal to Oak & Grist’s Dark Rhythm Gin and silver to a very young whiskey submitted by the company. Whiskey Magazine also nominated Oak & Grist as an Icon of American Whiskey. This year, the company will be adding another still to increase production, with the ultimate goal of producing a Single Malt Whiskey that is aged a minimum of 10 years.
You can visit Oak and Grist’s tasting room Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. It is located in Black Mountain at 1556 Grovestone Road. Christopher Heagney is the owner of Daidala Ciders, located in Asheville at the Cotton Mill Studios at 122 Riverside Drive.