340 Miles to Immortality (Part III)

We kicked off at 8am Tuesday, August 12th from Kaw Point in Kansas City, KS.  This was a famous Lewis & Clark site with corresponding monuments and statues.

IMG_1508 Looking for York…

The mayor was present, as were several re-enactors of the early 19th century life.  They fired cannons and muskets to start the race.  I paddled my ass off to the front, for a brief moment, I was leading the race.  Almost immediately I was way behind.

IMG_1525 At the start. Paddle or die.

Our plan was simple: paddle like savages the first day.  Bank enough time ahead of the Reaper (the boat that travels at the exact cut off speed, fall behind, you’re DQ’d) so that we could rest later.  So we did.  From 8am Tuesday (we’d gotten up at 5am), we paddled for 26 straight hours.  Twenty-six.  Hours.  We ticked off 142 miles before we stopped for our first nap.  Now, I’ve stayed up late before.  Gone whole nights without sleeping.  But most of the time I was taking it easy watching movies or playing games or partying.  Never before was I doing physical exercise for twenty-six straight hours.

IMG_1528 The Bridges of KC

A couple hours into the race, we passed a guy our age who said he was already “deep in the pain box.”  Not a great start to an 88 hour grueling endurance race.  Every year, for all sorts of reasons, roughly 30% of paddlers DNF.  Most people we passed or more accurately, who passed us, that first day were in high spirits.  It was finally go time.  We were all out here, lunatics trying to paddle across a state.  And hot damn, the weather was fantastic and we were ahead of the Reaper.

Leaving Lexington Leaving Lexington

Later, during the second stretch, we passed ‘mr. pain box’ again.  This time, he was up on the shore, arms around his knees, looking miserable.  We called to him, he assured us he was okay, so we continued on, feeling guilty we didn’t offer more encouragement to someone about to quit.

We left Kaw Point and passed Lexington, the first check point, 50 miles in.  Then passed Waverly, 23 miles later.  We stopped briefly at Miami, 105 miles down river, before forcing ourselves back in the boat and heading for Glasgow.  We arrived at 10am, 8 hours ahead of the Reaper.  Tired, triumphant, and hungry, we clamored ashore.  After some breakfast burritos, we stumbled over beneath a big shade tree, laid down on the grass, pulled our hats over our faces and shut down.

I gotta take a second and say a special thank you to the boy scout troops and other organizations that had food tents going at all hours of the night to fill us paddlers up with burgers, brats, and pulled pork.  And to all the volunteers who manned the safety boats and helped put on the race, we truly appreciate you!

340 Miles to Immortality (Part II)

We’d been defeated by mere wind.  Air moving too fast, too aggressively in direct opposition to us, had overcome our resolve.  Humbled as we surely were, in our minds, we’d merely lost a battle, the war was yet to be won.

The race had been delayed from mid July t0 mid August.  The rains had been too heavy, there was flooding around one of the early check points.  The organizers, in a decision I don’t envy one bit, choose correctly.  They decided to err on the side of safety.  But damn it, I was pissed.  I was READY TO GO.  We’d been preparing and counting down the days since we’d signed up.  The only real concerns we’d ever had were that the water would be so low as to be quite slow, and that in the middle of July in the middle of Missouri it would be over 100 degrees!  As the date rolled around, we were thrilled at the weather forecast, mild and rainy.  Ideal conditions when you’re on the river.  No sun mercilessly beating down on us and more water to raise the river and add free speed to our endeavor.  But when they told us there was too much of a good thing, we were incensed.  But we’d be damned if that was going to stop us.

So August rolled around.  It had been delayed a full month because the organizers, in their infitinite wisdom, mandate that the race is held to coincide with the full moon to give paddlers extra time at night.  And I can say without a doubt, that paddling on the wide, smoothly flowing MO River at night, with a beautiful full moon looming just over the horizon, is a fantastic sight that too few people are privileged to witness.

With the delay, my main concern was the weather.  I felt like we’d lucked out with the July weather and couldn’t possibly hope to get so lucky again.  Not in August.  Not in Missouri.  But as the next date crept closer, the weather started to cooperate.  Something was amiss.  Some error had inadvertently gone in our favor for it was not ungodly hot and humid.  In fact, we got sensationally lucky.  It was cold at night.  Mid 80s during the day and mid 50s at night.  Couldn’t ask for better weather.  There’s no doubt that we owe a lot of our finishing ability to the weather gods.  Had they been less merciful, even the beards might not have been enough.

Monday August 11th dawned.  Josh and I, and my brother-in-law Jeff, headed west with kayaks strapped precariously to the roof.  Hot damn it felt good to be finally embarking on our journey!  I know I was full of nervous energy as we rolled out the miles to KC.

Boulevard Brewing's RoofWe arrived early afternoon, check in quickly, and then high-tailed it over to Boulevard Brewing Co for their smokestack tour.  It was a great tour with even better beers at the end.  A really nice way to kick off the adventure.  And though we didn’t see much of KC up close, I’m excited to go back.  Seems like a cool town.

SuppliesOur supplies…

We staged our kayaks that afternoon.  And that was our first dose of reality: no other kayak was nearly as short as ours.  That had to mean something…  After the safety meeting, we rechecked our gear for the fifth time, rolled up all loose ends, and went to bed like kids on Dec 24th.

340 Miles to Immortality (Part I)

What an incredible adventure.

I learned of the MR340 for the first time back in the end of April.  Less than a week later I had signed up and stopped shaving.  I knew that an undertaking this herculean would require all my strength.  And there is nothing stronger than a magnificently fierce beard.  But my beard and I would not be alone.  To his ever lasting credit, my friend Josh Colbeck jumped at the chance to join me.  He stepped up to the challenge and proved himself worthy at every turn.  Josh Colbeck - Savage

                                                            Josh Colbeck – Savage

The MR 340 is firmly entrenched on my life’s highlight reel.

Oh, wait, what’s this blasphemy you speak?  You’re not familiar with the MR 340?  You’ve never heard of the longest, most-grueling, continuous kayak race on the planet?  Shave your face immediately while I enlighten you.  This is the longest, most-grueling, continuous kayak race on the planet Earth.  The “MR” stands for the Missouri River, one of the greatest rivers on this continent; the river that Lewis & Clark’s expedition (two truly indomitable spirits) followed upstream to start their journey into history.  The “340” stands for 340 miles.  That is the distance.  You must propel yourself three hundred and forty miles.  No motor.  No sail.  No tying up with other boats.  You have to paddle yourself down river.  In the words emblazoned on the tie-dye t-shirt I got paddling the Nolichucky River years ago: “Paddle or Die.”

This race starts at 8am on a Tuesday morning, timed to coincide with the full moon.  Appropriate considering only savages could complete such an undertaking.  The race time limit expires at midnight on Friday night.  You have exactly 88 hours to paddle 340 miles down the Missouri River from Kaw Point in Kansas City, KS to St. Charles, MO.  Sleep if you can.

Fear not, this race of maniacs is strictly voluntary.  Your average person doesn’t tackle a challenge like this.  Can’t handle it.   Though our beards were still growing and not yet fully developed, we thought we stood a chance.

Beard: < 1mo.                                           Handsome devil.  Beard: less than one month.

Josh and I were fully excited, but a little unsure of what paddling such distance would be like physically.  Having worked together for two years, we knew our personalities were extremely compatible, and I was thankful for that.  During times of extreme stress and discomfort, you need other people with positive attitudes, people who can find that gallows humor and help you make the best of a shitty situation.  Josh and I both have that adventurous spirit.  Which explains why we both jumped at this challenge.  And to us, this was a personal challenge.  Like this race was created specifically with the thought of calling us out in mind.  You can’t have Sam Jackson’s wallet from Pulp Fiction if you can’t back it up.  You know what his wallet says on it…

This isn’t some float trip where your drunk ass floats mindlessly on the river trying to untie bikini tops while dodging empty beer cans.  Every year, the AVERAGE is more than 30% of people fail to complete this race.  Oh, but you ran a marathon once?  Neat.  (Seriously though, good for you!)  That’s 26.2 long miles.  You probably did that in 4-6 hours.  How many people that started the race didn’t finish?  8?  Out of thousands?  If 300 people attempt the MR 340, you can count on 100 or more dropping out along the way.  Bit off more than they could chew.

So we did what every great explorer has done before us.  We gathered as much information as we could.  We read books, online forums, checked and rechecked our gear, and did several training paddles.  We focused on the last stretch of the race, which also happened to be the one nearest our home.  We were also very fortunate that this race was in our backyard.  It’s not like we were driving across country for our first look at the river on race day.  We were fortunate to get direct experience on the Missouri River ahead of time.  The last section of the race, from Washington, MO to St. Charles, MO, is 40 miles by river.  During our training runs we learned the importance of getting comfortable in the pain box, minimizing shore time, of river levels impacting overall speed, and on one paddle, just how much the elements are out of our control.Klondike Boat Ramp

We also knew that to complete the MR340 you need to paddle at night, so having never done that, we knew we needed to practice beforehand.  So, along with our buddy John Pollihan, we put in at Washington at 9pm, eventually finishing a little after 5am in St. Charles.  It was the best paddle we’d done yet.  The weather was phenomenal, low 70s, and a clear night with lots of stars and a super moon literally casting shadows on the river.  The tranquil river quietly flowed towards St. Charles and we paddled gently with it.  It was a glorious time on the river.

Emboldened by our successes and our growing, yet still immature beards(<1.5″), we decided to try a longer stretch, 77 miles, from the Gasconade River just West of Hermann, MO back to St. Charles.  We paddled the first mile or so and made it to the confluence of the MO.  As soon as we entered the bigger river, we were smacked in the face with gusting winds, 20-25+ miles per hour.  Being inches off the mighty river in a tiny floating kayak was not a fun place to be.  At least, not if you were planning on paddling 76 more miles.  The wind was so fierce that it created 2′ waves that crested into foaming whitecaps all over the river.  If you stopped paddling, you started floating backwards.  Quickly.  UP river.  Against the current (3mph).  It took us much cussing and effort just to make it 8 miles down river to Hermann in 3 hours.  This blew up our time table for the training run as we had obligations the next morning that we were now hopelessly behind schedule to meet.  Luckily we were able to call a friend to pick us up and aborted our paddling there.  Though our evening ended with BBQ and whiskey at Hendrix BBQ in St. Charles, the river defeated us that day.

And our beards grew longer, but that defeat lay heavy on our hearts as the race drew closer…

                   (To Be Continued…)

Craft Distilling…

There’s been a lot of talk lately about craft distillers across the country who are or aren’t making all their own booze — in essence, marketing brands rather than true distillers that buy booze from somewhere else and sell it. A recent article brings this discussion out in full (see article HERE). Being at the forefront of the craft distilling movement, I feel like I have a unique perspective to share.

I’ve heard all kinds of perspectives from within the industry. Guys as authoritative as Dave Pickerell (former Master Distiller at Maker’s Mark) readily acknowledge that it’s basically the only intelligent, economical way to get started in the business (listen to his appearance on the podcast UnderMyHost HERE).

For example, let’s say you were starting a restaurant and wanted to serve your own home-grown vegetables. You wouldn’t open it — pay all the utilities, the insurance, a full staff, etc. — only to not serve food for the first five years as you waited for your garden to come in. You’d buy your vegetables from somewhere else while you waited.

I for one, can fully understand and appreciate the strangling constraints of a tiny start-up budget. You can’t even begin to compete if you can’t stay alive long enough to do so. Craft distilling is unique. Its closest relative, craft brewing, is even fundamentally different in one key aspect: time.

A talented craft brewer (many of which we have here in St. Louis) can brew a beer in weeks that could rival or beat anything even the biggest global brewery could produce. However, with craft distilling, the enormous barriers to entry, time and money, are more significant. Even if the distiller creates a great spirit, there is no real shortcut to aging it appropriately to properly showcase the spirit.

I know firsthand how expensive and resource consuming it is to even distill a barrel’s worth of whiskey — and then to intentionally set it aside for months, years even, before you see the first dime returned upon the investment (and that’s if it’s good). And all that damn time, the greedy angels are taking their share! So I understand why a distillery would go that route. And I personally don’t feel appropriate to judge them for that. I’d rather judge whether or not I enjoy their spirits. And I think there are good, quality spirits being made in this fashion.

I’ve said from the beginning that my goal is to create a lasting distillery that my children will run one day, and their children after them. A distillery St. Louis can be proud of. And I’m proud to say that I distill, barrel, age, and bottle everything in house. Come on by and see for yourself!

RYES & SHINE – 2nd Annual 630 Day!!

On Monday, June 30th, we hosted our 2nd Annual 630 Day Party… The theme was ‘breakfast for dinner’ and ‘RYES & SHINE’ was a big success!  I’m so thankful to all the friends new and old who came out to the distillery, braving the heat of the first Heat Advisory of the year, to celebrate with us!

Kyle and I planned and prepared for weeks for this event, and it all paid off.  We had absolutely delicious food from Quincy St. Bistro.  Their head chef, Rick Lewis, created a fantastic plate consisting of red-eye braised pork belly, atop a bed of cheesy grits and greens, topped with a sunny side up egg.  I ate at least two plates of it!

When you think breakfast, you think coffee.  So Jacque DesMarais, a barista and coffee cocktail whiz from Kaldi’s Coffee, created a great cocktail: Over Easy (RECIPE HERE) that combined Kaldi’s Coffee cold brew concentrate, RallyPoint Rye Whiskey, Campari, and lime juice.  It was great.

And what’s breakfast without a bloody mary?  Not one I want to be a part of!  So I also created a variation on the classic Bloody Mary cocktail: the Bloody Jake.  Homemade Bloody Mary Mix, Big Jake White Dog Rye Whiskey, and celery bitters.  (RECIPE HERE).  According to the attendees, it was also a big hit.

We had Alpha Brewing Co here serving some of their beers for those who wanted something different.  They were pouring their Topaz Pale Ale and their Imperial Smoked Black Ale… which was special because it’s the beer that our joint collaboration is based on!  So that was a special sneak peek.

But the star of the evening, was the release of our brand new spirit: RallyPoint Maple Sunset!  It came into being as a single barrel of RallyPoint Rye Whiskey, aging in Missouri Oak barrels for 14 months before finishing it’s maturation in an ex-bourbon (Knob Creek Single Barrel), ex-maple syrup barrel (Sweet Sophie Bourbon Barrel Aged Maple Syrup).  The Wine & Cheese Place provided the barrel after they’d produced their Sweet Sophie and it added a spectacularly creamy and smooth maple syrup finish to the RallyPoint.  It’s truly one of a kind and will only last a short while.  Once it’s sold out, it’s gone for good.

If you can’t make it to the distillery or to the Wine & Cheese Place in person, the only two locations on Earth you can buy the Maple Sunset, then click HERE and you can buy it on the TWCP Blog and have it shipped to you!!

Again, we had a great night that wouldn’t have been possible without the hard work of many people, specifically the folks at Yellow Ranger, Rick Lewis of Quincy St. Bistro, Paul Hayden of The Wine & Cheese Place, Alpha Brewing Co, and Jacque DesMarais.  Working behind the scenes was the indomitable Kyle Albertson, Adam Larkin, Sammi, Johnny, Kara, and others.  We really couldn’t have pulled off such a great event without you guys, so thank you from the bottom of my heart!

And THANK YOU to all you whiskey lovers who came out to support your local distillery.  It’s your great and continued support that keeps us going!

RallyPoint Maple Sunset

RallyPointMapleSunset

I know many of you have been patiently awaiting this release…  So I’m very excited to introduce our newest spirit: RallyPoint Maple Sunset!

If you don’t know the story behind the spirit, read all about it HERE!

There is a very limited number of bottles in existence, hurry in and get yours before it’s too late!

 

 

Mother’s Day

What a wonderful day this is.  A chance to focus our thoughts and energies on the most deserving of people: Moms.  We’re all here because of one, and while some are better than others, none of them ever get the thanks they deserve.

So I’d like to take a minute and talk about two of them that are near and dear to me personally.

IMG_1177
First, is my MILly, my Mother-In-Law, Dana.  She’s such a phenomenal woman.  She bikes crazy long distances and watches her grandson with pure joy and love.  She has one of the greenest thumbs and biggest hearts I’ve ever seen.  She’s one of my biggest supporters and I can’t thank her enough.  (PS. I’m sorry for my beard scratching you!)
Mason&Mommy-Halloween'13
The other is my wife, Sidni.  The mother of our son who’s also carrying our second child.  I could write a novel about you and how amazingly wonderful you are.  But I’ll try to keep it simple by thanking you for being the spectacular, loving mother that you are.  I cannot imagine someone I’d rather have by my side raising our children than you.  You’re so strong, intelligent, supportive, and beautiful.  You inspire me to be the best version of myself I can be.  Thank you for that.

And I can’t forget the many other wonderful moms out there who deserve their own recognition!  I know this isn’t everyone I know, so forgive, me but I’d like to wish a Happy Mother’s Day to Nan H., Jill S., Patti H., Amy S., Bri S., Laura A., Courtney J., Les R., Janet W., Joan I., Jill W., Ronna P., Lisa M., Mary P., Cindy P., Annie B., Jamie G., Cori S., Pam T., Abigail P., Allison T. and every other Mother I love whom I’d too dumb to include.

And of course, my mother.  I love you and miss you, Mom.

A Very Special Birthday

I want to take a minute and get personal.

I want to wish an incredibly happy and wonderful birthday to my wife, Sidni!
Sidni & Mason
She is an absolutely amazing woman. She is smart, funny, loving, and beautiful! Perhaps best of all, she is a completely phenomenal mother. Watching her care for and teach our little guy has been incredible. She was an elementary school teacher (how else could she understand and put up with me!?) and is now focusing all that fantastic energy, patience, and love on our son. And it’s a true pleasure watching him blossom under her care.

IMG_1226 IMG_2150You mean the world to me, sweetheart. And I love you even more now than when I married you. I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with you and share the adventures that are in store for us.  Happy Birthday!

FEAST TV!

In early January, Cat Neville and the Feast TV crew came out to the distillery for a fun morning of filming.  I was honored to be featured in their wonderful program, but I was totally unprepared for the final product.  See for yourself below, they did a phenomenal job!  I am honored to have been included with St. Louis icons like Tony’s and Ted Kilgore’s Planter’s House.  Cheers to you, Feast TV!

It was Big Jake’s television debut as well… he can’t believe it!

BigJakeOnFEASTTV

Fun times at the distillery

You know, sometimes it stinks being the guy in charge when you’re also the only employee…  It’s really hard to blame anyone else.  (those of you who’ve been in the distillery know there’s a certain cardboard cut-out who takes quite the verbal lashing from time to time)

And while the latest challenges haven’t necessarily been my fault, they’ve been quite infuriating.  First off, the clutch in my car gave out earlier this week, keeping me from making some deliveries and otherwise throwing a fork in my plans with time lost and costly repairs.  Secondly, the recent cold snap burst a pipe in the ceiling above the fermenters, bringing work at the distillery to a halt until we can get the pipe repair inspected by the city (next week).  I wish I could say that the burst pipe was responsible for all the water in the distillery, but with the snow melt and rain, water seems to be working it’s way in everywhere…  Quite infuriating if you’re me.

But in actual good news, I did have a great time with the crew of FEAST TV when they came to shoot a piece on the distillery for the emmy-winning show.  The episode with StilL 630, Planter’s House, Tony’s, and Hammon’s Black Walnuts will air on the Nine Network at 2pm on Sat Feb 1st.  Make sure you tune in!

Check out this awesome pic of the beast in his lair: FeastTV-BigJake

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