242 – Building a Colorado Whiskey with Michael Myers of Distillery 291
Michael Myers sits down to tell us his story of starting Distillery 291. He had a booming photography career, but while living in NY during the events of 9/11, it made him want something else. He found out early on that he liked whiskey, so like most of us who start off with something new, he researched and used his skills from a past farm life to make it a reality. Michael actually built his very first still on a tight budget and ended up using some of his photography equipment to create the still. From these humble beginnings, his whiskey has gone off to win many different awards and they are now expanding even further, creating a whiskey that is Aspen stave finished and authentic to Colorado.
To be the best you have to learn from the best local in the surrounding regions are home to many of the most storied companies and innovative startups in the distilled spirits industry. And there’s no better place to learn the business of the distilled spirits industry. Then from a university located in its Epicenter, the University of Louisville has partnered with industry experts to offer the distilled spirits business certificate, a six course program designed to accelerate your success in this booming industry. Oh, it’s all online. get signed up to make your next career move at U of l.me slash bourbon pursuit.
Michael Myers Michael Michael Myers got it.
We didn’t want to say anything but I’m sure you get all the time people like Michael Myers especially down like Halloween coming up and studly yo Yeah, never
And my first name is Jason. Believe it or not, he shouldn’t be though. Oh my gosh.
This is Episode 242 of bourbon pursuit. I’m Kenny. And if you’re ready for your bourbon whiskey and overall spirits news, it’s about time we get to it. According to the US securities regulation charges in its 2014 and 2015 fiscal years biagio North America pressure distributors to buy excess inventory in order to meet internal sales targets in the face of declining markets, and now is hit with a $5 million dollar fine from the SEC, johnnie Walker’s owner Diaz you failed to disclose the excess stocks to investors creating a misleading impression that the audio and the audio North America were able to achieve their sales targets through normal customer man according to the SEC. Now without admitting or denying the SEC findings, Dr. Gao has agreed to pay a $5 million penalty and agreed to cease and desist from any further
violations. The SEC has accepted the offer. Lexapro distillers is paying homage to the past by relaunching an old bourbon. The Davis county Kentucky straight bourbon is being released in three varieties. The Nashville is a mix of weeded bourbon and rye mash Bill said it liver a sweet and spicy taste. There will be the original a Cabernet Sauvignon finish in a French oak finish. Davis county distilling company was the first to release the bourbon, and the brand dates back to 1874 and was one of the few distilleries to survive prohibition.
Maker’s Mark has added more than 500 solar panels to its facility. In Loretto to power its Rick houses, and it’s done through a partnership with the Kentucky utilities company. The 560 panels will provide energy for security, lighting, barrel elevators and office spaces in the brick houses. However, I’m curious if there’s actually office space at a brick house. If it’s true, I don’t know if it’s a good or bad thing because
You’ve been sequestered to sitting in a wreck house every day might get a little bit lonely, almost like Milton then as red stapler in the basement from the office space. But I guess it smells like bourbon, which is better than a basement so you got that going for you. All right, well back to the topic. The new solar array first began producing power for Maker’s Mark in early February, and is expected to produce about 268,000 kilowatt hours per year. e commerce analytics company profit, tiro said that online alcohol sales could explode from anywhere to seven to $15 billion in the next few years, noting that e commerce is making an impact on just about every industry imaginable. And alcohol looks to be the next sector to be disrupted by the continued shift to digital. However, as we’ve been saying on this podcast time and time again, the three tier system is slowing this down and is dating the industry and an article by beverage daily calm. It looks at platforms such as drizzly go, puff and thirsty
brands can catch on and partner. It also goes into detail on how these brands can differentiate themselves and not be paired next to other brands that could be either cheaper or delivered in a shorter time period. You can read more with the link to beverage daily calm in our show notes. Last week at the inaugural us distilled spirits conference, Mitch McConnell offered no relief with the ongoing tariff dispute for American and foreign whiskey. The European Union is a key market export for Kentucky bourbon, and it imposed 25% tariffs on us whiskey in 2018. In response to us tariffs that Trump enacted on imported steel and aluminum. Now, late last year, the US left a 25% tariff on imports of single malt Irish and Scotch whisky liquors, and that also affected global companies like brown Forman and biagio that import these products to the US. Now I common excuses that the US whiskey industry has just been collateral damage in Trump’s trade disputes.
And Chris Walker, President and CEO of the spirits council said that the industry hasn’t lost hope and that the levees will be removed. And now there’s even more coverage that the chief executives of the Scotch whisky Association and the distilled spirits Council of the United States are calling on the UK and US governments to urgently find a negotiated solution to unrelated trade disputes and remove all terrorists on distilled spirits. Have you ever wondered, why does whiskey taste like whiskey? Well, when we nose and taste bourbon, we get leather, caramel dried fruits, but it was never made with any of that. And a new article by Lou Bryson at The Daily Beast, he explores every step of the process and how flavors are derived with grains like rye and their spice in his character. Why using the same Nashville at two different distilleries will result in two different very whiskies. And then there’s
an organic compound formed by bacteria that’s found in Water Agency
And is responsible for that musty or earthy smell like some lake water, but can also be found in whiskey too. There’s more talk about stills barrels, proofing and more and you can read all this with a link to the Daily Beast in our show notes. For today’s podcast, Michael Myers tells a story of the starting distillery to 91 he had a career in photography in the events of 911 made him want to do something else. So like anything most of us want to venture into you research and research and research. Michael actually built his very first still on a tight budget ended up even using some his photography equipment in the still itself. The distillery has grown but that original still is used as as doubler today, from these humble beginnings, his whiskey has gone off to win many different awards, and now they’re expanding into more and more states. The distillery is expanding itself and he’s creating a whiskey that is asked when the state finished that he feels his
authentic to Colorado. We’re currently doing our 2020 bourbon pursuit audience survey. So we want to know more about you, our listeners. So if you’ve got 30 seconds to spare, please visit bourbon pursuit.com slash 2020 survey. It really it only takes 30 seconds. We appreciate the time. Are it Showtime, here’s Joe from barrel bourbon. And then you’ve got Fred minich with above the char
it’s Joe from barrel bourbon. In 2013. I launched barrel craft spirits without a distillery and defied conventional wisdom. To this day My team and I sourcing blend exceptional barrels from established producers and bottle a cast strength. Find out more at barrel bourbon calm.
I’m Fred MiniK. And this is above the char. As I put the bullseye upon my lips for the first time, I could feel it tingling upon the bottom of my lip and the top. Once it hit my tongue it just overwhelm my palate with flavor
drenching down the bottom of my jaw line, tingling the sides of my tongue tingling the top of my palate. Just feel warming me all the way down. And you know what? It’s not a bourbon. And it’s not a rye. It’s a blend of straights. It’s a blend of straight rye whiskey and straight bourbon and it is motherfucking delicious. Right now I’m putting it as one of my contenders for whiskies of the year. You can see my full review on it on my YouTube page. But this, this whiskey and all the barrel releases and all these other blends that we have seen come out in recent years from from high West and barrel and numerous other you know, blending houses that are really doing a great job right now. They really are shaking up our traditions in American whiskey. You see the term blend used to be a really dirty word and American whiskey
ski and it all goes back to the 1800s when Canadian blenders were infiltrating the straight whiskey scene and undercutting the Kentucky bourbon distillers and putting their Canadian blends on the market and you know what consumers really, really liked them. And so it begins there and the Canadian whiskey distillers were trying to block the bottle and Bond Act of 1897. Of course, they were unsuccessful. The Canadian whiskey distillers also rise up again after prohibition, and they actually ironically tried to put bottled and bond on their label. Now, what’s interesting is that the US government ended up terrifying their their whiskey to block them from using bottled and bond so that basically stopped them from using bottled and bond. But at that same time, American distillers did not have a lot of stocks from their left over from prohibition. So they actually had to use blends and
cells to get their brands out onto the market. And so you would see neutral grain spirit being added to, say, a four year old bourbon that had just been distilled a couple of few years ago. And that really kind of like people were like, ah, I really like blends, but this is all I got. And the straight bourbon distillers were just kind of reluctantly doing it, but they had to and so you couple that what they would later call rocket whiskey with the the the blended whiskey from from Canada, and you had distillers in the 1950s not even allowing the the word blend being used in their distilling house, and that’s where the words mingle and marrying or born. And for every decade after that the Kentucky distillers especially, would call out blend as a dirty word and would not let people say putting two barrels to
Together was blending that was mingling. And so that’s where those words come from is because people were never wanted to use the word blend in Kentucky distilleries. Now fast forward to 2020. You have a lot of new blood in the industry, a lot of new blood that does not care about old terms or old ways. They just want to put out great whiskey. And I got to tell you some of the more exciting whiskies that I have tasted in the past five years, our blends of straight whiskies. They are absolutely fantastic. But you will never, ever hear me say those words around the great Jimmy Russell. If you ask him, blend is still a dirty word. And that’s this week’s above the char. Hey, make sure you’re checking out my new podcast the Fred Minix show where I interview musicians
And I pair whiskeys to their palate. I’m having a blast and coming up I’ve got an American Idol winner on the show. Until next week cheers
Welcome back to another episode of bourbon pursuit the official podcast of bourbon. Kinney and Ryan here in our official recording studio, which is deemed Kenny’s basement. Yes, yeah. Where we shoot everything. Whiskey quickies the podcast unit Hey but you know we started get everything together we got lights we got cameras we got everything happened in here so it’s fun for especially people that are either watching on YouTube or on Facebook or something like that and you want to get something different than just something audio only at least get a fancy background. Yeah, unfortunately for our guests, when they show up, they’re like, damn it what you’re in a house, like a recording studio. are gonna be we’ll get another one of these days. One of these days. One of these days we’ll get there you know, as much cooler sailors whiskey, I’m sure But well, we’ll get the studio there one of these days. We’ll get some sound panels and everything like that. That makes us feel a little bit more legit
But you know, today I’m really excited about our guests because this is a distillery that, you know, we’ve heard about, you know, we’ve read about it before and bourbon and banter and everything like that. He’s even been a guest with Fred MiniK on his show on Youtube before and so now something in common. You know, Fred’s the mutual connection here right here we go and then and so being able to have him on the show kind of talk about their stories stuff like that is you know, pretty exciting because anybody that isn’t watching on TV he brought to find whiskeys for us to sit on here. So we got their their bourbon and their rye, which you might be hearing us sipping up throughout the show. Yes, and it’s very highly decorated bottle. So tons of awards. And I just had it for the first time and I can see why. For a distiller this young, it seems like some pretty good, juicy got here. So I’m excited to hear the story and dive into how it got to this ball.
See, they put stickers on Oh, yeah, absolutely. So let’s go ahead and introduce our guest. So today we have Michael Myers.
Michael is the founding distiller and CEO of distillery to 91 out of Colorado Springs. So Michael, welcome to the show. Thank you very much. Glad to be here. Well, good. So you know, before we, you know, talk about the whiskey and the distillery let’s kind of let’s rewind the hands of time here kind of talk about your first introduction to bourbon or spirits or anything like that. Yeah, so the it’s funny. The first time I drank whiskey that I remember was, we always have those stories, too. Yeah, I
was I was 18 and turn just turned 18 that day and went to a local bar with friend He must have been in Canada or something.
Now in Georgia,
close 18 That all changed but I went to bar and wanted to drink a whiskey and ordered Yukon jack, which was sort of the whiskey at the time. Sweet and now it’s really not I mean, I think it’s GNS what’s
Some natural flavorings and stuff, but you would know better now I know konjac is a new one on me. It’s from Canada.
That you said Yeah. And it’s Yeah, it’s a liquid. Gotcha now and so yeah with my friend Todd Hawkins and we had a lot of fun and drank you know, a shot of it and
and then probably the next time I mean, I was drinking jack jack daniels, as well later and then college. One of my worst experiences was super bowl and I had bought some really nice Crown Royal, moving up in the world and
and drank not a fifth but maybe 375 of that throughout the Super Bowl and just got so sick and actually woke up the next morning was like, I love whiskey. I am going to the bar and forcing myself to drink more whiskey so that I don’t have that issue.
Where I can’t smell that ever again. And so I did that day I got up that afternoon went to the bar and that first shot of whiskey was rough. can imagine you can even like try to like get a bloody or bloody married Atlanta your way in here though. No hair, the dog, and it was great. And now I make it. Yeah, that’s one hell of a story. I know. That’s like the most badass story I’ve ever heard. There’s no way that I mean, I remember back in college and stuff like that. There was no way I get up after feeling hungover after a bad night and be like, I’m going for a gator, right? Like coconut water. I’m like, What can I do to feel better? I mean, back then everybody was drinking like Pedialyte, they would actually go and buy like, I’m guilty of that. There you go. It doesn’t work. I think my times way before video.
Were salty. I was in Savannah, Georgia. They just kept drinking.
I was like, yeah, definitely different time we’re searching for pedia lightnings like it just bring it up for us.
So let’s kind of talk about more of like your history and stuff like that. So you were in Savannah, how long were you in Savannah? So I was in Savannah for school. I’m born and raised Georgia. With my summers spent in California. My mom lived out there since I was six. And so I went to about two different Yeah, ends of the spectrum, Georgia and California really different because we raised Tennessee walking horses, so and in middle school, we had 11 acres inside the perimeter and then moved out to Alpharetta with 70 acres and another 80 so we had horses and cows and all kinds of stuff. And I was given a camera when I was 15. My mom gave it to me and picked it up and never looked back. And so I went to Savannah College of Art and Design, believe it or not, that’s where 291 comes from for me. So I my dorm room was 291 and after I moved in there I went school and learned in history.
class that the very first photo gallery ever was gallery 291 was in New York in 1907. And so I’m like, meant to be a photographer. And that’s where 291 came from, which is my brand name. And that just those three numbers just have just stuck with you for forever. Yeah, as a I was a fashion beauty photographer for over 27 years and like for models are young ones. Yeah, very cool. Yeah. Mainly makeup beauty stuff, like Revlon. Clairol? Yeah, I still only know this because my wife’s a cosmetology
Tiffany and company but I did shoot for this old house and Forbes FBI and what kind of cameras us Michael Jordan a Canon What do you know I shot with a Pentax six, seven, and it’s a it’s it’s looks like a
35 millimeter that’s on steroids. And so the negative is six millimeters by seven. So that’s that’s pretty big, almost playing card but a little smaller than that.
You guys are speaking a different language to me. I’ve tried, like, I’ve dabbled in a lot of things in photography. It was like one of them and it lasted for like two months. So I like it though. But it’s collecting dust. Nice. Now just like iPhone, you know, I bought it right. That’s everybody asked, Do you still do that? And I’m like, I have an iPhone. I mean, it’s, it’s in my pocket. It’s all branded. I mean, it’s, it looks like a phone. I’ll show it to you afterwards. Yeah, that’s what the sake is. Most people. You know, I remember when I had my first kid and, and they said, like, Oh, you’ve got to go out. You’ve got to buy an awesome camera. And, you know, here’s your here’s your cannons, your DSLRs. And I’m like,
I don’t know if I’m going to be lugging this thing around with me everywhere we go. I just don’t know if I’m gonna do it. But I remember I did look into it. I just never pulled the trigger on it. Yeah, yeah. good reason. Yeah.
I mean, if you’re going to shoot, you might need it a better one. But family stuff. It’s always been best. The camera in your hand or the camera in your pocket, because you’ll get the image. It doesn’t matter if it’s hype.
quality or not putting you at least have the moment. Yeah. And that’s what matters. I’m probably not gonna make it poster size when I was shooting. I’d be so focused on like getting a shot that I would forget the moment, you know, not being in the moment. That’s why I was like, just doing my iPhone, but right. We’re not here talking about cameras. No, no, but I want to hear a little bit more about the photography and like, because that seems like it was a pretty mean 20 years as you said that you were doing that right. 27 Yeah, yeah, I mean, so, so kind of talk about you’ve got to have some, at least some pretty funny stories or something good from those days, too. So I shot Angelina Jolie when she was 15. I have that picture on my 14 year old was.
And when she was 16. I shot her a couple of times. Some of my last clients were the Olsen twins. shot down.
Like geeking out right now. She’s like an Olsen twins. Yeah, so I had a really great career. It was still a struggle. It was you know, a lot of work and living in New York.
Not easy raising a family there and you know being a freelancer so as about to say so like the the dynamic of photography and freelancing versus making whiskey, like what Be honest what’s more enjoyable now
making whiskey and how do you merge the tape?
I built my still out of photograph your plates. Okay. So a photograph of your plate is a flat copper plate you chemically edge an image in, you put ink on the plate, you put a piece of paper with it, run it through a press and you get an ink photograph. So I took those seven copper plates of different images from my life and water jet cut them took them and rolled them through a roller so that curve and then had a guy TIG weld it together. And that was that was my original still 45 gallon still. I had a
cask for the thump kegger doubler and I built a stripping still out of a
55 gallon gallon stainless drum. So you built this all yourself? I did. How do you do that? Like YouTube or something? Yes. I grew up on a farm I can build. Okay. I’m a redneck. Yeah.
And yeah, I mean, my story’s intertwined with New York and 911 and then building this still. And the process of distillation reminds me the dark room. So that’s where 291 came from, for the brand name for me, but I built that still and that still is the thump keg to my 300 gallons still that I built had built in Colorado Springs. So these these guys department of defense contractors, and they built things like titanium ball valve that’s like 10 inches across four new killer sub, you know, valves and and nickel plate press not plate but nickel press rings for proposal.
tubes. And they’re like, we like whiskey. Do you need a bigger still? And I’m like, Yeah, great. Sharon so gave them my plans and they built 300 gallons still that looks identical to mine. And the funny thing was, there’s a little bit of pressure in a still like five pounds, but not much, but they were engineers. I went to art school. And they didn’t believe me that it didn’t need to be that thick. So they built it out of plate copper. So it is thick and heavy, but it’s beautiful. It works really well too. So kind of talk about that, because you kind of intrigued me right there because I remember reading a little bit something about 911 and that happening and you couldn’t get back to your apartment or something like that. And you kind of just had to move the family for a little bit kind of talk about that time. Yeah, so 911 we live three blocks from the World Trade Center. We lived on the corner of Warren and West Side Highway. And I was on granted and Dwayne with my son on my shoulders when the first plane flew over my older son
So they were four and five, my oldest son was in, in our building in ps 89, which is on the second floor, we lived on the 25th floor, and we had just dropped him off. My wife and I and my son walk into his class or his school, and that’s when the first plane flew over. And so yeah, so everything that day was a crazy day, needless to say, spent the night on North more.
And then with seven families and then couldn’t get back in our apartment, went to Long Island. Long story short, moved to Colorado for about nine months. I commuted move back to New York, was there a couple of years and it wasn’t good for my family. So I said we’d move back you’re still doing photography at this time? Yeah, I got to do in photography. And so we moved back and I commuted another four years full time, and then was just trying to figure out something else to do and still, like wrote some TV, worked on some movie stuff.
And just nothing really panning out. And I shot a vanity fair job in New York in August 2010 and on the way home read an article about the guy that created Sailor Jerry and Hendrix shin and he, you know, created an idea and branded it and all that somebody else made the juice form and I came back thinking wow, I could brand a whiskey you know, and and talk to a friend of mine, Mike Bristol, Bristol brewing. And he said, get your license and I’ll try and help and so and then somebody else said why don’t you try and make it because you can always hire somebody if you can’t. And I’m like, they make it in the woods of Georgia. It can’t be that hard.
And so I decided to build my still moved into 300 square feet. Got my DSP distilled spirit plant permit in April with I got it in four weeks from when I applied, which is amazing time. That’s right takes us for
TTP doesn’t move that fast anymore. And so I was in 300 square feet. I could make 60 gallons a month of Finnish whiskey that was working my butt off that was you know, 17 hour days seven days a week. Wow for talking about those like first attempts at making whiskey what’s it like what do you do going into like are you reading a manual? Or how like are you just like going off like I’ll travel knowledge and what will you do that? Yeah, he’s got a he’s got a landline to somebody with some some overalls on be like, No, you gotta tweak. You gotta move this. Yeah, so I’d never brewed beer. And I’d never distilled until I started this in my first distillation true. Finished distillation was September 11 2011.
My still the guy, TIG welding it together finished it after it took him all summer to get started on it. finished it September 9, and so I waited for that to remake that anniversary. And yeah, during that time, I read YouTube blogged everything. I
Heard about how you make whiskey. And and it is funny. The one thing that I do say is I watched popcorn Sutton’s documentary, the original one. And in there, there’s a point where he talks about taking, he takes a stick and the worms there. And he puts the stick in the end of it and lets it balance. And he says, if the whiskey is thicker than the stick coming off, it’s fighting whiskey. So from that I learned you need to run it really slow to make really good whiskey. And there’s other things that I learned books, I read things, and I love to cook and I love the dark room. And so I really feel that was like my home brewing experience. Putting those two things together to get to make whiskey. So are there any other like outsiders or consultants that you leaned on to kind of pick their brains or kind of guide you along? Or is it totally just you? Totally me? That’s cool. How did you know you weren’t gonna like blow up the place? Like, you know, just, I don’t know, you know, there’s a lot of pressure on
Nice other like five pounds pressure but yeah run high. That seems like a lot of back and happen. I knew that it was an open system so as long as you don’t plug the system you’re good and and as long as you keep cooling the steam coming off the still, you’re okay but if that water stops
that can be a problem. Yeah, there was one point where that happened for me and it was a mess and
I think there was a room full of 160 proof steam all wrapped around me and I was just like, okay, let’s calm down. slow this down. Yeah, and I just I read a lot I paid attention to what how it was supposed to work and and did it that way. The funny thing is, is I steam heated everything. So I put a steam coil in my mash tun that also was my stripping still with a different top on it and a column and then my finish still had a steam code.
illinit and I bought a home steam unit for steam shower. And I first time I hit the button that came on, it was all hooked up. I’d like to say we’re like close from
anywhere. Close. That’s funny.
And so I hit the button, went to take notes for a little bit about an hour later the day turned off. And I’m like, What? walked over there looked at everything. It was heat hot and push the button and came back on. I’m like, great, literally an hour later cut off again. And I was like, Damn, it’s a home steam unit. It’s got an automatic off on it. So literally for the next two and a half years.
Every run from
finish run stripping to mashing then I had to reset that button every 45 minutes. Gosh, that’s awesome. It sounds terrible.
So I’d run home cooked dinner. That’s like the great bootstrapping story.
Like somebody just like going in and just giving it their all and like figuring it out. I don’t know. It’s pretty cool. That’s right. And I’d go home cooked dinner, come back, push the button, go home eat dinner, go to the liquor store and make a sale come back push the button go back to another store to settle alarm on your phone.
Reset, Steve, I know 45 minutes pretty good now.
Somebody goes up how the wind take their 45 minutes. Don’t worry, I got that. I got
I mean, that’s that’s it isn’t it is impressive story of being able to go and learn and actually build it yourself. You know, it’s like, it’s like most of the people that you know, you say like, Oh, you wanna write a book on something? Or if you’re if you want to learn something, right, write the book on it or do whatever it is to actually learn how to do it from the inside out. And, you know, you could go to moonshine you and you can learn and look and be able to like look at it but mean you you really like dope the pieces that actually made this all together. I did and moonshine you wasn’t around at that time.
And there wasn’t a lot It was mainly have gone if it was already just done it yourself.
That’s an interesting question. I probably wouldn’t have. So when I went to buy a still, that’s why I built my own Vendome had a 55 gallon or 50 gallons still, that was like $50,000 I’m like, I don’t have that money. I’ve never made this stuff. How What? So I,
I decided to build my own. So that probably the same with
moonshine, you probably would have been expensive. I wasn’t sure. You know. Yeah. So just, you know, just wing it. Looking at your best, right, I guess then talk a little bit more about because I think one thing that’s interesting here was you’re talking about your copper plates that you use that you you took and then if I understood correctly, you said you rolled it out thin enough that you could then kind of form it and build your still so didn’t roll it out. It was fairly thin copper. It is then copper. I mean, it’s it’s rigid.
But you roll it just to curve it to put the curve in it. So
that’s why you roll it not not squeezing the copper out. But the etchings are still on the still you can see them when you go and take a tour. It’s pretty amazing. But yeah, I just
researched it. Not everybody can take weld copper, and I found a man that was an amazing welder. Another God guy that could could take weld copper and did really nice job with it. So and talk about the design a little because I know we’ve had we’ve had Vendome on the show before. And you know, they they talk about all the crazy designs and you go You mean you go to anywhere like you see the different steel boxes, you see the different ways that people are putting it I mean, it could be a spatial issue could be a bunch of different ways. But you know, unless you’re doing a copper pot still everybody more it’s a column still but everybody’s is a little bit different, a little bit unique. So kind of talk about how you came to the design of what yours was.
Going to be so mine’s a copper pot still, there’s no plates in it at all. The only sort of plate is the thumb keg. So that kind of works as a what plates do and still. And that design I found on the web. Somebody had built one and I was like, that’s really cool. And I designed it more how I needed it. But the the design of the still, there’s a secret behind that. I figured it out.
I’m a visual person and I just I found a few stills that I liked and came up with a concept and idea and how, what the sizes should be and drew it out. So I had in high school I had 11 quarters of mechanical drafting. So I’m not great at it now because it’s that’s a long time ago, but I can draw that like AutoCAD or before was AutoCAD. Like pencil and paper.
T square Yeah.
Exactly with a maybe a compass compass. Exactly. tractor. Exactly. And that’s what I did. I drew it out, I bought a drawing board, which is a piece of soft wood, thick, you know board and I bought paper and drew it out. I still have those drawings of it. I actually drew a limbic still first. And it’s a really beautiful drawing, but I never went that direction. I went with the pot still. So how about you said vinden was 50,000 How much was your homemade $500? Wow. The cost savings? Yeah. All the parts I you know, I sourced all of it. That’s not with my time in it or anything like that. But sure, yeah. Where’d you get all the parts like Craigslist or? Pretty much? No. Granger, actually. Okay.
A lot of parts on there. They have more stuff than you’ll ever know. Yeah. You’re like, do you have this and like, yeah, and I’m like, What? You’ll have that too. So yeah. Craigslist would be a better story though. I know.
In search of
Such of a doubler misconnection where’s my doubler? Yeah, so I guess um, you know so we’re talking right now about making your still and making white dog and and kind of talk about what was that next progression of it so he’s shown us the the picture of it right now so yeah, that’s it is it’s an exact replica of your of your original. It’s really cool. Oh, that’s awesome. That’s really cool. So making white dog here at the very beginning so were you were you thinking like okay like I’m gonna make whiskey I’m gonna make bourbon or was it just like, what was the kind of like your end goal that you had in mind. So I set out to 91 Colorado whiskey, I set out to make a Western whiskey whiskey that you would walk into a bar and a Western asked for, you know, whiskey, walk up, the bartender finds a Western whiskey for you. So mine is a Colorado whiskey and it’s big, bold and beautiful, like the state of Colorado. Okay, so
and they slam the bottle down. It’d be too
91 and you know, get to drink it and you have a deal afterwards. Yeah, exactly. And so I love rye whiskey before I made my own Thomas handy was my favorite. So both these my rye and my bourbon are my original recipes. The bourbon is changed slightly. It’s 80% corn 19% modify 1% malt barley. It started out at 20 mile rye, and that’s because Mike Bristol had a bag of corn 50 pound bag of corn, and it was over a weekend I wanted mashin. So I went to the homebrew shop and bought I was looking for a ride. They only had Ryan mall. I’m like great, I need them all to convert. So I did that mashed in and ran that. I ran that on a very small I stripped it and then ran it on a very small Olympic still. And that was truly my first distillation ever. And then the next distillation and I have all these notes written down with the dates on it and everything.
The next Captain’s log. Yeah. Yeah, the ttv you have to a lot, you know, and I didn’t I didn’t have any money. I wasn’t doing any, you know, computer stuff. So I was handwriting notes in the notebook. And they’re funny to go through because I talked about, you know what I’m doing distillation, but I also talked about my son’s running cross country that day, or an event I was going to or what was going on in my life throughout these days. So it’s kind of cool to look back. It’s all chicken scratch scribbled scratched out spellings wrong, you know, all that good stuff we need to do today. Like why the fuck is this?
What the hell is wrong with this mash? Yeah. Or, Oh, that smells like throw up. That is not good. Yeah. But that is gold because you can always look back on that and be like, this is where I started and always kind of bring you back to that. That is awesome. Yeah. And we go back to it actually. There’s another mash in there. That is a
Special release comes out, usually in October. It’s called bad guy. And that was my third recipe. And we we went back a couple of years ago because the newer bad guy wasn’t tasting the same as the old bad guy and so we went back and read the recipe in the directions and
bad guy came from so I did as a single barrel for restaurant and I had done this mash to try I hadn’t experimented so I was going to experiment and bad guys a four grain we did bourbon and when it came up still I was like, that is really good white dog. I mean, was sweet, amazing. And I put it in a in a tank and was waiting and was supposed to have already mashed in for this other one for the restaurant. And I got behind and I needed the cash and so I was like, you know I got the that one in the in the tank over there. I’ll just
Cell it so I called him to come hammer the bong it’s done, put it in there hammered the button. He was talking to his son on the phone who was like four. He’s like, what should I call it? And his son goes bad guy.
And I was like, Oh, damn, and
so he he year later, when the whiskey was coming out of the barrel, I’m like, what are we gonna name it? And he goes, I don’t know. And I’m and I had written on the barrel bad guy, so I didn’t forget. And I’m like, you gotta call it bad guy. We got to call it bad guy. And he’s like, No, I don’t know. And then I talked him into it finally. And so that’s why it’s bad guy bourbon to 91 bad guy bourbon, very cool store grand weeded bourbon, you have a lot of cool stories.
Just sit back and listen, not just keep talking. I’ll shut up.
I mean, kind of talk about that a little bit as as you were, you know, how much do you producing and what kind of you know at that time like what kind of barrels you putting them in like a
Talk about that process to
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How much do you producing and what kind of you know at that time like what kind of barrels you putting them in like kind of talk about that process too. So the barrel mill, I found them online somehow and they were fairly new out of Avon, Minnesota. And so I called them they would FedEx me a barrel. So I’m like that works. You know, everybody else wants to sell you a palette
There’s a funny story about palette too. And so I just bought a barrel and would fill it up and and I had a few barrels in that 300 square foot space. And I’d harvest it and hand bottle and label it and go out and sell it. So the very beginning here kind of talk about what’s your because I remember you said you were doing would you say
50 6060 gallons in a week, right is my month, a month, a month. And that took that took, you know, six. So my fermentation tanks were 55 gallon Pepsi, you know, plastic drums with the top cut off. And so it would take, I’d mashin six. So I could do two matches in a day. So that’s three days, I could strip two in a day. So that’s three days of stripping, and it would yield about 3540 gallons of low wines and at 35% or so and then I’d finish on it and it would I end up with like 15 gallons. And so in a you know, in a month period, I had 60 gallons to put in barrels. So I mean talk about it, like as we talked to, we talked a big boys right and they’re pumping out that in 20 minutes, right? I mean,
yeah. So kind of talk about you know, like, you know, where where did you kind of see yourself
Like, were you like, this is awesome. Like, this is fun. I’m having fun with this, or you like I’m in, I’m in over my head, like kind of talk about what was going through your mind at that time. It was amazing. So when it first came out still and I tasted it, and I had a friend that was a bartender, phenomenal bartender, Nate Windham, and he would taste it. And he’s like, Damn, that’s really good white dog. And so he had a couple of cocktails that he was using some white dog that was on the, on the shelf at the time. And he just started trading out with my white dog and my fresh. And I always say if, if it came off, and it had been a grind to figure out the recipe, and it wasn’t that good coming off, it would have been, it would have been a lot harder. But when it was that good, and Nate was already making cocktails with it, it was like, all right, this is working, and I could taste it and tell. And so but I mean, the whole process, you know, you’ve got to make those tale cuts and that’s, that’s the art of distillation. And I didn’t know anything and so
That was made me nervous, you know, what are you going to do how you’re going to do this? And so
in my processes of photographers solving problems, you know, the, the head cut is easy, it’s a percentage, or you can taste the difference really quickly. It also drops improved quite a bit at head cut, and then you got ethanol coming off and then tail it’s like where do you stop as a distiller the art of distilling, where do you stop and so when it started dropping and proof, I decided to take you know, a quart mason jar and and collect it every 10 proof and then go back, you know, I had the main amount of ethanol but here I had tails coming off. And I just decided started tasting them and deciding where, how much I would put back into, you know, the ethanol that had already come off.
And so that’s that’s how I figured out my cut.
Yeah, and we got to make sure you pick up the cuts cuz well that should make you go blind if you get it wrong. That’s the that’s the head cut. There you go okay. acetone, methanol and all that that comes off first loser, high, high alcohols that have a low boiling point. So were you like cash flow in this with your photographer photography? What the photographer you’re you’ve only had one port right now get it I’ll spit it out. Get it out your photography, photography career was it paying for your gosh what can I say that photography career? I just did it
was your photography career was this kind of fuel in this baby or were you just like out on your you know on your own trying to make this work. I know my photography was not. I did do a design job for for charity. They were trying to save
The hospital from being sold to large corporation. And so they had this whole campaign they wanted. And so I designed and did commercials and did all kinds of stuff for it. So it paid me really well. So I use that money to start to 91. Gotcha. And to go back to the original distillation and all that, you know, when I started making to 91 I wanted to be Colorado and kind of branded and so it we haven’t talked about that, but it’s 291 Colorado bourbon or 291, Colorado rye whiskey, and it’s Aspen state finished. So I take toasted pieces Aspen, pop the bung on the barrel, put the Aspen in the oak barrel, and for the last few weeks, we finish it on Aspen. admins are the trees that guys may turn yellow, but they don’t lose their leaves. Is that right? No, they they lose. Okay, they’ve turned yellow and red. They’re really beautiful. Yeah.
Why we only Aspen reference I knows we the dumbing down. Oh, yeah, yeah. So talking about City College.
So the way I figured that out was I wanted to ask been on the label I, I took some aspirin, toasted it, put it in a mason jar with some Finnish whiskey and was riding to Boulder with a friend that was about a two hour drive. And I just shook the mason jar. And when I got up to Boulder I had, you know, some of the original and then what it tasted like on Aspen and I’m like, that’s good. And so that’s where that came from. That’s awesome. Yeah. Very cool. What’s what is it about Aspen that’s different from Oak that kind of gives it some different. It’s there. So for me it it pushes common notes to maple and it adds a little spice to it and a little smoke. This rye has a beautiful color on it by the way too. I need to try the wrap the porcelain arriving on the nose on the rise really good. I love it. So it’s one on 1.7
The bourbon was 100 proof
and how long you, you agencies and what type and how big of the containers and everything like that. Let’s get let’s get into it for that was all there. It’s all secret. Yep. Oh gosh, man. Guess we had to go on a tour to find out.
So it’s American oak barrels deep charred. We age a year to two years. Right now, you know the ride that you’re talking about in 2018 one world’s best ride from whisky magazine. It also won America’s best in 2016 from World whiskey magazine. And then that’s an interesting thing that in that 300 square foot space, my barrel number two of this rye got 94 points from Jim Murray’s whiskey Bible. Congratulation. Thank you and and we have seven liquid gold from Jim Murray.
six different recipes. So it’s been so Jim Murray’s a fan of you. Yeah, I’m a fan of his He’s great. His tasting notes are amazing. I don’t know if you’ve ever read any we haven’t had him on the show yet. We’ll get him on we’ll get him there probably much more elaborate than ours. I’m like tastes like smores are
or always try relating to our breakfast cereal you know like cocoa Chris for Count chocula I don’t notice that you do you do a lot of cereals Don’t you know I get a lot of cereal like when you’re a kid. You get a lot of those cereal notes with it with the milk one of our Bourbons has a it’s a char high rye. It has a cherry fund up
to it. It says it says he’s that one now. You know fun dips that powdery my kids so it’s like dry. And so the high proof of it make its cherry but it dries out just like fund up it’s really funny. So yeah, you can find my my distill.
Eric jet had one whiskey and he’s like, you know, it’s like that. That dusty old Poncho and team was like, What are you talking about? And what were you on at that time? It’s not your grandma’s attic you know there is a note sometimes that dryness Yeah, you know that musty old basement. musty old isn’t good but yeah dusties not so bad. Because it’s the dryness part have tasted like, like you talked about cherry funded like grape Kool aids like, you know, the manufacturer grape flavors, you know, like, I get, like, come out a lot. Yeah, a lot. Talk about today’s operation. So, so you’re you’re you’re the founding distiller sounds like you’re not distilling anymore, but kind of talk a little bit more about, you know, what the size of the operation is the people if you’re still doing you know, 60 gallons in a month or if you’re if you’re if you progress so kind of talk about that. Yeah, I wouldn’t be here if I
guess I don’t like only bottles.
Well, that was interesting.
Same thing was like 2016 when I sent whiskey magazine, they needed two bottles and I had to pay money and and I was like, I don’t have that much whiskey. So that’s why it took me a while to start putting in awards. But all my tanks, the 55 gallon drums, the fermentation tanks, my stripping still. I mean, yeah 55 gallon drums have all moved up to 1500 gallons, including the stripping still. I showed you that picture has the 300 gallon finished still in it. All the whiskey still goes across the original still as the thump keg. we distill twice a week, and we’re producing about 240 finished gallons a week right now. We’re working on some barrel financing to add the first of the year that will move up to producing five days a week. And we are right now. I’ve been in 7500 Square Feet for six years. Wow.
That’s hard to believe.
And we are moving within a year we will be in a campus with 28,000 square feet, four different buildings. One will be a distillation building the other one will be fermentation, barrel storage and then tasting room. So you just you’re looking at it like this. Let’s keep investing into this growing and bigger and bigger and bigger. Yeah, I mean, we did 20 609 liter cases last year. Sold and and we’ve produced the year before 20 609 liter cases. And so we’re selling everything we make. 95% of it is in Colorado. We just opened Kentucky this week. We’re in 27 Kroger stores in Kentucky and it’s going really well. But we could sell more if we had it and that’s what we’re working on. But we still the quality we are. It does not come out of the barrel until it’s ready.
What’s it like coming to Kentucky is it like coming to Kentucky to play basketball you know like we got faced the Wildcats when you’re coming to Kentucky you don’t face all the big boys environment is that daunting or you like Bring it on.
I don’t know that it’s daunting. The community’s amazing. And that’s the great thing. Everybody I meet is incredibly helpful. Even Fred MiniK he’s he’s the one that helped Kroger. So by introducing me to, to the buyer, and you know nothing about this rod tasted very familiar. Not had it at Fred’s office. He goes, this is the next big distillery
because the smoking is that or reminds me of when I had it. So anyway, side note.
Yeah, so it’s been amazing. I mean, at the one of the awards thing, Jeff Barnett, one master distiller jack daniels, Master distiller and I went up to talk
Cuz you want to say hello, you know, right oh my god, and he was the nicest man and we got talking, and he’s from Jackson, Tennessee where my brother lives that’s a surgeon. And we had a family farm in Shelbyville, which is which flat Creek, Tennessee, which was seven miles from jack daniels, seven miles to deckle. So I told him that and we really hit it off. And then my brother was doing a charity didn’t know I had met Jeff, but knew he was from Jackson and reached out to him to do a tasting of the charity. And because he was from Jackson, he did it. And my brother called me and said, You know, that’s who’s coming. And I was like, Oh, I just met him. And he’s like, wow. And so I went with my brother’s friend, our partner that had a twin prop plane, and we flew from Jackson to tullahoma and picked up Jeff, and literally when I walked off the plane, he was walking up on the tarmac, and he’s like, hey, Michael, how’s it going? And I mean, I hadn’t met him once in person, but he knew
who I was and was, it was amazing and we’ve become friends. I texted him all the time. I’m going to go see him tomorrow. The first time I went to jack, you know, shortly after that charity, he said, Come down, I’ll show you around and and he put me in his personal truck. And he said, What do you want to see? He said, whatever you want to see, I’ll show you anything. And that’s amazing. And there’s gonna be respect because Jeff’s had everything he’s awesome as to but you gotta check company like jack daniels get every resource imaginable to you whereas you kind of had no resources and made it work. So there’s got to be something that you both can learn from each other. I yes. And he’s alluded to that and is very respectful that I make a Colorado whiskey and and you know, that’s the thing. I love Kentucky bourbon, I love Tennessee whiskey. I love all kinds of scotch Irish whiskey, but I’m not looking to make a Kentucky bourbon and Colorado. My bourbon my whiskey, my rye are to be done.
Different big bold, beautiful of my brand there’s a few names but one’s rugged refined rebellious, we also hard made the Colorado way. And then another tagline is
write it like you stole it, drink it like you own it. Nice like it. So, you know that’s what I set out to do this and and it’s been amazing
i mean i think it’s it’s had a pretty warm reception right and congratulations for coming to Kentucky you know this is it’s a it’s a big step this nationals feet. Definitely, definitely. And not only that is you know, talking to you about the progression of where it is or where it was to what it is today. It’s everything comes with with growing pains too, right? Yeah, definitely. Yeah. So kind of talk about at least Did you have a specific time of growing here that you’re like, Okay, like, I wish was just me and the 60 gallons.
So, the one thing about being a photographer
Consistently you have to build teams of people especially doing fashion. So hair makeup, you know stylist, model, all that kind of stuff location that was helpful for me in in growing this and finding people that could help me grow it. So I have a team of about 13 people right now. It’s an amazing team they do phenomenal work. But yeah, there were there were times and there’s still times you know, I’m bootstrapping it. So there’s tight times with money there’s tight times with barrels not being ordered. panic, you know, bottle panic, you know things like that when I first started that was something I wanted to mention earlier about a palette to get not this bottle but my original bottle which is similar this but this one came along when I could buy 30,000 or promise I’d buy 30 Yeah, promise but this one I could buy a pallet of and my mom had given me a cooler and at some point and enjoy
Grant is an ounce of gold. And thank you for explaining that because I was about to say I have no idea what you’re talking Yeah, it’s a South African coin. And so I was making whiskey in that 300 gallon I needed a bottle they were they give me a better price if I bought a pallet or or to buy the bottle I had to buy a pallet and gold was up expensive than and I literally took that Cougar and cashed it in and bought a pallet of bottles
and was able to put them in that 300 square foot space I built I built shelves and made it where you know they weren’t really in the way and it was kind of crazy but so there are growing pains. I mean you know i the most nervous I’ve been that I can remember is working on this move for this. You know 20,000 square feet. It’s It’s big. We We won’t renovate it and build it out beautiful with for production line facility.
We’re going to move in with what we have now and grow it like I did from the 300 to the 7500 square foot that worked really well. But we have a our model is a ramp. I mean, it’s a it’s a steep curve. And so we have a lot to get done in the next four years with making whiskey and, you know, there there are growing pains. It is not easy. There hasn’t been a day where I was like, Oh my god, I’m not going to the distillery I give up. I’m done from day one to now. There’s never that’s never crossed my mind. Yeah, that’s awesome. At least that means you’re loving it. Yeah, I guess it. You don’t have to think of the Olsen twins and they still need me. Right?
Yeah, that’s a funny thing. I broke out a box of Polaroids. So, back in the day before digital, you were doing light test and stuff you used a Polaroid back on the camera. So you would take the picture of strobes go off and you pull the Polaroid Wait a minute, and then
like pushing that button every 40 and you peel it and you’d look at light so I have I kept most of those Polaroids I’ve got boxes of them and I opened one up the other day and there’s some just really beautiful pictures in it showed it to a friend and they were like oh my god you got to start shooting again I’m like I don’t know that that’s happening but I did reach out to a hairdresser friend and a couple of them at the time with the Polaroids and posted on Instagram with it and hadn’t talked to them in years 10 years and they’re like what’s up and it was really great makes me want to maybe try one day and who knows but not union at the distillery was like oh here’s a great you know all your photography client car I got a photography clients and you know, bring them to your distillery like wonder now party this party There we go. But these you can get bottle shots done on the cheap, right you can do those. That’s the funny thing. I don’t shoot my bottle. Really you don’t don’t okay jars while you’re here.
I shoot on with the iPhone for like in situation but to set them up and shoot them. I mean I can do it no problem but I’m a little too close to the product and also it’s a different frame of mind and to get in that frame of mind it would take me a few days or week I’m working with the bottles and stuff to get the light and and it’s just easier to for me to pick somebody and go I like his pictures and I can direct what I want from there and so that Yeah, I you know you coming from a photography background and you know, we’re all kind of like doing a lot of stuff with whiskey and and I remember I talked to somebody about doing bottle photography and I’m like you charge what like to take a picture of bottle i mean it’s it’s something that I had no idea that even existed before then so it’s a it’s it’s a really cool that you kind of have you can blend a lot of these worlds together and you know how to direct and stuff like that because I’d be like, I don’t know a river in the background like you tell me what looks cool.
Yeah, and I have a business partner in New York. Or we were in a retouching company, Russ gun lack. And he, he still retouches. He’s an amazing retoucher. And so I sent him stuff all the time. I mean, funny things, but I send him bottle shots and, and I can direct him and I can I can take a bottle, you know, if it was shot in the same light and have him put it like five bottles in one picture very easily and stuff like that. So I understand how to do that. So that’s where I, you know, I can direct it and get it done on the cheap. I mean, everybody else that would cost them a ton of money.
But But I did, we were at a tasting and there was an airplane behind me and had a callsign number on the side of it. It’s old, you know, World War Two type plane with that block number. And I took a iPhone picture of it and send it to Russ text it to him and said can you change that to 291
Literally 30 minutes later it came back to me on my phone and it was perfect. I’m like Yep, there you go awesome and posted it and people like out to 91 and I also did it this summer on a bowl. The brand on a bull somebody It was like 301 and I asked him to do 299 on it and they’re like, I didn’t see that bowl with that brand.
It’s really funny. That’s good to know people I guess. So I guess kind of last question before we start wrapping this up is you know, you’ve you said 95% in Colorado, you’re growing to Kentucky I’m sure that you’ve got plans to even go beyond their kind of talk about you know, one last thing that you want to kind of leave listeners with as they are looking at another or walk in the store. They see your bottle and then maybe they hear this like what’s one thing you want to leave them with? I want them to enjoy my whiskey. There’s the funny thing I I drink my whiskey neat. It’s rare. I drink it on the rocks, but I I also in the summer, or when I feel like it I drink my bourbon with
Mountain Dew. I drink my ride with lemonade and my only person I know it does as my dad. It makes it it’s amazing drink and it’s a nice drink summer drink. Yeah, and I want to drink bourbon. I also drink. I don’t drink vodka Bloody Marys. I drink rye Bloody Marys. And those are phenomenal. But I want somebody to try my whiskey. I wanted to take them back to Western days and enjoy it and it it’s an unapologetic whiskey. It’s it’s a big bold whiskey, and
I’m really proud of it. The other thing that we didn’t talk about is the cage that’s on there. So when I was young, there was a the cork and cage cage holds the cork and when I was young, I’d watch TBS in the morning and saturday morning cartoons and then if it rained, the later it got old movies Come on. And there was an old movie where they were transporting nitroglycerin in a wagon, and they had wired all the bottles in
So it wouldn’t bounce. And when I started making high proof whiskey, I’m like, we got to wire the cork on. And so that’s where that cage comes from. Gotcha. Gotcha. Now we know there’s a story to everything. Really. There is my watch. Yeah. My watch is my dad’s watch. And every time I shake it down, it reminds me of home. Yeah, go. Cool. Very cool. Well, Michael, thank you again for coming over here coming on the show. And of course, sharing your whiskey with us. I think it’s an incredible story of what you’ve built and the team that’s building this and you know, the direction it’s going as well. I think everybody’s pretty excited for really the future of what this is going to entail for you. Thank you. Same here, Kenny and Ryan. very appreciated to be on the show. And yeah, that’s, you know, we have experimental batch called the E. We love to experiment. I love making my whiskey. I love selling it. I love giving it away to people to try it. tastings and even people I meet give them a bottle.
Cuz they’ll share it. And I love that. So I really appreciate today. Thank you guys. Absolutely Yeah, no, thank you for coming. It was a true inspiration. I mean, most companies we have on air even if they’re new they go out and get big time investments or you know, get a lot of cash flow to back them up and like to hear somebody just go source parts from Craigslist, not kidding. But, uh, just, you know, just wanting to do something and find a way to like, make it happen is like, It’s so inspiring to me. I think it’s a very cool story and I’m excited for the brand. It’s, gosh, the rise awesome. I love the really good things like thanks so much. But uh, yeah, it’s, um, it was a pleasure talking to you and hearing all your stories, for sure. I’d be a part of it. Absolutely. And so make sure you follow distiller to 91 on all the social medias. give a shout out as well as your address where people can go and visit 1647 South 200 Street, Colorado Springs, Colorado. And our website is 291 Colorado whiskey calm or distillery to 91 dot com.
calm. There we go. So she follow them. Follow us, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. If you like the show, want to support the show, help us on patreon. com if you like it and you don’t want to help support on Patreon, write a review. We love reviews. We like hearing from everybody else as well. So Ryan, go and close it out for us. Yeah, thanks, everyone for listening. Thanks, Mike for coming. appreciate all the whiskey and all the fun stories. But yeah, if you have any show suggestions, feedback, we love hearing from our listeners, because this is who we do it for. And we want to bring you content that you actually want to hear. And so yeah, hit us up and let us know what you want here and we’ll see you next time. Cheers.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
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