Wood Hat Spirits Distillery Visit & Tour

Wood Hat Spirits in New Florence, Missouri, is quite the unique distillery. From using a scrap wood fire to heat their still and mash, to growing and breeding their own heritage corns, to using barrels seasoned for 3 or more years...the list seems almost endless. We had the opportunity to visit and spend some time with owner/distiller Gary Hinegardner. Read on to learn more!

Wood Hat Spirits
Distillery & Gift Shop
489 Booneslick Rd
New Florence, MO 63363
(573)-835-1000
(573) 216-3572
woodhatspirits.com
Tour & Visit

Wood Hat Spirits is a unique distillery in New Florence, Missouri. Breed their own corn? Yes! Use a wood fire to heat the still? Yes! Grow their own corn? Yes! Read on to learn more!

Welcome To The World Of Corn

A visit to Wood Hat Spirits is a trip into the world of corn. Or more appropriately, an immersion into the world of corn. Of course, all bourbon distilleries use corn, since bourbon must be made from a mash of at least 51% corn. However, Gary at Wood Hat Spirits takes things further; a LOT further.

Meet Gary Hinegardner Owner & Distiller at Wood Hat Spirits Distillery

Gary Hinegardner is the owner and distiller at Wood Hat Spirits. He is also an expert on corn. Gary has a masters in Agronomy (the science of soil management and crop production), and worked for years as a county extension agent advising farmers on how to grow crops. He has used that knowledge to not only grow his own corn, but also to breed his own corn. The goal being to create a corn with the most flavor, while also being hearty and able to thrive in challenging circumstances, such as drought.

Gary Hinegardner the owner and distiller at Wood Hat Spirits Distillery chats with Mrs Bourbon Obsessed in the corn room
Gary Hinegardner the owner and distiller at Wood Hat Spirits Distillery chats with Mrs Bourbon Obsessed in the corn room
Let’s Go Learn About Corn

So, it was quite appropriate that, after meeting Gary and chatting for a while in the Wood Hat Spirits gift shop and sampling area, that our next stop would be to learn about the different heritage (aka heirloom) corns with which he is currently working. In his office next door, Gary shared his research. We viewed his exhibit, which included numerous jars filled with “white dog”, each distilled from a variety of different heirloom corns and heirloom corn hybrids. The jars were accompanied by a sizable chart which noted the chemical analyses of each, highlighting the concentrations of the various flavor components found in each sample. The corns differ tremendously in their composition. Gary gave us the opportunity to try a few of the white dogs, and subjectively their flavor profiles were quite different as well.

On To The Distillery

After getting a literal taste of what Gary is doing with corn, it was then on to the distillery. The distillery consists of a Vendome still with a column that has 6 bubble cap plates, and a dephlegmator. The cooker does double duty, first as the mash tun, then as a heater, preparing the distillers’ beer for the still. Wood Hat Spirits runs two 1000 gallon batches per week. According to Gary, Wood Hat Spirits is the “greenest distillery in the United States”, and he went on to explain why.

Wood Hat Spirits is a “Green” Distillery

Wood Hat Spirits uses no glycol chiller or refrigeration in their distilling process. The heat for both the cooker and the still is provided by circulating hot oil which is heated by burning scrap wood from the local cooperage. Cooling for the mash takes place utilizing large outdoor tanks. However, the distillate is cooled differently. Gary has 5 different methods of cooling water for the still’s condenser including water tanks at ambient temperature, an outdoor radiator, outdoor water tanks, geothermal cooling and, as a last resort, using city water. Water, oil and other materials are moved around using 1hp or smaller pumps.

As for the materials created by the distilling process itself, Gary pointed out the following procedures. The “heads” are used as starter fluid to get the outdoor wood fire burning. The stillage is used as cattle feed. He further explained that they know when to stop taking the “tails” is when the mash will no longer get cows drunk. The tails are redistilled either in the next batch, or collectively they are put to use in making the spirit base for their cordials.

Wood Hat Spirits Makes Cordials, Too

Yes, cordials. Gary initially started making them to cater to the non-bourbon drinkers who are along for the ride with their bourbon drinking friends or relatives. He makes his cordials using Missouri produce that is otherwise underutilized. That includes blackberries, raspberries, persimmons and black walnuts. The black walnuts are used to make Wood Hat Spirits’ Black Walnut Liqueur, which is their take on a Nocino.

Barrel Aging Is A Bit Different At Wood Hat Spirits

Not unsurprisingly, Gary’s barrel aging methods are unlike most other distilleries, as well. In addition to his experiences in agronomy and as a county extension agent, Gary also has extensive experience in cooperage. He worked for Independent Stave for 16 years, where he was mainly involved with dealing with their scrap wood. While he was there, he noticed that when the wood was on racks seasoning, that the weeds underneath it would die during the first two years. The seasoning process gets rid of some of the undesirable compounds in wood and allows the desirable ones to form and mature. Gary reasoned that if the compounds that killed weeds took two years to leave the wood, then he would wait at least an additional year before he would age his whiskey in it.

Wood For Barrels Is Seasoned For At Least 3 Years

So, Gary’s wood is seasoned a minimum of 3 years before being used for his barrels. We even saw some barrels aging where the wood had seasoned for 6 years! Gary also ages a fair amount of his whiskey in 15 gallon barrels. Right now he has about six hundred 15 gallon barrels and one hundred 53 gallon barrels aging. The smaller barrels combined with the long seasoning time allow him to have a whiskey with a more mature flavor profile at a younger age. His use of Chinkapin (Chinquapin) oak for many of his barrels also contributes quite a bit to the whiskey’s final flavors. Then, of course, there is the major part that the heritage corn plays. 

Let’s Taste It!

We had learned about so many unique practices that Wood Hat Spirits employs that I was quite ready to taste the finished products! As I am sure you would have guessed from the discussion on corn experimentation, Wood Hat has quite the line up of spirits, and they were all very good. The different corns really do make quite a difference in the final product.

Wood Hat Spirits Whiskeys
Wood Hat Spirits Whiskeys

We had many whiskeys from which to choose, as well as a few cordials. The options included:

  • Blue Corn Unaged Whiskey 80 proof
  • Aged Blue Corn Whiskey 80 proof
  • All American Whiskey with Red, White & Blue Corn 80 proof
  • Montgomery County Bourbon Whiskey 100 Proof
  • Bloody Dapper Missouri Bourbon Whiskey 100 Proof
  • Bourbon Rubenesque Bourbon Whiskey 100 Proof
  • Cask Strength Bloody Butcher Red Corn Whiskey 126.6 Proof
  • Persimmon Cordial 40 Proof
  • Tawny Berry Cordial 40 Proof
  • Black Walnut Liquor 55 Proof
A Visit Like No Other

We really enjoyed our time with Gary at Wood Hat Spirits Distillery! What a unique place, and what delicious whiskey! While Wood Hat may be a small scale distillery, Gary and his team are crafting top notch spirits. If you’re ever in the greater western St. Louis area, I highly recommend paying them a visit. You’ll never know what you didn’t even know you didn’t know about corn, unless you do! Cheers!?

We hope you have enjoyed learning about Wood Hat Spirits! If you would like to read more about one of their whiskeys, check out our Wood Hat Bloody Dapper Bourbon Review!

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