The Spirit of Local Innovation: A Conversation with McClintock Distillers

Written By Henry Clougherty for Scrimshaw Collective

There is a certain capitalistic inevitability to our modern paradigm of consumption. Always servile to the God of More, today’s all-in-one department stores like Wal-Mart are built on maximizing sales volume, decreasing prices, and reducing profit margins to force out competition.

Did we ever ask for the concentration of the local liquor store, hardware store, butcher, baker, pharmacy, optometrist, nursery, grocer, corner store, et al? Probably not. But we normalized it and before long it became so commonplace that no one gave it second thought and many were given no other choices, leaving most of us to shuffle in and shuffle out on autopilot and consume on loop because it’s easy. Why not buy a couch and cure a hangover in the same aisle if you can?

While there is some kind of perverse beauty in that idea, its very existence undermines the incredible work being done by impossibly driven people in small towns and big cities across the country who are creating exceptional products by the force of their own unique talents and inspired passion. With that in heart and mind, I am trying to get a grip and snap the hell out of it!  It’s time to get to our roots and ignore the watered down, homologous nonsense, find our way into the niches where creativity and originality thrive, and support local businesses who pour their heart, sweat, and blood into honing their craft.

At Scrimshaw, we drink local, at Scrimshaw we drink from McClintock Distilling.

McClintock Distilling, started by two friends, Braeden Bumpers (from here on out known as Bumpers) and Tyler Hegamyer, who sought to create local spirits, using organic grains, while revitalizing a warehouse in Frederick, Maryland; embodying local craftsmanship.

Recently, I was lucky enough to chat with Bumpers, who was able to set aside distilling for their grand opening on December 3rd, to chat with us for a little. McClintock Distilling is a company truly committed to this ethic of local quality, and Bumpers’ passion, talent, and expertise became self-evident about 30-seconds into our talk. 

Scrimshaw: Let’s get started. Can I just get an overview of McClintock – what’re you guys doing, why the name McClintock? Just explore the space a little in the early going…

Bumpers: Sure! So I’ll start with the name and then get into what we’re doing right now. McClintock is named after McClintock Young. He was a Frederick resident in the early 1800s and was very influential in turning the town into a legitimate city in Maryland. He was an inventor – had like 200 patents, he invented the pieces for the “”Velocipede” you know that goofy bike with the huge front wheel? He invented the modern day fire engine when he was 13. So, we kind of took his name to steer (ha, get it?) our company in his image – the spirit of innovation. We’re doing a lot of unconventional things in an industry that really hasn’t had any major changes in 200-300 years. We’re using state of the-art equipment, fully organic grain, and we’re experimenting with some small batch stuff that nobody has ever seen before. 

Scrimshaw: I’d love to hear more about what specifically you guys are doing that is so innovative and unconventional, and how that informs the direction of your company. Could you elaborate a little on state-of-the art equipment and what organic grain does to differentiate your product?

Bumpers: We use fully organic grain in all of our product. For all of our whiskeys, we actually mill in-house. We have a Stone Burr Mill – there’s only a handful of distilleries that use them. Rather than having a bunch of blades that chop up the grain and heat it to 130-140 degrees. It’s basically two giant granite blocks that grind up the grain. When you heat it up with an old hammer mill it kills off a lot of the enzymes and natural flavors of the grain. Whereas our process keeps it cool, so a lot of that character is preserved, and that carries over into the spirit. And for most people, you should actually be able to taste the difference. From there we are doing pretty much everything in-house for our whiskeys, so it’s grain-to-glass. For our gins we’re using a lot of unconventional ingredients in our botanical mix – it’s called Forager Gin, and it’s actually named after this time we went into the Appalachian wilderness with an old botany book and sampled a lot of native botanicals and herbs that grow wild up there, and that experience inspired our botanical mix. So, we’re using a bunch of stuff in there that has isn’t really used so much anymore. We’re trying to revive a lot of these old ingredients, and it really results in a truly unique flavor – it’s an American-style gin, but it’s really incomparable to anything else on the market right now. It has some citrus elements to it, some floral notes, but I can’t say it’s like Tanqueray or like Hendricks or like anything else.

Scrimshaw: Would I need to be a gin fancyman to be able to tell the difference, or will the average drinker be able to notice the different botanical mix?

Bumpers: Any consumer should be able to tell the difference between our products versus anything else that’s mass-produced and commonplace. We also vapor infuse the gin. Most distillers macerate or “bath tub” it – so you take neutral spirits like vodka and you throw all of the botanicals into the mix and let it steep for a few days, and then distill that and it really oversaturates the gin with a lot of the essential oils and other compounds that you don’t want in the product. We have a basket in line in our production still and we fill the basket with our botanical mix and it picks up the oils and essence of our mix as a vapor. You hear people say they hate gin because it tastes like Christmas trees? That’s a way oversaturation of the essential oils of the juniper. So we’ve eliminated a lot of that problem.

Scrimshaw: So it sounds like, when you say state of the art, that usually implies a movement towards technology, but it sounds like you guys are taking things back to basics and getting down to the essence of the product here. Is that accurate?

Bumpers: Yeah, it’s kind of two-fold, in that the basic ingredients, we’re definitely taking it back and using stuff that comes straight from the earth – but the actual process itself is state of the art.

Scrimshaw: What I want to know next is how this all came together. Give me the McClintock creation myth.

Bumpers: So, Tyler (co-founder) and I had been home brewing for a number of years. And the part about it that we loved wasn’t so much about the beer. It was taking raw materials and turning them into this complex finished product. Making something with your own hands. I guess that’s not super common with people our age – people want to make apps, tech, whatever – we really love working with our hands to create some physical thing.

Scrimshaw: I don’t even like brewing my own cup of coffee, man.

Bumpers: Exactly! So that was our goal. That we like to do – to actually make something. And spirits were something we both felt strongly about. A few years ago, Maryland legalized distilling for the first time since prohibition, so this was Tyler’s brainchild and he thought Frederick would be the perfect place for it. He convinced me to quit my job way too early, but we’ve been working on the business now for about four years and we’ve been in this building for about a year and four months. The majority of the initial time was spent doing research, and so much changed during that time, but even more time was spent getting the money together. Neither of us are super loaded, so we had to get a little creative getting financing from the bank, but once we got that we were able to get this incredible historic building in downtown Frederick. And that’s when we pivoted our business plan to include a more upscale tasting room, and being able to host events – weddings and stuff. We’ve been in construction for well over a year now – mostly done ourselves. We’re very satisfied with the way it turned out.

Scrimshaw: How do you envision the market-space for craft distilling – similar to craft beer? Where do you fit into the industry?

Bumpers: Something similar to the craft beer boom is kind of our hope. We went to a distilling conference out in Seattle, and I hate saying it – the west coast is way ahead of us in terms of craft distilling movement. Kings county where Seattle is – King’s county alone had like 88 distilleries. Portland has a bunch. And we were looking at all this and saw room for us on the east coast. The numbers we’re seeing kind of point to a similar mark as the craft beer trend – it has so far. A few years ago craft spirits represented about .5% of the market, when we first started it was a little over 2%, and now it’s 3% - which is really similar to the craft beer trajectory. It’s a little bit different in that there are a lot of customers that have been drinking Maker’s Mark or Jack Daniels for their whole lives – it’s tough to win people over. There’s such crazy brand loyalty in spirits that I don’t think you see as much of in beer. But with products and unique spirits that are truly different, your typical mega-distillery can’t matchup. So the space is out there. The problem is that all of the major labels are owned by huge conglomerates and they all work together. Everyone says “oh Jack Daniels is family owned” –it’s not. It’s owned by a giant corporation out of Italy – and almost all of these products are. I think the more transparent that becomes to people, the more will be turned off by these mega distilleries. They start looking at the craft products for what they want. Because it’s local, it’s handmade, people take a lot of care, it’s a passion-project, and it’s not just lining the pockets of some giant corporate mogul.

Scrimshaw: Yeah man, you can see, you can pop into the distillery and see who’s putting this stuff out and making it. That’s part of what draws me to the whole buy local ethic.

Bumpers: And they care about it. You know? People don’t get into the craft beverage market because they want to make a lot of money, I can tell you that. Because it is tough. It is really tough. But, people get into it because they are really passionate and they think they have a really great product, and we fit into that same boat.

Scrimshaw: I can tell just by the way you talk about this stuff that there’s an artistry to what you’re doing. It’s the same way a painter approaches a canvas – you’re trying to communicate something. What are you hoping your product line communicates to the customers? When someone sits down with your signature spirit, what do you want them to come away with?

Bumpers: Well, first and foremost, we want to make the best possible product on the market. The nice part of being at the scale we’re at is that we get to personally test every bottle that goes out – hand labeled, hand-signed it. We personally inspect every bottle to make sure it is the best possible product that we can put out there. In terms of the other aspects of our distillery that we want other people to see is the actual craft – everything we put into the spirit. We’ve also got a triple bottom line that really minimizes our wastewater, promotes our sustainability, and our distillery is totally wind-powered. (WHATTT?!?!) Also our involvement in our community – we sponsor a lot of events here in Frederick. We want people to see that and be proud of it – there’s a distillery in my hometown and its producing great product as well. But it all funnels back to the number one overall goal – to put out the best product that we possibly can for anybody.

Scrimshaw: So then what kind of product line are you launching here on December 3rd? Any super-secret small batch experiments you can divulge?

Bumpers: I can tell you the specifics of what we will have available. The three products that will be available right away will be our Epiphany Vodka – distilled from Northern Italian wheat – so it’s different than a lot of other vodkas out there that are distilled with corn or potatoes – fully organic as well. We have custom plate filters that we put it through, after we re-distill it to reduce any impurities that we can – we get down to .5 micron, so it’s literally the purest vodka you can possibly make. Then we have the Forager Gin which I talked about earlier. And we are also going to have Maryland Heritage White Whiskey, which is a rye-based white whiskey. Some people will call it moonshine or white dog – that just means unaged whiskey. Most of what’s out there right now is corn based and really syrupy and sweet to the taste – we did not want to do that. Our rye base gives it a more peppery taste, a lighter finish, and we also filter that for smoothness and drinkability. We’re aging a bourbon and a rye in-house – no names yet – because we’re not taking any shortcuts. Aging them out the old-fashioned way in 30 gallon barrels, so they won’t be ready for 2-3 years probably.

Scrimshaw: Being so local, where are you sourcing the ingredients from?

Bumpers: So, right now we were initially hoping to get our grains from local farmers. But, there isn’t enough farms or incentive for farmers to become organic certified grain farmers. So, it’s hard for us, in terms of the quantities we need – around 36 tons of corn, wheat, and rye – close to 100 tons a year. So it’s tough to find a local, organic certified supplier for that. We are in talks with a few farmers to start growing grains for us in the future so we can keep our supply chain in western Maryland.

Scrimshaw: Well, the last thing I want to end on – give me your hopes for the future. What’s the McClintock five year vision?

Bumpers: We want to be in distribution early next year. We’re going to start in Maryland, DC and Virginia. Ideally, we want to grow the brand across the US – within 5 years, we want to be on shelves in specialty spirit stores across the country.

Scrimshaw: Last word, give me a parting thought for people to come out and support local businesses.

Bumpers: Our main message is that we don’t care if you buy our specific product, but we want to see consumers buying local however they can. It doesn’t need to be our product, but supporting anyone who’s following their passion in life is immeasurably more valuable to the community, and to that person, than anything that one more tick on the Jack Daniels stock line can ever be. It just makes such a huge difference. One bottle to a craft distiller can be the difference between life and death sometimes.

Consider the care and attention Bumpers is putting into his work and product. His parting words say it all – one bottle, one shirt, one necklace, one cake – can make all the difference to these artisans. So, next time you’ve got some cash to spend, look to your local craft distillers and brewers, your hand-crafted jewelry makers, fashion designers, chefs, restauranteurs, farmer’s markets, food trucks, woodworkers, bakers, and musicians for inspiration, passion, and a way to really make a difference in your community. Embrace them. It doesn’t make you a hipster, it doesn’t make you a snob, and it doesn’t make you some bourgeois kook detached from reality. To me, it makes you an activist and someone who takes pride in your home town, appreciates the value of your own hard-earned dollar, and possesses a commitment to lasting quality over blind engorgement and planned obsolescence.

We want everyone to visit McClintock Distilling and keep an eye out for them on the shelves! Make sure to visit McClintock Distilling at the address and times below and DRINK LOCAL!

35 South Carroll Street
Frederick, Maryland
(202) 557-9914

Wednesday – Friday: 4PM – 8PM
Saturday & Sunday: 2PM – 7PM