Technology and innovation drive launch of Two Trees Distilling Co.
A palpable buzz is emanating from the laboratory-like setting in the 23,000-square-foot Fletcher facility where Chad Slagle is proofing his latest batch of craft spirits on Sept. 10, less than 24 hours before a tractor-trailer, carrying the equivalent of nearly 50 barrels of whiskey, is set to depart for Texas.
“It’s a monumental day for us,” said the Black Mountain native who, along with his longtime friend Keith Mort, developed a technology that drastically reduces the aging process of whiskey. “We’ll have our own products with our own labels going out on the market. We’ve come a long way in a short time.”
The journey to the launch of Two Trees Distilling Co. began in 2016, when Slagle and Mort appeared on the Discovery Channel docudrama “Moonshiners.” The duo introduced a device that mimics the migration of wood through alcohol in the aptly titled episode “Whiskey Time Machine.”
The invention can convert white corn mash to brown whiskey, a process that traditionally involves the liquid sitting in aged barrels for at least a year, in a fraction of the time.
“We make the equivalent of five barrels a day,” Slagle said. “We bring it in clear, and in a little over two and a half hours it comes out brown.”
Tim Smith, a central figure on the show since its 2011 debut, incorporated the process into his Climax line of spirits, which Mort and Slagle began producing at Asheville Distilling Co. (also known as Troy & Sons) in August of 2016. By February of 2018, the duo was joined by a team of investors with a shared vision of launching a new brand.
“So we found a building out here in Fletcher and I decided to take on the job of doing the deal for the place, managing all of the contractors and creating all of the recipes,” Slagle said. “It’s been crazy. We moved in a year ago last week and started developing our own line of spirits.”
The unique method of creating whiskey has allowed Slagle to craft recipes at a rapid rate.
“A lot of people wonder if the fact that we’re non-traditional scares people,” he said. “Really it allows people to understand the process a little better. Also, we can be really precise in creating the products. If we have someone who is interested in something that is a little less sweet, or something that is aged a little longer, we can do that. The traditional way would involve putting it back into a barrel for another year and letting it age through that process.”
While the distillery doesn’t produce its own mash, Two Trees earns its “craft spirits” billing through its precise methods of creating flavor profiles, according to Slagle.
“We toast and char every bit of the wood here,” he said. “We don’t have someone making the barrels, we do it all in-house. That’s how we keep control over our recipes and it allows me to fine-tune and build new recipes.”
Slagle has developed 24 products for Two Trees, which also produces five Climax recipes.
“We’re the first distillery of this kind to put out this many (products) in this period of time,” Slagle said.
Slagle is joined at the distillery by partner and Chief Financial Officer John Anderson, who came over from Asheville Distilling Co. with production manager Joe Ford.
“I’ve been making moonshine for the past 13 years. I took over as the master distiller at Asheville Distilling in 2015, and I was excited about the opportunity to come help start this,” Ford said. “I’ve always had a pretty old-school approach to everything; even in Asheville we had a high-tech still, but it was all bringing in raw grains, making the alcohol there and barreling it. Once it was barreled it was two to three years before we could use it.”
He now sees Slagle’s creations come to life the same day. The innovation attracted Ford to Two Trees.
“I’ve always been a student of the business and I’ve had the chance to study under some of the greats, like Dan Pickerell, former master distiller for Maker’s Mark,” he said. “One of the things he used to stress was that I should learn something new in this business every day. It’s been challenging at times for sure, but seeing that we’re doing something that nobody else is doing makes it special.”
Included in the roster of spirits is a signature wood-crafted bourbon whiskey and a wide variety of offerings.
“A recent trend in the industry has been flavored products,” Slagle said. “We have flavored products like Carolina Peach, Candy Apple, Crisp Apple, Salted Caramel, Cinnamon Spice and our Batch 314, which is named after March 14, 2016. That’s the day I created the first full-scale batch which led us to realize that this would actually work.”
The company is also introducing a line that borrows names from Appalachian folklore, with products like Snarly Yow High Rye Bourbon Whiskey, Wampus Cat Single Malt Whiskey, Old Fyre Dragamn Rye Whiskey and Owl Head Bourbon Whiskey. The brand’s selection also contains ready-to-drink “Manhattan style” and “Old Fashioned style” wood-crafted bourbon whiskeys.
The distellary’s first order is bound for Dallas, where it will be sold in wine, beer and liquor retailer Goody Goody.
“Texas is 10 percent of the U.S. spirits market, so that’s a big place for us to get into,” Slagle said. “Then we have future shipments to Savannah, then Michigan and N.C. has already approved three of our products. We will also be shipping to Maryland and S.C. and we’re trying to get into the bigger markets on the West Coast. We also sell a lot of stuff overseas.”
An on-site tasting room, featuring a large window with a view of the operation, a menu of cocktails using Two Trees spirits and merchandise, is set to open in October.
“Everything’s moving quickly now,” Slagle said. “We have orders going out as fast as we can make them.”
On the eve of its inaugural shipment, Two Trees is poised to become a well-known name in the craft spirits market, according to Slagle.
“At our current trajectory we’re on track to become the largest craft distillery in the southeast in a short period of time, with the number of products and sheer variety of products. We have whiskeys and bourbons to bulk spirits, to smoke chips and to every ancillary item you can think of,” he said. “We’re on our way to becoming a one-stop shop and having this technology behind us allows us to never stop learning and never stop creating. We started out thinking we could keep up and match the trends, but now we’re thinking we can help set them.”