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Tattersall Distilling’s Fermentation Guru Bentley Gillman

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19/01/2022 Forager, Distiller, and Fermentation Guru, Bentley Gillman talks about his ingredients, fermentations, new grains, and positive energy at Tattersall Distilling.

Tattersall Distilling is an award-winning, all-natural distillery and cocktail room based in the Twin Cities. The distillery is housed in the historic Thorp Building – a warehouse that was once a top-secret manufacturing location for the Norden bombsight in World War II.

The distillery is committed to sustainability and intent on reducing its carbon footprint by implementing a comprehensive organic program and using local ingredients. They source their grains from a 6th generation farmer just 50 miles from the distillery. The spent grains are used to feed cattle and hogs on a farm in the same town. Organic apples, Minnesota honey, and maple syrup make it into the distillery alongside foraged ingredients from distillery manager Bentley Gillman. We caught up with him to talk about plants, fermentations, new grains, and positive energy.

As a fellow forager, I always find it intriguing to see what wild ingredients land up in the distillation process. So how has being a forager influenced you and Tattersall?

I have been drawn to wild places from an early age, and I'm fascinated by plants. There is a listening involved in foraging, as I am sure you have felt in your time out in nature. The plants speak and draw you in, and if you study them for a time, they tell you their importance and how to use them. I've been listening to plants for what seems like my whole life. My work at Tattersall is genuinely grounded in vegetation, from the grains that make the base spirits to the fruits and botanicals we use. Listening tells you which ones will merge well with others.

Working knowledge of herbalism also aided me because I'd developed relationships with many plants we use every day. Some concrete examples of foraging that impact at Tattersall are all the spruce tips in our house tonic that are foraged by me each spring and flash frozen. Early on, I made a Nocino from foraged black walnuts(some bottles are still floating around).

Tell me about some of the crazy fermentation experiments you've tried along the way.

In the realm of alcoholic ferments, I have fermented fruit I can get my hands on. One of my early favorites long before ever distilling was tepaché, a traditional pineapple ferment from Mexico. In the realm of distillation, I have distilled banana fermented with jiuqu rice yeast balls, distilled tepaché, wild rice fermented with buckwheat into rice wine.

I am constantly looking for things to ferment and distill. In non-alcohol ferments, I am working on perfecting a Minnesota olive made by fermenting unripe cherries under brine, among other things. I love the magic of fermentation and am constantly exploring its boundaries.

What separates Tattersall as a brand and makes it stand out from the crowd?

Quite simply, the intention and care that goes into everything we do. I am a firm believer that the energy that you bring to the table reverberates not only through those you work with but into what you do. Working with alcohol, which can be problematic, makes it imperative that you set your intentions in the right way. You have to be mindful and cultivate a positive atmosphere in and around what you are doing.

You've produced a range of flavored liqueurs; what was the thinking and strategy behind doing this?

In Minnesota, we can only serve what we make in in our cocktail room. So, when Tattersall started, the idea was to make everything. The bartenders behind the cocktail room bar have a strong back bar because of it and can make just about any drink at the drop of a hat.

Tattersall Distilling

"We have about 24 products right now and have a mile-long list of spirits we want to make and have started R&Ding." - Bentley Gillman

We would have even more products if it didn't overwhelm the consumer and our production schedule.

What’s in the pipeline for Tattersall?

We recently doubled our production capacity by adding another cooker, still, and fermenters. So, even more, aged spirits. Whiskeys and the like. You'll see a lot more rum out of us after our barreled rum took best in class at ACSA in the rum category. We are also releasing a ready-to-drink bottled cocktail to which you need to add soda water. It is a bootlegger cocktail (lemon, lime, mint), and it is already sweetened and acidulated, so it takes all the guesswork out.

I also want to continue to pursue new grains in the vein of the Kernza whiskey that we made. If you haven't already heard, Kernza is a perennial form of wheat that the land institute is developing, and we are one of the first distilleries to use it. It has great promise in a world with a changing climate as small grain production becomes difficult. It has a 30-foot root system rendering it effectively drought resistant, and being perennial doesn't need yearly tilling, preventing soil erosion and carbon release from the soil. So, I will keep pursuing new grains and flavors and trying to make things true to where we are and who we are.

The newest thing is that we have now opened a destination distillery in River Falls Wisconsin. We have brought grain milking on site to give us greater control of the final product. The facility is a site to behold with an outdoor amphitheater, restaurant, and event center. Our facility in Minnesota is still operational but as we reached Minnesota’s production cap we had to look elsewhere for our main production facility and are now just across the River.

Can you share one of your favorite cocktail recipes?

I love the classics; I am a total sucker for a vesper or a Negroni. I kid around that I am trying to make the fernet dirty martini a thing, but it's actually really good. 1.5 part Fernet 1 Creme de cacao .5 simple syrup .25 brine. Sweet drinks are not for me, and this may look sweet, but if the Fernet is bone dry like ours, it's really cool.

Article by Colleen Thompson, Editor + Writer + Photographer