The Art of Spirit Distilling
There's More to John Couchot's Spruce Gin Than You Think
by Shawnell Johnson '07
What do you get when you distill a hand-peeled cucumber with grains of paradise, free-range coastal water, ginger and a smattering of other worldly spices?
An herbal concoction with healing properties? Actually, this is the recipe for the award-winning Spruce Gin, created by Rogue's House of Spirits master distiller, John Couchout (Knight) '96.
Photo © Rogue Ales
Couchot graduated from Evergreen with a BS in chemistry and began a career in the pharmaceutical industry making medicine by purifying raw materials sent from natural products in South America. He went on to work for a winery and eventually secured his position at Rogue's House of Spirits in Newport, Oregon.
Rogue is recognized for its audacious marketing, distinct ales and a cult-like following called the "Rogue Nation." As creative as the company they love, these fans ferment oak-aged beer in the barrels that whiskey and pink gin are kept in and convert all of their waste oil into biodiesel.
Rogue employees are expected to be motivated, self-directed and very focused on what they want. No wonder a Greener would thrive in such an atmosphere. For Couchot, with his passion for distilling, the Rogue culture of artistic creativity and freedom is perfect. He explains how his hands-on approach differs from processes at other bigger companies.
"Usually with automated systems, a machine tells you what you're keeping and what you're throwing away," Couchot says. “We do it by the way it smells and tastes and feels.
"Right now, I'm doing what we call a heads cut; I'm getting rid of the methanone and acetone that naturally occurs during fermentation. I can smell the sweetness. Once that sweetness from the acetone goes away, I know I'm going into my good part. The human element in our product is [present] all the time."
Couchot is busy with an array of projects at the moment. The release of Rogue's Dead Guy Whiskey is particularly exciting, since he is the one who envisioned the popular brand of beer translating into a whiskey.
“The minute I tasted the beer I went 'ooh, wow,'” he explains. “Now concentrate that maltiness, that richness of the beer, and add that caramel and vanilla from the barrel and the spiciness from the oak—it's going to be such a nice palate."
Obviously, for Couchot, distilling is inspired alchemy.