Founded in 2011.
Workhorse Rye is an agriculturally focused line of whiskey and bitters…
by bartender-turned-distiller Rob Easter in the San Francisco bay area. We use exceptionally high quality and nutrient-dense grain from independent farmers who are focused on environmental sustainability and progressive social ethics.
It all started with experimental barrels in 2011, the best of which was aged three years, and released in 2014. We selected our favorite recipe out of dozens of unique mashbills and we now make that same recipe today at Sutherland Distilling Co in Livermore, CA.
We figure, we make spirit—not barrels. So let’s show off the spirit first and foremost instead of adding extra caramelized oak (sugar) and other carbon or oak related flavors, so we use used casks primarily. We work with die-hard farmers (who do not sell their grains in a catalogue, they must be found directly) who never spray chemicals and are focused on biological diversity. Our farmers either do not irrigate at all or use small amounts of lake run-off; these varietals of rye, barley, and wheat are experimental varietals developed for high nutrient density and the ability to flourish during the harsh changing of the climate we see everywhere today.
Most whiskey production is not sustainable in any way from the ingredients to the glass bottles to the ideas used to sell the bottles; we exist to educate about these very dire sustainability matters and to elevate the category as a whole both by bright clean flavor but also by perspective. We don’t have a marketing budget, and we do not hire people to use their bodies, as is the norm in alcohol marketing and sales.
In 2011 Rob began experimenting with mash bills and aging techniques which led to the first barrel to become the standard recipe all these years later: 70% rye, 20% malted barley, 10% malted wheat. As it turns out, almost every distillery in the US is making the same booze. Whether they are literally purchasing already produced/aged spirits then audaciously putting their name on it, or just buying feed-grade pesticide-ridden corn to distill and put it in a small (higher ratio of wood to spirit) new charred oak barrel—there is very little actual innovation going on even today while hundreds of new “craft” distilleries open every year.
We think craft spirits start with critical thinking, genuine raw ingredients, diligent repetition of work, and end in tangibly distinct flavors that inspire the individual while consuming slowly.
That first barrel was aged three years in a used French oak cask that first aged a naturally fermented Carignan wine made in San Francisco. Who would have guessed that no one had aged a rye whiskey solely in a used wine barrel? Once this barrel was released in 2014 to warm reception, the proof of concept was shown by the speedy disappearance of bottles. So we made more, albeit never enough. Cocktail bitters are now made from the same recipe of whiskey as an extract of quality and delicious botanicals for cocktail and soda enjoyment.