By Elizabeth Charney | Photo by Chris Miller, courtesy Hatch Distilling Co
Craft distillers throughout the U.S. are using honey to create unique spirits with new aromatic and flavor notes. One of these hidden gems, Hatch Distilling Co. in Egg Harbor, started their business four years ago with an aim of going back to the basics with beekeeping and other locally-grown ingredients.
Their edited, but encompassing, list of liquors — from vodka and gin to apple brandy and limoncello — offer a unique tasting experience. The Straight Bourbon Whiskey is smooth with hints of chocolate and caramel notes, making it great to sip on. The Gin — newly-awarded by the National Honey Producers Association — has brighter notes of floral and citrus. For those that crave the clash of sweet and sour, the Limoncello combines lemon citrus with the natural sweetness of honey.
Chris Roedl, co-owner of Hatch, opened the distillery on the main drag of Egg Harbor in 2018 as a way to combine his two passions: agriculture and libations. Roedl grew up around large-scale agricultural work at his family’s business, and in 2012, he decided to revive his agricultural past by using his free time to raise bees. This eventually turned him into a “beek” — or a beekeeping geek — as his interests grew.
“I had to do something with the animal husbandry piece of my brain, so I got into beekeeping, and that hobby was super approachable. I started with a few books and a couple of items and that hobby just grew out of control,” Roedl says.
The natural sugar in honey makes it a great distillate. It creates a smoother tasting experience, thus how Roedl has been able to convert gin- or vodka-haters into lovers with Hatch’s honey-distilled liquors.
Today Roedl manages anywhere from 50-100 hives year-round at different locations in Door County. They also get some extra help with honey from beekeepers in Stevens Point to keep up with production. During the peak months of June through August, they can harvest anywhere between 20 to 100 pounds of honey per hive, which carries the distillery through the entire year.
Roedl also works with Hyline Orchard for blends of apples such as Honeycrisp, Cortland, Macintosh and Golden Russet for their Apple Brandy to make a 100% Egg Harbor-produced product. Other local partners include a dairy farm up the road that grows their grains for bourbon. Operating with a hyperlocal mindset helps Roedl accomplish one of his other goals: maintaining a low carbon footprint.
Their gin is another example of utilizing local resources to keep their environmental impact small. Hatch’s New American style gin takes on smoother notes of floral and citrus by using foraged common juniper berry and white spruce tips.
“What’s been really cool is all these craft distilleries across America are really challenging the definition of gin,” says Roedl, comparing the New American style to the harsher, London dry gin many of us are accustomed to. New American style features less of that strong juniper taste and utilizes other botanicals, allowing distillers to experiment with flavor profiles.
Caleb Despins, distiller at Hatch, says achieving their gin’s distinct taste is all about the timing. “If you harvest [juniper] at just the right time [during the fall], they’re perfect, like really well dried. We will get anywhere from three to five gallons.”
“Overall, it really is a way to connect to local agriculture,” Roedl says. “And just like what craft beer was 10 years ago, 20 years ago, distilling is going into that route. There’s always going to be a new local option popping up across the landscape in every town. It’s really exciting.”