Blood x Sweat x Tears is not your typical craft distillery.
For starters, head distiller Ben Green has only been distilling for three years. And he’s self-taught.
Blood x Sweat x Tears hails from Oregon. When you think of craft distillers from The Beaver State, you likely picture a hipstery locale in the modern beer-and-spirits mecca of Portland. But Blood x Sweat x Tears is from Eugene, 110 miles south, operating within a converted ex-laundromat.
Blood x Sweat x Tears can make around 1,500 liters of vodka per batch, which takes the producer about a month. Roughly that equates to only 2,000 bottles per batch.
And yet, despite what would seem like difficulties for taking on a large scale, Blood x Sweat x Tears is already in 12 states, with an eye towards reaching 25 by the end of the year.
“It’s craft at a national level,” explains Umberto Luchini, proprietor of Wolf Spirits LLC, which is behind the brand. “By reality, this is a craft brand, because everything is done pretty much here at the distillery. Guys are working six days a week. The only automated feature is the bottling, which we outsource.”
Otherwise, this is like a local craft distiller, using Pacific Northwest ingredients where possible, but with a national outlook.
Which owes to Luchini. Formerly VP of Marketing for the Campari Group, he helped lead some of the most successful drinks brands in recent times — including Espolon tequila. (On bottles of Blood x Sweat x Tears is a nod to Luchini’s iconic branding work with Espolon. Hint: look for a skeleton.)
Luchini became involved after an old colleague reached out with news of a successful potato farmer looking to start a distillery. Luchini decided to leave Campari for the new challenge.
The team picked Eugene over the more-traditional Portland because, in 2017, hardly anybody was making spirits in Eugene. “Now three distilleries have opened up around us,” says Luchini.
The distiller Green, by Luchini’s admission, comes from a troubled background. Green is a high-school friend of the potato farmer, who wanted to see his old pal straightened out. So Green got the go-ahead, and the backing, to pursue his distilling interests. Ten batches later (including a potato vodka that was cost prohibitive) he landed on a wheat vodka that everyone liked.
“We wanted a vodka with character,” says Luchini. “Vodka is no longer about being nine-times distilled. Consumers are gravitating towards flavor.”
The wheat is sourced from Hamilton Ranch, which is located on Rattlesnake Ridge Mountain in the state of Washington.
“We moved to a wheat because it’s smoother,” Luchini adds. “And it really lets us play around with flavor and character. The reality is that every batch is not the same.”
Like so many craft producers today, visitors at Blood x Sweat x Tears can meet the distillery pet. Mr. Pickles is a rescued pit bull.
It’s another nuance that keep Blood x Sweat x Tears grounded as Luchini envisions the distillery as “farm-to-bottle, but on a national footprint.”
“I want to control the growth on the liquid side,” Luchini adds. “At the same time, I want to maintain Ben’s control over every batch, while maintaining our boutique status. We want to be a national brand with real craft roots.”
With Blood x Sweat x Tears and other craft brands under the Wolf Spirits umbrella, Luchini imagines the company becoming a “mini-Seagram’s of craft distilling, with four-to-five super-premium brands.”
Which might just come to represent the future of craft distilling as we know it.
Kyle Swartz is editor of Beverage Dynamics magazine. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @kswartzz or Instagram @cheers_magazine. Read his recent piece, Tasting: The Balvenie ‘Stories’ Line.