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July 17, 2013

After four years, Valentine Distillery releases Woodward-inspired whiskey

By Joshua Gordon
C & G Staff Writer

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After four years, Valentine Distillery releases Woodward-inspired whiskey
Rifino Valentine, owner of Valentine Distillery in Ferndale, released his new product, Woodward Ltd. Whiskey, four weeks ago. The whiskey aged for four years before Valentine, known for his Valentine Vodka, released it to the public.

FERNDALE — When Rifino Valentine opened his distillery a few years ago in Ferndale, vodka was his main selling point and he quickly made the move from life in New York to a life in his home state of Michigan.

While Valentine Vodka has had great success, with about 3,000 accounts in Michigan, Illinois, Tennessee and New York, Valentine said he always had plans to expand, though he kept it close to his chest on what that meant.

Four weeks ago, Valentine released his newly crafted spirit — Woodward Ltd. Whiskey, the first whiskey in Valentine’s line of products. Valentine aged the whiskey for four years, almost since he opened up shop in Ferndale.

“Having a whiskey was intended from the beginning; I just didn’t tell anyone,” Valentine, 42, said. “That was always in the plan, as was the gin. I don’t say a lot about the things that are going to be released years down the road. I like it when it is more of a secret.

“I just like to do my products well and that is why I don’t release all these products at the same time. We spend years on getting each recipe right.”

Distilling isn’t a job for an impatient man, Valentine said. He had to come up with the recipe, decide how he was going to age it and then wait until the taste was just right.

The recipe starts out with corn, barley and rye. Valentine and his employees tested the whiskey recipe in small barrels that took less time to age to see if it was right before placing the whiskey in bigger barrels.

The big distinction, Valentine said, between his whiskey and others on the market is he soaked his oak barrels in Michigan maple syrup before starting to age the whiskey.

“We got oak barrels from Kentucky that were charred inside, but we soaked it in maple syrup first,” Valentine said. “If I didn’t tell you, you probably wouldn’t know, but once I tell you, you can taste it. It is not a maple flavor, but it rounds it out nicely.”

The aging process was the longest part, however. Valentine said his whiskey, which is closer to bourbon, had to sit for at least two years. He continually tasted his product to make sure he got the right flavor.

“At two and three years, we felt the taste wasn’t good enough,” Valentine said. “We are always sampling little bits. We waited until we thought it was going to be the best it could be.”

Matt McCann has served as Valentine’s assistant distiller for a year and was on board during the final months of the whiskey’s process. McCann isn’t a distiller by trade, but it was always something he wanted to be a part of and he liked what he saw during his first few weeks working for Valentine.

While tasting the whiskey may be a job numerous visitors to Valentine’s may enjoy, McCann said it is all about getting the taste just right.

“I have mostly been here for being part of the proper finishing of the product,” McCann said. “We had to pick a proof we liked and we went with 88 proof. We had to have the proper filtration and could only pull (the whiskey) out of the barrel when it was ready. We tasted it on a weekly basis to see where things were.

“We want the whiskey to appeal to absolute purists and guys or girls who want something that tastes good. This isn’t a company that makes a package and quickly comes up with a product to fill it. We want to make a world-class product. ”

Valentine said when he moved back to Michigan, he wanted to help rebrand Detroit and tie in all his products into the Detroit brand. The front of the Woodward Ltd. Whiskey bottle has a car grille to represent Detroit’s nickname, the Motor City, and Valentine decided to name it after one of the country’s great highways.

The whiskey is only a limited edition because of the process it takes to create it, Valentine said. And, with the way it has been received, it may run out sooner than anticipated.

“We only have so much of the product because it takes four years to age and we don’t know how long each batch is going to last us,” Valentine said. “It has been four weeks and we are selling way more than we projected.

“Around here, antique cars are people’s pride and joy, so this whiskey is kind of our pride and joy, too.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Joshua Gordon at jgordon@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1077.