Baker of Wilderness Trail Distillery guest speaker at Rotary

Published 8:45 am Wednesday, April 5, 2017

By DAVE FAIRCHILD

Rotary Club of Danville

On March 25, Rotary hosted Shane Baker, CEO and Co-founder of both Ferm Solutions and Wilderness Trail Distillery as their luncheon speaker.  

Baker has many notable achievements: Master Distiller, mechanical engineer, Kentucky Colonel and adjunct professor.  Both Baker and partner/co-founder Dr. Pat Heist are fermentation experts with over 20 years’ experience in the production of alcohol.

Heist’s Ph.D. is in plant pathology and he serves as chief scientific officer for both Ferm Solutions and Wilderness Trail Distillery.  The two firms take a high technology approach in a tradition steeped industry.

The partnership started in the mid-1990s, when the two were members of a rock band.  Baker said they both had a “passion for alcohol — but in the history and heritage sense.  

“It’s in my blood,” Baker said. “My grandmother spent 45 years working in distilleries in the Louisville area, as did my dad and uncle, so I’m a third-generation distiller.  After the band business failed, and we got tired of being in the corporate world. Both Patrick and I wanted to stay together, so we decided to explore the possibility of starting a distillery.  We quickly learned that the bourbon business is capital intensive and we were not!  So we developed strategy that might evolve into the distillery business.”  

“We are both inclined to be innovative, and we knew how to leverage technology, so we decided to start a consulting business — which is not capital intensive and starts paying back right away. We figured that an industry steeped in tradition was probably open to some production process and yield improvements.  We also kept our focus as broad as possible, including beer and wine production, and distilled ethyl alcohol that is produced and sold for other than beverage purposes.”

Ferm Solutions, founded in 2006, is a leading research, product development, engineering and technical service provider to the ethanol and distilled spirits industries with over 100 current clients.  The company specializes in all aspects of process optimization and supplies products and technical services that ensure maximum production yield.  Ferm Solutions offers a wide array of lab services focused around the fermentation process.  Its services include microbiological testing aimed at yeast health or microbial contamination and analytical services to determine success in fermentation. 

Ferm Solutions also offers a full range of consulting services,  project-based services for distillery start-ups, mash bill calculations and yeast strain selection, and process optimization.

Wilderness Trail Distillery, founded in 2013, is the oldest legal distillery in Danville.  It is a premium craft distillery that produces 100 percent bourbon, rye whiskey, vodka and unique rum from Kentucky sorghum molasses utilizing the latest advances in equipment and processes.  The company specializes in making spirits from local ingredients through a strong application of the science behind making spirits.  The foundation of its approach to producing premium spirits comes from extracting the best practices of over 150 distilleries around the world for which Ferm Solutions has consulted.

Wilderness Trail Distillery’s products focus solely on a unique sweet mash process that produces consistent great tasting award winning spirits.  It starts by sourcing corn and wheat grain’s from the Caverndale Farm (less than three miles from the distillery).  The grains are grown by third generation farmers on some of the original land settlements in the local area.  Those grains are bought to the distillery weekly so we can grind the freshest grains with our hammer-mill. It does source barley malt from Malteurop because it’s the best quality, and grinds it to the company’s specification at the distillery.

Sweet mash starts off with a pure clean mash and ends up with a pure tasting spirit verses residue congeners from the previous batch.  This is done to assure the true flavor of the grains isn’t masked and to create a consistently smooth taste.  Sweet mash produces a softer spirit that highlights more of the grain flavors, and requires less remediation aging than sour mash processes.

The company’s Blue Heron vodka and Harvest rum have reached the aging requirements, and they have already won numerous national and international awards, including some for the bourbon.

2014 Awards

American Distillery Institute Craft Spirits — Best of Category award

American Distillery Institute Craft Spirits — Gold Medal

Spirits of America – Bronze Medal

San Francisco World Spirits Competition —  Silver Medal

2015 Awards

American Distillery Institute — Silver Medal

San Francisco World Spirits —  Silver Medal

2016 Awards

American Distillery Institute — Silver Medal

New York International Spirits Competition — Bronze