Distilling at Stoutridge – from American whiskeys to frankincense-infused malt

Distilling at Stoutridge – from American whiskeys to frankincense-infused malt

At his distillery in Marlboro, New York, Stephen Osborn is weaving Ayurvedic remedies and unusual ingredients including frankincense and myrrh into his whiskeys and other spirits

News | 12 Jan 2024

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The Collins Dictionary gives three definition for the verb 'transcend': 1) to go above or beyond (a limit, expectation, etc.), as in degree or excellence; 2) to be superior to; 3) philosophy, theological, (esp. of the Deity) to exist beyond (the material world).


When Stephen Osborn, owner of Stoutridge Distillery and Winery, calls his spirits transcendent, he is positively referring to the third definition above (and most likely the other two as well). The aromas and flavours in his spirits are intended to be evocative of and transportive to other places and times.


For instance, Osborn smokes the barley for Stoutridge’s The Fragrant Coast Single Malt Whiskey with frankincense. The barley is malted in-house in just enough quantity to make a single barrel of whisky and in the process of kilning, frankincense is burned.


“One of the things I find interesting,” Osborn remarked, “is that when I take someone down into the kiln after freshly using frankincense, if they’re from the western world, they recognise it immediately… We all have this built-in feeling about frankincense.”

Stephen Osborn, who owns Stoutridge Winery and Distillery with his wife Kimberly Wagner.

Osborn said the frankincense fills in the flavour gaps in the malted barley, which he intentionally roasts at a low temperature to preserve the flavour of the malt. It ages in used rum barrels. The Fragrant Coast derives its name from the ‘Regio Aromatica’, a part of the Horn of Africa where the ancient Greeks and Romans traded for frankincense, myrrh, and spices.


“The idea is a transcendence toward Africa,” said Osborn. “And where did malted barley begin if not in Egypt 5,000 years ago? So we’re taking malt whisky back home to Africa and calling it the Fragrant Coast.”


It is one of 12 whiskies that Stoutridge Distillery produces including bourbon, rye, light whisky, American whisky, and other single malts.

Soaking the grain.

When Osborn and his wife Kimberly Wagner purchased the old winery in Marlboro, New York in 2000, the intention was to make natural wines.


“We built the winery to do natural wines. We built the distillery to do brandies made from the natural wines on the idea that the wines might fail and we would have a real good substrate for making brandy,” explained Osborn.


When the wines became popular, the couple mothballed the distillery for 11 years. They concentrated on winemaking, with organic grapes and natural fermentations, and educating the public on the different flavours achieved through this process. During this time, Osborn and Wagner asked their guest what they would want to see from the distillery and the overwhelming response was whisky.


“And what kind of whisky would I do?” said Osborn. “Well, I’m going to do a malt whisky. Why? Because I am a natural winemaker and I want to do the malting.”

Two Rye Empire whiskeys, Wagner's straight rye whisky, and Wagner's straight bourbon whiskey from Stoutridge Distillery.

That being said, Stoutridge also makes brandies, bitters, gins, and liqueurs. Osborn calls on not only frankincense, but also myrrh, mastic, and agarwood to create “flavour meditations”. He combines concepts of aromatherapy in producing nine different gins and more than a dozen liqueurs. Stoutridge also makes four kinds of absinthe, incorporating Ayurvedic remedies to stimulate different chakras: Absinthe Advaita, Absinthe Vishuddha, Absinthe Ana, and Absinthe Manipura.


“The transcendence I’m after is to allow great conversations,” said Osborn. “To do this, I believe you have to go deep into the cultural history. I’m trying to imbue beverage spirits with transcendence by using flavours with real historical importance.”

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