Newtown's DIY Distillery Brain Brew Lets Drinkers Customize Their Own Bottle of Whiskey in About an Hour

Brain Brew sells for a fraction of top-shelf prices thanks to a new scientific and technology-based process called WoodCraft Finishing

click to enlarge The Brain Brew bar - Photo: Kaitlyn Handel
Photo: Kaitlyn Handel
The Brain Brew bar

Brain Brew CEO Doug Hall says he doesn’t want you to buy his line of whiskey, which is now available at The Party Source. Believe me, you’ll want to — it’s some of the best whiskey I’ve had in years and sells for a fraction of top-shelf prices thanks to a new aging process he and his team developed called WoodCraft Finishing.

Hall claims he doesn’t want you to buy what he’s made simply because he wants you to make your own blend at the Brain Brew distillery in Newtown.

Brain Brew is an intriguing service and brand that allows you to customize your own whiskey to such a refined point that you’re likely to come home with a completely unique bottle.

Make my own whiskey? I’m quite good at drinking it, but I’ve never made it myself; I’ve always left that to the experts. But Hall’s team came up with a process to blend whiskeys to your exact desired outcome.

Hall’s not only a whiskey maker and inventor, he also enables the creative genius in us all, a task that’s in line with his other venture at Eureka! Ranch (where the distillery is located), which provides research and development and innovation strategies for companies looking for a creative edge in the market.

“Life is too short to not do stuff you love. I happen to love inventing, I love teaching people and I love whiskey,” he says. “Now, to be fair, this is a hobby that got out of control. If you’d have told me I’d have a million-case bottling plant on my front lawn, I’d tell you you’ve got to be out of your mind. But we do and we’re shipping it all over the world.”

click to enlarge Brain Brew CEO Doug Hall (right) and Global Head of Operations Joe Girgash - Photo: Kaitlyn Handel
Photo: Kaitlyn Handel
Brain Brew CEO Doug Hall (right) and Global Head of Operations Joe Girgash

After a short drive to Newtown, I found myself at Brain Brew HQ, right next to Hall’s home. This rustic wooden ranch is the perfect destination for whiskey aficionados. Enter through the front door and you face a grand bar resplendent with a wall of whiskey bottles, their contents catching the light like an amber kaleidoscope. It’s a beautiful sight if you’ve got a thirst. A bust of Benjamin Franklin, Hall’s obvious hero given his 40-year career as an inventor, sits at the end of the bar, a constant reminder of how far your creativity and work ethic can take you. Turns out Franklin made his own rye whiskey, too.

Hall sat me down at the bar and began our interview with a history of whiskey’s role in America. Cincinnati was just as vital to whiskey’s national propagation as it was to beer pre-Prohibition. Don’t let anyone tell you Cincinnati is just another Midwestern city — we hold a prominent role in the nation’s economic and cultural history, especially if you like to drink. Hall worked for Scottish distillery Macallan for 20 years on the innovation side of the business and really knows the intricacies of whiskey, specifically bourbon.

Prior to barrel aging, whiskey is nothing like what we’re served at the bar. Around 70 percent of whiskey’s color, flavor and body comes from the barrel’s wood. (Sometimes that clear, unaged corn whiskey is referred to as “white dog” and it tastes a little bit like moonshine.)

“Distilling is not where the magic is, that’s controlled by computer,” Hall says. “The magic is in knowing how to make it work with the wood — that’s the key to whiskey.”

click to enlarge A selection of Brain Brew brand whiskey - Photo: Kaitlyn Handel
Photo: Kaitlyn Handel
A selection of Brain Brew brand whiskey

The new WoodCraft Finishing technique is why Brain Brew is able to offer award-winning whiskey at such a fair price. It cuts down on the aging process, producing the spirit in just 45 minutes versus the traditional four to six (or many more) years. Yes, 45 minutes.

Brain Brew sources its young bourbon, rye and grain whiskey — which has been aged in a barrel for a year or less — from a number of distillers in the region. Traditionally, this harsh, young whiskey develops its intricacies while aging in a wooden barrel. Shifting temperatures affect the process: warm weather allows the whiskey to seep more into the wood, while cold temperatures cause it to leech back out, infused with the barrel’s essence.

WoodCraft Finishing is an all-natural process that uses science to control the wood and temperature in such a way that significantly expedites that. (Think of it kind of like an Instant Pot.) Instead of finishing the whiskey in a barrel and aging it in a rickhouse, WoodCraft places the wood directly into the whiskey and then mimics the seasons with technology. Hall has developed chambers that allow the spirit to reach the desired temperatures within a 10th of a degree. In addition to oak, WoodCraft also uses cherry, maple or chestnut — really any wood — according to the website, to expand its range of flavor and complexity.

“WoodCraft changes the time continuum. It gives you a finish and a flavor; it doesn’t make it older, it just develops flavor and smoothness. It goes from harsh to smooth,” Hall says.

When you go to create your own whiskey, six samples of Brain Brew’s different whiskey varieties will be laid out in front of you. Their flavors run the gamut in terms of smoothness and flavor: sweet, smoky, spicy, lots of notes to consider, but well explained. Even though I was given a lot of information, it was never overwhelming.

Brain Brew has also made a program on a touch-screen tablet that asks you simple questions about your whiskey preferences. I was asked questions like if I like sweet or spicy more, if I like a quick finish or a lingering taste. Do I like my whiskey neat, on the rocks or in a cocktail? After a few short minutes it determined what my ideal whiskey would be based on the data it gathered.

Hall then mixes a glass of whiskey using the proper ratios with a small ladle he invented. You can order a bottle of your custom whiskey for $45, using the recipe determined by the program.

“We define an innovation as ‘meaningfully unique’: meaningful, as it makes a difference and unique that it’s never been done before,” Hall says.

Brain Brew is expanding and has opened a custom blending house in Windsor & Eton Brewery in the U.K. to share Hall’s spirit of invention with a whole new market of whiskey lovers. To know that Cincinnati still serves as an important global influence in something as important as whiskey? That goes down nicely. And the line of whiskeys on retail shelves? Definitely worth purchasing, even if Hall would technically rather you stop in to make your own.

Visit Brain Brew’s website to learn about scheduling your own whiskey-making session.

Brain Brew Distillery, 3849 Edwards Road, Newtown,