Flag Hill owner and head distiller/winemaker Brian Ferguson has big plans for small batch spirits.
Though he dislikes the small batch label ("Small batch is a term that’s thrown around that doesn’t really mean anything. Small batch to me is a couple barrels, small batch to a big distillery might be a couple hundred barrels,”) Flag Hill Winery & Distillery brings a craftsmanship and attention to detail to their line of spirits that terms like "small batch" evoke.
“I’m a big whiskey geek," Brian explains while drawing my attention to the label on Flag Hill's Straight Bourbon Whiskey, "One of the things that drives me nuts as a consumer is when I pick up a bottle of whiskey and it tells me some bogus story about some ridiculous historical figure who may or may not have existed. What I really want to know is why does the whiskey taste like it tastes?"
To answer that question, each side of Flag Hill's Bourbon label shares crucial information about production: how many barrels in the batch, time aged in barrel, the mash (mix of grains fermented to produce whiskey). Though the distillery produces many types of spirits, Flag Hill has seen their greatest success with whiskey. Brian notes, "We’ve doubled every year in size in terms of what we produce in whiskey, but our sales have more than doubled." Flag Hill has recently invested in their grain handling system to increase production, hoping to catch supply up to demand. The still, which ran 5 months out of the year when Brian joined Flag Hill as head distiller in early 2013, now runs year-round and Brian's set a goal of 100 barrels of whiskey for 2017. Releases are planned as far as 2027, including a heavy rum and an 11-year old apple brandy.
Following The Grape
In the winery, Brian's been experimenting with sparkling wines and intensely aromatic whites. Flag Hill's release of a prosecco-style wine, Cayuga Sparkling White, has been a huge success and a star feature in their Brunch & Bubbles events. Brian credits the chemistry of their grapes and notes that "Any one grape can be made any thousand different ways. The goal in winemaking is always to figure out what the grape is best at and make it that way." Expect more bubbly in the future, Flag Hill has recently purchased a sparkling wine bottling line from Italy.
Local Grains & Growing Bacon
Sustainability and supporting local agriculture have long been a part of Flag Hill's business model. The distillery features a re-circulation system that provides heat in the cold months and saves gallons of ground water each year. Spirits and wines feature locally sourced apples, blueberries, and maple syrup. Grains, with the exception of barley, are grown on Flag Hill's farm in partnership with Coppal House Farm. With the addition of a greenhouse, Flag Hill grows vegetables in the summer to provide fresh tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and more to onsite weddings and events. An added plus- any leftovers from food service go to the pigs. Brought on to consume grain waste, the pigs "eat wedding cake all summer and run around on two acres of pasture,” Brian says, adding that "where most people field spread it [spent-grain] or could put it in a landfill, we actually grow bacon with it.”
Flag Hill Winery & Distillery is located at 297 North River Road (Route 155), Lee, NH. Flag Hill is open to the public Wed-Sun, 11am-5pm, year round, with public tours available Saturdays and Sundays at 12pm.