Welcome to our Happy Hour Question & Answer series, where we ask questions to interesting people in the alcohol world.
This week’s spotlight is on Stowloch Whiskey from Stone Ledge Spirits. We talk with CEO Mark Sutherland about their first aged whiskey, the company and more. Stone Ledge Spirits Company is headquartered in Missouri. Its production facility is in the Ozark Highlands, allowing the company to utilize the naturally filtered water due to the limestone foundation of the region, along with high-quality Missouri barrels, and a 200-year legacy of Ozark Highlands distilling. Learn more at www.stoneledgedistillery.com.
Hops & Spirits: How did you get into the spirits/alcohol industry?
Mark Sutherland: I’ve always been a fan and an advocate of great spirits and good wine, and as a native Scot who grew up in England, my “spirit” journey started over bottles of Scotch from the homeland, with my favorites being Auchentoshan, The Macallan 18, and The Balvenie Caribbean Cask. Since then, again as a consumer, I discovered bourbon, Irish Whiskey (thank you 2 Gingers) and more. Wine was also part of my journey and I love the hidden gem in Missouri of really great dry reds and amazing ports. More recently, conversations with the right people led to the fulfillment of a bucket list item for anyone who enjoys good whiskey or spirits, that of being a part of the team that brings a new product to market, and then has the opportunity to share it with the world. You could say it was all due to drinking with the right people at the right time.
HS: How important was it for you to make a whiskey that was from Missouri and not sourced?
MS: Missouri, and especially the Ozark Highlands, has a 200-year history of distilling. I’m not from around here, and emigrating to Missouri opened my eyes to opportunity and the amazing history and beauty of this great state. And while there are some great whiskeys blended and finished using sourced juice, our desire was to create something that was fully and completely from Missouri and the Ozark Highlands. Consumers today want to know where their food and drink comes from. They want to know that it is something special.
In our case, the very water from the heart of the Ozark Highlands is our key ingredient, and to that we add heirloom seed ingredients farmed by our distiller, distill in hand-forged Missouri copper stills and age in Missouri Oak. Everything about Stowloch Whiskey is Missouri and the Ozark Highlands, and that is so important to us. I fully believe there is no reason we should not be able to compete with and beat Kentucky and Tennessee. Missouri is an amazing state, with amazing people, doing amazing things. There is no reason our spirits industry should not have a world-class reputation around the globe. We just have to commit to ensuring every sip is high quality, and commit to working together as an industry to making it happen.
HS: Does the recipe for the Stowloch Whiskey really date back to 1761?
MS: It does indeed. Our contracted distiller, Demetrius Cain, has had this recipe in his family since they came to the Americas in 1761. We are thrilled that he has shared this amazing creation with us and allowed us to use it to create Stowloch Whiskey.
HS: How does the Ozark Highlands impact whiskey making?
MS: The art of distilling Ozark Highlands spirits in the region has been a part of the culture and the economy for more than 200 years, since the first European settlers arrived in the region in the 1700s and early 1800s. Early settlers were pioneers who came west from the Southern Appalachians, descending from English and Scots-Irish immigrants, and were followed in the 1840s and 1850s by Irish and German immigrants.
In fact, an expedition by the US Topographical Engineers in 1819 first gave us the name, the Ozark Highlands, when they applied the name Ozark to the highlands of Missouri and Arkansas. Today, the Ozark Highlands remains the official name used by the U.S. Geological Survey, the USDA, and the U.S. EPA to refer to the region. The Ozark Highlands spirits made in the region went by various names including Moonshine (made at night), White Lightning (made during the day) and White Mule (made so remotely that a mule was needed to haul it out). After World War I ended, and Prohibition took effect, distilling increased across the region. This was done in secret, and supplied the rural communities with alcohol. In fact, during prohibition it was rare to find a house in the Ozark Highlands that was not producing alcohol.
Since 2000, the distillation industry has seen significant growth. Prior to 2000, there were only 7 distilleries in the Ozark Highlands. Today, Missouri is home to 51 distilleries, with 27 of them located in Missouri’s Ozark Highlands. In 2022, the Missouri Legislature established the Ozark Highlands spirits as a protected class of alcohol in Missouri law. This ‘first of its kind’ law in the United States protects the long history of spirit production in the Ozark Highlands and ensures that consumer and rural community interests in the quality and sustainability of this alcohol category are protected long term. In order to receive certification as an Ozark Highlands spirit, a product must meet the following standards:
– Produced, aged and bottled in the Ozark Highlands
– Aged in barrels manufactured in Missouri
– Uses chemical-free water from the Ozark Highlands
-Whiskey must be aged for a minimum of 4 years
This history was made possible by limestone. You hear distilleries in Kentucky bragging about their water because they are on a limestone shelf. Well, the entire bottom half of Missouri is a massive limestone shelf called the Ozark Highlands. This natural treasure creates natural, limestone-filtered mineral water, which makes for a fantastic base for any high-quality spirit.
HS: What’s been the reaction to the first release?
MS: We have been overwhelmed by the positive reaction to it. They love the robust taste, the smooth finish, the spice on the tongue without the burn in the throat, and how the taste coats your palate with spice and sweet at the same time. Every single retail outlet and establishment that has tried Stowloch has decided to carry it. And so many people have become passionate advocates for Stowloch and for the Ozark Highlands spirts as a whole.
HS: Where does the name Stowloch come from?
MS: Stow is 7th century Old English for holy place. Loch is Gaelic for lake or water. We translate them together as “holy water” which every whiskey drinker knows to be true.
HS: What’s next/coming up from you all?
MS: We are currently spreading across Missouri with Stowloch and that is about to be joined by our premium vodka, InverXion Vodka. And we are currently finalizing expansions to other states, with details to be announced soon. We also plan to introduce other spirits that capture the essence and the quality of the Ozark Highlands.
HS: Where can folks find Stowloch?
MS: Visit www.Stowloch.com for a complete map of all locations carrying Stowloch. And if there isn’t a store near you, or in your state, let us know and we will work to distribute to your area.