Watershed is located on Chesapeake Avenue in Columbus, which is near the intersection of Kenny Road and King Avenue. The center it’s located in is a fairly industrial looking place, and is a few doors down from a Jeni’s Ice Cream facility.
Our tour was conducted by Mark Lehman and his wife, who are co-owners of the business. Their nephew Greg Lehman is the acknowledged founder of the business.
Watershed currently produces four products:
- Four Peel Gin
- Bourbon Barrel Gin
The mash is then transported to one of the two stills, depending on the grain mix being used.
If the grain mix in use is intended to produce vodka or gin, it’s loaded in the taller still (the one Mark is standing next to in the photo). Once the mash is placed in this still, the still is heated to a temperature that causes the alcohol to boil into vapor.
|The two Watershed Stills or Distillers|
Once the distillation process is finished, the 190-proof alcohol is poured into the (clean) mash tun with water and any botanicals needed for aromatics and flavoring. Once this infusion process is finished, the liquor is ready to be bottled. The four port bottling station (not pictured here because my camera blurred both shots I took) is used to load four bottles at a time with a given spirit.
Because the bourbon still is shorter, the alcohol coming out of it is less concentrated than the alcohol coming from the vodka/gin still. I believe he said this one comes out closer to 180 proof or 90% alcohol (which is still pretty concentrated!). The clear bourbon distillate, unlike the vodka/gin, does have an aroma that you would recognize as bourbon-like.
|Barrels of Watershed Bourbon aging|
At the right, you can see photos of the bourbon barrels.
There are some who think that bourbon cannot be made outside Kentucky. This is not true, at least with respect to the legal definition of bourbon. To meet the legal definition of bourbon, a product must be made in the United States, be distilled from a mash that contains over 51% corn, aged for any length of time in new charred oak barrels, and be bottled at more than 80 proof. The Watershed Bourbon meets all of these criteria. It’s produced with a mash that is at least 60% corn, is aged in new charred oak barrels, and is bottled at around 88 proof. (And of course, being made in Columbus, Ohio, it’s from the United States.)
|Tanks of Watershed products waiting to be bottled|
The Watershed crew is clearly very knowledgeable about the distilling process, their products, and the business of distilling. They studied at a variety of micro distilleries around the United States and spent time working in one before starting up their own still, in order to learn what they were doing.
The result of all this knowledge and care shows in their finished products. Their vodka is a fairly standard one. Mark mentioned that people like vodka to be essentially flavorless, and theirs does have a very neutral flavor. Although I am not a big fan of gin, I did find their gin to be much more palatable than others I’ve tasted. Their bourbon barrel gin is even better, hiding the less-pleasant aspects of the gin flavor under a bourbon mask. And the bourbon is as good as any I’ve had. I even took a bottle home.
After the tour is over, you’re brought back out to the store counter and tasting area to sample it. Bottles of each of the four spirits are set up on the table, and the Lehmans pour small samples into little plastic cups. They recommend sampling the products in “flavor” order from least-flavorful to most-flavorful: vodka, gin, bourbon barrel gin, and bourbon.
|Watershed tasting room|
Also available at the counter are Watershed drinking glasses, t-shirts, and other items.
In the photo at the right, you see what looks like a very large log with some nails sticking into it. This is the game “board” for their “hammerschlagen” game. This is a drinking game that is very popular in certain areas of Europe. The Lehmans enjoy the game and insist on all visitors to the distillery playing a game or two while they’re there.
To begin, each player or team of players hammers a nail into an open part of the log. The nail is pounded in far enough to be “solid” so that future hits or misses won’t cause it to go flying out and injure someone.
On each player’s turn, they hold the top of the hammer against the side of the log. Then, they lift the hammer into the air and swing it down onto the head of the nail in one continuous action. Because the business end of the hammer is wedge shaped, hitting the nail head squarely is quite a challenge even if you are sober. Since this is a drinking game, you can easily imagine that the challenge increases the more you’ve had to drink. (Perhaps this is the origin of the slang term “hammered” for being drunk?)
Play proceeds until someone manages to pound their nail completely into the log. In the traditional version of the game, the person who gets the nail pounded in first is awarded a prize or a small shot of some spirit. The Lehmans say their rule is that the winner has to buy everyone else a round.
My wife and I had a nice time touring the distillery and trying the different products. Given the relatively low cost of the tour (through a Groupon, I paid $12 per person which included both the tour and a t-shirt – but the normal tour is $10), it’s an inexpensive way to spend an hour or so learning how three different alcohol products are made. I definitely recommend taking the tour if you have an interest in how spirits are distilled and bottled.