Day in the Life of Eight Oaks Distiller Caitlin Bagenstose

Day in the Life of Eight Oaks Distiller Caitlin Bagenstose

When Catilin Bagenstone looks at a bushel of red winter wheat seeds, she sees bottles of vodka—630 to be exact. Of course, she’s viewing it through the eyes of a distiller at Eight Oaks Craft Distillers in New Tripoli. “We used this metric when our farmer was planting last fall to estimate just how many bottles of vodka we’ll yield in the future from one acre. It’s amazing what you can make with a little grain and water,” she says.

Now a main distiller at the field-to-glass spirits-maker, this high-energy 26-year-old was studying healthcare administration at Bloomsberg University when she started working part-time as a bartender at the distillery, located in her hometown, in 2016. “Later they convinced me to jump in as a distiller. Our lead distiller, Logan Snyder—a friend since childhood and son-in-law of company co-founder, Chad Butters—taught me everything.” And the term “everything” encompasses a number of widely varied tasks. We invite you to spend a day following in Caitlin’s footsteps—just try to keep up!

Fun Fact
The number eight in the distillery’s name is part of family tradition handed down from Chad Butter’s grandfather, then followed by his father. Back in the day when people wrote personal letters to loved ones, these men would sign off by writing the figure “8”—the number of letters in “I love you.” Today the numeral appears at the end of texts and tweets to signify approval and support, sentiments embraced by everyone that’s part of the extended work family of Eight Oaks Craft Distillers.

9:00 A.M. While Caitlin normally starts her day with a brainstorming session with Logan, there’s a monthly “crew huddle” with the full staff this Friday, keeping everyone up to date on the business. Next she fires up the 3,000 liter mash cooker filled with milled grains and water drawn from the same sources that supply Deer Park. “We like to start early because things get a little toasty,” since cooking continues all day. Winter wheat is used for vodka, rye for rye whiskey, and corn plus some the other grains, go into the bourbon. They are all grown on the distillery acreage, with a local farmer planting and harvesting crops, then storing them in off-site silos. Next, she addresses the ever-present chore of cleaning equipment.

10:30 A.M. Everyone pauses for a midmorning meat-and-cheese snack, enjoying items purchased from Hartman’s Butcher Shop, a nearby family-run meat market that creates such products as jerky and landjäger sausage. “The fridge is kept stocked.” Refreshed, Caitlin spends some time doing research. “We need to see what the competition is doing, and learn how we can improve our current spirits and come up with new product to make in the future.” Two recent additions to the 10-product line-up incorporate the popular market trend of double casking—aging a spirit in a new barrel and finishing the process in a used wine barrel. Their Port Rye is made in a tawny port barrel and Pinot Bourbon in a pinot noir barrel. This second stage adds complex, wine-like flavor to the handcrafted spirits

12:00 P.M. In the tasting room, which offers views of the distilling process and its gleaming equipment through windows lining the back of the bar, a customer thinking about starting a distillery has questions—and Caitlin is happy to take time to give them some background on how Eight Oaks got started. However, anyone interested in learning about the distilling process can reserve a spot on a full-access guided tour.

1:00 P.M. Caitlin checks the brix level—sugar content—of previously cooked mash transferred to a fermentation tank and mixed with yeast to produce alcohol. “The whole point of mashing is to get your sugar content up, and the point of fermentation is to get your sugar content down.” All of the spirits are double distilled, except for vodka, which is triple distilled. “Once this ethanol is removed on the first run, it’s considered stillage, and we like to give that to local farmers for their livestock. The cow and pigs—mostly the pigs—go crazy for the stillage.”

2:00 P.M. As the person responsible for production planning and material control, Caitlin prepares for a delivery of grain from Kevin Utt. With 50 bushels weighing 2,500 pounds, she uses a forklift to off-load the sacks. Afterward, she heads to the wildflower and botanical garden recently started at the back of the barn-like building to see how things are growing. Then it’s back to the computer to place orders for goods such as bottles, labels, and molasses—used for rum—purchased from a Lancaster farm. After that, she’s back to more cleaning in the distillery if there’s time.

3:30 P.M. Instead of relaxing with a traditional after-shift cocktail with the crew, a staff shortage at one of their off-site locations has Caitlin heading to the Allentown Fairgrounds Farmers’ Market. When shoppers who stop by the stand for tastings have questions, they’re speaking to a woman with all the answers.

Did You Know?
In colonial times, applejack was a favorite regional homemade spirit most commonly made with Baldwin apples, a variety discovered by farmer William Butters—eighth great-grandfather of Chad Butters—in the 1740s. Though fruit from Scholl Orchards is now used to make signature Barrel Aged Apple Jack and Authentic Applejack, it’s clear that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree in this family.

Gin & Jam Cocktail

• 2 oz. Eight Oaks American Gin
• Scoop of fresh jam*
• Lemonade (homemade or store bought)
• Fresh mint for garnish

Place gin and jam in a mason jar, cover securely with lid and shake until evenly mixed. Remove lid and fill jar with ice. Top with lemonade and add a sprig of mint. Start sippin’! *The jam currently stocked in the tasting room is a homemade strawberry rhubarb jam made with local produce.

Eight Oaks Craft Distillers
7189 Route 309, New Tripoli | 484.387.5287 |

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