Caley Shoemaker | Changing the Distilling Game
With a decade of experience and a penchant for creating inimitable flavor profiles, Hanger 1 Distillery’s Caley Shoemaker has proved to be a glimmering gem in the teeming spirits space.
As the Head Distiller of Hangar 1, Shoemaker puts her golden Midas touch on an array of spirits with the inclusion of everything from fresh botanicals to actual fog. In March, the company transitioned from Hangar 1 Vodka to Hangar 1 Distillery with the release of its first non-vodka gift to the world: Bentwing Brandy. Created by an exquisite blend of French and California grape brandies, Bentwing is then finished in charred whiskey barrels. The result is a brandy that’s the perfect slow sip as a nightcap or the refreshing component of a champagne cocktail that’s just in time for summer.
So, how did Hangar 1 snag such an innovative distiller? The background story was ten years in the making.
Shoemaker went to school for art history with plans to go to grad school to eventually pursue museum studies. However, she felt whole without continuing down the art world path and was in search of something distinctive. Her love of craft beer motivated her to work at a bar next door to the renowned Denver-based distillery Stranahan’s Whiskey. Shortly after taking a tour of Stranahan’s with a friend, she decided to take on a role with the company. “It was one of those things where when I first started with them (Stranahan’s), I always thought that it would be a fun thing that I did while I worked on the next step with my education, but I ended up totally falling in love with it,” Shoemaker states.
Her hands-on experience at Stranahan’s – ranging from being a tour guide to taking part in the distilling process – no doubt proved to be invaluable. After being at Stranahan’s for several years, Shoemaker was offered the opportunity to take over operations at Hangar 1 and subsequently moved to California in 2014 for the position.
“I have an interesting perspective on what we’re making and what we’re releasing. When I make something new, I always do it from the standpoint of really trying to apply a process or use some new ingredients that I find are inspirational; and then turning that into something and releasing it is how I personally like to do things,” Shoemaker explains. This fresh outlook is a contrast from many spirit brands that look to consumer shopping trends as opposed to taking imaginative risks in terms of ingredients and distilling processes.
Never one to back down from a challenge, Shoemaker says the biggest hurdle as a head distiller is the constant learning. She states, “This is an industry that’s always growing and changing. There are so many people with different techniques, styles and perspectives. So, staying on top of all of it by learning and experiencing as much as I can so I can keep on innovating and keep what we’re doing exciting and interesting.” The balance between relevance and inventiveness is tricky in the fickle spirits industry, yet Shoemaker maintains both aforementioned qualities to the benefit of Hangar 1.
“It’s a very lucky time to be a distiller because consumers are really openminded,” Shoemaker adds. “They want to try new things and learn. So, if I use some nontraditional ingredients or try a new technique, people are generally open to it and excited. That’s what makes it a great time to be a distiller and creative.”
Written by: Gabrielle Nicole Pharms