Wiggle Bridge Distillery Interview
I chat with David Woods, founder of Wiggly Bridge Distillery in Maine, USA, on obsession to profession, hand-making stills and never giving up.
When David Woods was young, he was always tinkering with metal, fiddling around with cars and creating, even making a pick-up truck out of an old Volkswagen beetle. Years later, his son, David, mentioned at the dinner table that he wanted to build a still and make whisky in his basement – his father didn’t think this was a great idea, but that spark ignited the hobby which would lead to obsession, and ultimately, a profitable profession for both father and son. David and his wife had a little house in the Caribbean where they could play around with building a 10 gallon pot still without the tedium of getting a federal permit to do so in the US. Although not a ‘college guy’, David loves research – from learning about stills, to manufacturers to processes to moonshiners. Even more than profit, he loves research. Meticulously noting down and experimenting with every aspect of distilling reveals the joy and dedication behind the process for Wiggly Bridge.
What could they do by hand? The father and son duo decided to make a sixty gallon pot still when they got their permit, welding copper to stainless steel, teaching themselves skills such as TIG welding from YouTube videos. David praises his son for becoming quite the proficient welder through this self-taught process; the last still they built was 750 gallons – quite the level up from their initial experiment. They created shapes through paper patterns drawn with string compasses, which they would cut out of the copper. David’s philosophy and approach to the process is simple, old fashioned problem solving. Trying again and again until you get it right – using logic and research to figure out challenges that will inevitably arise. Some of the things he learned not do include picking up hot copper with your bare hands – the importance of good gloves always present with metal work, evidenced from plenty of slices on his well worked hands. David and his team are incredibly meticulous with their surveillance of the distillery, checking on the process every hour. Doing for that for nine years with five different stills ends up pretty consistent – what they build, works.
When asked if they built their own fermenters, David replied that although they could have, they found a gentleman in the Southern States who could build them from Louisiana Cypress wood, at a cost that was less than what they could buy the wood alone for. The power of knowing where to source your products in full force.
Wiggly Bridge is focussed on creating a pre-prohibition style of whiskey. Their careful approach extends to their treatment of the spirit. Their mash bill consists of 58% corn, 37% rye and 5% malted barley is classed as an ultra-high rye bourbon (most high ryes being between 16%-26%) which carries an inherent sweetness due, according to David, to their still running slow and the addition of proofing water continually throughout the process. They handle the spirit gently, understanding it and taking their sweet time. Unlike other artisanal or craft distilleries, David keeps a basic view – never sacrifice spirit for yield, and keep copious notes of everything you do. The differences documented can be huge – their barrel 303 was apparently their worst product after a tasting two years ago, but now after evaluation is the finest bourbon Wiggly Bridge has ever made. Having just been released they have written it’s story on the website which I have copied here :-
We lost this barrel for a while. We think the bourbon gods had something to do with it because by losing it, it has become one of the most delicious, smooth, and unbelievable barrels that has come out of Wiggly Bridge Distillery.
How does a barrel get “lost”? Here’s the story. Barrel #303 had an entry proof of 107.2 and is made from our mash bill of 58% corn, 37% rye, and 5% malted barley. Two years went by from the date we filled it (6/2/17) and it was in a grouping of barrels that would be our next batch of Small Barrel Bourbon to be dumped in 2019.When we tasted barrel #303 at that time, to our disappointment, it was disgusting, bitter and with a lot of opened up in the ricks and we just put it there to get it out of the way. A month or two later we were barreling rum and we needed that slot that we had temporarily put barrel #303. Remembering it’s unpleasant taste we pushed the barrel all the way to the back slot and we forgot about it.
Another two years went by which is the period of time that we age our small barrel rum and we pulled all the barrels to make our next batch of rum. Barrel #303 came up to be tasted and to our surprise that barrel was not rum! We had to go back and pull the logbooks to find out what it was and to our surprise it was 131 proof and the taste was unbelievable and it was extremely smooth. Pure delight to say the least. It was so incredible that we decided it needed it’s own bottle separate from our Small Barrel Bourbon batches – so would begin The Daves’ Special Barrel Projects. We decided to call this one an orphan barrel (as the story goes) and would be Project #1 of the Daves’ Special Projects series. Project #1 is bottled at 130.55 proof.
The label has significance and if you follow us on social media you see that we use blue painters tape to label and make notes behind the scenes. We wanted to incorporate it in our bottle design to bring you as close to our behind the scenes process as possible. I guess you could call it Wiggly Bridge’s Blue Label – small batch style. We wanted this bottle to be something that brings you as close as you could be to being in the rick house with the Daves’ sampling our barrels without actually being here with us. It is unfiltered so if you see a bit of char from the barrel in there it’s supposed to be there. So we guess you could say that barrel #303 is actually a barrel in a bottle. This is a single barrel extremely small limited release as there are only 118 bottles.
It hasn’t always been plain sailing for David’s business ventures – in his early days, he was infatuated with the creation of profit, which he believes led to failures. However, after a mysterious mentor came into his life, he had a paradigm shift – instead of chasing money, create good work. The money will take care of itself. The distillery is certainly a success – after ten years, it appears they will be in the black. In fact, despite obvious challenges from a certain international pandemic, 2021 was the best year for sales at Wiggly Bridge, better than 2020 and 2019 combined. Thankful for the failures, it had led to overnight success after sixty-five years, says David. ‘I wanna be the dumbest guy in the room,’ he says, clear that his journey of learning and creating continues. Failure, for David, only happens when you give up, which he has never done in his life. A simple philosophy of humility, hard work, logic and effort have served him and Wiggly Bridge well.
Before ending our chat, I was curious to know where the name Wiggly Bridge came from. It transpires that the name was coined by a girl scout group and is reportedly the smallest suspension bridge in the USA. If the allure of Wiggly Bridge Bourbon isn’t enough to entice you to visit, then the opportunity to cross this bridge, set in a idyllic location must be.
Interview by David Pearce – Written by Annie Bowles.