Founder, Old Sugar Distillery
About Nathan Greenawalt
Some are surprised to learn that Nathan’s spirited journey began before bourbon. He graduated with an Economics degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, but found his maker niche with a little help from state lawmakers. Now he’s got a growing fan base enjoying his bourbon, brandies and more—all made from local ingredients.
How did you get started?
My original intent was to produce for wholesalers… but the laws changed in Wisconsin and allowed for a tasting room. Once that happened, I thought it was too good an opportunity to pass up.
Has Old Sugar Distillery been everything you expected?
It’s been a lot more than what I anticipated (laughs). I didn’t get into this business to run a bar. That wasn’t my plan, but the tasting room just became very popular and has really been the more successful side of the business, so you kind of have to roll with it.
What makes your spirits different?
I try to make really unique products. It’s not so exciting to make the same thing that everyone else is making. Our honey liqueur is dry and lightly sweetened. It’s strong. It’s 80 proof and there’s nothing else like it. There are some (at) 70 proof that have four times as much sugar as ours does.
It seems like you try to hit every palette.
Yeah, we try to stick to things we’re good at. Our still is well-suited to creating products where you want to taste the original ingredient. With distillation, it’s always a trade-off between flavor and purity. If you make a product that’s really pure, you’re essentially making vodka and you’re getting rid of all the original flavors from the original ingredient. The products that we’re making—rum, brandies and whiskeys—you really want to taste the original ingredient, so you don’t want to distill it to such a purity where you lose that character.
Character won’t be lost at Old Sugar. The distillery’s name itself was influenced by the sugar-based products they make and a Madison beet sugar factory from the early 1900s. Nathan says it takes about 20 pounds of grapes to make just one bottle of brandy and three pounds of concentrated sorghum syrup to make one bottle of whiskey. Those ingredients are all locally grown and Nathan continues to use them in new batches. Keep your eye out for six new small-batch whiskeys in the coming months. It seems the only part of Nathan that stands still, is his still itself.