Brandon Collins stood at his station on the canning line at Black Hog Brewing in Oxford, looking out across the brewhouse. An unpaid intern with a master’s degree in chemistry, his 13 years as a protein crystallographer in the pharmaceutical industry shaping his vision, Collins started to see spirits. Not ghosts, mind you, but spirits.
“I started seeing things in their process where there were materials that could be recouped,” Collins says. In his time with Pfizer in St. Louis and Boehringer Ingelheim in Ridgefield — where his department got cut, hence the ensuing unpaid internship — Collins worked on continuous process improvement by removing waste and reducing variation. “At the bottom of every fermenter there’s a certain amount of liquid that doesn’t get packaged because it’s cloudy and not the stuff that you want to actually drink.”
Collins knew if he boiled that liquid he could extract the alcohol and use it to produce spirits with unique flavors. Continuum Distilling and its model of sustainability was born. Even the wood used in the aging process comes from trees that fell during storms. On an initial analysis of water-consumption savings, comparing the process from scratch as opposed to getting the liquid from a brewery, Collins estimated he could save 15,000 gallons of water annually.
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He set up shop in an industrial park in Waterbury next to Brass Works Brewing, which became one of Continuum’s brewery partners that provides the liquid gold Collins needs. That group of partners, which also includes Black Hog, Bad Sons and Back East, among others, all brew quality beer with specialty ingredients. “If I wanted to make a spirit from that complex of a beer, it would be completely cost prohibitive,” Collins says. “But since this is a byproduct of the product already being made, it makes it feasible to do so. What you get, though, is this extremely complex spirit that you wouldn’t get any other way. And that’s what we discovered with our pilot batches.”
Charred and Drops are the names of the debut spirits Continuum produced using this method. Charred is similar to a whiskey, although Collins can’t legally put the word “whiskey” on the label. Drops is his “gin,” but again, the same law applies due to the use of hops prior to distillation. Instead, both labels read “spirits distilled from grain, cane and hops.” The third spirit in the Continuum line, however, is made from scratch and therefore can lawfully be called ContinuRum.
No tasting was required to believe these flavors would be unlike any hard liquor I had tried before, but I decide to sip for myself anyway. Charred and Drops are both expectedly incomparable and surprisingly drinkable straight up. But starting in July, state law will allow distilleries to serve cocktails in their taprooms. “It makes very complex and exceptional cocktails that are above and beyond your standard cocktails,” Collins says.
He mentions that he doesn’t fear anyone copying his method, both because of his unique background and how much work goes into it. But the sustainability aspect is something he hopes becomes more prevalent. “I would definitely appreciate being able to spread this and it become something that other breweries and local distilleries adopt together,” Collins says. “Just being part of the better process.”
2066 Thomaston Ave., Waterbury
Tasting room hours: Fri. 4-8 p.m., Sat. 1-8 p.m., Sun. noon-5 p.m. Closed Mon.-Thu.