New craft distillery makes hard liquor the hard way
By MATT HUMBARD — Nate Groenendyk and Jeff Harner, two brothers-in-law, are set to open Sangfroid Distilling this month — the first distillery to open in Prince George’s County since the end of Prohibition 85 years ago, and the first-ever distillery in Hyattsville. But the location and regulatory history of this distillery is, perhaps, the least interesting part of this unique business.
Sangfroid Distilling has a piece of equipment that you won’t find at most distilleries: a 300-gallon stainless steel tank that’s used to make a raw ale, a type of beer essential to the long process of producing whiskey and gin. You cannot purchase raw ale, though. After it ferments, it’s added to the still and distilled, eventually becoming either whiskey or gin. Making their own raw ale is one of the many ways Sangfroid hopes to differentiate themselves in the craft distilling market.
“[Our process] gives us a level of control that ensures what ends up in a bottle is exactly what we want it to be, and we can honestly and genuinely say that we made it,” Groenendyk explained. “We touch every piece of fruit that goes into our brandies, and a lot of the fruit we’re picking ourselves.”
When it comes to making their products, Sangfroid has embraced a “grain-to-glass,” or perhaps an “apple-to-glass,” philosophy.
Shadowing the craft beer industry of the past few decades, the craft distilling market has seen unprecedented growth over the past five years. In 2017 alone, the total number of active craft distillers in the country grew by 20 percent to 1,589. With this growth, multiple business models have risen in the craft distilling world, as well as increased options for consumers. Some distilleries purchase fermented ciders or finished beers and conduct the distillation; others purchase some or all the raw ingredients, process them and ferment them on site prior to distillation. Sangfroid Distilling obtains their ingredients from a variety of sources, and grows some at the apple orchard they purchased last year.
“For our apple brandy, we’re using varieties that are extremely hard to find. Some of them aren’t grown commercially, but they all make tremendous brandy,” said Groenendyk.
Offerings at Sangfroid’s upcoming opening will include a Dutch-style gin and a pear eau de vie (water of life), which is a clear brandy made by distilling hard pear cider.
“An eau de vie is just a fancy way of saying ‘unaged fruit brandy,’” said Groenendyk. “What makes them special is that it’s the purest way to capture the brightness and freshness of ripe fruit. Our approach is pretty hands-off, because we want to let the fruit shine through. We just press the fruit, let it ferment naturally, and then distill it. Because of this, we pay really close attention to the quality of the fruit and the varieties we use, as any imperfection would come through in the final product.”
In producing their spirits, Sangfroid tries to work with a small number of basic ingredients.
“For our gin and whiskey, we’re mashing and fermenting the grain, using varieties and proportions that we’ve selected, and distilling slowly and carefully. We get a lot of satisfaction out of being able to transform some relatively simple ingredients into something really special,” said Groenendyk.
In the future, Sangfroid plans on releasing a rye whiskey as well as a barrel-aged apple brandy.
“Our apple brandy and rye whiskey are being put into barrels to age for a bit, so we’ll have to be patient for those,” Groenendyk said.
Sangfroid Distilling is located at 5130 Baltimore Avenue. Follow them on social media or visit their website, www.sangfroiddistilling.com, for updates on their grand opening date, offerings and hours.