In his 35 years of plumbing, Craig DeGarmo never thought his company would be asked to drill holes with exact precision into priceless, irreplaceable, oak barrels from a centuries-old forest in a remote region in France for use in a facility in Cambridge, Wisconsin.
The French oak was formed into the casks of a Solera system—a unique, maturation process designed to blend older spirits into newer ones, and the Cambridge facility was part of the Dancing Goat Distillery.
DeGarmo and his foreman Nate Gestrich were up for the challenge and immediately went to work designing and building a prototype Solera system that mirrored the distillery’s 16 casks stacked in four vertical columns on the shop floor of DeGarmo Plumbing & Piping (DPPI) in Janesville, WI.
“Before installing the actual system at the Dancing Goat Distillery, the casks needed to pass solidity, water and heat tests to detect leaks, which was done through a process of trial and error until we felt comfortable that they could execute the system with perfection at the distillery,” DeGarmo said.
Dancing Goat Distillery is owned and operated by Travis Hasse, maker of Travis Hasse Apple Pie, Cherry Pie and Cow Pie liqueurs, Tom Mass, maker of RumChata, and Tom’s son Nick Maas who is also the master distiller.
Dancing Goat Distillery’s owners chose the wood for the casks from this particular part of France because of its ability to transfer certain aromas to the spirit. And, they chose the Solera system for the maturation process because it imparts consistency of taste and color in its signature whiskey, Limousin Rye, according to Dancing Goat Distillery’s Chief Operations Officer Mike Reiber, who came to the distillery with over 25 years of experience in the food industry.
“Along with our unique Solera whiskey finishing system, we have a process steam system made entirely of stainless steel, which eliminates the need for chemical treatment of the steam, allowing the distillery to pursue a USDA organic certification,” Reiber said.
“Organic spirits produced in a sustainable manner not only benefit local farmers but also protect the environment,” Gestrich says. “And, since we used stainless instead of carbon steel in the steam system, Dancing Goat’s organic spirits will eliminate exposure to harmful, synthetic chemicals and the threat of groundwater contamination.”
The Dancing Goat Distillery made a significant investment to ensure the system is organic compliant, according to Gestrich.
“Protecting the environment and limiting emissions, conserving resources, and sustainability are all very important to us,” Reiber says. “Additionally, we operate an ethanol manufacturing facility, so we have an extended responsibility to ensure functionality and safety for employees and visitors. When guests visit our tasting room and tour, it’s so important that our boilers are intrinsically safe.”
DPPI was referred to Dancing Goat Distillery initially by AMS Steam Products, Milwaukee, WI, to hook up the boiler and do the steam piping. DeGarmo took co-owner Travis Hasse on a tour of the Seneca Foods Corporation plant in Janesville, WI to show the extensive process piping his company designed and installed, and Hasse hired DeGarmo Plumbing & Piping on the spot.
“Working with high pressure steam systems on a daily basis, my first concern is safety,” Hasse said. “DeGarmo Plumbing employs the highest quality, skilled steam fitters who make sure the job is done right the first time. Every employee of DeGarmo Plumbing has treated the Dancing Goat Distillery as if it were their own facility. Craig DeGarmo spent a good part of his career working in the field and when it comes to planning and design, I really noticed his experience as a true professional.”
“The distillery was piped in two phases,” says Gestrich. “The first phase included research and development and the second phase focused on the industrial piping with automation.”
DPPI worked with Miura in Chicago, IL who provided the boiler, and AMS Steam Products who provided the boiler system design and training in phase one of the distillery piping project, and Yokogawa engineers in Newnan, GA who programmed the automation of the steam system in phase two.
DPPI designed and built multiple piping systems inside the two-story, 21,000 sq. ft. Cambridge distillery, including the organic rated high-pressure steam boilers and piping systems, stainless food grade tubing, air and gas piping, RO systems, Strahman stations with water and steam, and high-pressure steam-reducing stations. DPPI also custom fabricated a whiskey barrel dumper and connected the pot still and equipment, the cookers and fermenters, and the continuous stripping column, and installed automated systems, panels, valves and pneumatics.
“We customized a piping system that was programmable, which ultimately increases production and decreases the need for manpower. It gives Dancing Goat the ability to make a higher accuracy recipe and replicate it. Once they run a program, they can collect all the data on a specific cook and, with the information collected, repeat the recipe with precision,” says Gestrich.
“The Dancing Goat is a very unique distillery because it is one of three that have both a full continuous column and a pot still in the same building. The other two distilleries are located in Nantucket and Nevada,” Reiber said. “The things we can do between two stills provides unique distillations—we can dial in on the range of compounds that come off a certain boiling point, and adjust it to flavor, taste, smell, and the temperature range where these exist giving us a unique tool set to program the system accordingly.”
In addition, the Dancing Goat Distillery has the only continuous distillation stripping column in Wisconsin, which allows for sparging in a single pass. This efficient process means there isn’t a need to heat up the jacket materials. They can put live steam in as part of that stack. This stripping column is known as the “Rocket,” and is one of 18 in operation on the continent, including one in Canada.
“The Dancing Goat is a very unique distillery because it is one of three current craft distilleries that have both a full continuous column and a pot still in the same building. The other two distilleries are located in Nantucket and Nevada,” Reiber said. “The things we can do between two stills allows us to produce some very unique distillations—we can dial in on the range of compounds that come off a certain boiling point, and adjust it to flavor, taste and smell. The ability to control the process by the temperature range where these compounds exist, gives us a very unique tool set to program the system accordingly.”
Making great spirits is the foundation of Dancing Goat Distillery, according to Reiber, who also notes they wanted a great place in which to make them. “We wanted to build something of substance, not just something of presence,” he said.
“We had a great team to tie it together and help us with this vision. This is represented when we go out into the marketplace,” Reiber said. “DeGarmo’s team had great vision, quality and consistency of form. They helped set us up so that we can maintain the system and operate it. The concept was complete, and the aesthetics are there.”
Quality construction was definitely a priority for the Dancing Goat. “The bar was set high by DeGarmo Plumbing and Piping,” Reiber said. “In the end, it’s the facility and equipment, the product and the people that make the difference. Our system separates us from everyone else.”
“We take great pride in the quality of our workmanship,” DeGarmo said. “I attribute our ability to design and install these kind of piping systems to our team’s level of professionalism, experience, certification, and attention to detail, quality and safety.”
“Others in the industry who have the certifications we do cannot produce what our guys can,” Gestrich said. “There is an unspoken measure of quality in all of our jobs, and if our employees don’t meet that measure, they don’t stay on staff. We demand high quality in our workmanship and it shows in our end product.”
“From the production side DeGarmo Plumbing & Piping is very versatile,” says Gestrich. “We can design and install just about anything—from smaller facilities to large, industrial facility piping, such as ethanol, manufacturing and food processing plants, to customized piping like the Dancing Goat.”
Dancing Goat Distillery has a tasting room and tours onsite. For more information, visit DancingGoat.com.
For more information about this project or about DeGarmo Plumbing & Piping Inc. visit DegarmoPlumbing.com.