Branded Hearts Distillery is the fifth in Northern Nevada

Branded Hearts Distillery is the fifth craft distillery in Northern Nevada and sixth in the state

In a small warehouse on west Fourth Street where cell phones stop working and the road turns toward Verdi, Reno’s second distillery quietly started making rum. Not just any old molasses-based rum, but rum made with 100% raw can sugar, piloncillo. It’s unique, because no one else in the state, nay, the world, is making it this way. OK, maybe just the U.S.

Branded Hearts

A mason jar of pure piloncillo (or panela in Spanish), an unrefined cane sugar that Branded Hearts Distillery uses in their piloncillo rum. Photo by Mike Higdon

“We’re going to make whatever the fuck we want,” said Ryan Cherrick, co-owner and co-founder of Branded Hearts Distillery. “It’s not enjoyable to play it safe,” mirrors Josh Nichols, co-owner and co-founder.

Ryan and Josh moved from Ventura County, Calif. but they fit right into the no-nonsense “get shit done” breed of business owners in Nevada’s liquor industry. Maybe that’s because they both worked at the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department for eight years or because Josh was in the U.S. Air Force and Ryan was in the U.S. Marine Corps before that.

Originally they wanted to open a distillery in Oregon but the Nevada Craft Distillers Law gave them a better reason to move here. Ryan said Northern Nevada is destined to become a spirits region. It’s why they are joining forces with other distilleries to start the first Nevada Craft Distiller’s Association. Ryan described the distilling industry the way people talked about craft beer in the 1980s. There are barely 1,000 American distilleries but almost 4,000 craft breweries today.

“We love this area, the people are focused on local,” Josh said. “Our distillery becomes owned by Reno — It belongs to everyone.”

And though this is their first time owning a distillery, they understand the science and chemistry behind it and plan to innovate by taking the best of old world traditions and new technology.

“The world doesn’t have enough wheat whiskey, panela rum and aged gin,” Josh said. Ryan later described an epic battle between two yeast strains and lactic acid that would take place in a future single malt whiskey. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but that’s actually how Game of Thrones ends. Using two yeast strains, by the way, is highly irregular.

In a few days, Branded Hearts will start bottling their first batch of rum. By Father’s Day weekend they will open to the public for a distillery Poker Run event. And if all goes well, they can start selling those bottles the same weekend.

The rum will come in two types: Cask strength and 90 proof.

Josh and Ryan strongly believe the best spirits flavors come from 100 to 120-proof alcohol. Once a spirit dips below that, the drinker starts losing the original flavor esters — chemical compounds that create flavor and smell molecules. They promise to never make or sell anything below 80 proof. After sampling the two rums, I would agree, while the cask strength may be a bit hot for some people, the majority of the rounded buttery flavors came through before adding water to calm it down.

The first batch is being aged in a large plastic container called a tote (not to be confused with a purse). They char their own barrel staves…

…And put those inside the rum for a few days then let it all sit in the sun to warm up. They then want to fill full-sized barrels with whiskey and put the used rum staves inside the barrel to add more flavor. And THEN, they want to collaborate with breweries in town to trade a few used barrels for unfermented beer wort they can distill and age in the left over barrels (Icky Whiskey? …just throwing it out there…).

“We want to keep the public on its toes,” Josh said.

Branded Hearts Distillery

Where: 121 Woodland Ave. #160 Reno, Nevada
Hours: Not currently open to the public, check back in a few weeks
Contact: 775-336-8195, or on Facebook

Nevada Craft Distiller’s Association Poker Run

What: Inaugural poker run. Players visit five regional distilleries, register, get free tastings and collect poker cards. Winners awarded for highest poker hand and lowest poker hand.
When: Saturday and Sunday, June 20-21, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Price: $20 registration at any location starting June 1
Participating distilleries:

  • Verdi Local Distillery, 1155 old highway 40 unit B Verdi, NV 89439
  • Branded Hearts Distillery, 121 Woodland Ave. #160 Reno, Nevada
  • Seven Troughs Distilling Co., 1155 Watson Way #5 Sparks, NV 89431
  • Frey Ranch Estate Distillery, 1045 Dodge Ln. Fallon, NV 89406
  • Tahoe Moonshine Distillery, 1611 Shop St. South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150

Check out the Craft Map for a map of all locations.