Q&A with Monday Distiller Rob Rubens
Take everything you know about whiskey and pour it out the window.
No big deal If you don’t know much about whiskey, but if you are award-winning distiller, Rob Rubens, that's much more of an ask.
Continually earning and refining his skills, culminating in the opening of his own distillery, hasn’t come easy. Fortunately for us all, his vast experience has resulted in an artisan who’s not one to shy away from a challenge. Embracing the uncharted process of creating the world’s finest non-alcoholic whiskey, Rob Rubens has pioneered a path from the cask to your glass.
We caught up with this wizard of whiskey to offer a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes magic that leads from his ideas to your spirited enjoyment.
How was the experience of making a non-alcoholic whiskey? How did it differ from the process of making your usual whiskey?
It was definitely different. Making non-alc anything is more challenging because the CH3CH2OH (ethanol) compound molecule does so much for overall flavor, extraction, and balance in a beverage. With non-alc whiskey, we really took our time to develop an expression inclusive of the many key components of whiskey as possible: just enough extraction components, vanillins, real oak, and a myriad of other nuances to balance this well-rounded, award-winning, non-alc whiskey.
Was crafting a non-alc spirit far outside the usual day-to-day work?
Quite so. Chris approached me a few years ago regarding the first non-alc spirit creation request, and I thought he was a bit off his rocker. But after listening to him, understanding the project, and really living for challenges, I took him up on the creation of a Monday Gin. And after a successful gin launch, Monday Whiskey was the next logical step and definitely in my wheelhouse of spirits. I’d say this is probably the most unique project I’ve taken on, aside from the ground-up stuff you have to do as an entrepreneur, which has included drain rodding, toilet cleaning, floor scrubbing, and…oh yeah, making whiskey!
So despite the differences and challenges in crafting a non-alc expression, how did your knowledge of making real whiskey come into play here?
There are specific attributes I seek out when enjoying whiskey. That said, I usually start at the end and work my way backward: caramel, vanilla, oak, minor heat, citrus notes, dark chocolate. Really understanding complexities in what attracts people to whiskey, how to create that flavor profile, and on a more complex level - how to do so without alcohol - are paramount to developing and delivering a quality product.
Seeing as you’re the one who personally developed the flavor profile of Monday Whiskey, do you have any recommendations for standout Monday cocktails?
Monday Whiskey is best enjoyed in a cocktail but can be just as good by itself or with a splash of sparkling water. At this time, it’s close to impossible to clone or replicate whiskey in a non-alc form, however, you can come darn close and have an amazingly similar experience. Cocktail preferences travel a spectrum and are very personal in my experience. That said, an Old Fashioned or Blueberry Smash would be my top two summer drinks for Monday Whiskey, while a Hot Toddy or Coffee n Cigarettes epitomize the winter cocktails for this expression.
As a distiller, what is your method/technique of tasting? How would you advise the less experienced to begin parsing out flavors for themselves?
I recommend “nosing” the whiskey first. Breathe through both your nose and mouth at the same time. When doing so, you have many more olfactory nerves in your oral cavity that connect when you breathe through both. Then take a sip; let it warm you up. Repeat the sip now that your taste buds are accustomed to the magic in the glass. Lastly, enjoy and notice how the spirit rests on your palate and finishes. At the end of the day, just savor and enjoy!
No need to disclose any proprietary info here, but is there anything particularly interesting about Monday Whiskey we should be aware of?
Anything I have the privilege to help create is extremely special to me. In that sense, Monday Whiskey is like one of my kids. This expression is about as true as we can get to real whiskey without having the alcohol present largely because of the extraction and wood process we use for this proprietary non-alc spirit.
Judging by all the cool local bands you book to play at R6, (your distillery and tasting room), you're quite the music guy as well… (the Rick Rubens) of the distillery world, if you will. Were you listening to anything in particular while making Monday?
Gosh…appreciate the extreme compliment here! Music is an integral part of my daily life and it varies almost as much as my appetite and taste for whiskey. Likely while enjoying a 4 finger pour of R6 Bourbon, hanging out with Jax (our Quality Control Dog), and deriving the Monday Whiskey iterations, I was listening to a combination of Tom Petty, Dave Matthews Band, and Rebelution - a few of my many inspirations in life.
Quality Control K9, Jax