Want a Taste of the Country’s Best Gin? You Can Only Get It in St. Louis
By Rachel Huffman
When David Weglarz launched StilL 630 in 2012, he had grandiose plans for production, distribution and expansion, but he couldn’t have predicted that it would become the most awarded distillery in Missouri and one of the top distilleries in the U.S.
“I had no way of knowing that the quality of the spirits would garner so much attention – without being an egomaniac,” he says with a laugh, “which I am, but not to that extent. We’ve eclipsed our wildest aspirations in terms of quality.”
Confluence American Gin, one of three gins distilled by the St. Louis-based distillery, was recently named “Best Craft Gin in the Country” by the American Distilling Institute, besting 150 gins from around the world.
“I can’t believe that this humble distillery located in a former Hardee’s building has made the best gin in the country,” Weglarz says, “especially since, when I started the company, I wanted to make whiskey and rum – period. Natasha Bahrami of The Gin Room [on South Grand Boulevard] was the person who taught me that gin is a spectrum and I can use different botanicals to make any gin that I want.”
While Confluence American Gin has juniper and coriander like all StilL 630 gins, along with galangal root and pink peppercorns, the primary ingredient is horseradish. Across the Mississippi River, Collinsville, Illinois, is the horseradish capital of the world, which Weglarz wanted to promote with the product.
“In the right proportions, the five botanicals create a savory, herbal gin,” he says. “I drink it on the rocks, with a twist of lemon or in a Bloody Mary.”
Confluence American Gin is the second gin from StilL 630 to win a Best in the Country award: In 2020, American Navy Strength Gin received the same honor, but concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic mitigated the announcement.
StilL 630 has earned regional and national acclaim across all categories, and in 2018, it became the only distillery in the country to win the American Craft Spirits Association “Best in Class – Whiskey” distinction twice. The award-winning whiskeys were DoubleBarrel RallyPoint Straight Rye Whiskey in 2016 and RallyPoint Straight Rye Whiskey two years later.
For another special sip, try the single-barrel Missouri Straight Bourbon Whiskey. When Weglarz was president of the Missouri Craft Distillers Guild, he helped get House Bill 266 passed into law. The bill, which took effect on Aug. 28, 2019, classifies Missouri bourbon as a distinct class and type of spirit.
Missouri bourbon must be mashed, fermented, distilled, aged and bottled in the state. During the aging process, it must be kept in charred white oak barrels manufactured in the state from wood harvested here – the only place on the planet with this requirement – and the bourbon must be made with corn grown exclusively within Missouri.
“When we passed the bill into law, we hoped to carve out an identity for Missouri spirits,” Weglarz says. “It’s a statement of quality. Missouri has the best farmers in the U.S. and the best barrels in the world. We’re making awesome spirits here, and we want people to travel to Missouri to check them out. Years from now, I hope that people see Missouri bourbon as something special.
“We’re doing our part at StilL 630 by releasing a brand-new single barrel every month,” he continues. “It’s all the same – made with the same recipe, aged for five years and bottled at 90 proof – but every month, Andrew Spaugh, my right-hand man, and I sample all the single barrels and choose the one that tastes equally as good yet most different from the last batch so that we can have deeper conversations about bourbon.”
StilL 630 also adds complexity to its existing spirits by finishing them in used barrels from other local makers. The RallyPoint O Cask Straight Rye Whiskey, finished in a Big O Ginger Liqueur barrel, has notes of candied ginger, while the American Whiskey Port Finish sat in Noboleis Vineyards port barrels for 15 months before it was bottled.
“I love local collaboration,” Weglarz says. “We also sell our used barrels to local breweries who make barrel-aged beers. That way, we get to be a part of their story, which is really cool.”
Resembling the lab of a mad scientist, StilL 630 is lined with small bottles that Weglarz uses to guide his creative process. Some hold distillates from different barrels at different times in the aging process. By creating an extensive “library,” Weglarz can watch a spirit evolve in the barrel and compare future batches to past batches for consistency.
“It’s an exercise in drinking – I mean, research,” he says. “My goal is to put out the best batch, which will have the most well-rounded, cohesive flavor profile. Andrew and I have to ask, ‘Does the current batch get us closer or farther away from that?’ So, that’s what we do in the mornings – we drink on behalf of the public.”
Other bottles contain botanical distillations – more than 400 individual roots, fruits, herbs, leaves, seeds, flowers, berries, you name it. Why? Weglarz loves to experiment, distilling different ingredients in different proportions in different barrels in search of awesome new recipes.
Every month, he releases one experimental spirit – June will mark number 66 – and every three months, the theme changes – think wheat whiskeys, barrel-aged gins, apple brandies, spiced rums and agave spirits.
“The three spirits in each theme are all related, but they’re slightly different,” Weglarz explains. “When you visit StilL 630, you can compare and contrast them, and we ask for your feedback. We’re literally asking you to tell us how you want the future of craft spirits to taste.”
The Smoked Mushroom Agave Spirit and Knowledge of Good Apple Brandy were both full-fledged releases born from the experimental series.
Want to experience StilL 630 in person? The award-winning distillery, just south of downtown St. Louis, offers tours, tastings and bottle sales of its “Indomitable Spirits.” On Friday nights from 5 to 9 p.m., you can sip classic cocktails or try creative concoctions; plus, Weglarz serves samples of the latest experimental spirit.
On Saturdays, journey from grain to glass on a distillery tour. You’ll learn the story behind StilL 630, receive a crash course in distilling and savor the spirits that entice you.
An English major at Wabash College, Weglarz went from reading literary fiction to distilling craft spirits – living a few different lives in between. “My education was well-rounded, and it prepared me for anything and everything,” he says. “I’ve become a whitewater river rafting guide, a futures trader and a craft distiller.” What a résumé!
Weglarz also flexes his creative writing muscles by penning the narrative on the back of each bottle and subsequently connecting better with his customers. “I love what I do because I get to make something,” he says, “but more than that, I get to share what I make – and the story behind it – with people.”
At StilL 630, Weglarz thinks through every detail. Take the name for example – it has more significance than you might expect. “Still” references the piece of equipment that the signature spirits are distilled on, and the last “L” is capitalized to emphasize “StL,” which leaves “il” for our neighbors to the east.
StilL 630 was founded on June 30; the first pot still, which Weglarz had made in Missouri to his custom specifications, has the serial number 630; and the Gateway Arch is 630 feet tall by 630 feet wide.
“You get to drinking and overthinking,” Weglarz says, “and you come up with StilL 630.”
Imbibers will be happy to know that Weglarz shows the same attention to detail in his spirits. “Our custom-made pot still produces a softer mouthfeel, and our distilling process creates rich, flavorful spirits,” he says. “We take a little longer, and we don’t have the capacity of massive distillers like Jim Beam, but we do it our way, and people seem to enjoy the results.”
Missouri is drinking almost everything that StilL 630 can make, which is a great problem, but it’s still a challenge to “global domination.” Fortunately, the distillery is on a different trajectory, working to make the best batch from scratch every time while making St. Louis residents proud.
“When someone mentions St. Louis, I want people to think of the Gateway Arch, the St. Louis Cardinals and StilL 630,” Weglarz says, “and not in that order.”