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The Spirit of Columbus

Pizza: the perfect food.

Pizza: America’s food.

Whiskey: America’s spirit!

And now, Pizza Whiskey: the booze of Columbus.

Pizza Whiskey? What the hell is that?

Yes, we’ll drink it … but we still need answers.

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It all starts and ends with Chad Kessler of 451 Spirits, the artist/skater/alchemist hidden away in a Clintonville alley, where he actually devised a way to distill the essence of ’za.

First things first: Kessler is a delightful weirdo—a kook, if you will. Creating offbeat spirits for the last five years, he refined a few of his recipes and decided to go all-in and start a craft distillery, now just over two years old. He chose to go with a pot still over the more advanced column still, in keeping with his DIY, alchemical bent. 451 Spirits first fired the beautiful copper pot still in 2015 and now has six core labels: Dear Johnny Smoked Apple whiskey, Writer’s Block mint and lime Rum, Pipe Dream rum aged in charred oak, Bone Shaker double distilled solera barrel aged whiskey, Clawfoot pot still Gin, and Midsommer’s Night green absinthe. The relatively diminutive size of the pot still offers him more freedom to run small batches and keep his offerings new and exciting.

This also leads to hairbrained schemes like concocting the first Pizza Whiskey in the known universe.

More specifically, it’s a “Pizza PIE’chuga.”

We had more questions. Kessler gave us more answers.

His spirit is an answer to the Mezcal Pechuga, a smaller batch version of of the increasingly trendy high-proof spirit native to the Mesoamerican area. Usually the local Mezcalero would make a special batch for a big holiday or occasion, employing the community to harvest fruits and herbs for the boil and using one of the more easily cultivated agave varietals. The Mezcalero would tie a chicken inside the neck of the still to cook it, in turn imbuing the hooch with some passing hint of meaty proteins and the lingering spirit of the bird.

I think you know where this is headed: Chicken out; pizza in.

Also enter Mikey’s Late Night Slice, which he had in mind before he even started the recipe.

“Mikey’s seemed the obvious choice for a few reasons. We both have similar philosophies and attitudes. They also do a different special pizza every week,” he said.

Kessler’s counterculture streak permeates the distillery the way pop culture imbues Mikey’s locations. When he was doing the first build-out of the distillery space, he made sure to calculate room for a small skateboard ramp and a drumset. Quirky art on the walls at a Mikey’s location could include Star Wars kitsch, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or a pizza-hued camouflage Da Vinci. Both establishments buck the normal trends, and both call to all the weirdos out there. At the same time, both businesses answer to no authority, really, and can nimbley change up at a moment’s notice. This is one of 451’s assets—like a craft beer brewery, they can work a one-off liquor into the mix without sacrificing production of their core products. This certainly doesn’t mean Kessler is playing it safe.

“We’re eventually going to be releasing one off spirits pretty regularly that will be distillery only releases,” Kessler said. “I figured for the first one, we should come out guns blazing with something well executed but completely ridiculous.”

By any standards, Kessler’s recipe for Pizza Pie’Chuga is completely ridiculous.

To start, he uses a base spirit from malted barley—much like a Scotch or a whiskey to be blended—and distills it twice. For reference, bourbon is distilled once, Scotch and blended whiskey twice, and Irish whisky three times. Mezcal, like bourbon, is generally distilled once and leads to what can only be described as an ornery spirit. Aging in new-use, charred American White Oak barrels is what lends the color to Bourbon and rounds off the harsh esters that would usually be tamed with continued distillation runs. Mezcal and the recently popular un-aged whiskey, sometimes referred to as white dog or young whiskey (Moonshine is different), retain most of those aromas from the congeners produced by initial mash fermentation.

Imagine a giant pot of stew: cooking it longer will tease out many more flavors; changing the water will strip many of those extracts from the final product.

On the second distillation, Kessler adds sundries tomato, garlic, basil, parmesan cheese, pepperoni, and actual whole slices of Mikey’s pizza. But, that’s all technical stuff. What you need to know is now you can have two Midwest flavors in one: pizza and whiskey.

Columbus—we have found our true spirit!

451’s Pizza PIE’ChugaRelease will be available in limited supply at Mikey’s Late Nite Slice and Oddfellows. The rest will be at the distillery. For more, visit 451spirits.com.

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