Finding Kosher Spirits at Golden Moon Distillery
Guests at this year’s YAD ELEVATE enjoyed an evening of community and award-winning artisan spirits produced by Golden Moon Distillery in Golden, Colo. Golden Moon boasts 22 products—from Golden Moon Single Malt Whiskey to REDUX Absinthe, from Golden Moon Gin to Gun Fighter American Bourbon. Of the company’s products, all are Kosher except those with a grape input.
The force behind Golden Moon is Stephen Gould—master distiller, company co-founder, retired U.S. Marine, rare book collector, YouTube personality, teacher, consultant, and descendant of bootleggers. Wearing all those hats keeps Gould busy, but JEWISHcolorado caught up with him for a conversation shortly after he made a whirlwind trip to Italy.
You left for Italy on a Sunday and you were back by Wednesday. Whew! What was the purpose of the trip?
I was on the ground in Milan for a total of 50 hours! I was invited there to be on a panel speaking to the audience about craft distilling—the challenges and the direction the world is headed. Originally, the organizers had called several distillers in the UK, and all of them suggested that they contact me.
While in Milan, I was able to cluster business meetings around the event. We’ve sold some intellectual capital to Groupo Campari which happens to be headquartered there, so I met with their leadership. I also met with my importer. It was a very productive trip.
You founded Golden Moon in 2008, and it seems like you have been growing since day one.
We have converted a light industrial warehouse into a world-class whiskey production facility in Golden. We started with 2,000 square feet, expanded to 10,000 square feet, and now are upgrading an additional 4,000 square feet. We employ 12 people, and we’re currently selling Golden Moon in 17 states, the UK, four countries in Europe, and Taiwan.
We have the capacity to produce 100,000 9-liter cases annually, and now we are actively looking for equity investors to help us grow. Our expansion is focused on becoming a major player in the American single malt category with Golden Moon Colorado single malt whiskeys, all of which are Kosher.
You have recently received the Kosher designation for all your products except those with wine input. What did it take to earn the hechsher?
We started pursuing Kosher about three years ago. We had to submit all our manufacturing processes, all our raw ingredients for review. We had to kosher the stills, which meant filling them with water and blowing steam through them under supervision.
Earth Kosher was our certifying company. Rabbi Shmuly Engel of Chabad Cherry Creek works part-time for Earth Kosher and does our routine inspections every 45 to 60 days.
As a Jew, if I own grain during Passover, it makes it non-Kosher so I have to temporarily sell the distillery during Passover. I sell it and then, the week after Pesach, the rabbi comes back, we annul the sale, and I buy it back.
Why was it important for you to be able to manufacture a Kosher product?
I may not be Kosher myself, but I certainly am Jewish, and at a variety of levels being a Kosher producer was important. I have a lot of friends and family members who are Kosher. This gives people—even non-Jews—an extra level of comfort that someone is looking at our manufacturing process, that we are making something of quality, that we care about what we are doing.
For those who are Jewish and choose their own spiritual path that includes being Kosher, it gives them options for not just our whiskeys which are, by definition, Kosher without certification, but also for our other spirits.
When people asked the little boy Stephen Gould what he wanted to be when he grew up, it’s hard to imagine you said you wanted to be a distiller.
When I was little, I wanted to be a fighter pilot or an astronaut. I always wanted to be a member of the U.S. Marine Corps and I did that.
When I was 13, I was bar mitzvahed and I told my parents, “Guess what, I am a man now and I can go out and earn my own money.” I got a job at a restaurant and fell in love with food and beverage. My mother worked in my grandfather’s restaurant, so I came by it honestly.
My grandfather came to this country from Russia and settled in Clermont, New Hampshire. He opened a dry goods store, then a diner, and then a hotel. About 5 years ago, my mother told me that my grandfather made applejack and gin during Prohibition to sell in his venues. His sister, my great-aunt, would go across the border to Canada and come back, pretending to be pregnant, with bottles of Canadian whiskey tucked into her “baby bump.”
I have talked to other people in the industry who run much larger enterprises than I do and who also happen to be Jewish and Ashkenazi, and we laugh about these stories because, on a much larger scale, they did the same thing. It seems like every major distributor in the United States today started as prohibition bootleggers.
What was the professional path you took to where you are today?
I was working on my MBA and started a small brewery with friends. My plan was to get out of grad school and open a distillery. I asked Fritz Maytag (heir to the Maytag fortune and the grandfather of the American craft brewing and distilling industries) for advice, and he said, “You need to wait 5-10 years. Go get a real job and learn how to run a business, and then, if you still want to go into distilling, come back to it.”
That was great advice. I became an executive at several major corporations, most notably Ford Motor Company where I ran their Asian Pacific supply chain. I also worked for Kearney doing international logistics and supply chain work with clients like Hewlitt Packard, Lucent, and Starbucks.
After 9/11, I was called back to active duty first at the Pentagon and then I was deployed to Iraq in 2003, shortly after the invasion.
But I never lost interest in distilling. In 2008, we opened a small distillery to make absinthe. That is the company that exists today, but it was a hobby business when I started it.
Golden Moon also runs a speakeasy in Golden. If you stop by, what is your favorite drink to order?
It depends on my mood. Very often, I will get a Rob Roy. It’s the same cocktail as a Manhattan, but made with a lighter whiskey such as a blended Scotch or a single malt.
You have an international reputation for your Golden Moon product, your antique stills and customized new stills, and your rare book collection focused on distillation. Every malt product that you produce that is not limited release has taken gold or double gold at the World Spirits Competition in San Francisco. But there are more than 100 craft distillers in Colorado. How do you differentiate your product?
We are particular about our raw ingredients and our processes which typically are different from other producers. We are blessed to have Rocky Mountain run-off water from Clear Creek and Montezuma watersheds as an amazing raw ingredient. For our single malts, we use locally malted barley that is grown in Colorado, Idaho, and Wyoming and malted in Golden.
I want to use the best ingredients I can find to make the highest quality product I can make so that our customers have an amazing experience when they drink it.