House of spirits

Owners Josh Maxwell, Ryan Cherrick and Josh Nichols pose in front of aging casks at Branded Hearts Distillery.

Owners Josh Maxwell, Ryan Cherrick and Josh Nichols pose in front of aging casks at Branded Hearts Distillery.

Photo/Eric Marks

For more information, visit

The idea for today’s column dates back to a kinder, gentler time. Think back, not so long ago, before a heated election rattled us to our foundations. Think way back to Halloween, 2016. This year, my family joined friends to trick-or-treat in their hood and kicked off the evening with pumpkin chili and the annual sampling of pumpkin beers. The last few years, fall temperatures what they are, I’ve taken to carrying a flask around the neighborhood—a little something to take the nip out of the air and lend some festivity for those of us too old for sexy costumes and zombie crawls. While I take no credit for this trend, it seems to have caught on. Lots of travel mugs out there this year.

So there we were, readying ourselves for the Taking o’ the Candy, and I found myself gazing at the eclectic bottles atop the fridge. While he’s primarily a beer nerd extraordinaire, our host also enjoys some proper distillations, and a bottle of local Branded Hearts Distillery’s Oat’ed Bourbon caught my eye.

I’ve always wanted to have more of a palate for the brown spirits—bourbon, rye, Scotch, whiskies Irish, Canadian and beyond. It must harken back to my granddad’s affinity for them, a little on the rocks before dinner when we visited, as well as the rustic, ancient mysticism of years-old booze in oak barrels, biding its time while the alchemy of wood, fire and time completes it. Unfortunately, I’ve never really figured out what I like. What I assume is “the good stuff” gets pretty expensive.

Figuring bourbon that’s been “Oat’ed” might be worth a shot, I soon set out to the Branded Hearts facility in West Reno, planning on a quick look around, a sip or two to decide what I like, and maybe pick up a bottle of something. What I left with was a crash course in modern craft spirits and a bottle of wheat whiskey.

Owners Josh Nichols and Ryan Cherrick were there on a quiet Friday afternoon. It was just me, so Cherrick was quite generous with his time and knowledge. With a brief description of each product before tasting, a virtual buffet of rum, whiskey, bourbon and even a 100 percent honey liquor—not sweet and syrupy like I expected—took over my visit. Cherrick was clearly content to geek out on the scientific aspects of fermentation and distillation and delve into what makes each of these what they are, from the various grains used to the barrels and aging time. The bourbon does indeed have a healthy dose of oats (although the “Oat’ed” part of the name has now been retired, by request of the feds). The whiskey is made from a mix of red and white Winnemucca wheat. I enjoyed every minute of the conversation and the sampling, like I was chatting with a friendly bartender at a familiar neighborhood watering hole.

The distillery isn’t huge by any means, so the tour was brief—a look at the still itself, the massive super sacks of grain and, of course, the hallowed barrels themselves. I skipped the cocktails but brought home my souvenir shot glass. And, since I splurged on the cask strength whiskey, at 118 proof, I think I can make it last until next Halloween, you know, since I’m still figuring out what I like.