We had the good fortune of connecting with Josh Christy and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Josh, we’d love to hear more about how you thought about starting your own business?
All the best things in life take time. This is especially true when it comes to whiskey. I have always tossed around the idea of opening a bar one day when I retire from the Navy. I have also dabbled in the theory of distilling spirits for the last 15 years or so. My intention is for Deaf Shepherd Distilling Co. to be the combination of the dream of owning a bar and the practical application of many years of research to supply said bar with the finest spirits I can create. While the bar may still be years in the future, I decided there was no time like the present to start making, barreling, and aging a variety of spirits. Focusing on those spirits with mandated ages written into their standard of identity (straight bourbon, whiskey, brandy, etc) allows me to use time to my advantage while I’m still active duty.
Distilling is an interesting mix between art and science. The science has been around for thousands of years. The art is what keeps things interesting for me. Two different distillers can start with the same whiskey mash base and produce similar yet different final spirits, all based on their particular style and tastes. Where they make their cuts (foreshots, heads, hearts, tails), what temperatures they run the still, what proofs they collect at, all impact the spirit that comes out. Now take that unique expression of the distiller in spirit form, fill up a barrel with it, and in two or more years hope like hell it tastes delicious! I am always tweaking my mash bills, improving how I run the still, striving for better conversion efficiency, and researching constantly.
Bottling and drinking spirits that I have personally made is somewhat similar to drinking in a time machine. Each time I pour a dram, I think back to what I was doing in my life and what was happening in the world when I created that spirit. I have barrels that were laid down before my sons were born. I have barrels that are pre-COVID (ahh better times!). Each one of my sons has a barrel of American Single Malt Whiskey with their name on it, filled the day before they were born, that will be bottled when they turn 21.
It is my greatest hope that after all the time, effort, blood, and sweat spent building this company and brand, it will be something that I will one day be able to pass along to my sons. Creating something that can be generational is a strong motivation.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Deaf Shepherd Distilling Co. started as a whisper of an idea during one of my combat deployments. Whether operating out of remote locations in the mountains of Afghanistan or sitting along the banks of the Euphrates River in Iraq, the thought of one day crafting my own line of spirits always tickled at the back of my mind. Named after my war dog and trusty sidekick, Satchel, a deaf shepherd mix dog I rescued in Afghanistan and brought back to the States with me in 2011, Deaf Shepherd Distilling came to life in early 2019.
As active duty Navy EOD (bomb squad) it’s been quite a juggling act but it has definitely been an adventure. I do all the distilling during my free time after work and on weekends. I get to jump out of planes, dive to the depths in search of sea mines, drive big trucks, and blow stuff up for a living in my day job. Then I get to make delicious spirits at night. I often jokingly refer to what I do in the Navy as Peter Pan’s dream job, and if I can make this distilling dream of mine come true, I’ll never truly have to grow up. Plus, neither job is ever boring, so while the days might be long and arduous at times, its always something I look forward to getting out of bed in the morning for. Has it been easy? Hell no, but if it was, everyone would do it.
One of the biggest things I’ve learned during this whole journey has been how tight knit the San Diego distilling community can be. It’s similar to what I’m used to in the Navy Special Operations community. There is always someone willing to lend you a helping hand, answer a question or ten in my case, and especially to try your final product and give you an honest opinion before you release it into the world.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
This is a tough one. San Diego has so much to offer and each area has its own flavor. A solid week long visit might go something like this: A trip to the Safari Park is always a blast. Stop by the Orfila and Bernardo wineries for a taste of the local San Diego terroir on the way home. I’d hit the beaches in Coronado, do a little sight seeing around the Del, stop for an aperol spritz and some delicious Italian food at Buona Forchetta, and finish up the day with a beer or two at Danny’s. Spend a day shopping and eating our way through Little Italy, stopping at The Waterfront to raise a glass and buy a shot of Fireball for one of my fallen brothers, Navy EOD Operator Chad Regelin. Then it’d be over to the zoo and Balboa park for a change of pace and scenery. Walking around the marina, Waterfront Park, seeing the Star of India, touring the Midway, and enjoying some ceviche and queso blanco dip at Miguel’s is always a day well spent. I’d round out the week with a stop for craft cocktails at Liberty Call Distilling in Barrio Logan, grab taco’s for lunch at Mike Hess in Imperial Beach, enjoy a beer at IB Forum, the most southwesterly bar in the continental United States, then another at Ye Olde Plank, the IB staple that enjoyed that title for many years, and finally finish by watching the sunset from the beach front patio at SEA180 with a cocktail and dinner.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
The alcohol industry can be hard to break into, especially for a contract distiller. When I was trying to get started, I went around to craft distilleries in the San Diego area. I talked with owners, distillers, bartenders, and staff. I asked if I could intern, work for free, watch, sweep the floor, anything to learn the craft at the industrial level. In the nicest ways possible, they all told me they were fully staffed. After months of being politely turned down, I was pointed in the direction of Bill Rogers at Liberty Call Distilling. Bill became my mentor in the distilling business, and I became a distiller for Liberty Call, working in trade for time on his equipment to produce my own brand of spirits under the Deaf Shepherd Distilling Co. label.
My wife, Stirling, and my two sons, Jack and Murphy, also deserve a huge shout out. Being active duty Navy is hard enough on a family, but add the stress of starting a passion project on the side, and its a good thing we make our own spirits! Early mornings before the kids are awake and late nights after they are in bed, all after working a full day for Uncle Sam. Lots of time sacrificed, but as they say “Anything worth doing is worth over doing. Moderation is for cowards”.
The Navy Special Operations Foundation (NSOF). Early on in the creation of my company I decided I wanted to give back to the community that has given so much to me. When NSOF was founded by Joe Cockrell, also a member of the Navy Special Operations community, I knew it was what I had been looking for. The NSOF logo is on my labels along with their website (nsof.org) and a portion of every bottle sale is donated to the foundation at the end of each year. People helping people is a powerful thing.
Facebook: Deaf Shepherd Distilling Co.