In late March, Wolf Spirit Distillery lead distiller Ben Green was figuring out how to transition his production from the company’s Blood x Sweat x Tears vodka to hand sanitizer, to meet the country’s growing need for the product. That means chasing down different containers, securing raw materials, and understanding rapidly changing legalities.
On a normal day, Green starts work mid-morning and works late into the night, often spending 90 hours a week at the distillery, a converted laundromat at First Avenue and Monroe Street in Eugene. Green can make around 1,500 liters of vodka, or 2,000 bottles, per batch, at a pace of about 20 days from grain to bottle. Despite being decidedly small-scale, Wolf Spirit’s vodka is in 30 states, with plans to be nationwide by mid-2021.
“We’re redefining what local craft distilling is,” Green says. “We do everything ourselves in this tiny location, and our work is now across the country.”
Green and his three-person crew create a delicious, smooth, and clean grain vodka from wheat, although it started out differently. Owner Umberto Luchini founded Wolf Spirit in 2017, at a time when local distilling was still a rarity, and it took them a full year to produce their first bottle. Now, of course, there are several distilleries in the area, but none have as colorful a story, or as rebellious a motto: “To live courageously with great purpose, and hell-bent on upending the system, for that is the Wolf Spirit.”
Luchini walked away from his job in marketing for Campari with a whim to do something anti-corporate and the whiff of a potato farmer looking to start a distillery. Green was an old friend of that potato farmer. And with tattoos stretching from his knuckles to his ankles to the top of his shaved head, Green fit that misfit, anti-establishment ideal Luchini envisioned. Green, with no formal experience in distilling, set his mind to developing the vodka recipe over countless iterations, until it was finally perfected.
The original potato vodka was good, but it turned out to be cost prohibitive, so now the company exclusively uses wheat sourced from Hamilton Ranch, on Rattlesnake Ridge Mountain in Washington state. Green’s recipe recently won a gold medal in the 2020 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, along with several medals from other competitions.
“There’s a different mouthfeel with grain vodka,” Green says. “Ours has real character with a sweetness that’s unusual.“
Green orders whole grain and has the Camas Country Mill grind it into a flour-like consistency. It’s then cooked and mixed with enzymes to break down the starches and yeast to convert it into alcohol. It’s fermented, distilled, and bottled on-site. Not a drop leaves the facility without being scrutinized and painstakingly cared for.
The company does have a tasting room, but it’s a very informal place. When you open the door, it’s so small that you’re practically walking into the production room. Their entrance is a small room with a cash register, a small counter, and a couple of stools. When a member of the crew catches a glimpse of you, they’ll give you a friendly greeting and put down whatever they’re working on to come pour you a sip of Blood x Sweat x Tears. You can’t order a cocktail, and there’s no food cart out front, but there’s a good chance you’ll see Green’s rescue pit bull and constant companion, Mr. Pickles.
In February, the company announced a partnership with Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, and in particular, their advocacy for the pit bull breed. Wolf Spirit is launching an e-commerce store with limited-edition Blood x Sweat x Tears T-shirts available, with all of the proceeds going to Best Friends. They also plan to more actively attend events supporting animal rescue.
“I want to help animals,” Green says. “I can be pretty antisocial, but Mr. Pickles is always there. People have choices but animals don’t, so I like to be a voice for animals and do whatever I can to help them.”
The company also imports Tom of Finland Organic Vodka, which gives 5 percent of all their profits to the Tom of Finland Foundation, a nonprofit promoting tolerance toward all sexual orientations.
As it says on the Wolf Spirit website, Luchini’s and Green’s daily motivation when they started this venture was, “Damn, this better work.” And it has, with Green, a tattooed anti-establishment misfit with a checkered past, at the helm, and Luchini’s #MisfitsWelcomed branding that takes what he learned in the corporate world and upends it.
“I am my own boss here, and I’m proud that I’m self-taught and I developed an award-winning recipe,” Green says. “I get to do things on my own terms in my own way, with no compromise.”
Wolf Spirit Distillery | 111 Monroe St.