Black Patch Distillery focuses on superior product
PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOSHUA BERRY
Visitors to Madison’s Black Patch Distillery quickly notice something unusual about the operation: the passion that permeates the place. It begins with the name itself.
“I always wanted to be a craft distiller,” said co-founder and distiller Gary Cooper, “and while my son Clayton was deployed in Iraq, I launched the distillery, naming it after the black patch of his unit’s insignia.”
Clayton Hinchman served in a crack Army Airborne Ranger unit, deployed to seek out and destroy Al Queda elements in the aftermath of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime. He served with distinction until he stepped on a pressure wire improved explosive device. It cost him his right leg.
The distillery gives Cooper, a retiree chemist, the means to fulfill his passion for distilling and dream of someday owning his own commercial distillery. “I always wanted to drive an American whiskey revolution back to the small family-owned distilleries we had early in our history,” Cooper said.
Hinchman, who with wife Leslie forms the rest of the Black Patch family ownership team, influenced his father to locate the startup in north Alabama. “I had business advisers who told me how great north Alabama is. There is an entrepreneurial spirit here in north Alabama that is hard to replicate elsewhere. People here have given us lots of advice.”
The passion extends to the end products, an array of distilled spirits that reflect the tastes of north Alabamians. “We always felt the passion is inside the bottle,” said Hinchman. “In combat we had a passion for our mission, and we think the name tells our story and sums up who we are.”
Loss of a leg in combat brought home to Hinchman the plight of other Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, who also suffered life-altering wounds. Black Patch Distillery donates a portion of the profit on every bottle to veterans’ organizations, especially those set up to help wounded veterans.
Father, son and daughter-in-law set up operations in December 2016 in a warehousing area off Lanier Road. Operating in relative obscurity for a year and a half, they were ready by June 2018 to introduce their baby to the public. A ribbon-cutting and open house attracted more than three times the number of visitors they expected. “We were overwhelmed by the public acceptance,” Cooper admitted. “It was all tremendously encouraging.”
He credits the City of Madison for helping overcome obstacles and paving the way for the distillery to open. “Madison officials have been very helpful to us,” Cooper said. “Mayor Finley and his staff are great to work with. They went out of their way to help us be successful.”
One of their first products, Blue Agave, has been very well received. “It’s similar to tequila, but we can’t call it tequila since it’s not made in Mexico. Our product has a richer, smoother, less aggressive taste,” Cooper said.
Other Black Patch products include Black Patch Rye and Black Patch Bourbon, the latter a traditional corn-based whiskey. A more recent product, H.E.A.T, borrows on military terminology – High Explosive Anti Tank – for what Cooper terms a “cinnamon whiskey with a candy cinnamon taste.”
After overcoming delays in starting up, Black Patch products are catching on. Distribution is key to success in the distilled spirits industry, and so far Alabama ABC stores, The Liquor Store and Windmill have placed orders. Initial plans called for production capacity of 15,000 bottles per year, but at current growth rates, Cooper and Hinchman said they will soon need to ramp up production. Plans are underway to double the size of the operation and add a hospitality room in the process.
“We’re excited about the future and gratified by all the community support,” Cooper added.