Every distiller has a great story about how they ended up making whiskey. But Chris Montana’s is a little different. It wasn’t a family legacy or a wingman partnership that brought Montana to distilling. It was Shakespeare. An influential professor drew Montana into existential discussions about free will buried in The Bard’s work. These discussions inspired a shift in perspective that led Montana to leave a career in politics and law to found Du Nord Social Spirits. Today Du Nord’s wildly popular spirits deliver not only world-class, award-winning whiskey but carry throughout the process of making and selling spirits a message of representation, inclusion, and power.
What whiskey first made you say fuck yeah?
Old Grandad 100. I was drinking other whiskies on my whiskey journey because, “Oh, this is expensive—I should drink this!” but I came back to Old Grandad. It was my go-to, and as it happens—and as I would later learn—it’s not that expensive, and it’s good. Macro distilleries have been cranking out pretty good whiskey for a reasonable price for a long time
If you weren’t making whiskey, you’d probably be . . .
A student. I’d be in school If I had the guts, I’d major in physics instead of getting a real job and selling myself off to a law firm. That’s why distilling is fun for me—it’s the science.
What’s a fucked up way you drink whiskey you probably wouldn’t tell anyone if you weren’t filling out this questionnaire?
I drink whiskey the way I drink gin or vodka, and that’s on the rocks with a twist of lime. The purist can jump up and down and insist everything be neat, but a lime’s great.
What’s a fucked up way someone you know drinks whiskey that makes you want to throw them off a cliff, and seriously, Jesus Hashtag Christ, why, Darryll? Why?
The problem I have is if someone takes something that’s really good and throws the kitchen sink at it. You have this spirit that’s XYZ, which costs 150 bucks, and you put it in a cocktail with 17 ingredients. This is evidence that it’s bullshit, that they have no respect, that it’s all about image. Whiskey has its own game, and it doesn’t need ornaments.
What song will get you onto the floor no matter what?
Dirty Diana, Michael Jackson
Give a quote from a movie you obsess over:
“My thinking about this case has become very uptight.” — The Big Lebowski
Besides making whiskey, what do you do right?
I’m pretty good at smoking meat. I’d like to say something deeper like I’m a good dad or husband—but people can disagree with that. But if I’m making ribs and you come over, they’ll be the best ribs you ever had.
Sum up the essence of great whiskey with a single word.
What moment during your process strikes you as perfect?
Every spirit has its milestones. Over time you get to learn where those milestones are. The perfect moment is at the end of distilling when you know you’ve hit your milestone, and everything worked out.
List three whiskies you love that aren’t yours.
- Woodhat’s Brew Barrel Bourbon
- Blaum Brothers—everything they touch turns to gold.
- Proof Artisan Distillers.
Name the single most underrated or overlooked distillery in your state.
Dampfwerk. I respect them for a couple of reasons: First, Ralph is brilliant; secondly, what they make doesn’t have to be commercial. This guy talks about little spirits that communities would make, and nobody else would know about it.
Name a whiskey you think our readers never heard of.
Seven Three’s Bywater Bourbon
What was your most embarrassing mistake making whiskey?
I made a lot of weird shit. Most of the really bad stuff I distilled I destroyed. As a distiller, one of my more embarrassing moments . . . we have a still caused the “Frankenstill” that I designed (which is why it’s been redesigned three times). The drain plug was directly at the bottom of the still with no clearance, so if anything ever went wrong, well, it’s in the dumbest place. It was leaking a little, so I reached under there to tighten it and turned it the wrong way, so 80 gallons of heat transfer oil fell out on me. I was drenched head to toe in oil, and DuNord is all windows, so I had an audience. Had the till been on, that oil would’ve been 300 degrees . . .
What are you reading?
I’m burning through the Great Courses 25-hour lecture on the First World War
What’s a moment in your life that made you realize life is goddam beautiful?
I had an English professor, E Hamilton, at the University of D.C. He would challenge you. Ostensibly you’re talking about Shakespeare, but really you’re talking about philosophy, and he challenged me an awful lot about the choices I made and if they’re really mine or choices made from external influences. When I got what he was teaching, I realized from that point forward that I could do anything I wanted to do. I realized I didn’t have to check the boxes and do what other people expected. Since I had that lesson in my hand, I could do different things. Like leave D.C. and open a distillery. From that moment when you realize that’s in front of you. That’s when life is beautiful.
Who would you like to see answer these questions?
Jake Holschu at Rogue.