Meet The Memphis Distiller Bringing Whiskey To West Tennessee

Alex Castle is the first female master distiller in Tennessee since Prohibition.

Alex Castle

Old Dominick

Memphis is known for its music and barbecue, but certainly not whiskey. But Alex Castle, master distiller of Old Dominick, seeks to change that. She’s making a name for the city and herself as the first female master distiller in Tennessee after Prohibition. But it wasn’t the spirit that first attracted her to the industry.

“In high school, I decided to study chemical engineering, because I'd fallen in love with chemistry, physics and higher level math. My mom said, ‘Oh you can study chemical engineering.’ I said, ‘That's wonderful, what do you do with it?’ She said, ‘You can make beer and be a brewmaster, or you can make bourbon and be a master distiller,’” recalls Castle.

She attended the University of Kentucky and got an internship with a company in Lexington called Alltech.

“Their main business was animal nutrition supplements, but the reason I selected them was because at the time they had a small brewery.”

The company later started a distillery as well and Castle got her first taste of the industry. One day, her boss asked if she wanted to observe a distillation but when he had to leave for an appointment, gave her a quick run-down before passing the reins.

“That was the first time I ever ran stills and that was the day I decided that I didn't want to be in beer, I wanted to be in whiskey. I ended up running the system, and filling the first hundred barrels or so of what would become Pearse Lyons Reserve Whiskey, then evolved into Town Branch.”

After graduating from university, Castle nabbed a job at Wild Turkey, overseeing production, including grains receiving and mashing distillation. “I was responsible for 24 hour a day, six day a week operation. I was there for four years, and absolutely loved it.”

She might have stayed there if it hadn’t been for a LinkedIn message from a company in Memphis, becoming Old Dominick’s first hire. D. Canale & Company, the distillery’s parent company, was first opened in 1866 by an Italian immigrant grocer. Distilling ended during Prohibition but the company founder’s ancestors discovered a bottle of the chief product, the Dominick Toddy, in 2013 and sought to recreate it, reopening the distillery in the process.

Old Dominick Exterior

Old Dominick

“The distillery was their way of getting back to Memphis, getting that footprint and having something that people could actually see in Memphis where everything started for them so long ago.”

Castle got to be a part of the process from the ground up, from installing the Vendome stills to choosing light fixtures and tile. “It was very cool to get to be a part of that, because now when I walk through the building it feels very much like my distillery, even though it's not.”

In terms of deciding what types of products the distillery would craft, Castle was open to possibilities.

Old Dominick

Old Dominick

“It was an exciting challenge because Memphis doesn't really have the [distilling] history, which meant that I had a blank slate,” she says. “There were no traditions that you had to follow and honor with distilling history in Memphis, because it is nonexistent. From a creative standpoint, it let me do whatever I wanted to do.”

She’s been at Old Dominick for seven years and in 2015 became the head distiller, the first in the state of Tennessee. She now holds the title of master distiller, further paving the way for women in the industry.

“Our [spirits] industry in Tennessee didn't really start until 2009, 2010. Prior to that, we were only allowed to have three distilleries.”

Castle is now working on new products for the distillery. “We just released our Tennessee whiskey as our first estate produced whiskey and the first whiskey to be distilled, aged, and bottled in Memphis since prohibition.”

So what does Castle drink in her time off? “I actually am typically a wine drinker, but when it comes to spirits, I love cocktails, I'm just a big fan of the classics. An old fashioned is usually my go-to.”

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