When you step into Rhine Hall, there are many things you might notice: the sweet punch aroma of fermenting fruit, steam emitting from copper distills, steel clad vessels, maybe even a patron enjoying a cocktail in the tap room. But beneath all of that lies still more an honest, authentic process and a father-daughter team that is passionate about what they do: making craft fruit brandies.
In the 70’s, Charlie Solberg (the father) had the opportunity to play hockey in Europe. “In those days, the exercise regimen to become a hockey player or any sport, any athlete, is not like it is today…it’s not quite 24-7. I still was one of those that couldn’t sit all day so I took a few jobs. Then I met a lot of different people and learned how to do distilling.” It was there where he experienced the process of distilling fruit brandy, or schnapps. That experience stuck with him, and as he experimented with various personal brewing endeavours, his children took notice of their father’s passion. In fact, one of the decorative fixtures in Rhine Hall—a bicycle apple chopper—is a nod to their father’s early days of learning distilling. Jennifer, Charlie’s daughter, remembered her father’s unique story and skills and thought it might be a venture worth pursuing after college. The idea grew legs and they went for it. Now they operate a hand-crafted brandy distillery in the West Loop of Chicago that distributes in several states in the U.S.
Watching their process is pure and simple, and yet there are many things to keep in balance. On certain nights volunteers can come in to help process fruit for pulping. After that it goes through a fermenting process. The Solberg’s use the fruit’s sugar to encourage fermentation rather than adding sugar, something that’s not common in the brandy industry. Then it’s time to distill, which is all about timing, temperature, alcohol content, and clarity of the liquor itself. All these areas require a skillful understanding of how the fruit distills and what it takes to get a pure end product. Seeing all of this makes one realize that it is certainly an art in creating brandy.
If you’re in Chicago, stop by Rhine Hall’s tasting room on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday to sample some of their craft. (www.rhinehall.com)