Río Fernando Park partners with Rolling Still to create new whiskey

By Lynne Robinson
Posted 2/5/20

When we heard about an upcoming event at the Rolling Still Lounge this week - debuting a whiskey made from organic rye grown at Río Fernando Park - we thought it too good a story to pass up, and decided to pose a few questions to both Dan Irion from Rolling Still, and Kristina Ortez, the executive director of the Taos Land Trust.

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Río Fernando Park partners with Rolling Still to create new whiskey

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The ongoing rehabilitation work at Río Fernando Park continues to explore and apply the best practices for the conservation of soil, water and habitat.

With this project, the Taos Land Trust is committed to increasing awareness of these practices by sharing the knowledge with our community in many ways. This includes offering educational workshops for community members, especially young people, in traditional and sustainable methods including acequia irrigation and climate-resilient agricultural practices.

In revitalizing a section of the Río Fernando River, bringing an old acequia back to life and restoring the once-productive agricultural lands of this property, the site provides the Taos community and its visitors with downtown access to the river and green space through a network of trails.

Río Fernando Park is central to the Working Lands Resiliency Initiative, as a demonstration site and educational hub. It has also been quietly partnering with other landowners and businesses in the community to share resources and help build a sustainable economy that focuses on creative and eco-friendly practices.

When we heard about an upcoming event at the Rolling Still Lounge this week - debuting a whiskey made from organic rye grown at Río Fernando Park - we thought it too good a story to pass up, and decided to pose a few questions to both Dan Irion from Rolling Still, and Kristina Ortez, the executive director of the Taos Land Trust.

Kristina, could you tell us a little about this collaboration between the Taos Land Trust and Rolling Still, and how it came about?

We began by restoring the Vigil acequia, and then in April we moved the water onto the land. The grains were planted to stabilize the land, but to our surprise and delight, we ended up with 7,000 pounds of grain.

Because we already had a longstanding relationship with the folks at Rolling Still, beginning with Taos Mesa Brewing - when we were using their spent grain from brewing beer as compost and they were planting elms as a wind barrier with seeds from Río Fernando park - we reached out to them, to see if they could use the grains we had harvested.

They had already made vodka from elderberries from our trees, so it was an obvious partnership.

Dan, what was the initiative on your end, for this collaboration between Rolling Still and Río Fernando Park?

My wife, Liza, the owner along with Nicole Barady of Rolling Still - I'm just a worker bee - told me about the work on restoring the Río Fernando the Taos Land Trust was doing. We went to an open house they hosted and became familiar with some of their agricultural projects.

It fit with the ethos of Rolling Still to work with the "tierre noir" of our region. At the time we partnered up with the Land Trust to harvest some of their elderberries for infusing our elderberry vodka. This was the beginning. Last summer they grew six acres of rye as part of a soil restoration project. Their head grower, Ben Wright, approached me about using the rye for a distilled whiskey.

We had been a bit hesitant to launch into the world of whiskeys as they are expensive with capital intensive start-up costs to properly engage in barrel aging at scale, and we are a bootstrapped small local company. But Ben was convincing, and we had some creative ideas to craft a unique blended whiskey. Hence, our whiskey, formula 4.2, was born, using distilled rye from the Taos Land Trust.

Kristina, it appears that partnering with businesses and landowners in the community is a major focus of the Land Trust's mission with the Río Fernando project.

When we take care of our land and water, it directly impacts our ability to grow our own food as a community, to keep things local, supporting local businesses so that we can move toward a truly sustainable economy. This is an ongoing collaboration with Dan and Liza and their partners at Rolling Still.

Dan, this event is also a benefit for a young local skier - who and why?

We are debuting formula 4.2 through the entire month of February. As part of the release we have crafted a special cocktail, "Pajarito Loco," to showcase our blended whiskey.

A portion of the proceeds will be going to local skier Robbie Forbes. Robbie was born in Taos and has been developing his craft locally for over a decade. He had been pushing the limits in freestyle skiing and has achieved a competency that is staggering.

It is a challenge to get recognized on a larger scale. Coming from our small town and the costs associated with trying to achieve recognition are substantial. We are helping to bridge this gap by sponsoring Robbie.

Dan, a little bird tells us that Omar Rane is going to be performing at the event, debuting a new CD - it sounds like a party?

Omar Rane is indeed performing and debuting his new project, "Conundrums." Omar is an absolute genius and seldom gets the recognition he deserves. He is a guitar virtuoso and a true unheralded local treasure that enriches the Taos performing arts landscape. His latest project intrigues me more than any other to date.

Thanks for reaching out and helping us to tell this story. Obviously I am partial, but I truly feel this is a great example of multiple sources working collaboratively to craft a true modern Taos experience.

FYI

Rolling Still's roll-out of 4.2 whiskey with Omar Rane at The Lounge

Thursday (Feb. 6) 5-7 p.m.

The Lounge at Rolling Still is located at 110 Paseo del Pueblo Norte, suite #d

Call (575) 613-0326 or visit online at rollingstill.com .

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