Q & A with Sim Daley: From Fisherman to Distillery Man

Thursday May 16, 2024

Q: Can you tell us a bit about your journey from being a fisherman to opening Penrock Distillery?

A: I grew up in Looe, Cornwall and went to sea fishing commercially. By the age of 21, I was skipper of my own trawler, however, the government began to restrict days at sea in an attempt to conserve fish stocks. For me, it meant I couldn’t earn a living only working 90 days a year. I sold my boat and left the industry. My hobby had been playing the banjo and once i had time on my hands, I decided to take a trip to Nashville, Tennessee. On my first trip there, I met my wife Missy, who plays the fiddle and after a few trips back and forth, we decided to marry. I spent the nest 21 years living and working in Tennessee. As you can imagine, moonshine and distilling, are common around the area and I eventually found myself drawn to the whole idea. Online research lead me to my now good friend Sherman Owen, who taught me all there was to know. The next step was to get a job at Beechtree Distillery, on the South side of Nashville. However, after living abroad for so many years, I really found myself missing Cornwall, so in 2016, I moved back home to Looe with he idea of starting my own whiskey distillery.

Q: So it was really your love for music that started you on your distilling journey?

A: Absolutely!! It’s what initially led me to Nashville and ultimately put me in a place that exposed me to distilling. Once I was in Nashville, I soon found myself playing local gigs and worked my way up to playing with some amazing professional bluegrass bands. I met people whom I had only read about in books and performed on the Grand Ole Opry. Not bad for an ole Looe boy! It was actually at a ‘picking party’ that I met the father of a fiddle playing friend of mine. He was really the one who introduced me to the concept of distilling. Up to that point, I never gave it any thought at all. He made brandy from cheap ‘two buck chuck’ wine, in a tiny little still that he had made from a fire extinguisher. He ran the ‘white dog’ brandy off it, then aged it in little one gallon barrels in his basement. It really was pretty good stuff.

Q: How did you become involved in the distilling industry?

A: After my ‘brandy experience’, I became obsessed with all things associated with distilling. The whole culture just spoke to me. I had friends who worked at Jack Daniel’s and I found myself touring any craft distillers I could get to. As my fascination grew, I found like minded people and I was lucky enough to become friends with a guy called Sherman Owen. He was an amazing man, who had been around distilling all his life and I was lucky enough for him to take me under his wing and teach me all he knew. It was through Sherman, that I was introduced to Steve Skelton. Steve owned a small Tennessee whiskey distillery, south of town and it didn’t’ take me long to talk him into letting me work there.

Q: Sherman Owen sounds like a great person to have learned from. How did you become acquainted?

A: I met Sherman through the online distilling forums. After my encounter with my fiddle playing friends father and his brandy, I started researching ‘moonshine and distilling’, which lead me to the forums. I tell ya, there are some really knowledgable guys on those forums and Sherman was one of the best. We started messaging back and forth and I told him just how much I really wanted to learn all there was to know. He actually took the time to drive three hours from Louisville to Nashville and even stayed over the weekend just to teach me all the basics. What I didn’t know at the time was that Sherman’s family had worked in the Kentucky bourbon industry. He set up a consultation company and assisted over two hundred and fifty craft distillery companies to start up. He had also worked with the famous Beam family and helped regenerate the Willet distillery in Loretta, KY. So I guess you could say, I was taught by one of the best.

Q: Can you tell us about your distilling philosophy?

A: I cook, ferment and distill every drop of my alcohol from raw ingredients. My rum is made from the best blackstrap molasses I can get my hands on and my whiskey is made from locally sourced corn. I cook, ferment, distill, mature and bottle everything myself, all in my little four hundred square foot unit. I use everything I learnt from Sherman and Steve at Beechtree. I don’t compromise and I never cut corners because I just love the whole process. It’s a constant challenge to make better whiskey with each batch. Everything is cooked and double distilled in the smallest of my two pot stills. I just pride myself in the knowledge that I’m doing everything the proper way, just like Sherman and Steve taught me.

Q: What sets your Cornish ‘Bourbon’ whiskey apart?

A: Well, there really isn’t much corn whiskey made in England, period. Most of the English whiskey distilleries make malt whiskey and a good proportion of them don’t even cook and ferment their own wash. I basically set out to make whiskey like I was still in Nashville, even down to buying new white American barrels to age the whiskey in.It’s a huge expense but I figure if you’re going to do it, you just as well do it right. I wanted to make whiskey that would hold its own if I was doing this in America. That way, i knew I would have something really special. As we are down here in Cornwall, our whiskey turns out unique by virtue of our location. The corn, makes make up 75% of the grain bill, is all sourced logically. The distillery is only eight miles from the sea and it all has an influence on the final product. There is nothing quite like the whiskey we’re making. I’ve already had some of my maturing whiskey obtain VERY favourable reviews on YouTube. At the time it wasn’t near fully matured, so will only get better. It’s always so humbling, when you put your heart and soul into something for people to say amazing things, giving glowing feedback about what you are doing.

Q: Are there any exciting plans for Penrock in the future?

A: I’m full of great ideas (lol). My head spins with the possibilities, but, every time I get a great idea, I know it’s going to take at least four years to come to fruition. My plan is to make a single malt whiskey next. Once I dump the Sour Mash (bourbon) casks, I’ll refill them with my single malt. I’m really excited to age my own malt whiskey in my own bourbon barrels. After that, I’m planning a variation of malt. Again, this will be aged in the third use of my own casks. I’ve got a few more ideas I’m kicking around in my head. One in particular has REALLY got me excited, but I’m keeping that one very close to my chest……. At least for now.

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