Two-second cameo on Star Trek spinoff spurs sales
– By Jared Fiel –
It is the year 2024. Admiral Jean-Luc Picard has travelled back in time 377 years with Commander Raffi Musiker, who battles her drinking demons in the 24th Century.
Raffi bellies up to a bar and is tempted when the bartender places a gorgeous bottle of Bourbon II Whiskey from NOCO Distillery in Fort Collins in front of her.
That two-second appearance on Season 2, Episode 6 of the Star Trek spin-off “Picard” launched NOCO Distillery into a new stratosphere of sales, popularity and, well, nerds.
“I never thought it would have that kind of impact,” says NOCO’s co-owner Sébastien Gavillet.
Gavillet worked with a Fort Collins man who deals with product placement on many Paramount shows. In fact, NOCO has appeared in episodes of “Lucifer” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” before being in “Picard.” But to really find out how NOCO Distillery made the final frontier, we should start at the beginning.
NOCO Distillery started in 2016 under co-owners Gavillet and Neif Yensen.
“I’ve been in the wine and spirit business for over 30 years now. I started working with wine makers when I was 14,” says Gavillet, who is originally from Switzerland. In those 30 years, he has worked with breweries, wineries, distilleries and even coffee blenders in California, France, Italy and Scotland.
“In 2004, one of the top mixologists of the world, who is a friend of mine, said I had to get into whiskey. Competition with wine is too big. The problem with wine is that your inventory gets old. He also said there are no young people in the industry and no innovation because everyone does the same thing,” he recalls.
After taking five years to research and write his book, “Discovering and Mastering Single Malt Scotch Whisky,” Gavillet decided he wanted to try it on his own, with a focus on doing things differently.
“When I went to Scotland, I would ask the distillers what they would do if they could do anything,” he says. “From all those conversations, I made a list of all the things I should try based off what they wanted to try.”
That led him to Fort Collins. “It’s all about the water. Where you make good beer, you make good whiskey,” he says. “It came down to Fort Collins or Ashville, N.C., and Ashville is too humid for me so Fort Collins it is.”
The distillery, with a speakeasy tasting room, located at 328 S. Link Lane, Unit 11, began as a lab: For the first two years, they were mostly experimenting. They worked on how many times to distill and decided to do a slow, cold fermentation (except for their agave spirits), which means distilling up to two weeks instead of the typical 24-48 hours.
“We have four stills that we can configure in 50 different ways. Gave us a lot of different combinations to test,” he says. “Our fermentation yields better flavors, because we allow the fermentation to happen over a longer time…like a pilsner.”
NOCO also uses five-gallon barrels instead of the 53-gallon ones used by most major distilleries. The smaller barrels are more expensive, but because more of the liquid is touching the wood, it speeds up the aging time. He says one month in a smaller barrel equals a year in a larger one.
And each label at NOCO Distillery tells you the batch and barrel or cask number, which brings us to Cask 427: That’s the number of the cask on the bottle in that two-second cameo on “Picard.”
The Trek appearance was supposed to be in the first season of the show. But the pandemic halted a lot of the deliveries of other bottles that were supposed to be in the bar for the shot, so they had to scrap it even though Gavillet delivered other bottles with other labels to try to help out the production. Gavillet had to be a little forward-thinking in making the label.
“I invented a batch we haven’t produced yet and a barrel number that didn’t exist yet to be able to fit that timeline,” he says.
When the episode aired and Gavillet came into work the next day, he was greeted by a line of people who wanted a bottle from Cask 427, and he had to tell them it didn’t exist yet. In fact, one man had watched the episode on a plane headed to Denver and during his four-hour layover, he rented a car, drove up to Fort Collins and ended up with a case of other whiskey instead.
Gavillet knew he needed to create Cask 427, but he also knew a five-gallon barrel wasn’t going to cut it. He called up a distributor and got the biggest high-quality barrel they had, a 105-gallon Grand Cru cask. He filled it with the Batch 8 whiskey he had.
He posted a “Live Long and Prosper” hand on his website near the top so that people could sign up for a lottery to get one of the 450 to 500 bottles (priced at $120 each). In that time, nearly 7,000 people have signed up for the chance to get a bottle.
The lottery was handled by a lawyer in December. Each bottle has a specially-designed commemorative box and a certificate of authenticity intended to look like a Star Fleet Academy certificate.
“It’s going to be exceptional. I know because we dip into it every so often just to see how it is aging and we are so excited,” he says.
What to look for when buying a bottle of craft whiskey
When you are looking for a bottle of craft whiskey, the label can tell you a lot, according to Sébastien Gavillet, co-owner of NOCO Distillery.
He says the first thing you should do is look on the label and it will either say “distilled and bottled in…,” (which means all the alcohol was distilled at that distillery) or it will say “produced and bottled in…,” (which means the company bought the raw alcohol from another distiller and they bottled it).
“If you are going to pay $60 for a bottle and they only paid $3 for the liquid in the bottle, you are getting ripped off,” he says.
Labels will also tell you what kind of mash they use, the type of stills used (he says copper are the best) and information on aging and barrels.
He suggests trying different ages from different barrels. At NOCO Distillery, you can also see what batch was used, which allows you to try the exact same whiskey aged in different barrels over different times.
“Every barrel is like a child. It’s different. It’s got its own characteristics,” he says.
Jared Fiel is a writer in Northern Colorado who definitely added his name to the lottery.