Randy & Wendy’s Big Adventure
by: John Stanton
photography by: courtesy of Randy and Wendy Hudson
It began with an invitation for Randy Hudson to go to Montana and mix some whiskey with a group of craft distillers who call themselves Good Guy Distillers.
Hudson’s Triple Eight Distillery is part of the group. To be a member you have to actively give something back to the industry. And they are serious about it.
Every year a few of the over 100 members are culled out for not living up to that ideal.
“Randy wasn’t even wanting to go, with the risk of COVID associated with flying right now,” Wendy Hudson said. “We just thought ‘well, maybe we should try out van life and hop on the road’.”
Apparently, one can rent vans and recreational vehicles under the same business model that allows one to rent a house or apartment on Airbnb. Wendy Hudson owns Nantucket Bookworks and Mitchell’s Book Corner. Industry shows for both distilleries and book stores are held in the winter.
“We’re lucky Nantucket has such a quiet season and we were able to do this,” Wendy said.
And so, into the van went a pile of books from Mitchell’s, along with Baxter the dog.
They also brought a bottle of the Notch whiskey made at the island distillery, Triple Eight. Randy had already shipped a cask of Notch to the project, which was used as part of the creation of something called a vatted malt: blended whiskey made from a number of single-malt whiskies. There’s lots of sipping from all the single malts, lots of discussion about a recipe, about how much of each whiskey should be in the final recipe, lots of time spent working with friends in the business.
The trip expanded with the addition of a pass that allowed them to explore national parks, and a fine-tuned sense of wanderlust. It became more than just transportation. After a year of the pandemic, and four years of hot-tempered political strife that eventually turned violent, they began to think the best thing might be to simply drive into the heart of this nation and say hello to their fellow Americans.
“It was an opportunity to see some of the country. All of our minds have been focused on the political divides and fear of COVID. Part of us wanted to reclaim our lives and try to understand what was happening,” Wendy said.
“Life needs to go on during this in some way. I feel like the older I get the less sense things are making.”
They kept the risks we have all gotten used to in mind. They slept in the van. They wore masks.
“The comments from my friends and family were like, ‘Wow. You went to places I didn’t even think were safe, for COVID or for political reasons.’ It’s been a really unsettling time.”
“The trip made us feel like you can find yourself in a media bubble, on either side, and end up with an outlook that is not real. One surprise was everywhere we went everyone had masks on. Every place. They were totally taking it seriously.”
They even got to visit family.
“It was just so important to see Randy’s mom,” Wendy said. “We were masked and distant and outside and very, very mindful. But we could feel the hope at the end of the tunnel.”
Hudson admits that the middle of a pandemic might not be the best time to stop in and visit with people. But along with family, they were able to visit some bookstores, distilleries and national parks along the way. They kept in touch with their friends here on-island via their Instagram feeds.
There was, of course, the whiskey blending at the end of the long road. Ten distillers from across the country brought their single-malt whiskies to a Butte, Mont. distillery called Kelley Distillery. Hudson’s Notch has won a boatload of awards as the best single malt in America.
According to the Montana Standard newspaper, the whiskey the group blended was expected to fill 1,000 bottles. Each will sell for $50. That $50,000 will be seed money for STEP-UP, an American Craft Spirits Association diversity foundation. But since every member brought more single malt than was expected, it will result in several different lots of the blend, all with different recipes and tastes. In the end, there might be enough to raise $150,000.
The participating distilleries, along with Triple Eight, included Bentley Heritage of Minden, Nev.; Balcones Distilling of Waco, Texas; Headframe Spirits of Butte, Mont.; FEW Spirits of Evanston, Ill.; Santa Fe Spirits of Santa Fe, N.M.; State Line Distillery of Madison, Wisc.; Blackstone Spirits of Chicago, Ill.; Sonoma County Distilling of Rohnert Park, Calif. and Rouge Spirits of Independence, Ore.
STEP-UP’s goal is to train two people a year in starting a distillery, thus diversifying the industry in terms of “races, genders, disabilities and sexual orientations,” according to the ACSA. The internships will include all aspects of the industry. By the time they stepped off the boat back on the island they had been traveling for 30 days.
“I would have liked to do more,” Wendy said. “It turned out we couldn’t do as much as we had hoped. State parks in New Mexico were closed for COVID and a lot of access was restricted. I didn’t expect that.” ///
John Stanton is a writer, documentary filmmaker, associate editor of The Inquirer and Mirror and editor of Nantucket Today.