Willie Dale got into the distilling business by accident.
“When I was living in New York, I met a representative for a local Brooklyn whiskey brand,” he says with a laugh. “She was this super cute girl who rides motorcycles and I wanted to impress her.”
There’s no doubt she would be impressed with Dale’s current setup as [arguably] the world’s first jungle distiller. He spends his days in an open-air distillery he built by hand, repurposing local produce like mangoes and sugarcane into one-of-a-kind liquors for Kalu Yala’s community and guests. We sat down with Dale to learn the tricks of his very unusual trade.
R&S: What is the most fun part about distilling? Telling people I’m the distiller. It’s my job to know booze. You make friends right away.
Say you’re making a drink for yourself. What are you having? A liquor, neat or on the rocks. But I’ve definitely been known to make myself an Old Fashioned or Manhattan. Love a good Manhattan.
What is your go-to drink at a bar? Beer.
How about a cocktail? Cocktail-wise I’ll have a nice, shaken rum drink. That’s it! Dark and Stormy. I fucking love Dark and Stormies.
What is one bottle of liquor that you’d love to have on your shelf? Green Chartreuse.
And what the hell is that? It’s this super fancy-pants herbal liqueur made by monks in France. There’s only one person at a time in the whole world who knows the entire recipe.
Clear or brown liquor? Nothing against clear liquor, but I’m a fan of brown. I love the taste of wood in a brown liquor.
What did you drink in high school? I didn’t drink in high school.
Really? No. I actually followed the law. And didn’t really like the taste yet.
What ingredient are you most looking forward to using for the jungle? Dale: Yucca vodka– I’d love to make a little Panamanian staple.
What is the toughest part of distilling in the jungle? Either access to supplies or the bugs. Probably the latter. But both a huge pain in the ass.
What is the most unexpected thing that’s happened making booze in the jungle? The fact that it’s actually worked and people like it. Either that, or the time there was a tarantula in my condenser.
What would you like to try to do next? It’s always a continuous goal that I want to make this process zero waste and closed loop.
If prohibition came back, how would you hide your booze? Are you kidding? I’d stay just how I am. I’m making booze in the jungle.