MADISON, Ala. - In June 2018, a family cut a ribbon officially opening their business in Madison. It's been a good year for their spirits in more ways than one.
Clayton Hinchman and his dad Gary Cooper know the road of life sometimes takes a different turn. Their journey started with making their own beer and wine at home. “About 14 or 15 years ago my dad transferred over into making moonshine and distilling,” Clayton said, “and this just became our dream ever since really.”
Gary has degrees in biology and chemistry. “Even in college, one of my term papers was on Saccharomyces, the yeast that’s used to do distillations,” Gary said with a smile, “So it's always been a passion.”
Gary was working as a polymer chemist but was looking for a new career. “I wanted to take early retirement and open up a craft distillery,” he said.
Black Patch Distilling Company was born after Clayton was wounded in Iraq 11 years ago in 2008. “I had to keep my mind busy and it was doing business plans,” he recalls, “and trying to understand first beer, then wine and then distilling because it was what my dad’s passion was and it was my passion.”
They made a family decision. Gary remembers telling Clayton, “If you're willing to make the pull, let's go ahead and get started.” They’ve never looked back.
The Black Patch name came from Clayton’s time serving our nation. He wore the black patch while serving with the Triple Deuce 10th Mountain Division. He was part of a task force chasing Al Qaeda.
“I stepped on a pressure wired IED which is a think copper wire that’s connected to a 122-millimeter mortar round. I lost my leg,” Clayton said, “My radio operator lost his eye and had several other soldiers and my interpreter that were wounded, about 10 or 12 I believe.”
They all survived. Because of the targets, they were pursuing, they didn’t display their names or rank on their uniforms. “The only thing we had was an American flag and a single black patch,” he added. On the other side of that patch was personal information, including blood type. “Unfortunately, I had to turn mine over and put it on my chest or my soldiers did when they saved me,” Clayton said.
The name and logo honor the men and women who serve. “Anybody who's serving this great country in any way, shape or form, to us is a black patcher,” Clayton said proudly. Gary added, “I look at it as a tribute to all soldiers, especially those who have given their lives for this country.”
Spirits at Black Patch are high right now. They’re staying busy. People wanted to come here and do events, birthday parties, receptions and we're like in the middle of a distillery,” Gary said laughing, “We're in a warehouse.” It now includes a bar where they serve the seven different products they make. They’ll soon add another.
It is a family business. “Even my mom comes up here and bottles and tries to help out so everybody's pitching in,” Clayton said, “and we just want to be together as a family and try to make it work.”
The veteran-owned and operated company hopes to produce more than 7,500 bottles of whiskey, tequila and moonshine this year. And they’re having fun doing that. “I usually tell everybody right now if you're having a bad day at work, just sample some product and you feel a whole lot better,” Gary said laughing. He’s also the master distiller.
Right now, Black Patch Distilling Company is focusing on putting its products on store shelves nationwide. And in case you’re wondering, its best seller is called H.E.A.T. which stands for high explosive anti-tank. It’s a cinnamon-flavored whiskey.