Q + A: Cole Miller of Twelve Barrels Whisky

At 16, Carleton cognitive science student Cole Miller began brewing his own wine underneath his bed. After his parents caught him, he took his operations outside, and began to produce beer and eventually, whisky. Now the 21-year-old is running his own business, Twelve Barrels, and he appeared on an episode of CBC’s Dragons Den that aired last week.

The Charlatan spoke to Miller about his experience with brewing, his business experience, and his time in the Den.

The Charlatan (TC): On the show, you said you were making wine when you were 16 years old. What inspired you to do that, and how did you figure out how to make wine at that age?

Cole Miller (CM): What got me into it was, I’d have friends over, and Dad had quite the liquor cabinet. We’d take out an inch out of each bottle essentially . . . eventually I got caught. So my friends and I needed a supply of booze somehow, and I decided I was going to make it, and I learned how to make wine on YouTube. I was watching how to make it prison-style essentially, they called it ‘prison sludge.’ I went to Walmart and bought Welch’s grape juice and baker’s yeast, used to ferment bread, and a little bit of sugar in there and you can make some half-decent drinkable wine. Mom and Dad caught me making the wine underneath my bed. I’ve got it fermenting there. They weren’t condoning it, but ‘If you’re going to do it, get it outside the house.’ Mom was afraid I was going to strip the paint off the walls.

TC: What do you feel sets Twelve Barrels apart from other Canadian whiskies?

CM: So the whisky inside the bottle is nothing unique, there’s nothing special about that, which is why it’s fantastic. I don’t own a distillery, I don’t own a blending house, these cost lots of money and overhead. Eventually we’ll get there and have my own distillery, but in the meantime I buy already aged whisky from other distilleries in Canada, and one from the States. So I bring all these whiskies together, already aged, and sell it as Twelve Barrels. Individually, it could be a component of Crown Royal, for example. Crown Royal might put 100 different whiskies together to make that bottle, I might buy one of those components, and another component from another distiller and blend those together. So it’s a unique product that we had to create, but it’s nothing revolutionary in the taste.

TC: Once you’ve made an agreement on the show, it’s not a done deal, you still have to go off camera and hammer out the deal. Where are you in that process now?

CM: The deal fell through for various reasons. It was mutually beneficial for both of us probably . . . We worked with them until about September. Jim and Wek had offered lots on TV that wasn’t cut on the show . . . They were banking on the LCBO coming on board. At that time, the LCBO was nowhere near coming on board, so it wasn’t beneficial, giving the money and waiting a year for it to pan out. We both decided to back out. We still get in touch through email. Would I like to do something with them in the future? Absolutely.

– Photo is provided.