Bryan Hamner of Gardiner speaks to the camera on the set of the Discovery Channel show “Moonshiners: Master Distiller” in Tennessee. The episode Hamner was featured in aired Wednesday night and is available to stream on Discovery+. Photo courtesy of Steve Townley

SOUTH GARDINER — Bryan Hamner hadn’t been distilling spirits all that long when he came across an application online to appear as a contestant on the TV show “Moonshiners: Master Distiller.”

“I applied for it, just on a whim,” Hamner, who lives in South Gardiner, said recently. “I just figured I’d throw my name in the hat.”

During Wednesday’s episode, “Breakfast Booze,” Hamner, 36, stepped away the winner of the breakfast spirit challenge.

In addition to earning bragging rights, his winning concoction — which he’s calling Blueberry Bourbon Pancakes — will be produced by Sugarlands Distilling Co. It will be on sale for a limited time in Tennessee, where the show is produced.

“It was a fun experience,” Hamner said. “I’d do it again if I could.”

Outside Maine, fans who watch the Discovery Channel show may be more familiar with the state’s beers. But Maine is home to a wide range of makers including the state’s 35 active licensed distilleries, which produce whiskeys, gins, vodkas, rums and a variety of other spirits using Maine ingredients in many cases.

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“We have a long tradition of very talented makers, and the distilling industry is no different,” Ned Wight said. Wight is the president of the Maine Distillers Guild and president and distiller at New England Distilling in Portland.

“Many of our distillers in the state have won both national and international awards for their spirits,” Wight said.

Hamner, who distills both as a hobby and professionally, works at Maine Craft Distilling in Portland.

His path to the competition was neither direct nor short.

A number of months passed before he was contacted for a interview. Once selected, he traveled to Tennessee over the winter to compete against two other distillers.

The distilling process starts with making a mash, which ferments for about five days, giving contestants some down time. Hamner said he used that time to tour local distilleries in the Gatlinburg and Sevierville areas of Tennessee.

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Bryan Hamner of Gardiner raises a glass on the set of the Discovery Channel show “Moonshiners: Master Distiller” in Tennessee. In an episode that aired Wednesday, Hamner beat two other contestants who were tasked with crafting a breakfast-influenced spirit. Photo courtesy of Steve Townley

The two downsides were that his wife was home in South Gardiner trying to heat their home with wood, and he came down with COVID-19, which halted filming for a while. Because he couldn’t fly home, he had to rent a car and drive nearly 1,100 miles home, before returning to Tennessee to finish the episode.

Hamner said all the ingredients he used during the contest were from Maine except for the corn.

He developed a blueberry buckwheat whiskey and added some maple syrup that he had made and aged in an oak barrel. The buckwheat is a nod to ployes, griddle cakes made from buckwheat flour that are part of French-Acadian cooking in Maine and eastern Canada.

“I made it a point to do that,” he said. “I think I’ll make Maine proud if they watch me.”

While he had made both whiskey and a blueberry liquor before, this was the first time he combined them in this way.

The other competitors made a liquor from doughnuts and a Bloody Mary-flavored rum.

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Long before he started distilling, Hamner said he’d been a fan of “Moonshiners,” and has watched the show since it started airing. When “Moonshiners: Master Distiller” was spun off, he started watching that, too.

“I got to meet all these guys I have been watching on TV for years,” he said. “So that was really cool.”

He also was able to meet other people who distill as a hobby and was able to pick their brains and share some knowledge.

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Hamner had been a home brewer when he started working at the Blue Ox Malthouse in Lisbon Falls. After a few years, he was promoted to manager before moving to Baxter Brewing Co. in Lewiston, where he worked as a brewer on the night shift.

Because he wanted to work days, he went to work for Maine Craft Distilling as a canning line manager until the distiller position he currently holds opened up.

“When I was doing (brewing) as a job, I kind of got bored with beer, so I started distilling on the side instead of brewing beer at home,” he said.

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While working at Baxter, Hamner had access to short cans — cans that don’t meet quality control and are kicked out of the canning line — that go to associates or are trashed.

He found out that the beer could be used to distill, and he started experimenting with a homemade still he built about two years ago with a pressure cooker his brother-in-law gave him.

Now that the show has aired, Hamner said he’ll continue working at Maine Craft Distilling, but he’s hoping he can eventually start making his own recipes, perhaps through a contract with a distillery.

“Maybe use it as a launching pad to further my distilling career,” he said.

The episode Hamner is in can be streamed on Discovery+.

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