Farm-to-table. Grain-to-glass. Whichever way you look at it, we’re all about the local, handcrafted food and beverage movements. We like to know where the things we eat and drink come from, who made or grew them, and what level of quality we can expect from them. Every. Single. Time.
It should come as no surprise, then, that craft distilleries are springing up across the country; distilling is a complex and fascinating process, and more and more people are starting to do it on a local level. Take our own local spirit-makers, DogMaster Distillery and Rocheport Distilling Co. In this exciting time for craft distilleries, both are cranking out a plethora of new, handcrafted products in beautiful facilities that allow for interactions with customers, and they’re giving us a lot to look forward to when it comes to the world of booze.
So read on to learn more about these local distillers. We’re betting you’ll like what they have in store for these next few months.
Five years ago, Van Hawxby wrapped up a master’s degree in business administration at Walden University. Throughout the process of earning his MBA, however, he felt an itch to create something. He wanted to make a consumable product — something that people would use over and over again.
“I thought, ‘If I could create a product, manufacture that product, market it, advertise and sell it, do everything turnkey by myself, and grow the business organically … how cool would that be?’ ” Hawxby recalls.
It would be cool. In fact, it is cool. Today, Hawxby owns and operates DogMaster Distillery, a local craft distillery with a full line of alcoholic spirits and a ton of character. At DogMaster, located between Talking Horse Theatre and Yoga Sol in the North Village Arts District, a large garage door provides entry from the adjoining parking lot to the inside of the building, where an inviting bar, small merchandise shop, tasting room and the actual distillery share a space. Here, Hawxby both distills his own products and serves his customers simple, unfussy cocktails. And with his years of experience as a professional bartender and his background in sales and promotion, it’s the perfect fit.
Today, DogMaster offers two clear liquor products: a vodka made from local corn and a whiskey made from corn, oats, wheat and barley. The distillery has federal and state approval to produce five more liquors, as well, and by the time this issue is on newsstands, two of them — an aged whiskey that Hawxby calls “very robust,” and a rum — will be available for purchase. An aged rum, a bourbon and a gin will be available by the end of the year, as well.
“We’re not necessarily focusing on one particular spirit,” Hawxby says. “We want to do them all very well.”
So you can expect a lot from the distillery in next year, but what shouldn’t you expect? For DogMaster to churn out any fussy or frilly liquors. At this distillery, it’s all about making good ol’ straightforward spirits.
“When you look at our products, you’re going to find that there’s no pretention there,” Hawxby explains. “It’s just plain products. No fancy names. It’s just whiskey, or it’s just bourbon, or it’s just rum. What you see is what you get. And that’s the way we operate our business as well.”
Interested in purchasing a bottle of DogMaster’s distillates for your own home bar? You can find the liquors at the distillery and in a variety of local liquor stores, including Macadoodles, Arena Liquor stores, and the liquor departments of Lucky’s and Hy-Vee. You can also sip on a DogMaster drink in the distillery’s tasting room or at other local bars and restaurants, including The Roof, Coley’s, Room 38 and a handful of others.
Regardless of where you drink your DogMaster, though, Hawxby implores you to have a good time with it.
“Please, have some fun with your booze,” he says. “Do some experimentation with some infusions or some different ingredients that you wouldn’t necessarily find. Enjoy them that way.”
Sure can do, Hawxby. Sure can do. 210 Saint James St., www.dogmasterdistillery.com
Rocheport Distilling Co.
Talk about a rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle: When Rocheport Distilling’s Jonny Ver Planck isn’t, well, distilling, he’s managing tours for a number of different bands. Tour management is a job he’s had for more than 25 years, and it fits right in with his newer entrepreneurial venture.
“It’s totally parallel [to the distilling] for me,” Ver Planck says. “I’m doing a lot less touring now and really concentrating on the distilling, but the two kind of run hand-in-hand. I’ll spend all day long on the computer preparing for a tour, and I can do that as the still’s running; I can multitask.”
So Ver Planck has two awesome jobs. But how did the distilling gig get started? It wasn’t an easy journey, but after years of interest in starting a distillery, a move to Phoenix, a return to Jefferson City and a handful of other roadblocks, Ver Planck approached Les Bourgeois Vineyards in Rocheport about starting a partnership.
It’s been about three years since the deal with the winery was born and today, Ver Planck is distilling his liquors on the Les Bourgeois property. It’s an exciting time for the distiller, too: His facility, which is roughly 1,200 square feet and currently holds three stills, has recently undergone a complete renovation. A tasting room is also on the way.
“The winery is in full swing all the time and constantly growing, and now Broadway Brewery just recently expanded to Rocheport, as well,” Ver Planck says. “[At the tasting room] you’ll be able to check out all the brewery stuff, all the distillery stuff and all the wine as well. It’s going to be a pretty awesome little trifecta out here.”
Currently, Rocheport Distilling Co. carries a white rum, which Ver Planck says is full of flavor and great for mixing in your favorite rum-based cocktails. The distillery also has a dark rum, an aged rum, a brandy, a grape-based vodka and other select distillates on the way. And with Rocheport Distilling Co., Les Bourgeois and Broadway Brewery operating in such close quarters, Cory Bomgaars, vice president of winery operations at Les Bourgeois, says you can expect some creative collaborations in the future.
If you’re itching to try a Rocheport Distilling Co. product, you’ll most likely find it at a local bar. Your chances of finding the products in grocery store liquor departments will greatly increase in the spring, however, when Glazer’s Midwest will begin distributing them. Ver Planck hopes to have about 250 accounts in Missouri.
“Hopefully we’ll be ready to go by February or March, and then, in 2016, we’ll be hitting it really hard,” Ver Planck says.
And oh, are we looking forward to it. 14020 W. Highway BB, www.rocheportdistillingco.com
What makes vodka vodka? Or tequila tequila? We looked to our local distillers to give us the answers. Consider this Distillates 101.
“Gin is highly juniper-based. There are three different ways that you can make gin. You can make what’s called a compound gin by taking neutral spirits, like a vodka, and adding flavorings to that, like a syrup. Another way you can make gin is you can put the juniper, the citrus and the other botanicals in the still, prior to distillation, and then the essence of the juniper and other flavoring is extracted with the distillate as it comes off the still. You can also have what’s called a gin basket in line with the still, where you put the raw materials. And then, as the steam comes off the still, it permeates through the materials and the flavoring is carried with the steam through the end process, where it is condensed.” — Van Hawxby
“Rum comes from sugar. It could be brown sugar, white sugar, cane juice, molasses: any of the sugars or sugar byproducts can be made into rum. My rum is from high-grade molasses, and it’s just that, water and yeast.” — Jonny Ver Planck
“Tequila can only be called tequila if it’s made in a certain region of Mexico, just like Champagne has to be made in a certain region of France to call it Champagne. There’s other stuff called raicilla and mezcal, and distillers outside of Mexico can call it that. But if it’s not made in Mexico, it has to be called agave spirits or agave liquor — or anything other than tequila.” — Jonny Ver Planck
“Vodka, by definition, is anything distilled well over 190 proof. After that, it’s basically just proofed down with water to where it’s drinkable. Vodka can be made out of many things, like grain or potatoes. Anything with a starchy, sugar content that can be fermented — as long as it can be distilled over 190 proof — can be called vodka. You could even take day-old bread and doughnuts and add them to water, add yeast, ferment them, and make vodka.” — Van Hawxby
“Whiskey, by definition, is anything distilled from grain. So it could be corn, oats, wheat, rice, quinoa — I’m serious. It can be. There are some people who are in this industry who are doing some very experimental stuff right now. There’s some really cool stuff going on. But yes, whiskey, by definition, is anything distilled from grain.” — Van Hawxby