Friday, June 25, 2010

Rock Town Distillery soon to be up and running

Posted By on Fri, Jun 25, 2010 at 1:30 PM

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Phil Brandon spent the morning unloading giant metal pieces — square tubs, long cylinders affixed with pressure gauges, large copper contraptions that called to mind steampunk submarines. In a matter of weeks, he plans to connect them all in his East Sixth Street warehouse in Little Rock and start churning out hand-crafted booze, small batches of bourbon, gin and vodka, which he'll bottle in house and distribute throughout Arkansas in 750 ML bottles.

The idea for Rock Town, which bills itself as Arkansas' first craft distillery, came to Brandon, a former acquisitions man at Alltel, when the company merged with Verizon, he said this morning at his warehouse. He figured he was soon out of job or, at best, in a new one and was tired of the corporate life. So he took his love for small batch single malt Scotch and decided to try his hand at distillation, but with an Arkansas focus. To get the idea off the ground, he visited distilleries, took several classes, sought guidance from a former master distiller at Maker's Mark and filled out three inches worth of paperwork to secure a federal permit.

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In keeping with the tenor of the times, Rock Town aims to be extremely provincial. Aside from the equipment, much of which was made in Kentucky, including the 250-gallon copper still, which was made by the same company that produces stills for Maker's and Wild Turkey, just about every other aspect of the business has an Arkansas connection. The soft red winter wheat and number two yellow corn that'll go into making the spirits will be Arkansas grown. The 10 gallon charred white oak barrels that the bourbon will age in come from Gibbs Bros. Cooperage in Hot Springs. And Glazer's will distribute, initially only within the state's borders.

Brandon said today that he hopes to be in production by mid-July and in stores and bars by August with his gin and vodka. The bourbon, of course, will take longer to age, though since Rock Town is working in truly small batches, the aging time is shortened, in this case, hopefully to six to eight months, Brandon said. Tasting tours at the factory, at 1216 E. Sixth, near Heifer International, should begin in September.

Initially, including Brandon and his wife, Rock Town's staff will be four.

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