I love introducing our products and our distillery to people. It’s one of my very favorite things, actually. I love it when we tell people that we have a distillery and their eyes get a little wider and they say “Really? What kind of beer do you brew?” I usually follow that up with “we make terrible beer, but then we turn it into really good whiskey, and rum and vodka.” Then their eyes get really big and they say quietly “do you make it in your garage?” while furtively looking around for the Feds. I love these conversations because then I get to tell them all about what we really do and that always starts with reassuring them that we are fully permitted. And that the federal government does indeed make the absolute worst business partner (lots of rules, paperwork and looking over our shoulders all while making thinly veiled threats about what happened to the last guy that did it wrong.) Then we get to the fun stuff. We’ll start towards the beginning…
Our distillery started with a conversation between my husband and I that went something like this…
Him: “We have that shop over there and some land. We could grow something and turn it into booze.”
Me: “OK. Let’s do it!”
Him: “You’ll have to figure out all of the paperwork and stuff.”
Me: “Ummmm, ok? Let’s do…it…?”
It was actually a bit more complicated than that, and we spent years in the planning stage, a full year to be fully permitted with both the state and federal governments and lots of time in between fabricating, planning, procuring, planning, paperworking, planning, and then some more planning and of course more paperwork. To open a fully permitted distillery, you must have your operation completely set up before you begin the permitting process. And then you have to wait. And usually wait some more. It’s a good idea to get used to waiting, early on. We did a lot of it. Once you are permitted you can start the process for more permits (what else would you do, right?) for your formulas, if you need them and then…wait for it…more permits! For packaging and bottles. There is a manual about an inch thick listing all the requirements and restrictions for labeling and packaging, right down to the font size.
But then, you’re ready to roll. Bottle those beautiful spirits and send them off. It’s like sending your first-born off to college. All that work and we just have to hold our breath and hope we did the right thing. This is where you come in, you, our most favorite of people, go out and buy our beautiful spirits, our labor of love.
Our first product was an 80 proof (40% alcohol by volume) corn whiskey we called No. 217. Most craft distilleries will start off with a vodka because, well, everyone drinks vodka. But, we wanted to do something different and my husband (who is also our distiller) has had a long time love affair with good corn whiskey, so it was a good place to start. After No. 217, not being one to mess around, he developed a 120 proof (60% alcohol by volume) corn whiskey. Yes, that says 120 proof, one-hundred-twenty, one-two-zero. And let me tell you, it is SMOOTH. Capital letters and italics kind of smooth. The you-better-be-careful-when-you-drink-it–because-it-is-SMOOTH, kind of smooth. Fittingly, it is named Wildman of No. 217 (because they are both born of the same corn mash). It’s a crowd favorite.
One good thing about craft distilleries in general, and ours specifically, is the ability to be flexible. We can pretty much craft anything that our hearts desire (within reason). Our business partner Bryan and I share a love of rum (you can see where I am going with this) and at this point summer was in full swing and visions of fruity umbrella-ed drinks were floating in our heads. So, rum it was! Pend Oreille River Light Rum, 80 proof (40% alcohol by volume), a “white” rum, unaged and unadulterated, named after the majestic Pend Oreille River flowing past the distillery. That would be Pond-o-ray, Ponder-ay, or Pon-duh-ray River. It’s french.
So what next? We weren’t feeling quite challenged enough, so we decided to throw farming into the mix. We did after all, have some room for growing…something. We have a little family farm that was established by my in-laws and it was slowly being reclaimed by the forest. So we took it back (and by we, I mostly mean the Mr.). We invited the antique tractor club over and had a day of field prep with a whole bunch of amazing people, restored, antique equipment and some of the most beautiful spring weather we have ever seen. It was a sight to behold! And that is how we became farmers. This means we spend a few weeks a year working our buns off (and by we, I mostly mean the Mr.), obsessing about the weather, chasing away the wild geese, and fixing equipment.
But at the end of all of that we have a product that is completely unique to Mill Town, a true farm-to-bottle vodka. The first crop we grew was barley. The field was full of beautiful amber waves of grain and from it we created our first vodka. (It had to happen at some point.) It’s a great vodka with a natural sweetness and a little bit of the grain flavor. There really aren’t many vodka’s that I will drink straight, but this one definitely makes the cut (yes I am horribly biased, but there you go).
We now have these four products on the shelf at pretty much every Idaho State Liquor Store. You can buy Mill Town in Post Falls and all the way down in Twin Falls. For those of you not familiar with Idaho that is way north and way south. Our next project is gin and we have endless ideas and flavor pairings in the works. Gin people, we will give you something divine!
We are continually working on sharing our little slice of Idaho with the people, sharing our vision of what good spirits can be, and sharing our amazing community with the world. We look forward to sharing our journey! Cheers!