New distillers law could boost state economy

Relaxed rules open door for one area family to restart business.

State officials say the new law that took effect March 22 will trigger growth and expansion in an emerging industry, promote tourism, create jobs, generate tax revenues, and create new demand for Ohio agricultural products such as fruits and grains.

“The opportunity for Ohio artisans to create or expand a small business with unique products is exciting,” said David Goodman, director of the Ohio Department of Commerce. “The (previous) law had set a quota for only three of these licenses in the entire state; it just didn’t make sense to limit the opportunity. ... These are small companies producing unique products with local or niche audiences in mind.”

The commerce department has received about a dozen applications for the new small-distillery tasting-and-sales license, and more are expected, a department spokeswoman said. There are at least four area microdistilleries operating or in the works:

• In Miami County’s Bethel Twp., Melissa Duer and husband Joe Duer are days away from firing up the same stills her great-great-great-grandfather used.

Elias Staley distilled rye whiskey in the early 19th century with the same copper-pot stills that her great-grandfather George Washington Staley hid from federal agents nearly a century later during the height of Prohibition.

• Buckeye Distillery at 130 W. Plum St. in Tipp City — which is not related to Buckeye Vodka, produced in Dayton — will host a grand opening of sorts Monday to celebrate its newfound ability to sell its fruit-infused liqueurs directly to the public, owner Aaron Lee announced last week. He’ll offer his Buckeye Cherry Liqueur and Buckeye Raspberry Liqueur during the grand opening, and a third product, Blackberry Liqueur, will be available starting May 1. The distillery’s retail operation will be open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday after the grand opening.

• S and G Distillery/The Spirits of Yellow Springs, located in the Millworks Business Center in Yellow Springs, has started distilling rum that will likely be used in an apple pie-flavored spirit, according to Meg Gujer of Sugarcreek Twp., the distillery’s business manager. The Yellow Springs distillery is strongly considering applying for one of the tasting/sales licenses offered under the new state law, and although there are several regulatory and permit-related steps still to complete, the distillery’s owners are hoping to offer their first products for sale before the end of the summer, Gujer said. Long-term plans call for the distillery to produce fruit-based schnapps and blended liqueurs.

• Flat Rock Spirits of Bath Twp., Greene County has an application for a distillery tasting/sales license pending with the commerce department. Flat Rock describes itself on its Facebook page as a family-owned and -operated distillery handcrafting small-batch bourbon. Flat Rock Spirits’ co-owner Brad Measel of Wayne Twp. in Warren County said Friday that his distillery has produced 100 cases of bourbon that is still aging in barrel, “and we’re adding to that on a weekly basis.” The bourbon will likely be released in about 18 months. Measel and his partners — his brother Shawn Measel and cousin James Bagford, who both live in Clark County — are distilling a test-batch of rum and are considering producing a vodka, and they are making plans to offer samples of their spirits in the distillery’s tasting room.

The development of these smaller-scale distilleries comes as Dayton-based Buckeye Vodka celebrates its first anniversary and strong sales during its first year of existence. Buckeye Vodka sold about 4,200 cases in its first year and was the highest-selling liquor of any brand at both Arrow Wine & Spirits stores during 2011. Its sales tripled projections in the first six months after introduction, Arrow and Buckeye Vodka officials said.

The Duers have no immediate plans to try to match those numbers with their rye whiskeys. The couple — who named their venture Indian Creek Distillery after the creek that flows through their property, and because that’s the business name Elias Staley used in the early 1800s — will produce two types of rye whiskey, one of which will carry the same Staley Rye Whiskey name that the family produced in the 19th century. The other spirit will be un-aged and will be called Revolution Rye whiskey. The first bottles of Revolution Rye should be available for sale this summer, with the aged Staley Rye unveiled later this year after spending some seven to eight weeks in 15-gallon oak barrels.

The distillery’s two small, antique copper stills will limit production to small batches, and each batch will be bottled uncut at varying alcoholic proof levels with the intent of “capturing the frontier spirit in a bottle,” Melissa Duer said.

The couple hasn’t set a price yet for the two rye whiskeys. “It’s not going to be inexpensive, but it’s going to be worth the price,” Melissa Duer said.

Although the distillery and tasting room are newly constructed, Amish builders designed the new building to fit in with the older structures on the Duers’ property, including a grist mill built in 1818.

Melissa Duer is the sixth generation of her family to live in the farmhouse on the property.

Among the documents in the Duers’ possession are doctor prescriptions from the 1800s prescribing “one quart of your finest whiskey” for various ailments, and letters from a Civil War soldier requesting that a bottle of Staley’s Rye Whiskey be sent to him.

Eventually, the Duers would like to grow rye on their property to use for their whiskeys. And with two daughters and three grandchildren, they have their eyes squarely on the future even as they pay homage to the past.

“This property has been in our family for 200 years, and we’d like it to be in the family for another 200 years,” Melissa Duer said.

Contact this reporter at (937) 225-2258 or mfisher@DaytonDaily News.com.

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