Two new distilleries are expected to open in the coming months, in Moore and Guthrie, in what is a virtually untapped industry in Oklahoma.
Prairie Wolf Spirits in Guthrie is the state's only licensed distillery; construction is expected to begin this week. Twister Distillery and Co. has applied for a license for its Moore operation and is awaiting final approval, according to the Alcoholic Beverage Law Enforcement Commission.
The two business ventures are entering practically uncharted territory. The first and only other distillery to operate in the state was Old Russia, which closed several years ago. ABLE Commission records show Old Russia surrendered its license in May 2009.
Keith Burt, director of the ABLE Commission, said there's been little interest in operating a distillery until recently. He compared it to the state's winery industry, which has grown from three wineries in 2000 to more than 50 now.
The cost of a distiller's license — $3,125 a year — is a burden for startups. The cost was reduced to $1,250 from 2008 to 2010 to encourage interest in the industry, but there weren't any takers.
Hunter Merritt, his brother, Blake, and dad, David, set out to learn the trade of distilling by traveling the country, visiting about 100 distilleries with different styles and participating hands on.
“It's been years in the making,” he said.
The Merritts purchased a historic property in downtown Guthrie for their business.
A 1940s era filling station had to be demolished for the distillery, which will be built from the ground up in the same Art Deco style at 124 E Oklahoma Ave. Merritt said they expect to release their first product, Prairie Wolf Vodka, on March 1, eventually adding gin and whiskey.
The facility will be designed to attract tours and tasting events, if state law is changed to allow them. Currently, Oklahoma law allows wineries to hold tastings but not breweries or distilleries. Merritt said he's already broached the topic with legislators and hopes to have the issue considered in the next legislative session.
Lucy Swanson, sales manager for the Guthrie Chamber of Commerce and Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the distillery will be an excellent addition to the city's downtown and complement other businesses such as the Pollard Theater, bed-and-breakfasts, hotels and live music venues.
“We used to have a lot of tourists and it kind of dwindled,” she said. “We're trying to develop an atmosphere where people want to come and hang out.”
Twister Distillery in Moore is about a month away from beginning production, said owner Garrett Janko, who plans to introduce two products initially: Twister Vodka and Gustav Reserve Whiskey. The whiskey, named after his father, has to age in a barrel for several years. He has already installed the equipment, purchased at auction from an artisan distillery in Arkansas, and is awaiting final approval on his license.
Twister Distillery, at 2602 N Moore Ave., is in an industrial business park fronting Interstate 35. Janko said it will have a tasting room with a detached bar. It's a dream he's had for years and saved up for through his other business, Tire Stop in Norman.
Distilling is a family trade Janko learned over the years. A Moore resident, Janko's family emigrated in the early 1900s from the Czech Republic, where they owned a distillery and brewery.
“I'm going to try to keep true to our family values and put a local twist on it,” he said.