John Reardon, owner of Deep Ellum Brewing Co. in Dallas, remembers the first time he and a brewer had to dump a batch of beer. He doesn't recall which beer it was, only that it wasn't up to the company's standard for sale -- and that it was painful to watch that hard work go in the trash.
"It's an unfortunate, inevitable thing that every brewery growing quickly has to go through at some point," Reardon says. "Watching all that beer go down the drain, I thought, 'How can we avoid this?'"
And that's when inspiration struck: "Even though [the beer] didn't pass our quality standard," he says, "there's no reason it can't be distilled."
In May, Reardon and his team celebrated a soft launch for Deep Ellum Distillery, a project several years in the making. On Nov. 13, they celebrate a hard launch that brings the business' first product, All-Purpose Vodka, into retail stores across across North Texas.
Deep Ellum Distillery is located on Canton Street in its namesake neighborhood, in the building formerly (and fittingly) Spirits Liquor Co. Reardon secured the 15,000-square-foot space in 2015, as the brewery looked to expand its barrel-aging and sour beer programs. The location is less than a half-mile from Deep Ellum's original brewery.
Beer production takes up the majority of the space, but about a third of the building is being used to distill spirits. That's where Reade Huddleston, head distiller, spends most his time experimenting on his test liquor stills -- named Betsy and Bitsy -- and building a "botanical library" of distillates. Huddleston, a native of Dallas, received a master's degree brewing and distilling science from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland, and spent several years touring Europe to practice his craft in various countries.
While he loves the science behind brewing, Huddleston is a self-proclaimed "tinker" who sees endless possibilities in the realm of distillation. At his lab in Dallas, he's experimented with distilling more than 90 ingredients, ranging from common botanicals like juniper, licorice root and rose petal, to more interesting ones like galangal, an Asian root related to ginger, and caraway, a species of fennel found in Asia, Europe and North Africa.
None of those funky flavors made their way into All-Purpose Vodka, which Reardon says maintains a "smooth, clean flavor profile." But the liquor, which is distilled from corn, is unique for two reasons, according to Huddleston.
The first reason is because of its filtration process. While most vodkas are filtered at least once to remove undesirable impurities and flavors, All-Purpose Vodka is filtered to taste, meaning the vodka is recirculated through a charcoal filter until it reaches the flavor profile Huddleston likes. The distiller literally sits there tasting the spirit every 15-20 minutes until it reaches some unspoken threshold and he deems it ready for bottling.
Second, Huddleston allows All-Purpose Vodka an extending "marrying period," which allows the water and ethanol molecules to blend and make the cleanest flavor possible, he says.
Though Deep Ellum Distillery is currently only making vodka, both Reardon and Huddleston expect to add to the lineup of spirits, potentially even as early as next year. Gin is certainly a possibility given Huddleston's ever-growing library of distilled herbs and spices, and whiskey may also be in the cards considering Reade's time in Scotland and Deep Ellum Brewing Co.'s previous partnership with Jameson Irish Whiskey.
For now, though, Deep Ellum Distillery is playing with vodka infusions at its taproom, flavoring the spirit by adding various fruits and spices to small batches of it.
Speaking of the taproom, Reardon plans to invite the public to the distillery for Saturday tours in December.
Can't wait that long? On Wednesday, Nov. 22, Deep Ellum Distillery will celebrate a grand opening party from 6 p.m. to midnight.
Drinkers can buy libations from a cash bar, or purchase a ticket for a distillery tour in advance (price and purchase link to come). Otherwise, keep your eyes peeled for All-Purpose Vodka at your local liquor store. Reardon expects it to cost $19.99-$24.99, depending on the venue.