Saturday, November 12, 2016

Around the Whisk(e)y World in 7 Days - Saturday - Day 6

Distillery: Ozark Distillery
Located: St. Louis, Missouri. USA
By: Steve Akley

I live in the United States; specifically in St. Louis, Missouri. I relish the opportunity to highlight a distillery you probably haven’t heard of before, yet, deserves to be known… one from the great State of Missouri!

I’m pleased to tell you about Ozark Distillery.

Ozark Distillery - Osage Beach, Missouri
Dave Huffman owns Ozark Distillery, which is located in a small lake town where a lot of people from St. Louis head to for weekends in the summer called Osage Beach. Dave is the entrepreneurial-type who has owned several businesses in his lifetime. He actually studied finance in college and likes to note while he never used what his degree is in as a profession, it has helped him in everything he has done in the businesses he has operated.

One thing that has always been consistent for Dave, from high school onward, was the fact he liked to make whiskey, with bourbon being his favorite to make. As he’s owned various business through the years, he continued to make bourbon as a hobby. Just prior to starting Ozark Distillery, Dave and his wife owned a vacation rental business in Osage Beach.

In 2008, there was a housing market crash which really negatively impacted the entire U.S. economy. When times are tough, one of the first items people eliminate is discretionary purchases like vacations. The Huffman’s vacation rental company started to really struggle. It was during this time that Dave had one of these moments of clarity where he realized he couldn’t stake his entire future in a business susceptible to the ups-and-downs of the economy, so he decided to start a distillery which he would run along with the vacation rental business.

The Huffmans managed to weather the storm with the vacation rental business and eventually, as the economy improved, business started to pick-up. By that time, Ozark Distillery started to gain some steam as well and a two-person organization simply couldn’t run both business, so they sold off the vacation rental company.

Steve Akley at Ozark Distillery
This past March, I got to spend a few days working side-by-side with Dave Huffman to learn a little about him, his company and what makes his bourbon so special. I will say that I’ve been a bourbon fan for decades, and over that time, I’ve taken many distillery tours, but nothing compared in terms of education about the industry to those two days working with Dave.

We are talking about a very small operation. The distillery portion of the business is largely a single room which is approximately the size of the family room in my home. Everything is hands on. When you move the mashbill from the aging tubs to the still, for instance, you do so with plastic pitchers you might normally be drinking lemonade from.

I’m guessing you could easily look at the old-fashioned approach as negative, but I’m here to tell you it’s what makes it special. A guy who’s scooping pitchers of mash into a still loves the product he is creating. It’s an extension of him. A true artisan at work. Once you get the high tech equipment you become a little removed from the product you are creating and things start to change… for the worse.

Dave’s bourbon, made probably in very similar fashion to what was being done 200 years ago. (Minus the plastic pitchers, of course!). This means he’s not interested in cutting the corners. He wants his product to be the highest quality possible. Of course, Dave’s financial background probably tells him he’s not even incented to cut corners.

Think about it.

Dave’s making his whiskey in these ultra-small batches. If he could save 15 cents, a pound on the corn he uses…he’s probably saved himself less than fifty dollars on the quantities he’s purchasing. Why risk the quality of your product at such a small amount of money?

The big guys, though?

Well, if they could save 15 cents a pound on the thousands-and-thousands of pounds of corn they are purchasing, we’re talking some real money. They are absolutely incented to make bad decisions in regard to the quality of their offering.

Over my time with Dave at Ozark Distillery I learned about how these quality ingredients translate to less time needed in the barrel. While a traditional measurement of quality by consumers is often been the age statement, in reality, that’s something the big guys wanted consumers to do because they were often forced to keep their products in the barrel longer to smooth them out with the cheaper ingredients they were using as well as the fact they are using more of the heads and tails to stretch volume. (It’s funny how know we are seeing the big guys devalue the importance of age statements as they want to rush their product to a market that is stronger than it’s ever been.)

The 10 gallon barrel we dumped while I was there had been aging 15 months. It was as smooth and as finished as anything I have tasted in the four – six year range from the big guys.

After corn, the next largest amount of grain he uses is wheat, so like Pappy, Maker’s Mark or Old Weller, Ozark Distillery is a wheatie. Ozark Distillery Bourbon comes in at 92 proof / 46% ABV. The taste of this bourbon yields a nice thick taste of caramel with vanilla undertones. There is a light taste of oak, along with some hints of clove and orange. This one comes in at a solid 86/100.

Currently, Ozark Distillery Bourbon is only sold in the State of Missouri at retail. You can pick up a bottle for $35.99 mail order, though, from The Wine and Cheese Place in St. Louis. Pick up a bottle here

To learn more about Ozark Distillery, check out their website

Steve Akley
Steve Akley lives in St. Louis, Missouri, USA. He is an author with more than 50 books, short stories and compilations in his catalog. He is also the publisher for Bourbon Zeppelin, the email magazine “written for bourbon fans, by bourbon fans.” Recently, he and his two buddies Seth Brown and Evan Haskill, launched, The Bourbon Show, which is a podcast featuring bourbon-talk, samplings and guests from within the industry. You can find Steve on Twitter or Instagram with the name @steveakley on both


We would like to thanks Steve Akley for his participation in this project.

Make sure to check back in tomorrow, where we are heading to Hillock Park Distillery in Sprockhövel, Germany with Matthias Blau

 Want to read our previously distillery visits? Click below!