Wicked Spirits Distilling Company sits on a little Ritchie County horse farm outside Harrisville, WV. It’s had a distillery license for well over a year but founder Dustin Huffman has been taking things slowly, testing his product with liquor people and getting everything just right before launching his first two lines.
He debuted his products at the WVABCA Distilled Spirits Trade Show in Charleston this fall. The response he received from retailers and from others in the whisky business was fantastic.
“It’s done really well,” he said in an understated sort of way. Well enough for him to already begin expanding the distillery.
The self-taught distiller, who has a degree in chemistry, says the distillery was originally his wife Angela’s idea. The growth of their distillery will definitely take Huffman further away from his current day job as a dentist in Vienna, WV. A man of many hats, he’s a native West Virginian and says starting up the distillery is in line with his interest in helping rebuild the local economy.
HemiShine 69 brings flavors to the market
His HemiShine 69 line is a flavored spirit product, lightly aged, somewhere between moonshine and a whisky. Initially offered in ginger and cinnamon versions. The ginger really stood out as quite an attractive, non-typical flavor. The cinnamon was solid too.
Neither brand was as sweet as many flavored moonshines on the market today. They had more character and finesse than one might expect of a flavored spirit product. The flavoring ingredients are natural and undoubtedly of high quality.
HemiShine 69 is designed as a fun product, targeted to a younger adult customer. It would definitely pair well with a blond ale or lager.
Endless Wall Vodka for the connoisseur
His Endless Wall Vodka, on the other hand, is a serious vodka targeted to those who enjoy the finer nuances of the spirit. Made from corn, it has a slightly sweeter finish than wheat or potato vodka. This quality might especially appeal to small-batch bourbon drinkers.
The vodka is distilled six times then gravity fed over a proprietary activated stone carbon filter where it rests for weeks. Finally, it is brought to 80 proof with neutral, mountain spring water and then bottled.
From the moment you remove the black walnut closure from the beautiful flint glass bottle, you know Endless Wall Vodka is meant for sipping. Of course, it will also complement any cocktail recipe calling for a neutral spirit.
Big market appearance belies its rural roots
The super premium look and feel of the Wicked Spirit products would have you guess that they must certainly be from a major national brand. The packages look much higher end than one might first expect when you hear of a little farm distillery out in Ritchie County.
Huffman says he started it as a micro-distillery, but certainly doesn’t plan to stay that way. His sights are firmly set on becoming a widely-distributed craft distiller, known for high-quality, boutique spirits.
“We aim to be a major player,” he says.
While initially he’s only selling his products in West Virginia, he believes he must focus on the national spirits market to find success.
He chose to put his distillery out in the country rather than in a city or major tourist area because he’s not really interested in running a big tasting room operation or tourism destination.
“I’m not in that sort of business.” he said. “The only way we can make our life better in West Virginia is if we export our goods. That’s what we’re all about.”
Growth is coming, investment required
For a small West Virginia distillery to enter markets outside the state realistically requires, not only a good product, but also a big commitment of resources to marketing. To help keep those costs down, Huffman does all his own advertising layout and graphic design for logos, labels and such. One look at his bottles or website shows he’s no slouch here either.
As he prepares for growth, Huffman also has to consider where and how to source his grain. Starting out, he uses corn grown on his farm, but says, as he grows, sourcing all his grain needs from his farm is not possible. The land is just not suitable for the kind of agriculture that would be needed. He’s open to sourcing more grains from other West Virginia farms, but prices must be competitive.
Enlarging his spirits production capacity is another objective that must managed. The cost of expanding buildings and adding equipment and barrels adds up quickly. Putting away whisky in barrels to age for four or more years ties up a lot of funds.
Distilling is a very capital-intensive business, but Huffman feels he’s up to the task.
“We’re well capitalized and we intend on expanding,” he says, adding that another of his tasks is keeping his overhead under control.
Wicked Spirits started out with a custom-made 100 gallon still, so production capacity is pretty limited right now. It will need to grow by a few magnitudes if he is to achieve his goals.
He has designs on North Carolina as the next market he will enter. He thinks the thousands of folks living there with West Virginia roots will help him open the market. After that he hopes to move into several of the larger liquor market states.
“We started basically as a test micro-plant to see if there was demand for my products,” he said.
Now that the tests have generated positive results, Huffman certainly has his work cut out for him and Wicked Spirits Distilling. We’re betting he’ll find success.
At the present, Wicked Spirits Distillery does not offer a tasting room or store at the distillery. You can find their products for sale at many liquor stores across West Virginia.