By Sarah Brodsky | Feb 21, 2023
Lattig is a long-time homebrewer who used to drink mainly beer. When his tastes shifted, he realized that making spirits "wasn't really very much different than making beer" and would take only a couple extra steps. At first, "it was kind of a garage project with some friends of mine," Lattig recalls.
Today, Adventurous Stills leases 2,600 square feet, of which 2,000 square feet are used for manufacturing. That space houses a 650-gallon stripping still and spirit stills of 125 gallons and 60 gallons. A small tasting room occupies the remaining area. Lattig quips that it's "the world's smallest bar."
Annual production ranges from 2,000 to 2,500 gallons. Sales were flat for much of the second half of 2022, but business picked up significantly at the end of December, and Lattig predicts that 2023 sales will be 20 percent higher than last year's.
The distillery makes five standard products: Peralta Bourbon, Lost Dutchman Rye Whiskey, and Fossil Creek Whiskey, as well as Papago Dark Rum and Picket Post Vodka. And at any given time, Lattig has two or three "adventurous spirits" made from unusual grains.
Adventurous Stills sells about half of its products directly to consumers. "Another 30 percent or so go through the distribution chain," Lattig says. "So Total Wines, bigger mom-and-pops, bars, and restaurants throughout the state. And then, we sell another 20 percent or so out at festivals and art wine fairs." Lattig sells only within Arizona because "it's another level of red tape" to expand into other markets.
Consumers can join Adventurous Stills' membership program, called Explorer's Club, for an annual fee. "Every quarter, they get first dibs at whatever the release for that quarter is," Lattig says. "And it's generally something pretty far off the map."
Adventurous Stills also offers a white label program. "If a hotel chain or restaurant wants to have their own private-branded spirit, we can either custom manufacture that for them or we could just put their custom label on one of our existing products," Lattig says.
About 80 percent of the grains the distillery uses are locally sourced. "We're a true craft distillery," Lattig says. "So, we have local sources for malted barley, for rye grains, for wheat, and for a couple of varieties of corn." The unconventional grains Lattig experiments with often come from farther afield, though.
The manufacturing process begins with milling grain to get at the starch inside the kernels. "Our mash mills are in the neighborhood of 1,000 pounds of grain, and so it takes about four hours to mill that up to crack all those grains," Lattig says.
Then, the milled grains go into the mash tun, where heat, enzymes, and agitation work together in a pH-controlled environment to turn the starches into fermentable sugars. Mashing takes about seven hours.
The next step, Lattig explains, is to "cool the mash down to a temperature that makes the yeast happy. We like to ferment around 85 degrees." At this stage, yeast converts the sugars to ethanol and carbon dioxide.
After four or five days of fermentation, Lattig pumps the fermented mash to the stripping still, where it might wait for a couple of days depending on how many batches he's running that week. The still heats up for five or six hours, and then 12 hours of distillation produces about 125 gallons of distillate. Lattig transfers it to the 125-gallon copper still for a second distillation, which takes two to three hours to heat up plus six hours of distillation.
The result is about 45 gallons of product, which Lattig dilutes to cask strength. He ages the casks on racks for two to three years, depending on the type of spirit. "After that period of time, we'll pump it back out of the casks and run it through a very small filter to remove any particulate matter," he explains, "and then dilute it down to bottling strength, which varies from 80 proof to perhaps as high as 125 proof for some of our cask strength expressions." Then the product is bottled, sealed, and labeled.
Because of the lengths of time involved, Lattig can't be there in person for the entire process. He has rigged up an Internet of Things system on the Arduino platform to handle tasks like turning on the still at 1:00 a.m. and triggering a cooling loop if the mash temperature reaches 86 degrees. But even with automation, "I try to show up an hour or so after it actually starts producing so that I can monitor it and make sure that everything's working okay," he says.
What sets Adventurous Stills apart is Lattig's "obsession" with seeking out surprising ingredients. "In February, we're going to release an oat whiskey, so 100 percent locally grown oats," he says. "We've made whiskey out of millet and quinoa and sorghum and unmalted barley and just about anything you can imagine."
Lattig asks his supplier to let him know about any interesting grains that are available. "It's always fun to try something new," he adds.
Challenges: Managing growth is Lattig's top challenge. "We have to spend a bunch of capital two years in advance of when we collect sales," he notes. Although Adventurous Stills could easily double its manufacturing capacity, Lattig has to strike a fine balance by "figuring out how much we want to manufacture, looking ahead a couple of years to make sure that we can sell it, and trying to sync up those two ideas."
Opportunities: The company's distillery license allows it to operate an off-site tasting room, and Lattig is exploring the option of partnering with someone to set up a bar. He's intrigued by the possibility of "a small location in downtown Scottsdale where there's a lot of foot traffic," especially because Adventurous Stills is located in an industrial park where there aren't any shoppers to drop in.
Needs: Adventurous Stills needs more ways to sell directly to consumers, because "the distribution chain eats way too much margin."