Yahara Bay liquors

In 2016, Yahara Bay Distillery is moving to a larger location with a bigger still and new event space in Fitchburg. 

MIKE DEVRIES

When Yahara Bay Distillery launched in 2007, the craft distilling boom in Wisconsin was still a distant rumble.

Less than 10 years later, Dane County's first distillery (since Prohibition, at least) has outgrown its industrial park digs in south Madison and is ready for a major expansion.

"Every area of this business has grown," said Nick Quint, who founded the distillery with Catherine Forde-Quint, an artist and curator of Yahara Bay's active art gallery.

"We'll be getting a larger still, larger fermentation tanks. We're just going to grow up, physically."

The new location on Nesbitt Road off Highway PD has about 20,000 square feet versus the distillery's current 6,000 square feet. The number of employees, now about 12, is set to double in the first year after the expansion. 

The event space is one of the more dramatic increases, Quint said. The tasting room will be about 10 times larger than the area the distillery currently has, with the ability to seat 150-200 people.

"We're looking at weddings, smaller rooms for intimate private parties," he said. "There will be a larger gift area and larger art gallery." 

Yahara Bay now makes 40 products including brandy, rum, whiskey, gin, "lemoncella" and liqueurs flavored with coffee and cocoa. Some are made in just 10-gallon batches. The distillery imports and bottles alcoholic products for Vom Fass, which now has 32 locations domestically

Yahara's top sellers are vodka and apple brandy, two of the very first products Yahara Bay made, as well as single barrel whiskey.

Quint said he has turned down distributors who want to carry Yahara's bourbon. They have held back on promoting the chai-flavored vodka, for fear that if the product took off, they couldn't keep up with demand.

"Right now we continuously run behind in production," Quint said. "We can only age 100 barrels of bourbon here. In the new place, we can age 600 barrels." 

Areas for future growth may include gin, which is growing in popularity. Yahara Bay's two distillers, Lars Forde and Matt Bollinger, want to make new variations on current products. A few, like the cherry brandy and apple brandy, are about to be certified organic, Quint said. 

"We came out with slivovitz, a plum brandy, and we need more room to do that," Quint said. "The aronia berry growers in Wisconsin have been begging us to create a product. We need more space for that."

The distillery is looking to first expand into the new space before moving production there completely by the end of the summer 2016. 

"What's really happening is, the craft distillers are all breaking the rules," Quint said. "It doesn't need to always taste the way it has for the last 100 years. We can make this better.

"It makes it fun," he added. "There are over 700 craft distilleries in the nation now ... when we started in 2007, there were about 60. Everybody is surviving, which means everybody's making something unique, special or good."

Since 2008, Lindsay Christians has been writing about fine arts and food for The Capital Times. She loves eating at the bar, going to the theater, fine wine and good stories. She lives on the east side with her husband, two cats and too many cookbooks.