VIDEO: Verdi Local Distillery making splash with creative whiskies
May 18, 2018
VERDI, Nev. — In all corners of the globe, there are thousands of commercial distilleries up and running — fermenting and filtering liquor of all colors like clockwork.
Perhaps the smallest of the distillery batch is planted in Northern Nevada — fittingly, right next to the Biggest Little City in the World.
Tucked on Old Highway 40 in Verdi, a few miles west of Reno, in a small rustic house — adorned with deer antlers, wooden barrels and wheels, and a cowboy silhouette painted on the garage — is the 846-square-foot Verdi Local Distillery.
"I haven't been able to find one that's smaller," said owner Jeremy Baumann, sitting on the distillery's deck on a sun-splashed day in May.
Baumann said he even looked into getting recognized by the Guinness World Records. But, because it's a commercial record, he'd have to pay thousands of dollars.
"They were going to have us pay like $6,000 to be in the book," Baumann said. "So, we can say, unofficially, we're the smallest."
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Pausing, he tacked on with a grin: "I think officially we are."
GETTING IN THE SPIRIT
Back in 2002, Baumann, a native of Colfax, Calif., started home-brewing beer. A few years later, he dabbled with winemaking. Following a natural progression, Baumann eventually added whiskey to the mix.
He was good, too.
"It was just a hobby so I never really thought of doing it commercially or even having a spot," Baumann said. "So it's not like this plan that I've had my whole life that I wanted a distillery."
That all changed in 2013, after the Nevada legislature passed a bill that would allow for a person to operate a craft distillery in the Silver State.
Inspired, Baumann, who was working in the IT department at Renown Health in Reno at the time, knew just the place he wanted to operate one of his own: the vacant wood-paneled, cowboy-silhouetted home in Verdi.
Built in the 1930s, the unassuming house was just weeks away from being demolished before Baumann and his then-wife, Katey, signed the lease on the building in October 2013, Baumann said.
"We were like 'Nooo … don't do that!'" Baumann said when they heard the rundown house was going to be bulldozed. "I always wanted this building because I thought it sort of looked like a building that you'd make whiskey in."
SERVING SOMETHING DIFFERENT
After getting approval from the state, they put roughly a year's worth of remodeling into the home. Along the way, two 26-gallon stills and two 80-gallon fermenters were installed.
"We put a lot of work into it because it was rundown and kind of a dump, really," said Baumann, who had his share of skeptics during the renovation process.
At the time, there were only three other craft distilleries in the entire Silver State.
"Because it took us a year to open the doors, people heard that we were trying to open up a distillery," he continued. "A lot of people were naysaying it — 'oh yeah, you're going to open up a distillery in Verdi? That's just silly.'"
Yet, in August 2014, Verdi Local Distillery opened its doors with its first batch of apple cinnamon whiskey.
It was a hit — so much so that before Baumann knew it, a steady stream of craft spirit enthusiasts from Reno, Lake Tahoe and Truckee began pouring in.
Nearly four years later, Verdi Local — now equipped with four stills and four fermenters — has 11 different spirits available.
From his award-winning mahogany whiskey (aged in stainless tanks with local mahogany) to his "Yeti Jackalope" Gin (distilled with orange peel and juniper), Baumann said he takes pride in making "traditional, with a twist" spirits using real ingredients.
In all, the distillery has grown from selling fewer than 80 cases of spirits in its first year to selling nearly 3,000 cases in 2017 alone. Baumann operates the distillery with only one other employee.
"I think we're trying to do something different," Baumann said. "It's kind of like what breweries were about 10 years ago — where a pale ale was a pale ale — and they started to break out (into something different)."
Moreover, the quaint, intimate space of Verdi Local sets itself apart from every other distillery in the world.
"That's what's cool about it — it's not just a warehouse like a lot of distilleries are in," Baumann said. "It has character."
HURDLES TO CLEAR
Along with Nevada, Verdi Local spirits are distributed in neighboring California and on the other side of the country in Maryland. Baumann said there are five other states the distillery will distribute to soon.
Baumann said the biggest challenge the Nevada distillery industry currently faces boils down to shipping. According to the Nevada Department of Taxation, suppliers can only sell to importers/wholesalers located in Nevada. In other words, Verdi Local cannot ship directly to other states, no matter the demand, Baumann said.
"We have a bunch of people calling from other states," Bauman said. The phone call frequency swelled after the local distillery was featured on "Booze Traveler," a TV series on the Travel Channel. "But, unfortunately, we can't ship to them because Nevada doesn't allow spirits to be shipped."
Baumann also feels it would make sense for distilleries, breweries and wineries to all operate under the same law.
"Right now, we're all on different laws even though we're pretty much making the same thing — we're making booze," he said. "I think that's going to help when all of the laws are in sync with each other, so we can kind of collaborate with other wineries and breweries.
Because, right now, that kind of makes it hard."
Kaleb M. Roedel is a business news and special assignments reporter for the Sierra Nevada Media Group. Based in Reno, he writes regularly for the Northern Nevada Business View, among other regional publications. Email him at email@example.com with feedback.