HARMONY — The entrepreneurial spirit of a trio of local men spurred them to cook up their own distillery — Harmony Spirits — in a nearby town of 1,000 people.
Andy Craig, Jim Simpson and Larry Tammel recently started pouring cocktails made with their own handcrafted vodka and whiskey in the tasting room of Harmony Spirits in the heart of downtown Harmony.
Chasing an idea they came up with in 2005, the three broke ground on their facility last summer and opened the doors of their barn wood-lined tasting room at the end of May.
The inspiration that led the three rural Fillmore County men to launch their own liquor brand was as straight forward as simple syrup.
They were spending time trying out Minnesota microbreweries and distilleries, which blossomed after the Legislature opened the tap with new alcohol laws. In their travels, they learned that many of the brewers and distillers behind the businesses were hobbyists who started out as landscapers, doctors and other professionals.
“All three of us have 40-plus years of distilling, fermenting and cooking experience (in the ethanol industry),” said Simpson. “We thought we could do this right out of the gate.”
While the actual distilling was not a problem, wading through the regulations and financing proved a challenge. Eventually, with help from the Community & Economic Development organization, Spring Valley’s First National Bank, the City of Harmony and 47 local investors, Harmony Spirits became a reality.
Now, Craig spends his days growing most of the corn and oats that the resident “artist” Tammel uses in his own “trial and error” process to create hundreds of gallons of whiskey and vodka. The spent, leftover grain returns to Craig’s farm to be fed to his beef cattle.
The whiskey goes into new white oak barrels to age 60 days. Some of the whiskey is being aged in used barrels from Kentucky for six months to eventually become bourbon.
Once a batch meets their standards, they start an assembly line with the help of friends to bottle, seal and label the liquor.
Thursday through Sunday they mix cocktails in the tasting room with the help of their bartender and sell bottles of whiskey and vodka.
Soon they will add a Harmony rum, which is made from molasses, brown sugar and local honey. Gin is on the menu for the fall.
Simpson says the trendy description of many small distilleries — “grain to glass” — fits their Harmony-centric operation. In fact, the wood used for the bar in the tasting room and to cover the walls came from a local corn crib, which stood on Darrel Ray’s farm for decades.
Harmony Distillery is part of a growing national craft distilling industry that has grown to 2,000 U.S. distilleries with $3.7 billion in sales in 2018.
Simpson says early visitors to their tasting room have found something unexpected.
“People seem surprised that the product is so good. I think we actually nailed it the first time around,” he said, standing behind the bar surrounded by bottles.
For visitors who want a bite to eat with their Harmony Lemonade or Vodka Mojito, popular nearby restaurants, like Estelle’s Eatery, deliver to the tasting room.
The founders say they hope Harmony Spirits will give all of the businesses in the town a boost, particularly after all of the support they’ve been given.
“The biggest reason we’re here is that Harmony wanted us here. This community was really open to what we were doing,” Simpson said.
Chris Giesen, the CEDA vice president that works with the town’s economic development authority, described Harmony as a city that wants to be as attractive to new businesses as possible.
He said the city had set aside a lot for an expected retail project years ago, but that never materialized. That misfire allowed the Harmony Spirits team to buy the land for $1.
“Most every business in Harmony is locally owned and operated. Every time somebody makes an investment, it gives everybody a great feeling around town,” Giesen said.
One hope is that Harmony Spirits will make the town a destination for regional visitors, such as Spring Valley’s Four Daughters Vineyard & Winery and Spring Grove’s RockFilter Distillery.
Eventually, the trio hope to have Harmony Spirits on the shelves of area bars and liquor stores. They are currently working out a distribution contract to start later this year.
Until then, they will happily sell bottles and drinks of their vodka, whiskey and rum from Harmony Spirits’ headquarters.