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Phil Brandon, the founder, president and head distiller of Rock Town Distillery, the first legal distillery in Arkansas since Prohibition, has learned a lesson that has been taught a lot during the last year: “Everything is harder than you think it’s going to be.”
But he knows something even more important, that the secret of success is “continuous improvement and dedication to the craft.”
Rock Town’s dedication to its craft has received international recognition, earning the distillery numerous awards and top ratings, including a 95 out of 100 rating for its Arkansas Straight Rye Whiskey at the 2020 International Wine & Spirits Competition in the United Kingdom. And in 2019, five of its whiskeys were rated “Liquid Gold” in the 2020 edition of “Jim Murray’s Whiskey Bible.”
Rock Town, founded in 2010, distills its spirits using corn, wheat and rye grown within 125 miles of the distillery.
The business has grown from three employees to 23, and Rock Town now offers more than 30 products, including gin, vodka and bottled cocktails, sold in 16 states and Canada.
Its biggest challenge? “Keeping up with demand.”
The pandemic has posed difficulties, of course. “There’s no question that every day, every week, every month seems to present a new challenge,” Brandon said.
To meet pandemic needs, Rock Town made hand sanitizer for a time. “We’re here to do our part,” Brandon told Arkansas Business last summer.
In 2018, Rock Town moved from its original location in Little Rock’s East Village to new, roomier quarters at 1201 S. Main St. in the SoMa neighborhood. The move has paid off, Brandon said. “It enabled us to expand in a lot of ways that we wouldn’t have been able to over there at the old building.” One of the new features was a cocktail bar.
As for the future, “we want to continue to grow, continue to improve, continue to serve our customers well,” Brandon said. That includes adding more products, expanding distribution and expanding “our horizons.”