Century Farms Distillery of Spencer offers up craft whiskey, vodka
“Great whiskey can’t be rushed.”
That’s what the sign reads in the window of Century Farms Distillery along Highway 71 on the north side of Spencer.
But people just can’t seem to wait for this unique business to open its doors to the public.
Good news, everyone.
They are expecting to open this summer, and while their Century Farms Whiskey and Prairie States Whiskey will still be aging, their Open Gate Vodka is ready for tasting and is available for purchase.
This summer they will be offering free tours, samples and they will have their vodka and merchandise available for sale.
Century Farms Distillery is the brainchild and passion of two local entrepreneurs and whiskey and vodka lovers, Ryan and Amanda Bare.
The journey for Century Farms started back in 1996, when Ryan and Amanda met at Iowa State University where they both majored in mechanical engineering. Ryan grew up on a farm not far from Emmetsburg and Amanda hailed from Grundy Center.
After graduation, they married and moved to Texas for eight years and then they made the move to St. Louis, where they lived and worked for another eight years before returning to the corn-filled fields of home, Iowa.
“In 2011, that’s when we moved to Spencer and Ryan started working at an ethanol plant. I always say that that’s where he learned to turn corn into alcohol,” Amanda said with a laugh.
Although the job didn’t stick, the family remained in Spencer.
Ryan went back to working for the oil industry first in the Gulf of Mexico and then in Alaska. He works a rotation of 14 days on and then 14 days off — which left him with some time on his hands.
Apparently, Amanda notes, that on those rotations where he was ‘off’ she didn’t have enough for Ryan to do, because he started to find a way to entertain himself — and that was tinkering with a recipe for whiskey.
“Amanda and I have always been foodies. We’ve always had a passion for food and cooking, and for 22 years I’ve been designing, building and operating production equipment for manufacturing purposes,” Ryan said. “This is a combination of everything I enjoy doing. Plus, I like whiskey.”
Ryan started experimenting with his recipe in 2012 and in 2017 the couple bought a building in Spencer. The building is divided into two sections. The front part is the tasting room and the back section is where the work of actually making the whiskey and the vodka happens.
With Ryan’s rotation schedule, making a batch of whiskey or vodka fits in perfectly with his time frame. From beginning to end, the process for making a batch of whiskey can take about a week, but then it must age. Vodka doesn’t need to age, but it does need to be distilled twice, according to Ryan. He designed and built his own still at their location in Spencer.
As of right now, they have plans to offer three products: Open Gate Vodka, Prairie States Whiskey and the one that started it all, their Century Farms Whiskey.
Their Open Gate Vodka doesn’t require aging so that is available for sale now both at their site in Spencer as well as liquor stores throughout Iowa that have it in stock.
“Century Farms will be our flagship whiskey. It will be aged two years and will be a straight whiskey. It will feature corn that we’ve sourced from Century Farms and each of the bottles from that batch of corn will feature a bio of that particular farm on the back,” Ryan said. “That whiskey won’t likely be for sale for another two years — in 2021.”
But they do have plans to have some whiskey for sale this year.
“We are hoping to have our Prairie States Whiskey, which will feature corn from non-Century Farms, and instead be more state specific, for sale this year,” Ryan said. “We are hoping to have some of that whiskey ready in time for the Clay County Fair.”
In addition to having fun, Ryan and Amanda agree that quality is what is most important to them.
“We are lucky in that we are self-financed on this so we don’t have investors breathing down our necks,” Ryan said. “I want to make sure that we match the quality with each batch and that it is as good as my best experiments were. We have done about 75-80 batches of whiskey while we were experimenting before we hit on our recipe, and that’s the quality I am aiming for with each batch now.”
Work on creating their recipes and still went hand-in-hand with the renovation of their tasting room. The building started out its life as an International Harvester location in the 1950s and was later a bar among other things before the Bares purchased the space.
“We ripped almost everything out and everything is new except the rafters and the concrete floor, which we’ve cleaned up,” Amanda said.
Right now, some finishing touches are being put on the industrial-feeling space and then they will be open for business.
And Amanda and Ryan, along with the public, can’t wait.
“We are excited about being able to offer up a chance for people to buy local and help foster that community of buying from your neighbor,” Ryan said.
“We are just really excited and want to have fun with this,” Amanda said. “We are busy with kids and jobs and now this, but we are having fun.”