ST. PAUL, Neb.- There's a business in St. Paul that's offering something different to the public, and helping one farmer diversify.
"I've been a life-long farmer, and I wanted to do something a little different to be honest with you," North Loup Distilling owner Eric Montemagni said. To be different, Eric decided to pursue his interest in making craft spirits. At Loup River Distilling, Eric and his wife Maria are involved in the craft spirit industry. They are making whiskey out of corn they grow on their own farm.
"We combine it normally like all farmers do, we truck it to our local coop, they store it, and mill it as I need it," Eric said. After Eric gets the milled corn, the whiskey making process begins. "We put it in a mash tun, where it's basically cooked. We add it with water and cook it to a temperature of 180 degrees. During that process we add enzymes that release starches from the corn, and that helps with the fermentation process," Eric said. The product then goes through a cool down process and yeast is added. "After that process, we move into the stills, where it takes about 8 hours to distill it (about an 8 hour batch)," Eric said. Finally, the product ages for two years. "Traditional whiskey is put in 53 gallon barrels, which we have. But we are finding out that smaller barrels can make a drinkable product in less amount of time, so we are going to smaller barrels because we are a new business, and we've got to get product ready for people to enjoy," Eric said.
Customer at Loup River Distilling get to enjoy the product in a tasting room. "We make whiskey, that's our primary product, but also gin, vodka and an un-aged whiskey. All of those products we use to make craft cocktails and so our tasting room is open Wednesday through Saturday from 2 p.m. to late," Maria Montemagni said.
Loup River Distilling is located in a building in downtown St. Paul and owners of the building hope occupying the building is another way of helping the community by bringing more vitality to the area. "The community of St. Paul has gone far and above our expectations for support in helping us get started," Eric said.
With the local support, Eric and Maria think they've hit on a good business opportunity, as interest in craft beers and spirits continues to grow. While there is excitement as the business takes off, owners say they simply enjoy connecting with the people who come into the tasting room to try something new.
"You remember the old TV show Cheers, where everyone belongs? That's what we are trying to do.. kind of the same idea!" Maria said. And it's an idea that all starts will Nebraska corn.