POCATELLO — A local couple plans to soon open Southeast Idaho’s first distillery, specializing in hand-crafted gin, rum, whiskey and coffee liqueur.
Robin and Edward Hed hope to start selling bottles of their own spirits from Moonlight Mountain Distillery, 1046 S. Main St., in early April.
The distillery will be located in a small building in the same business plaza as John’s Paint & Glass and Merlin’s Insulation. Robin Hed is also an elementary school secretary; her husband works remotely for Detroit-based Brooks Utility Products.
Their liquor will be sold by state dispensaries throughout Idaho. They’ll also supply regional restaurants and bars and will have a small store and tasting room, where guests will be given free samples on Saturdays at their distillery.
The Heds say they’ve been developing their business plans for several years. They named their brand after Moonlight Mountain Mine — which is located near their home — mostly because they liked the sound of it. A friend and local artist, Teresa Roberts, designed their labels.
“My goal is to do this for a couple of years, build it and maybe make it to where we can sustain ourselves,” Edward Hed said.
They’ll offer most of their 750 milliliter bottles for $15 each, though premier whiskeys will sell for more.
They’re leasing the building and have purchased two stills — a 15-foot-tall still for the first distillation of their mash and a smaller still for their second run. Much of the methanol created as a byproduct of distillation will be used for cleaning their equipment.
“Most people don’t know the difference between a distillery and a brewery, so I’m happy to educate them,” Robin said. “We’re talking to everybody we possibly can. It’s a new thing here also because we don’t have any wineries. It will be a really good new idea — you can come in and taste a little bit.”
Edward Hed, who earned his college degree in biology, has developed several of his own recipes and plans to get his ingredients from local sources.
They’ll harvest berries from the juniper trees surrounding their Pocatello Creek Road home to make their gin. They also plan to harvest some bitter brush and raise herbs, such as lemony basil, in their garden to flavor the gin.
They intend to source ancient grains, such as Einkorn, from a farmer in Rockland. Though mostly cane sugar must be used for a spirit to be considered rum, Edward Hed said he intends to further sweeten his rum with locally raised sugar beet molasses. They’re seeking a local farmer who would be willing to raise a small plot of a blue corn variety, called Painted Mountain, for their six-month-aged whiskey recipe.
The local Great Western Malting plant will supply their malted barley. Pocatello-based Leapknot Coffee Roasters will furnish the cold-brewed coffee for their coffee liqueur.
They plan to strike a partnership with the businesses based in Yellowstone Hotel in Old Town Pocatello. Rory Erchul, who is one of the owners of the Yellowstone Restaurant, 313 Whiskey Room and the future Union Taproom, said he and his partners hope to have the distillery bottle a special Yellowstone line of branded spirits. Erchul said the distillery’s whiskeys will also add a local flavor to flights at the 313 Whiskey Room.
“Definitely we’re extremely excited about what Ed and Robin are doing,” said Erchul, who also makes a point of buying local when possible. “They are going to do something nobody else here is doing, and they’ll be the first ones out of the gate.”
Edward Hed has consulted operators of other distilleries for guidance, and even spent a few weeks participating in a pseudo interneship with 8 Feathers Distillery in Boise. Developing unique recipes appeals to his creative nature. He’s an avid cook and a bit of a perfectionist: he spent about 20 years fine-tuning his steak marinade.
“You’re creating and relaxing at the same time,” he said.
Edward Hed believes distilleries represent the latest trend in the hand-crafted alcohol sector and have started to take some of the market share away from microbreweries. The majority of the new small distilleries have opened in California and Washington State, he said.
“I’m pretty lucky that we’re on the front end of it. ... They’re growing like crazy,” he said.
Their sons Alexander, 17, and Nicholas, 14, have been helping them renovate the building. Opening a distillery requires completing a lot of red tape, especially at the federal level, where even recipes must be reviewed and approved, Robin said. They hope to soon submit their final paperwork.
They’ll be funding the business venture with personal savings. They’ve also launched a crowdfunding campaign through the website Indiegogo, setting a $40,000 goal. Investors will receive shares and will be consulted on certain business decisions, such as approving label designs. Whiskey glasses will also be offered to certain crowdfunding donors.