Templeton Rye whiskey has 'come home' to Iowa, founder says
Templeton Rye opens a new $35 million distillery with a museum and welcome center in Templeton, Iowa Rodney White, email@example.com
TEMPLETON, Ia. — Templeton Rye’s new $35 million Iowa distillery signals a homecoming for the company, which traces its roots to Carroll County's bootleg era, when making rye whiskey in the tiny farming community was an open secret.
“This completes us,” co-founder Keith Kerkhoff said Monday during a tour of the facility. “We’re all home now.”
For years, Templeton Rye purchased its whiskey from an Indiana distillery and bottled it in Templeton.
When critics called out the company for promoting the liquor as "made in Iowa," owners began crafting plans to bring production to the Hawkeye state.
“This was always in our long-term plan,” said Kerkhoff, whose grandfather Alphonse Kerkhoff created the recipe used to make the premium rye whiskey.
He started the company with co-founder Scott Bush a dozen years ago. They teamed with California-based alcohol distributor Young's Holdings to expand the business.
A bottle of Templeton sells for $30 and up for 750 milliliters. The company has a higher priced whiskey that is aged longer. A bottle of the special reserve whiskey, aged 6-plus years, sells for about $55.
The whiskey is made from rye which Templeton buys from north Germany. It's pureed, mixed with water, mashed, cooked, distilled, aged, bottled and shipped from the Carroll County distillery.
The sparkling facility is on display for tours.
The massive buildings have changed the skyline of Templeton. There’s a 34,000-square-foot production facility and a 51,000-square-foot rackhouse where barrels of aging rye whiskey sit on pallets waiting for the perfect moment to be bottled.
“The longer the aging, the smoother the whiskey,” Kerkhoff said.
The expanded facility also includes a museum dedicated to the company and its Iowa roots, a visitor center and a tasting room.
Templeton Rye started its all-Iowa production in April. The whiskey made in Templeton now will be ready for sale in four years.
“Our goal is to make 100 percent of it here,” said Jane Knutson, chief financial officer. “But what our buyers really care about is a good quality product.”
When the plant is at full capacity, it will produce 500,000 gallons of rye whiskey a year, which translates into 2.4 million bottles. The company now has 28 employees with more to come as production ramps up, Knutson said.
The craft spirits industry, although small, is growing in Iowa, said Tyler Ackerson, spokesman for the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division. There are 29 spirits distillers in the state with Templeton Rye being the largest whiskey maker, he said.
“There are way more craft breweries in Iowa, but Iowa native distillers are growing,” he said.
Templeton Rye decided to expand its Iowa plant after it settled a series of lawsuits in 2015 in which plaintiffs argued the company's claims of being a small batch craft rye whiskey made in Iowa were misleading.
“We’ve moved on from that,” said Kerkhoff, who declined to dwell on the lawsuits.
The company received about $1.6 million in tax credits and tax refunds in addition to a $250,000 tax abatement from the city to expand on the small bottling facility and tasting room the company had operated in Templeton since about 2006.
Templeton Rye’s new digs are far different from stills hidden across Carroll County that produced a simpler whiskey between 1920 and 1933 when making and selling alcohol was prohibited in the United States.
The Iowa whiskey was a favorite of the infamous gangster Al Capone, who became a frequent customer, even rumored to be getting bottles illegally brought into his prison cell after he was convicted of tax evasion, according to the company’s website.
The new museum at Templeton Rye depicts the bootlegging era. “Hogs, hay and hooch” is emblazoned across one of the displays as a nod to the agricultural roots of the distilling business.
Templeton residents have loaned or donated items to the museum from the illegal whiskey production or historical items from the town. Creating the museum was a community effort, Kerkhoff said.
Prohibition distillers, often some of the county’s most upstanding residents, hid their stills and their products from federal agents on the hunt for illegal activity, he said. His grandfather got arrested a couple of times after authorities discovered bottles of liquor hidden in corn cribs.
There’s also local legend about activity in the basement of a local church, which was said to have a still that parishioners could smell on occasion.
“They had to be pretty creative,” he said.
Distillers would sell their products and leave bottles of liquor in hollowed out fence posts and inside designated monuments at the local cemetery.
Now the refined rye whiskey is being sold across the United States. When Templeton Rye debuted in 2006, whiskey drinkers stood in line to buy it because production was limited.
Increased production will help grow its market, Knutson said. The company is already selling Templeton Rye in India and New Zealand, said Lester Brown, distillery manager.
The company is opening up the new plant Tuesday to area residents and others who want to see how rye whiskey is made.
Ninety minute tours will begin this week by appointment. The Tuesday through Saturday tours cost $10. Shoppers can buy up to two bottles of Templeton Rye along with T-shirts and other items.
Kerkhoff said he is proud of the new facility and thinks his grandfather would be too.
"He'd probably say 'This is great, you're creating jobs in the area. But where's my cut?'"