Spirits of Nebraska

Behind the Shady Rest Motel in Arapahoe, Nebraska, Master Distiller Ryan Hanzlick is working magic with native Nebraska fruits and grains. The award-winning spirits crafted at Long Dogs Distilling (named because the owners all have dachshunds or greyhounds) include local bourbon, vodka, and a slate of rare brandies that recalls simpler times.

Hanzlick and the owners enjoy tinkering with homemade wine and beer, so distillation was a comfortable progression. The distiller’s personal experience with surprisingly tasty homemade wine (in this case, mulberry) made him suspect that crafting brandy from local wild fruits would prove successful.

Judges at the 2021 Craft Distillers Spirit competition agreed, awarding Yote Yip Chokecherry Brandy a silver medal. Reminiscent of picking chokecherries for grandma’s jelly, this clean, crisp brandy has no added sugar or flavorings.

The process for making brandy is simple: crush fruit, add yeast, and ferment. The resultant fermented juice is then distilled in small batch hybrid pot stills—fabricated by Hanzlick himself—and placed in barrels to age. 

Procuring enough wild plums, chokecherries, and pie cherries can be challenging, but Hanzlick remains adamant about sourcing local, even when it means hiring neighbors to harvest and gather the fruit. Nearby, Old Cellar Vineyard provides Brianna, Frontenac, and Verona grape varietals used in the vodka and Badger Hound Eau de Vie.

Hanzlick, eager to hear about local growers, shared one such story, “A truck driver who stopped in for a taste told us about a local farmer growing blue organic corn for tortilla chips near Gothenburg.” That corn became the base mash for Old Blue corn whiskey, delivering complex, earthy notes not commonly found in that spirit.

According to Hanzlick, the tasting room has been popular, drawing curious bourbon-loving travelers who see the sign and pull in for a peek. “I love the reception we get from serious bourbon drinkers, especially those who come in expecting another bourbon from a young distillery to be subpar.” 

For this local craft distiller, using wild fruit to craft age-old spirits is quintessential Nebraska. Bottles are available for purchase in the tasting room or on the website:

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