Eric and Maria Montemagni, founders of Loup River Distilling, make their home in St. Paul, a quaint town located in central Nebraska’s Howard County. Born of a fascination with chemistry and a desire to use crops in different ways, the couple started crafting spirits in 2016 and opened a brick-and-mortar tasting room to serve the libations on St. Patrick’s Day of 2018.
The distillery currently offers five types of spirits: bourbon, corn whiskey, rye whiskey, vodka, and gin. The distillation process is similar, but the grain, yeast, number of times the resultant liquid passes through the still, and aging process differ. Eric Montemagni currently grows the field corn, rye, and barley used in the mash, and the new American oak barrels used for aging colored spirits are procured from The Barrel Mill in Minnesota.
In a nod to their hometown, the spirits are not only crafted from local grains but also named after local landmarks. To wit, Howard Hooch is christened for the county in which this unaged white whiskey is distilled, and Spring Creek barrel-aged American-style whiskey received its moniker from the creek running through the creator’s farmland. The corn-based, aromatic Good Life Gin is a nod to the former Nebraska state motto, and the clean-tasting Loup Valley vodka is reminiscent of the Loup River running through the verdant central Nebraska valley. Bourbon is Eric Montemagni’s drink of choice, and Nebraska Straight Bourbon Whiskey is exactly that—a simple, straightforward Bourbon made from corn and rye and aged in barrels.
The Montemagnis are pleased with the warm reception for their products, noting that outside sales have boomed in recent months. The establishment has fielded requests for a hand-crafted rum, but it’s difficult to grow sugarcane in central Nebraska, so for now the craft distiller prefers to stick with locally grown ingredients.
Patrons can rent the 300-square-foot Barrel Room for events or pop in during regular business hours for a taste or a tour. Spirit lovers throughout the state can purchase bottles in local grocery stores and bottle shops such as Hy-Vee, or Wine, Beer, and Spirits.
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