The Definition of Artisan
For the distillers at Flat Rock Spirits in Fairborn, OH, the term “craftsmen” extends beyond the traditional meaning in the craft spirits industry. For this distillery team, handcrafting fine bourbon and moonshines is an extension of their previous lives designing and assembling high efficiency automotive factories. Now, they are redefining what it means to be skilled tradesman and are bringing industrial life back to a hard-hit region.
The team at Flat Rock Spirits opened a distillery as they were literally dismantling their previous careers. Their namesake spirits brand, Stillwright, is a tribute to their previous livelihoods as millwrights. They ran a company of skilled craftsmen who would assemble and disassemble automotive factories throughout the Dayton, OH area. They soon noticed that they were tearing down and shipping out far more plants than they were putting together. The writing on the wall could not have been clearer: their jobs were leaving and they weren’t coming back.
To walk into the Flat Rock distillery is to see the synthesis of all that the founders knew about efficient industrial design, proper workflow, and skilled manual labor. Distilling came naturally because it required all the same skills as their prior careers.
A case in point is the story behind Flat Rock's still. As work was slowing down at their millwright shop, they assigned their team of welders and metalworkers tasks around the burgeoning distillery. Since they had all the talent needed to hand-fabricate their own still, they studied design specifications and created one themselves. This meant taking unused pieces of stainless steel and other metals that had once been destined for auto assembly lines and turning them into the striking still at the center of their entire operation. Also, showing great ingenuity, it allowed them to significantly cut their startup costs while also keeping their existing workforce busy. This kind of flexibility and know-how is what allowed them to pivot during trying business times and create a full-scale craft distillery when the economy was at it worst.
The award-winning products at Flat Rock reflect the same ingenuity behind the creation of the entire operation. Initially, they wanted to get a rum to market quickly, but they just couldn’t get their recipe right. Knowing that they wanted to make a bourbon, and a good bourbon takes time, they decided to distill and barrel theirs first. Their first product was made, but it couldn't be touched for years. While they waited for their bourbon to age, they went to work on other products. The result was a full line of flavored moonshines. Two years later, their rum is finally ready for release.
In hindsight, the distillers wish they had started with a product that could have come to market a bit quicker than bourbon. When they needed name recognition and cash flow the most, their only product was sitting and aging. However, having weathered that storm, the future looks bright for Flat Rock Spirits. The two-year-old wheated straight bourbon, in its first release, won a bronze medal at the San Diego Spirits competition.
Flat Rock’s flavored moonshines are actually made from an old recipe born of Dust Bowl economics. When the Dust Bowl struck in the early 20th century, the cost of corn skyrocketed. This caused many moonshiners to adjust their recipes to use sugar as the fermenting stock and adding a little corn for flavoring. Flat Rock has adapted this recipe for modern palates using a 50/50 combination of cane sugar and corn. This interpretation allows them to get their moonshine ready quickly and frees up their time to focus on creating custom flavor blends. When their first moonshine releases went before the judges at the American Distilling Institute, four of their entries were awarded a medal.
It is incredible to see what this team of artisans and millwrights has managed to create in the outskirts of Dayton. Where once the auto industry was king and the need for skilled factory labor was unending, much of the old livelihood has gone silent. For the craftsmen at Flat Rock a new industrialism is emerging. Flat Rock Distillery is a sign that there are second acts and, with dedication, ingenuity, and teamwork, a fading industry can lead to a blazing future. For the folks at Flat Rock, that future just so happens to include award-winning spirits.
For more information on the Flat Rock Distillery, visit the website at: www.flatrockspirits.com