Distilled Spirits Epicenter. (All photos by Steve Coomes for Insider Louisville. Click to enlarge.)

Accomplished people rarely settle for mediocrity, especially when it comes to their tipple.

Entrepreneurial beer lovers launched the craft brew revolution back in the 1990s after they became bored with Bud and Miller Lite.

Before that, the trend was for discriminating oenophiles such as filmmaker  Francis Ford Coppola  to acquire boutique wineries and vineyards.

Dave Dafoe, who owns Flavorman drinks lab, is betting heavily on what he sees as a third wave – connoisseurs who want to dip a toe into the spirits business with their own brands and formulas

Yesterday, Dafoe debuted his new Distilled Spirits Epicienter complex at 801 S. Eighth St.

The spirits center is next to his 24,000-square-foot Flavorman headquarters at 809 S. Eighth St., a company that’s created beverage formulas – from booze to sports drinks – for companies across the globe since 1985.

The new Moonshine University education center and Greasemonkey Distillery complex includes everything non-industry neophytes need to create and even bottle their own bourbon, gin, vodka or whatever, he said.

“The people who come to me have two things – lots of money, and an idea,” Dafoe said.

To turn those ideas into reality, Dafoe has invested about $1.1 million to create the Distilled Spirits Epicenter.

That includes buying a former 4,000-square-foot repair shop, which now has a classroom and rooms full of copper distillation equipment.

DSE includes a small bottling line in the neighboring Flavorman complex.

Greasemonkey Distillery has two large copper stills – one for neutral spirits such as vodka and a second for other products including bourbon – with a 250-gallon capacity each.

So, for the man or woman who wants to create their own small-batch bourbon to go up against, say, Pappy Van Winkle, they’re talking about spending real money.

Just how much money is difficult to predict.

Clients come in, they get an education on the process “and we make product from their formulations,” Dafoe said,

Dave Dafoe

Because of the cost of ingredients such as rye, corn, wheat or gin berries vary with market conditions, the estimates “are all over the board,” Dafoe said.

You can distill spirits from anything that contains sugar, such as honey and figs, for example. But whatever the concoction, there is a necessary economy of scale.

“We can’t do 10 cases,” he said. “We’re talking about 100 cases just to get the (complex) running. If the client buys caps, bottles, labels – the incidentals – our filling fees are between $1 and $3 per case, plus the cost of stretch wrap (for the pallet.)”

One of the unanticipated pieces of business that already has emerged is big distilleries – the names are confidential, Dafoe notes – using DSE for a testing lab.

“Even the big distilleries – quite a few! – are coming down to experiment,” Dafoe said. The Big Boys can come to DSE and for a relatively low cost test small batches of, say, single-barrel bourbon without taking their own equipment off-line , stopping production on product they’re actually selling, he said.

DSE and Flavorman now have the entire west side of Eighth Street, just south of Broadway. “We own a whole block now with the purchase of  property. We wanted to create our own campus,” he said, which Dafoe added has launched a bit of resurgence in the Park Hill Business District.

He sees further economic-development potential coming out of his DSE investment, as well as from urban distilleries such as the Michter’s Distillery complex planned for the Fort Nelson Building at Eighth and Main streets.

The first day Dafoe’s Distilled Spirits Epicenter complex was open was Sunday for people who were in Louisville for the American Distilling Institute’s 2012 Craft Spirits Conference.

Conferees came from Oregon, California and Texas, Dafoe said

“They think they’re going to beat Kentucky to the punch on becoming the craft spirits center of the world,” he said.

“But I say it’s going to be Louisville, Kentucky.”

[dc_ad size="9"] [dc_ad size="10"]
Terry Boyd
Terry Boyd has seven years experience as a business/finance journalist, and eight years a military reporter with European Stars and Stripes. As a banking and finance reporter at Business First, Boyd dealt directly with the most influential executives and financiers in Louisville.

2 thoughts on “Private label: With new Distilled Spirits Epicenter, Flavorman Dave Dafoe wants to put you in the booze biz

Leave a Reply