When a trio of old high school buddies hatches a plan that involves alcohol, the results usually end up “sketchy” at best. But in certain rare instances, a great idea—even one that’s based on youth and booze—gets born and proves to be an exception to the rule.
Such is the case with Rodney Hu, Jason Grossmiller and Jon Eagan, and their highly successful business, the Arizona Distilling Company. Add a fourth friend and partner Matt Cummins to the mix and you end up with a 3-year-old, Tempe-based distillery that’s riding the crest of a major business wave, one that’s showing no signs of crashing anytime soon.
About seven years ago, Hu—who was then owner of the locally legendary Yucca Tap Room—and Grossmiller latched onto an idea to open a micro-distilling business. Following several months of research, seminars and painstaking due diligence, they invited Cummins into the fold and, later still, Eagan joined them.
Fortunately for the four young entrepreneurs, the time couldn’t have been better to start a craft distilling business. Over the past decade, with the stunning success of microbreweries and craft beers in the U.S., the next logical market to penetrate was small-batch craft spirits. Success in the market wasn’t guaranteed and involved a lot of elbow grease and planning. But today, the four owners are enjoying making whiskey while the sun shines.
The group set up shop in an old welding facility in Tempe and quickly got to work, with Grossmiller and Cummins leading the effort to source local Arizona grains; and distill, bottle and label six initial spirits.
“Our first release was our Copper City Bourbon,” Grossmiller says, adding that it is the first legal bourbon produced in Arizona. “We also produce Copper City Moonshine, which is similar, except that it’s unaged, as well as gin and three whiskeys—malt, rye and Desert Durum Wheat Whiskey.”
What makes their products different from other commercial products on the shelf?
“This is a small operation—it’s just the four of us,” Hu says. “We closely watch the entire process. We’re not just robots filling bottles. It’s our attention to detail and craftsmanship that make all the difference.”
And the quality shows. Their gin recently won a double gold medal at the San Francisco Spirits Competition.
“Being such a small company, it was great for us and our distribution,” Grossmiller says of the prize. “Winning an award like that proved to us that it’s time to introduce people in other states to our quality products.”
Written by Bruce Farr
Photography by Mark Lipczynski