A spirited discussion on how this Rogers company takes each product from grain to bottle | Sponsored Content
Have you ever wondered how the main ingredients of your favorite cocktails are made? Brad Haj, operations director at Fox Trail Distillery, spoke with us recently to unlock some of the mystery behind spirits production. Read on to learn how Fox Trail creates its three currently distributed products, what makes them unique, and how the company—which celebrates its second anniversary this spring—is continuing to grow.
At Home in Arkansas: When some people hear “distillery,” they might automatically think bourbon, but Fox Trail produces much more. Tell us about some of the company’s different brands.
Fox Trail Distillery: We currently have three different spirits in production: Boxley Vodka, Artanical Gin, and Oak & Bean, our cold brew coffee liqueur. Boxley Vodka is made with 100 percent non-GMO Missouri-grown corn. One thing that sets it apart from other vodkas is the water we use to proof down our vodka called reverse osmosis. This allows us to provide the purest, cleanest water possible. You can kind of control what your mineral content is in the water and remove flavors that might be undesirable. Clean water plays a significant role in the finished product.
What makes Artanical Gin unique are the botanicals used, many of which are native ingredients. The juniper, elderberry, elderflower, Prairie Rose, and lemon balm in Artanical Gin are all sourced locally.
AHIA: Are those botanicals commonly found in gin?
FTD: Gin has to be juniper-forward, meaning you really sense the juniper, to be a gin. Of course, that’s kind of subjective, but that means juniper is standard in all gin. The other botanicals—like elderberry and elderflower—some are found in other gins, but they’re not necessarily standard. Ginger, licorice root, and orris root are more common. It took us several iterations of developing this gin before we arrived at this combination. There were 39 different prototypes before deciding on Artanical. We really took our time.
AHIA: What does the process of infusing gin with those flavors look like?
FTD: For Artanical Gin, we start with non-GMO corn spirit, the same base as our vodka, and we run that through our gin still. We incorporate flavors in two methods: In the pot of the still, we macerate juniper and elderberry. Then, all the botanicals are vapor infused. A botanical basket sits in between where our alcohol starts and where it finishes, and as it passes through, it’s infusing flavor—kind of like steeping a tea. Once it’s distilled, we send it to a holding tank to be proofed down and bottled.
AHIA: Tell us about your third spirit, the Oak & Bean cold brew coffee liqueur.
FTD: This product really started as an ingredient to use in cocktail applications with our bar program. It became popular very fast, so we decided to develop it into an actual product. Oak & Bean starts with a sugar cane-distillate base that we brew down with cold brew coffee to dilute the strength. Then, we cook it with sugar in the raw and baking spaces, store it in used bourbon barrels to impart some of that bourbon flavor, let it rest, and eventually harvest and bottle it.
AHIA: What happens to each spirit after it is finished distilling?
FTD: After the production process, each of our spirits are slowly proofed down with water. “Proofing down” just means adding water to get to your desired proof; we’re bringing it down to a drinkable level. Different flavors pop at different proofs, so in the process, we’re bringing out the flavors we want as well. Then we rest them in stainless steel tanks. That helps them breathe and become more refined and balanced. When it’s time to package it up, we triplecheck for proof, taste, texture, and clarity before we hand bottle on site. Our whole team helps bottle spirits—everyone on the production team will come and we have a little bottling party.
AHIA: That sounds like fun! Is the team at Fox Trail pretty hands-on throughout the process?
FTD: Very. We’re a pretty small team, given the size of our operation, so every member of the team has the opportunity to contribute to all aspects of production. That means everything from research and development to filling and harvesting barrels. We strive for everyone on the team to be as well-rounded as possible. That includes knowing things like all the ingredients that go into our products, specific methods for producing, and what temperature our mash is when we add yeast to it. We want everyone to be capable of performing any task; that way, we have a well-rounded team who understands every aspect of what we’re doing.
AHIA: What’s one thing about the distilling process that might surprise people?
FTD: There is a whole lot of cleaning involved. In fact, I can’t stress the importance of cleaning enough. Especially when dealing with our grain to bottle products—when we’re cooking grain, then fermenting grain, then running it through the still, cleanliness is of utmost importance. That’s to ensure every spirit we produce is free of impurities or contamination. The yeast we use to convert those sugars to alcohol, they thrive in a sterile environment. If you have contaminants, it will slow down your yeast performance and result in off flavors.
AHIA: How has Fox Trail Distillery grown in the years since it opened?
FTD: We opened to the public in April 2019, and just in the past two years, we’ve grown a great deal. When we first started, we had a couple of select products that were mostly used as ingredients for our bar program. We weren’t distributing; you had to come to the distillery to buy product. Within our first year, we produced more than 175 barrels of bourbon, and those are currently aging.
Now, we’re expanding our capacity and enlarging our batches while making everything more efficient. We have since started a mill room expansion so we can mill our own grain, which allows us to control the size of our grain and the extraction of sugars. It also will allow us to keep more grain on hand and make fewer orders.
We have a barrel storage facility that will begin construction this year that will allow us to store upwards of 5,000 barrels at a time. Building a place that’s dedicated just to barrels will help us keep them organized, as well as sample and harvest as needed.
Another point of growth for us as a company is that in mid-2020, just after our one-year anniversary, we went into distribution within the state of Arkansas. Now you can walk into most liquor stores in the state and find Boxley Vodka, Artanical Gin, and Oak & Bean to enjoy at home, which is really exciting.