A couple years ago, as system engineers working in information technology, Brad Blackwell and Andy Debenham worked in a "dark and quiet" corner of an office basement in Howard County.
They became friends, and found themselves often discussing their interests outside of work. One topic in particular stuck.
"It didn't take us very long to figure out that we liked to talk about home-brewing way better than we liked to talk about work," Blackwell, 33, said recently.
Since then, the friends have moved on to distilling rum (and soon to be whiskey), and formed the Lost Ark Distilling Company. On Saturday, they'll open their Columbia facility (9570 Berger Road, Suite L) to the public and sell their first product, Lady Anne White Rum.
Blackwell and Debenham, a 47-year-old Minnesota native, decided to switch from brewing to distilling spirits for a simple reason: They wanted to push their abilities.
"We just wanted to challenge ourselves a little bit more from what we already knew," said Blackwell, who grew up in Tuscaloosa, Ala. "Why don't we take it to the next step and learn how to distill?"
This weekend, the liquid fruits of their labor will debut. The Lady Anne White Rum is 80 proof and sells for $35 at the distillery. It smells like molasses and raisins to Blackwell's nose, but tastes "a lot brighter and sweeter," with tropical notes coming through, he said.
Lost Ark hopes to launch its first whiskey in early 2017, Blackwell said. It's called 1634 Corn Whiskey, and it will age in uncharred barrels for about two months.
For all of the products (including the still-to-be-released Terra Mariae Spiced Rum), local sourcing is the goal, he said. The white rum's molasses, for example, came from Domino Sugar in Baltimore, he said.
"We just took delivery of several thousand pounds of corn and wheat from actual Howard County farms," Blackwell said of the whiskey's ingredients.
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The distillery will be open to the public noon-6 p.m. Saturday and noon-4 p.m. Sunday. Going forward, operating hours will be 4-8 p.m. Fridays, noon-6 p.m. Saturdays and noon-4 p.m. Sundays. Tours will be free, Blackwell said, and the focus will be to educate attendees. (A $5 souvenir tasting glass will be sold.)
"We want to teach how everything works, and where it comes from," Blackwell said. "Then when you get to the tasting counters, it's 'Why do you smell this in the glass? What's the proper way to smell it?'"
Blackwell said he's often asked about Lost Ark's future, but instead of focusing on fast growth, they're concentrating on "winning our backyard."
"We want to become a nice tourist destination, and a part of the community right here in Howard County, and then branch out from there," Blackwell said. "That's where we want to start, and that's where we're totally focused right now."