When he opened Lost Ark Distilling Company in December 2016, Brad Blackwell broke onto the distilling scene selling one product: a white rum.
Three years later, the Columbia distillery is beginning a new venture: bourbon.
On Saturday, Lost Ark will release 278 bottles of their locally sourced bourbon, the first in Howard County.
“We like to use all local ingredients, do everything ourselves,” Blackwell said. “We want people to have a sense of home, of where the products come from. For our whiskey we get corn and wheat from a local farm here in the county, right out here in Dayton.”
Currently, only select liquor stores and bars in Howard, Anne Arundel, Carroll and Baltimore counties carry the Lost Ark rum products. With a limited supply, the bourbon will only be available at the distillery, which is open Fridays through Sundays for tours.
The process of creating the bourbon started in August 2017, when Blackwell put his first batch into barrels.
“Growth is a little harder in distilleries also because your product has to age for a few years. For whiskies, for bourbon in particular, [they need] two to four years minimum,” said Blackwell, a 36-year-old Millersville resident.
“So there’s a lot of patience involved. Of course, that always affects the bottom line. As a business you have to ... run for four years while you wait for the product to come out.”
While Blackwell waited 22 months for his bourbon to age in barrels, he had his rums to keep the business going. He would taste the bourbon monthly to decide how much longer to age it, monitoring its evolution over time. As the temperature ebbs and flows, he added, the taste develops.
He said when he tasted it a few months ago, he knew the bourbon had to come out of the barrels.
“The wood is porous, so the longer it stays in the barrel, the more it evaporates out,” Blackwell said. “When you’re buying a 10-year-old whiskey, probably more than 50% of that barrel is evaporated into nowhere. It’s what they call the angel share.”
The area is rich with craft beer and liquor facilities. Lost Ark, which was originally supposed to be at a location near Jailbreak Brewing Co. in North Laurel, had startup delays and eventually opened Dec. 3, 2016, on Berger Road in Columbia. Hysteria Brewing Co. opened July 1, 2017, next door to Lost Ark, and the two companies have planned to collaborate on events and products.
Other neighboring breweries include Black Flag Brewing Co. on Snowden River Parkway, Manor Hill Brewing in Ellicott City and Frisco Taphouse on Dobbin Road.
In the past few months, Blackwell also welcomed new investors from the Maryland restaurant and hospitality industry to help with business advising and marketing: Jamie Beall, president of Ledo Pizza; Bob Barry, former president and CEO of the Green Turtle; and Margaret Barry, former director of brand development and merchandising of the Green Turtle. All three have sampled the bourbon.
“We live in Howard County, and we really just got intrigued by Brad and his ability as a distiller,” Bob Barry said. “[Lost Ark is] a business that we felt we could help move the needle on.”
Margaret Barry echoed that sentiment. She said she was happy to see ingredients that came from the local community and to be a part of the first bourbon in Howard County.
“We can see a bright future for longer term and getting into this bourbon,” she said. “This is a nice way for us to move into something that’s exciting and new, bridging the gap between industries.”
“I could easily import a cheaper corn from the Midwest or grain or whatever, but it wouldn’t be a Howard County product,” added Blackwell, who still works a day job a information technology company but hopes to transition full-time to Lost Ark eventually.
It will be close to another year before any of Lost Ark’s other batches of bourbon are ready for the public.
“Making whiskey is so labor intensive, and we put a lot of attention to detail, a lot of care into making the product the best that we can,” Blackwell said. “Of course every time we do it, we get a little better.”
Lost Ark’s bourbon will be on sale for $64.99 from 1 to 6 p.m. Saturday during the distillery’s holiday and bourbon release party. There will also be food and live music, along with a charity raffle for a bottle of the bourbon, benefiting the Community Action Council of Howard County.
“If you think about wine and how different grapes give you different flavors or they talk about a wine from California versus a wine from upstate New York, they all give you a little bit different flavor even if you’re drinking the same style,” Blackwell said. “So, to me, the idea of what we wanted to craft was something that I always kind of say is like the taste of home.”