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Beneath a charming image depicting a 17th-century sailing vessel, the door opened Saturday at Lost Ark Distilling Co. on Berger Road in Columbia to reveal a vision finally realized.

Small business owners Brad Blackwell, of Crownsville, and Andy Debenham, of Manchester, have been working to launch their own artisan distillery since they formed Lost Ark Distilling Co. in May 2014.

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Start-up delays at a previous location leased near Jailbreak Brewing Co. in North Laurel caused the partners to announce last July that they were relocating the operation (which had yet to begin construction) to Columbia.

"We feel that Columbia is growing quickly, an up-and-coming community that we're really excited about," Blackwell said.

Lost Ark began producing its first batch of Lady Anne White Rum just a few weeks ago, and Blackwell said more than half of the 420 bottles had sold by mid-afternoon on the first day of the Dec. 3 and 4 grand opening.

The rum is named after Lady Anne Arundel Calvert, for whom Anne Arundel County is named. Her back story is on the bottle's label; all of Lost Ark's product names and labels will be rooted in Maryland history.

The distillery is targeting its next product, Terra Mariae Spiced Rum, to debut before Christmas. Corn whiskey, which takes six to eight weeks to age, will come next. About March, the baby bourbon will be ready and Maryland-style rye whiskey in about two years.

Blackwell said they expect to produce 1,550 750-ml bottles of artisan spirits over the next year.

In February, Hysteria Brewing Co. is opening next door to Lost Ark, and the two companies plan to collaborate on events and products.

In addition to North Laurel's Jailbreak Brewing Co., other neighboring breweries in Howard County include Black Flag Brewing Co. on Snowden River Parkway, Manor Hill Brewing in Ellicott City and Frisco Taphouse on Dobbin Road.

"Good beer and good rum make a good friendship," Blackwell said. "It's a small, tight community and we all know each other."

Samantha Hack, of Columbia, said she is "very excited because we have a lot of craft beer breweries, but this [Lost Ark] is our only local distillery."

"There's a craft cocktail scene [at bars and restaurants] as well, which is really important for us," Blackwell said.

The craft distilling industry in Maryland is very young, he said, with only about 1,000 craft distillers worldwide. Nearby, the Baltimore Whiskey Co. began production of rye whiskey and traditional Maryland spirits in November 2015.

In the spirit of pioneers who crafted everything by hand, Blackwell and Debenham named their company after a ship that brought early settlers to Maryland.

Pointing out 1,500 pounds each of corn and wheat sourced from Rural Rhythm Farm in Dayton, Debenham said they plan to buy all their grains locally.

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The grain left over from the distilling process, Blackwell said, will be given to local farmers for animal feed.

Leading tours of the shiny new stills and explaining the distilling process while Blackwell hosted tastings in the next room, Debenham said he is ecstatic about the weekend's enthusiastic turnout, which saw more than 150 people on Saturday.

"It's been two and a half years and to have people in to enjoy our product is what's it's all about," he said.

"It's amazing," Blackwell said.

'Blown away'

David Meade Sr., of Pasadena, said he drove in to use a gift certificate from his son that came packaged with an empty bottle (to fill) arranged in an attractive wooden crate.

"It was a great gift," Meade said.

Columbia resident Amanda King said the Lady Anne White Rum was a little stronger than what she expected.

"But it's very smooth," she said. "There's no burn to it, you can sip it."

Michael Valdez, of Glen Burnie, brews his own craft beer. A regular at local breweries, he said Lost Ark was the first distillery he'd visited and that he was "blown away" by the flavor of the spiced rum.

"The molasses and the taste of the rum blend so smoothly," Valdez said. "It compares to a really good Scotch."

Blackwell and Debenham work day jobs at an information technology firm in Fort Meade where they met and became fast friends five years ago; they hope to transition full time to Lost Ark down the road.

Hosting corporate events, birthday parties, community events and personalized tours and tastings are among the options they're interested in pursuing.

"The key to all of this has been our really supportive wives who've stuck with us through all of this," Blackwell said.

Debenham's wife, Gail, said she came in to help bottle the Lady Anne White Rum over the past week to "get them home sooner than midnight." And Grace Blackwell said "it's been awesome" watching her husband, Brad, "build this dream."

Kent Horichs, Gail's father, made a gift of the wooden tasting bar near Lost Ark's front entrance.

Members of both families were there to help at the grand opening.

Melissa Blackwell, Brad's mother, said she is extremely proud of her son's accomplishment in opening the distillery.

"If you dream it and you're passionate, it will happen," she said.

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