Rock Town Distillery
Founded in 2010, Rock Town Distillery is “the first legal distillery of any kind in Arkansas since prohibition.” Its spirits are sold in at least sixteen states and in the United Kingdom. Its current lineup includes more than thirteen different spirits with names referencing the Natural State; all the grains needed to make their vodka, whiskey, and gin—such as corn, wheat, rye, and barley—are acquired from Arkansas farms. Rock Town Distillery has won numerous international awards, including the prestigious double-gold award at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in March 2011. In 2015, Rock Town Distillery’s world-class Arkansas whiskey won the U.S. Micro Whiskey of the Year Award from Jim Murray’s Whiskey Bible.
In 2009, Little Rock–based Alltel Communications, LLC, was purchased by Verizon Wireless. Phil Brandon, a former Alltel employee, took the opportunity to found Rock Town Distillery, setting up shop on East 6th Street in downtown Little Rock (Pulaski County). The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported on June 25, 2010, that the equipment Brandon needed had arrived and that his company would use only “Arkansas grown ingredients” in their spirits (though an exception has been made for gin and a few other items). Brandon stated that he was getting his corn and wheat from a company in Stuttgart (Arkansas County). To educate himself in the art of distilling spirits such as gin, vodka, and whiskey, Brandon attended several classes, visited other distilleries, and trained with master distillers at Kentucky-based Maker’s Mark Bourbon. The ten-gallon charred white oak barrels used to age the whiskey in the distillery are made by Gibbs Bros. Cooperage of Hot Springs (Garland County).
Brandon first began making vodka, gin, and un-aged Arkansas Lightning whiskey, touted as “legal moonshine.” These generated enough revenue to allow him to produce more-expensive and specialized spirits. In subsequent years, flavored versions of Brandon’s Arkansas Lightning—such as apple pie, blackberry cobbler, peach, grape, and cinnamon—were added to the line-up. Brandon also created three more brands of Arkansas whiskey: bourbon, hickory-smoked whiskey, and rye whiskey. Rock Town Distillery also uses dark brown sugar in conjunction with the other ingredients to make its Arkansas Barrel Aged Rum. There are also some specialty versions of Brandon’s Arkansas whiskeys that are aged longer than other brands and distilled to 100 proof in strength, in addition to a coffee liqueur and flavored vodkas.
In 2011, Brandon’s Gin won against more than thirty other brands in San Francisco’s World Spirits Competition, winning the coveted double-gold award; double-gold means that each judge gave top marks to Rock Town Distillery. Ten years later, the distillery’s Single Barrel Bourbon won double gold at the same competition. In 2011, Brandon’s Vodka was picked over hundreds of other companies in the Ultimate Spirits Challenge in New York, coming within one point of being named world’s best, and in Chicago, Illinois, that year, his Arkansas Lightning whiskey was awarded a gold medal at another competition. The distillery was also listed as the U.S. Micro Whisky of the Year in the 2015 edition of Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible.
In 2018, the distillery moved to a new site at 12th and Main Street. The Rock Town warehouse site in downtown Little Rock covers approximately 25,000 square feet of space, and the company conducts public tours of the facility multiple times a day. In 2023, due to increased demand, the distillery launched its Column Still Collection of products that are made using Rock Town’s recipes and Arkansas ingredients by Bardstown Bourbon Company’s Collaborative Distilling Program in Kentucky and then shipped back to Arkansas to age.
For additional information:
Bahn, Chris. “Rock Town Distillery, at First a Risky Business, Notches Its Fifth Year.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, July 5, 2015, pp. 1G, 8G.
Bona, Becca. “Food Insider: Phil Brandon of Rock Town Distillery.” Rock City Eats. http://www.rockcityeats.com/food-insider-phil-brandon-of-rock-town-distillery/ (accessed September 1, 2020).
Koon, David. “Another Round for Brandon’s.” Arkansas Times. April 13, 2011. Online at http://www.arktimes.com/arkansas/another-round-for-brandons/Content?oid=1635419 (accessed September 1, 2020).
Magsam, John. “Collaboration Begets Production.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, April 23, 2023, pp. 1g, 8G. Online at https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2023/apr/23/collaboration-begets-production/ (accessed April 24, 2023).
McLeod, Jerry. “Philip Dillaha Brandon.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, June 16, 2019, pp. 1D, 5D. Online at https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2019/jun/16/philip-dillaha-brandon-20190616/ (accessed April 24, 2023).
Rock Town Distillery. http://www.rocktowndistillery.com (accessed September 1, 2020).
Cody Lynn Berry
University of Arkansas at Little Rock
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I’ve had the Grapefruit and Mandarin Orange vodkas. They are excellent.