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VOL. 9 | NO. 10 | Saturday, March 5, 2016

Old Dominick Built for Aging

Canale’s Distillery Well-Positioned to Become Part of Downtown Fabric

By Madeline Faber

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A block-wide warehouse at 301 S. Front St. is getting new life as the Old Dominick Distillery. When it opens to the public in December, the distillery will brew and bottle two kinds of vodkas and three kinds of whiskey. Plans for the historic 54,000-square-foot warehouse include two tasting rooms, a rooftop patio, restaurant and retail area in addition to best-in-class equipment.

Old Dominick will have silos outside where grain will be stored and then moved inside to be ground in-house and distilled. There will be six, 1,800-gallon fermenters for whiskey and 250-gallon stills for vodka.  (Memphis News/Andrew J. Breig)

D. Canale & Co. president Chris Canale said that with architect Looney Ricks Kiss and contractor Archer Customer Builders, he’s building one of the best distilleries in the state. With total investment coming in shy of $10 million, Canale is sparing no expense when it comes to distillery infrastructure and Downtown atmosphere.

Back to basics

Returning to the beverage industry is a coming home story for the Canales, but this is far from Chris Canale’s great-great-grandfather’s operation.

Dominick Canale, for whom Old Dominick is named, opened a produce distribution business back in the 1860s and later moved into private-label liquor bottling and beer distribution.

In 2010, president Chris Canale sold D. Canale Beverages LLC, a 144-year legacy that had grown into the Anheuser-Busch distributorship for the Mid-South.

Canale was looking for an opportunity to get back to his Memphis roots with a new venture. Initially, he thought about selling the family name and story to an outside distiller or buying barrels from an overstocked distillery to do private-label bottling.

“Being naive to the whiskey industry and how it’s been booming, we didn’t realize how much demand there was,” Canale said. “We've literally got 150 years of distribution experience and so we just decided to do it ourselves.”

Now, the family is back on the same block where the business first got started. Looking across South Front is a nondescript building where Dominick Canale had his first job at his uncle’s wholesale liquor store. The Paperworks Lofts, which used to house the Canale’s food service business, are just a couple blocks away.

“It’s our story, our brand, our family, our city,” Canale said.

Whiskey boom

Historically, Tennessee has had three distilleries: Jack Daniel’s, George Dickel and Prichard’s. In 2009, a law passed allowing micro-distilleries in selected Tennessee counties, smoothing the way for 37 additional spirits aspirants. In Shelby County, Old Dominick will compete with Roaring Tiger Vodka and Pyramid Premium Vodka, but no one has yet ventured into whiskey.

“West of the Tennessee River, we’re it,” Canale said.

Alex Castle, Old Dominick’s head distiller, said that start-up distilleries are becoming increasingly common, especially with the onset of the recent whiskey boom. For the past three years, whiskey has cut into beer’s overall share of the U.S. market with bourbon and Tennessee whiskey leading the way.

“Others are looking at fermenters that are are a couple hundred gallons, five hundred tops. We're more than three times that volume,” Castle said. “But fortunately we have this space and the willingness to go ahead and start a little bit bigger.”

For starters, the facility will be able to put out 15,000 cases of 800-proof alcohol. By ramping up production under one shift, that figure could easily reach 76,800 cases – or 76,000 gallons. When the distillery is ready to add additional shifts, there will be plenty of Old Dominick product to go around.

All brewing, bottling and packaging will be done in-house with the help of 20 full- and part-time employees. Two brands of vodka, an original and a flavored version, will be ready for consumption later this year. Memphis will have to wait on the Tennessee whiskey and bourbon for three to five years, depending on how it ages. A bourbon-based liqueur will be ready sooner.

Canale plans for an initial launch across Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas and Georgia.

“That's just year one. We'll be growing from there,” Canale said.

Out-of-state sales are a necessity because whiskey takes longer to get to market, and it takes longer for a consumer to finish a bottle and purchase another one.

A good piece of the business model will come from on-site sales and tourism as well. With the distillery a block away from Beale Street, Canale is counting on guided tours, on-site sales and event rentals.

Production room on display

“It’s like they built it for us,” Canale said of the converted warehouse conglomerate. The middle warehouse, which housed the former Memphis Machinery & Supply Co., likely dates back to 1915. The adjacent north and south warehouses came later.

When Old Dominick is at full capacity, there will be brewing, bottling, eating, drinking, event rentals, shipments of grain coming in and cases of spirits going out, all going on under the same roof. And nothing is kept under wraps. The distillery’s wide windows keep the multilayered processes in the spotlight.

Outdoor silos will store grain waiting to be ground in-house. Depending on what’s being produced, the grain will be fed into six, 1,800-gallon fermenters for whisky and 250-gallon stills for vodka. The production room, the heart of the distillery, can be seen from pretty much any vantage point. Facing South Front street, patrons to the tasting room can either look ahead to the spillover from Beale Street or behind them to the whirr of the production room.

A second, exclusive tasting room is located on the second floor of the south building as part of a rooftop terrace.

The north side of the building houses the fermenting room on the lower level with a restaurant on the upper level. Canale is speaking with several local restaurateurs to take over the 4,000-square-foot space.

“The reason we're right here in Downtown, one, it's where we've always been. But from a branding and marketing perspective, there's nothing more important than this area,” he added. “There's nothing more important for our brand than this building.”

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