Nick Hanson and Dave Farnia met at age 19 when they were assigned lab partners in a UW-Madison engineering class. Nearly 20 years later, they’re still friends — and working together again in a different kind of lab.
In September 2016, the pair opened Two Tall Distilling at 5353 Maly Road in Sun Prairie. Their spouses, Amy Hanson and Stephanie Farnia, are co-owners in the venture. It’s a small facility at the end of a country road — 1,800 square feet with a tasting room and three stills producing gin, vodka, whiskey and specialty liqueur. “We thought maybe we had to apologize a bit about that,” Stephanie Farnia says of the facility’s modest size. “But we’re finding that the small scale is letting us experiment.”
The Two Tall Distilling Team …
While working their day engineering jobs, Nick and Dave got interested in collecting and tasting Scotch and other types of whiskey. They began taking distillery tours around the Minneapolis area, where both were living at the time. They asked questions about the distillation process and recipe development. “A lot of what we heard was that [distilling] is an art,” Nick says. “Our basic idea was that we could do this, and we could do it a lot better if we apply what we learned as engineers to the process.”
A commercial distillery permit in Minnesota costs about $10,000, which was too expensive for the hobbyists. But when both happened to move back to Madison at similar times about two years ago, they found that in Wisconsin a distilling permit Wisconsin a distilling permit only costs $1,000 every two years.
From talking to others in the industry, they learned that many craft distillers struggle with consistency. Nick says an automated system solves the problem. “There’s definitely an art in terms of the taste and being creative,” he says. “But we want to figure out, once that art produces something, how to turn it into the scientific part.”
Two Tall Distilling’s iStill 500 …
The foursome has enjoyed creating and testing recipes that use such local ingredients as chokeberries from a farm in Oregon, sorghum syrup from Lodi, and honey from Door County. They’ve put out a barrel-aged gin, a London dry gin and a vodka made from corn, barley and rye. Whiskey is currently aging and will be available later this year. But the sleeper hit has been their coffee liqueur, which is made with French pressed coffee from Just Coffee Cooperative.
“That’s the one people seem really excited about,” Stephanie says.
Two Tall Distilling’s Coffee Liqueur …
Two Tall sells spirits from its tasting room, which is open some Saturdays from 1 to 5 p.m. (check the website, twotalldistilling.com, for updated hours) and is available for private events. The spirits are available in local stores, and they’ve also partnered with The Lone Girl Brewing Company in Waunakee to develop signature drinks for the bar. All four co-owners are still working day jobs, but Nick is hopeful that might change as the company grows. When asked how the Two Tall Distilling lab compares to others he’s worked in, he laughs and says: “This is a lot more fun.”