Old Sugar Distillery was founded in 2010 by University of Wisconsin graduate Nathan Greenawalt on a shoestring budget and a leap of faith. His first challenge was getting the still. Nathan knew exactly what he wanted and found someone to fabricate it for him, Colonel Wilson of Alma, Arkansas. The problem lay in retrieving the large, heavy still from Wilson's place at the end of a long, rutted and potholed driveway deep in the Ozark mountains. But, Nathan persevered and with the use of winches, ropes, hard work and a borrowed truck and trailer both he and the still finally made it safely to Madison.
The original plan was to produce spirits for wholesalers only. However, shortly after beginning production, the state of Wisconsin changed its' laws allowing distilleries to operate tasting rooms. Recognizing this as an opportunity, Nathan and Matt (his first employee), moved the distillery to its current location on east Main street, a few blocks from the capitol. While there were scary moments early on, like pouring money into a tasting room and not knowing who would show up, the two men had faith (Nathan couldn't get the phrase “If you build it, they will come” out of his head). A short time later the tasting room opened. Since then, Old Sugar has gone through many transitions; staff has grown, the cocktail menu has expanded and sales have increased. What has not changed is Nathan's dedication to producing hand-made, high quality spirits in the heart of the town he loves.
The name Old Sugar stems both from the use of sugar as a base for many of the products and from Madison’s history of beet sugar production. All the spirits are crafted, beginning to end, in house using the modified pot-still made by Colonel Wilson. The pot still was chosen over a column still for a number of reasons. While column stills do a great job of producing extremely clean products like gin, vodka and neutral spirits, much of the character of the original base is lost. With a pot still the base character is retained, making it a better choice for producing brandies, whiskies & rums. The still is heated directly using fire from three large gas burners rather than indirectly by steam, as is common in the industry. There are many reasons for this. However, the most compelling is that direct fire causes some caramelization during the distillation process, allowing for a more robust and flavorful final product. Most of Old Sugar spirits are finished by aging in American Oak barrels coopered in Minnesota.