Central Standard distillery to ramp up production as it eyes national distribution deal

In 2014 when Evan Hughes and Pat McQuillan opened Central Standard Craft Distillery, they took what they called “a really big bet” on their business endeavor, which now five years later is taking them another step towards a nationally distributed product.

The company recently launched Hard2O, the first flavored vodka water on the market. The company is currently searching for the right national distributer for Hard2O, which it hopes to have by the end of the year.

But innovation didn’t start with Hard2O, and it certainly won’t stop, Hughes said. Central Standard Craft Distillery started with the distillery and tasting room at 613 S. Second St. in the Walker’s Point area of Milwaukee. That facility remains in operations though now the company uses the distillery for more research and development purposes.

The company opened its new facility at 2330 W. Clybourn St. on the near west side in summer of 2017. In the upcoming weeks, the company is planning to put in a new bottling line, which will significantly speed up production.

“Currently we can do roughly four bottles a minute, that’s from doing the bottling plus you have to put the label on it, you have to put the cap on,” McQuillan said.

With the new technology, Central Standard can do 30 bottles a minute, McQuillan said. Hughes said a conservative estimate for daily production would be 8,500 bottles.

Hughes said the distillery would also like to add a public component to the 10,000-square-foot facility, but that isn’t diminishing the importance of the company’s original location in Walker’s Point.

“That place is our lifeblood. It allows us to make this thing go because that way people can try our products,” McQuillan said. “They can see what our brand is about.”

Central Standard Craft Distillery’s brand is focused on innovation and customer loyalty. The distillery currently produces 12 products with a continuously growing list of options.

For example, the company currently is testing a new gin with flavors including pink peppercorn and orange flower.

“We wanted to push ourselves and push our team to be as innovative as possible,” Hughes said.

Central Standard’s vodka has won two gold medals. The company’s cabernet barrel-aged bourbon won a gold medal at the Los Angeles International Spirits Competition. The company partnered with Door County businesses including Door County cherry juice and a local beekeeper to create the Door County Cherry Vodka, which is served in the Wisconsin mule cocktail at Miller Park.

In a market that could take a competitive turn, Hughes and McQuillan said they enjoy the camaraderie of fellow brewers and distillers. They have worked with local companies including Sprecher, Kohler and MobCraft on a variety of products.

Central Standard’s bourbon rye barrels are even used by a local maple sugar company for an even stronger syrup taste.

And Hughes and McQuillan enjoy their place on the near west side. McQuillan is a member of the Near West Side Business Improvement District. The distillery is involved with community nights including art displays at the Clybourn Street location. The two distillery owners welcome and encourage more business in the area.

“We see things happening in this neighborhood,” Hughes said. “Everyone has put their hand in the middle and said let’s make this better for the people who leave here.”

Hughes said Central Standard Craft Distillery will help all businesses that move to the area, including giving them a bottle of the distillery’s alcohol. With relatively affordable property, Hughes said there’s a lot of business opportunity in the community.

“Central Standard Craft Distillery — and Evan and Pat as individuals — are incredible assets to the Near West Side,” Near West Side Partners executive director Keith Stanley said in an email. “Even before the company opened operations in our neighborhood, Evan and Pat matched our enthusiasm for engaging with the community and revitalizing this corner of Milwaukee.

“In addition to being members of the Near West Side BID, they serve on the BID board, offer support to the Near West Side Arts Initiative and are actively involved in neighborhood tours and business attraction efforts. They have been true partners to NWSP and BID #10 and are ambassadors for the community.”

Margaret Naczek, Milwaukee Business Journal

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