When Copper Fiddle Distillery opens its doors in Lake Zurich, its owners expect it to be just the 11th craft spirits distillery in the state. And wading through the unfamiliar territory has proven to be a learning experience for both the town and owner Jose Hernandez.
Even though he was originally planning to open the distillery in early fall, Hernandez said that as he and his partner, Fred Robinson, continue to apply for the necessary permits, he now thinks December would be a best-case scenario.
"It's a learning process for everybody," Hernandez said. "Lake Zurich has been very accommodating; they're learning along with us. Relatively speaking, from what we understand industry-wide, it can take 10, 12, 14 months from inception to when you start applying (for permits) to get everything done."
Dan Peterson, Lake Zurich's building and zoning manager, said it's new ground for the village as well, with some administrative issues relating to the business taking a bit longer than initially expected. But officials are excited for the distillery to open, he said, and things are moving in the right direction.
"It's just a process that we've had to go through," he said. "It's always good to have a business take over a vacant space. It's good to have a destination-type business."
The Copper Fiddle, which will be located just east of Rand Road at 532 W. Route 22, plans to carry a selection of whiskey, gin and other spirits, Hernandez said. The business can't start producing the liquor until owners acquire a series of permits.
This month, Copper Fiddle received a federal permit allowing owners to operate a distilled spirits plant, Hernandez said. The next step is to seek approval for the labels that will be covering their liquor bottles.
"We can only go as fast as government allows us," he said. "You can't do these things concurrently, unfortunately. You have to do them consecutively."
Other than a few towns that already have craft distilleries, very few area communities have the correct codes and liquor licenses available to quickly bring in a business like Copper Fiddle, Hernandez said.
Lake Zurich faced this dilemma and is working to amend its liquor laws in a way that would allow craft distilleries to open in town. The village should have all the necessary provisions in place by Sept. 3, Peterson said, explaining that the village had "to create a new class of liquor license, which happens periodically," to accommodate the Copper Fiddle.
One issue was that Copper Fiddle will not be serving food, which is a general requirement for places in town that serve alcohol. But because the distillery will not offer traditional bar service — the only liquor served will be samples of the products available for purchase — it didn't fall under the current liquor code.
Despite the longer-than-anticipated time frame, Hernandez said he's pleased with the way Copper Fiddle is coming along.
"Things are progressing nicely," he said. "We're not going to get frustrated over a length of time, because it is what it is. You just can't change it."
Hernandez, 58, and Robinson, 61, both of Hawthorn Woods, have been making the rounds to local bars, restaurants and liquor stores to promote their product, Hernandez said.
Though distribution is still a ways off, the response the partners have gotten has been encouraging, he said.
"As we go places now, we'll go to a bar or somewhere we haven't been before, and they say, 'Oh, I heard about you,'" Hernandez said. "We didn't hear that three months ago. We're not even open. The word is kind of getting out there."
Copper Fiddle has also been setting up booths at a handful of local festivals and events, handing out fliers and coupons for discounted tours when the distillery opens.
The distillery plans to sell merchandise like flasks, hats and glassware out of the front of the store, while the actual brewing will take place in the back.
Beyond the whiskey and two types of gin — one of which is aged in a whiskey barrel that Hernandez said was popular before Prohibition — Copper Fiddle also plans to produce bourbon, rye and limoncello down the road.
Hernandez has high hopes for the success of Copper Fiddle. He compared craft distilling with the craft brewing movement that took off in the 1990s. According to the Colorado-based Brewers Association, as of June there were almost 2,500 craft breweries across the country. Hernandez estimated the number was closer to 250 for craft distilleries.
"We feel like we're at the beginning part of the wave," he said. "The attitude of a lot of people now over the last couple of years has changed. Consumers seem to be focusing more on local. … That's creating a lot of interest in having a local distillery."