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November 27, 2014

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After slow start, doors opening for local liquor distillery

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Steve Marcus

George Racz shows barrels of Vegas Whiskey on a Las Vegas founder’s wall at the Las Vegas Distillery in Henderson July 5, 2011. The wall consists of 111 barrels totaling 777 gallons of Vegas Whiskey.

Las Vegas Distillery set to open

George Racz shows barrels of Vegas Whiskey on a Las Vegas founder's wall at the Las Vegas Distillery in Henderson July 5, 2011. The wall consists of 111 barrels totaling 777 gallons of Vegas Whiskey. Launch slideshow »

If You Go

  • What: The Las Vegas Distillery’s Grand Opening Celebration. The event will include tastings of the distillery’s whiskeys, vodkas, gins and its newest creation, rumskey. Attendees will also be able to fill one of 2,011 personalized bottles of Nevada Vodka that will be shipped to a nearby liquor store for them to purchase.
  • When: 11:30 a.m. July 22
  • Where: The Las Vegas Distillery, 7330 Eastgate Road No. 100, Henderson, NV 89011

So, what’s inside?

Located at 7330 Eastgate Road in Henderson, the distillery’s warehouse is dominated by a giant copper still imported from Germany that Racz and several friends assembled by hand.

A mad scientist of sorts, Racz began using the still as soon as it arrived and set about working on recipes for spirits that have never been made before.

“We got the still and it was, ‘OK, let’s use it. Let’s make our mistakes because you need to experiment,’ ” he said.

Although most spirits are distilled with just one or two grains, Racz has created vodkas and whiskeys using a seven-grain mixture that includes wheat, corn, millet and rye. Racz said he chose seven grains because “seven is a lucky number” and represented Las Vegas.

“The basic idea was to have a base grain and use the other grains like spices when you are cooking,” he said. “The other grains give a little flavor and make your taste buds a little more happy.”

He’s also working on a recipe to combine rum base with whiskey base and distill the two together, creating what he refers to as “rumskey,” a drink that has never been marketed before.

By making the spirits in small amounts — each batch uses about 2,500 pounds of grain and 1,000 gallons of water — the alcohol retains more character.

“The characteristic of small, artisan distilleries is that you are not 100 percent between the batches,” Katalin Racz said. “The grain is different each year, so it’s like a vintage wine.”

The vodka is distilled, the whiskey is aging and bottling will start this week. Now all George Racz needs is a little luck.

Racz, 43, is the founder and owner of the Las Vegas Distillery, a first-of-its-kind operation in Nevada that plans to market craft spirits throughout the valley.

It’s been slow going. Frustratingly for Racz, state legislators failed to enact a law that would provide modern-day regulations for distilling liquor — a practice governed, in Nevada, by laws put in place during Prohibition. When the Sun checked in with Racz in January , he had plans to open by February. The doors will open this month: With the help and encouragement of local officials, he has sallied forth and is on track to open his Henderson business soon.

Racz and his wife, Katalin, have invested $600,000 into the pots, stills, cookers and barrels needed to make alcohol. He’s spent the past six months tinkering with recipes, and this month, 2,000 bottles of his first creation, Nevada Vodka, will begin hitting store shelves.

“This is a big moment,” George Racz said. “We are crazy excited.”

The Raczes made an effort this session to change state law to allow small distilleries to operate outside the three-tiered distribution system that separates producers, distributors and retailers. But the bill arrived in the Nevada Senate only two days before the session ended and, despite widespread support, failed to pass.

In the meantime, Henderson has granted a special one-time business license to allow a tasting the day of the grand opening, and the Raczes are hopeful they’ll be able to get the license to hold events once a month.

The city and the Chamber of Commerce have been supportive of the distillery’s efforts, Katalin Racz said, and also were disappointed when the bill failed to pass. She said city officials have offered to help with the needed political support and guidance to make sure a similar bill passes during the Legislature’s next session in 2013.

•••

Craft distilleries are the latest to join the trend of making locally focused artisan alcohol. There are more than 200 distilleries nationwide compared with 24 in 2001, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.

The Racz family has little prior distilling experience, and they acknowledge the venture is risky. The husband and wife have spent much of their money setting up the operation and have yet to sell a single bottle.

“People always ask me ‘What kind of beer are you making?’ ” George Racz said with a laugh. “No beers!”

As it stands, the Raczes are confident their business will see success despite Nevada’s constricting rules.

Both on-site sales and tastings are common at craft breweries and wineries, businesses that have seen a significant rise in popularity in the past 30 years.

The bill the Raczes hoped would pass would have allowed on-site tastings, which under Nevada law are forbidden for liquor-makers. Additionally, no liquor can be sold on-site, so bottles — even those specially created by customers — have to be picked up from a liquor store.

The Raczes are confident locally made craft spirits will be well received by locals and tourists alike. On July 22, the distillery is hosting a grand opening, to allow people to sample its products and fill one of 2,011 personalized bottles of Nevada Vodka that they can then purchase at a nearby liquor store.

One 750-milliliter bottle of their Nevada Vodka will cost $24.99, and will be available in liquor stores across the valley.

“Let’s have a tasting party (so people) can smell it, taste it, see the alcohol that is made here,” George Racz, a Romanian immigrant, said.

The distillery has plans to make the tastings, on-site sales and bottling parties a core part of its operation to build a community around the business.

They have their sights set on the next meeting of the Legislature, in 2013, to push regulations that would permit their business to expand how they have envisioned it — a local, community-focused business.

The Las Vegas Distillery, tucked away in a nondescript Henderson office park, has its door open most days, offering a constant invitation for the public to come see the operation. Curious passers-by stop in on a regular basis, Racz said, and the distillery has already hosted tourists as well as local bartending groups.

The love he has for the craft is obvious, and he hopes Las Vegas will love him back.

“Really, we don’t want to be a big company. We don’t want to be an international company,” he said. “We want to be part of the community and do little things to give back.”

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  1. Hopefully he can stay in business long enough to produce a well-aged rye whiskey.

  2. Just what Las Vegas needs...more alcohol. Boy, what a novel idea.

  3. Nothing is better then a craft brewery! Best of luck can't wait to try it out.. Any word when it will hit stores or which stores?

  4. GooGooDolls,

    For someone that does not live in Las Vegas you seem to spend a great deal of time here in our local forums complaining about Las Vegas.

    I can only assume that where live is so boring or they don't want to listen to your constant negativity so you hang out here.

  5. This show Obama needs more beer summits, as I agree with most of Mr. Simmons comments. A little hooch can add new prospective..
    good luck to the new distiller I will be looking for that new brand as well.

  6. I agree that the local gaming corporations should definately pick this up. This is a great sign for Nevada that we actually can do other things than just gamble. Gaming needs to support LOCAL businesses. This in deed will help our economy.
    Kudo's to Mr. Racz and I will be sure to support his endeavour and help spread the word.