Friday, July 22, 2011 | 9:21 p.m.
Las Vegas Distillery
Beyond the Sun
The weekend started early at the Las Vegas Distillery, as hundreds of people packed the warehouse beginning at 11 a.m. Friday to celebrate and sample Nevada’s first homegrown vodka.
People took off work and traveled from as far as Washington state to taste the distillery’s first product — Nevada Vodka — which is made with wheat from Winnemucca farms.
The sour smell of whiskey mash permeated the air as bartenders mixed cocktails and enthusiasts ladled shots of vodka out of a giant tank in the center of the warehouse to help celebrate the distillery’s grand opening.
The day marked the culmination of years of work for owners George and Katalin Racz, who relocated to Las Vegas in 2009 with dreams of opening the state’s first craft distillery.
The past several months have been spent perfecting recipes for vodka, gin, whiskey and their newest creation, rumskey, a blend of rum and whiskey. They’ve sunk $600,000 into the operation, located at 7330 Eastgate Road in Henderson, and on Wednesday shipped their first batch of vodka.
More than 2,000 bottles will begin showing up on liquor store shelves as early as next week, retailing for about $25 for a 750-milliliter bottle.
George Racz was all smiles as he worked the crowd of local and state politicians, liquor industry sales people and valley residents.
After cutting the ceremonial ribbon and receiving several commendations, including one from Gov. Brian Sandoval, Racz gave tours of the warehouse with his 4-year-old son, “Little George,” perched on his shoulders.
“Be like home,” Racz, a Romanian immigrant, encouraged the crowd. “Touch everything, smell it, taste it.”
Normally, on-site liquor tastings are prohibited, but the Raczes obtained a special permit from Henderson for the event. They say they hope to get similar permits to hold monthly tasting parties.
While Racz showed the process that starts with grains and ends up in his giant imported stills, which he calls his “Copper Angels,” Josef Letasi mixed cocktails using Nevada Vodka.
Mass-produced commercial vodkas tend to “disappear” when mixed into cocktails, Letasi, the bar manager at Origin India restaurant, said. That’s not the case with Nevada Vodka.
“This has a very unique flavor, a lot of character,” he said. “It gives the cocktail another dimension and another layer of flavor. It’s something different that people aren’t expecting.”
Las Vegas resident David Pierce, among those enjoying the distinctive taste of Nevada Vodka, said it has “very good flavor point.”
“Your mass-produced vodkas have a very slight neutral flavor. [This] one is sort of flowery, aromatic,” he said.
Pierce described himself as a craft spirits enthusiast and said he’s had vodka from around the country. When a friend emailed him about the Las Vegas distillery’s grand opening, he decided to take the day off from work to check it out.
“This is the revival of the local distillery,” Pierce said. “It’s exciting. They’re new. It’s experimental. It’s going beyond tradition.”
An early supporter of George Racz and his distillery dreams, Laura DeYoung traveled 1,100 miles from her home near Spokane, Wash., to celebrate the grand opening.
DeYoung said she first heard of Racz’s efforts when he was training with distillers at the Washington-based Dry Fly Distillery. She was the first fan on the Las Vegas Distillery’s Facebook page and has followed its progress.
“I figured George had an uphill battle, but he seems to have done really well,” DeYoung said as she modeled a T-shirt that read, “Las Vegas Distillery No. 1 Fan.” “He’s blown away everyone’s expectations.”