Drink | June 2014
Ryan Hasnon and Matt Brown incorporate local water for a swift, smooth vodka taste.
Story by M.B. Sellers
Once Brown came back from college, he and Hanson began brewing once more and decided to try their hand at wine. Hanson explains, “Matt and I started talking about what a shame it was that no one was doing anything related to the beverage industry in Memphis due to the great water and that it is a distribution center. That’s when we started thinking about doing something along the lines of a brewery one day.” This was also around the time that the two were still toying with the idea of making moonshine. They studied some drawings and gleaned information on the process through some friends’ descriptions. On Brown’s birthday, Hanson went out to buy the required supplies for the project at the hardware store and set up the still in his kitchen. “We tried to distill some high gravity beer we had made, and to our complete surprise, it worked. We just kept experimenting from there, trying different things and learning along the way,” says Hanson.
Then, in 2005, Hanson and Brown started to talk seriously about opening a distillery after hearing about others around the country doing similar things. After doing significant research, they learned of some recent failures in starting a distillery in East and Middle Tennessee. Assuming that the state wasn’t ready for such a step just yet, they decided to take a hiatus for a few years. However, “[i]n 2009, the state passed a bill that allowed distilleries to open in any county that allowed liquor sales by the drink,” says Hanson. It took the duo 18 months to get set up in regards to federal and state regulations. “We sold our first cases in September of 2013 at Gonerfest 10. We went into full production in November,” Hanson explains.
Hanson believes that Memphis is a great place to go into the beverage industry due to a market that’s encouraging of local businesses “and a music and basketball scene that can’t be beat.” On their corporate name, Kings Spirits, Hanson explains that “great water is a key to making good vodka.” Memphis’ aquifer gives them access to one of the best city water sources found in the country. Another primary part to their vodka-making process is having a good filtration process. This is extremely important in order to eliminate any bad elements that may be present in the base distillate. Those types of elements are the things that can give vodka a foul smell, taste and texture.
On the local aquifer, Hanson concludes, “We are just very fortunate to have access to it.” He suggests that cocktail enthusiasts try the Memphis Mule, a riff on the Moscow mule, with Roaring Tiger, due to its popularity around town. It includes Roaring Tiger, Ginger beer and lime. He also thinks that their vodka makes for an excellent vodka martini.
Roaring Tiger Vodka, a Memphis-based vodka, is produced and bottled by King Spirits in Memphis, Tennessee, and uses filtered, artesian well water from Memphis’ own aquifer. Its two owners, Ryan Hanson and Matt Brown, both Memphians themselves, have always been interested in the process of making alcohol and started experimenting with brewing beer back in high school. “We were too young to buy it, but we realized we could buy all the stuff to make it. During college, Matt and other friends that that were into brewing went off to schools outside of Memphis. I stayed here. This is when we first became aware of how good the water is here. You can brew the same recipe with different water and it’s just not as good as when you use Memphis’ water,” explains Hanson.