Meet and Eat: Isaiah Fischer, Black Rock Distillery in Spray, OR
Editor's Note: I've spent a little time in Spray, Oregon (population: 160) so I was excited to hear about an up-and-coming small-batch distillery based there. I chatted recently with Isaiah Fischer about Black Rock Distillery and their Nine Rocks vodka.
You're based way out in Spray, Oregon. How did Black Rock Distillery come to be?
We started out by meeting with the Oregon state representative and talking to him about economic development in our area. This is where I was raised. I grew up on a large cattle ranch on the John Day River just up river from Spray. I love it here; it is a beautiful, peaceful area away from the hustle and bustle. However, the area is currently struggling a bit due to the precarious state of our economy. Any generation of business in the small community greatly aids the city and county.
Why did you choose to start with vodka, and not some other spirit?
Whisky would be my personal drink of choice to experiment distilling and marketing, however to properly age whisky just was not feasible. I would like to at some point experiment with creating a tasty whisky, though. We had several ideas, but decided on the vodka mainly because it would not take as long to get it on the market.
What have some of the challenges been getting your distillery started?
Our main challenge was perfecting our product. There was a lot of trial and error, wasted a lot of the product...well, not really wasted it.
What does the average workday look like for you?
At this time time we all have day jobs in addition to the distillery. Running the distillery, bottling, and marketing is all done when we can fit it into our busy schedules. I currently work for the BLM up in Fairbanks, Alaska. I am a wild land firefighter working for Alaskan Smokejumpers, suppressing fires in inaccessible areas of Alaska or in the remote areas of the Northwestern lower 48. Normally I have 3-4 months of down time during the winter months, and I spend those in Spray. While up in Fairbanks, I can still help promote the product focusing on the marketing; setting up taste tests, etc.
What makes Nine Rocks Vodka different from other vodkas on the market?
Our vodka has a very refined flavor; our money and time is primarily focused on the quality of the part of the product that is actually consumed. While marketing and promoting are important, of course, it's what's inside the bottle that counts. We want our customers to purchase our product not on the grounds of a "flashy bottle and fancy label," but because they heard about the quality of our vodka from someone they trust.
How much are you distilling at a time?
At the present we are producing about 42 cases a week, with 50 cases in stock and a lot of empties.
What are your plans for the distillery's future? What will the next few years look like for you guys?
Short term goals would to be get more recognition in Oregon, and start selling our product in Alaska soon. Long term plans are to attain a bench mark of selling 200 cases a month, offering more local employment while branching out to other states. Currently we are selling our product in 30 different Oregon stores and bars. We are researching the logistics of reaching out to other states across the Northwest and the far North.
Is there a bar in Spray that serves Nine Rocks? What do you drink when you're not drinking your vodka?
I normally drink beer. I enjoy trying all the new micro-brew beers of the Northwest. But I definitely enjoy a Bloody Mary or martini. And yes, our vodka is the only vodka served in our local bar.