BY BRIAN L. HUCHEL
A master’s degree thesis for college could soon become a business reality for a local family trying to open the first micro-distillery in Vermilion County.
Cliff Cauley of Bismarck and his daughter Amanda Galloway are pushing ahead with plans for a micro-distillery to be located in a vacant building next to I & I Steakhouse, 4015 E. Main St.
Cauley — a native of Mississippi — always has had an interest in distilleries. When he arrived in Vermilion County in 1982, he was surprised by the lack of distilleries given the fields of corn.
“When I got up here and asked the guys where the liquor was being made at they looked at me like I was crazy,” he remembers.
That life-long interest was put to the test when Galloway put the establishment of a distillery to the test as part of her master’s thesis. The successful outcome prompted Cauley and his daughter to go to work.
“When we recognized this renaissance, the trend that’s taking place and the growing popularity, we started doing a lot of research,” he said.
The research included trips to several distilleries, including Dark Corner Distillery in South Carolina. Cauley said he fell in love with the distillery and how they went “from the grain to the bottle and then do it again daily.”
“You don’t know how the daily operation works on a distillery,” he said. “You may know how to make it, but how to make it and continue to make it. How do you do all these things? I had an idea, but didn’t really know.”
Only eight locations are licensed for micro-distilleries in Illinois and all are located either north of Joliet or deep in southern Illinois. Micro-distilleries also are located on the state border in Des Moines, Iowa, and St. Louis, Mo.
The locations leave a large gap through the middle of the state open to a new distillery business such as Cauley’s.
“It’s dead center of a big void in the Midwest,” he said.