‘Till, mill and distill’

Lemke, Nelson families create spirits on family farm

-Submitted photo
Tony and Alissa (Lemke) Nelson (left) along with Brad and Amanda Lemke are the co-owners of Wildcat Distilling Co., which is located in Duncombe on the family farm. They produce several spirits and a whiskey there.

DUNCOMBE — The Lemke and Nelson families have shared many memories over the years. Now, they share even more.

Brad and Amanda Lemke, along with Alissa (Lemke) and Tony Nelson, are co-owners of Wildcat Distilling, Co., a new Iowa distillery born on an old Iowa family farm. They currently produce and market several spirits and a whiskey, all of which are grown, distilled and bottled on the farm.

“The process all started about seven years ago,” said Alissa Nelson, who also serves as creative director. “I was sitting in my cubicle at work daydreaming about not being in a cubicle anymore and back on the farm when the idea came about. I thought we could use some of the corn we grow to make whiskey and become a family-run distillery.

“I sent my brother (Brad, who is also head of operations) an email and his interest was piqued. We talked over the next few years about the idea whenever we were together.”

During the COVID pandemic in 2020, things started picking up.

-Submitted photo
Harvest Moon is one of the featured products produced by Wildcat Distilling Co., which is locally owned by Brad and Amanda Lemke, along with Tony and Alissa (Lemke) Nelson.

“It seemed like the perfect time for experimenting with the distillation process,” Nelson said. “Brad had a good grasp on the chemical process and dove head-first into research and development with Amanda (who also serves as general manager). Tony (director of sales and marketing) began researching licensing and alcohol sales processes for the state of Iowa and I used my background in design to begin on some logo ideas and approval process for marketing.”

They shifted to the production of moonshine first because whiskey takes several years to age.

“After multiple rounds of experimentation, we landed on our trademarked product, ‘Harvest Moon,’ which is a delicious combination of apples and cinnamon and makes the smoothest mule that we’d ever tasted,” Nelson said. “Shortly after that, our honey shine, known as ‘Honey Moon,’ followed and went to market.”

Last year, they moved to a 2,500-square-foot facility on the family farm to match the interest generated in the products. Construction was just completed in May.

“Things have gone pretty well,” Nelson said. “We’ve partnered with some amazing people in the bar and restaurant industry who have really helped bring our products to the market. I’d say the biggest hurdle has been getting exposure in a heavily crowded market. There are a lot of great spirits out there, but our goal is to offer something unique to the consumer

“We like to think of our distillery as a ‘new Iowa legend’ and is one of the main reasons for starting it as a family to create a legacy for our children and future generations. The four of us genuinely enjoy each other and are all very hard working and have a deep love for our farm, which has been a huge driving factor for the creation.”

A majority of the products used are grown or locally sourced as Nelson says they “till, mill and distill” right on the farm.

“We feel that it’s important to be genuine in what we do,” she said. “We think our customers appreciate that.”

There is also quite the story behind the decision to name the company.

“The name Wildcat Distilling Co. came from the namesake we plan to use for our foundational product, ‘Wildcat Whiskey,'” Nelson said. “On our farm, there’s a place known as Wildcat Cave which is a beautiful sandstone amphitheater carved out by the spring water creek that runs through the property.

“It also has unique family lore to it. When Brad and I were growing up, our grandparents always told us stories about how during Prohibition a speakeasy once stood on top of the cave and that Bonnie and Clyde hid in the cave during their run through Iowa. Whether true or not, the stories became legend to us and gave us a sense of pride to know that we own such an incredible landmark.”

Products can be found in numerous liquor stores throughout the state along with on the website at wildcatdistillery.com. They will also be at upcoming events such as Lehigh Days this weekend and Bourbon, Brews and BBQ in Bancroft on July 16.


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