When Brad Blackwell and Andy Debenham moved into a dark, basement office together at their IT jobs three years ago, they found they were much more interested in talking about home-brewing than systems engineering. Quickly their casual talk turned into action and they decided to open a distillery together.
"We had been brewing for years," Blackwell said. "So we decided to challenge our skill set into a new step. We had a passion for bourbon and whiskey and realized that would be a much bigger, bolder adventure to pursue distilling."
And the concept for Lost Ark Distilling was born. Both owners have a big interest in local history and the name was derived from settlers that came to Maryland in two ships called The Ark and The Dove.
Similarly, the distillery, which opens this weekend as Howard County's first since Prohibition, prides itself on locally sourcing all of its ingredients from the region. Lost Ark's first product, the Lady Ann White Rum, uses molasses from Domino Sugar.
"Distilling is a tricky world—you can source, you can blend, and you can make your own stuff," Blackwell said. "We decided to take the hardest route and source everything as local as possible and make it all in-house. You see that in beer and wine, but not as much in spirits. You can relate to where the grains are grown."
In that same vein, Lost Ark partnered with Rural Rhythm Farm in nearby Dayton to get its corn, wheat, and grain. The plan, after the white rum recipe gets ironed out, is to use that as a base for a spiced rum and, in early 2017, release a corn whiskey.
For now, Lost Ark is hosting an opening party at its 5,000-square-foot facility and 20-seat tasting room on Saturday and Sunday. The owners invite guests to experience distillery tours and rum tastings throughout the weekend.
"We want this to be a wholly educational type of process," Blackwell said. "My goal is for everyone to leave the distillery with something in their vocabulary other than 'sweet' or 'smooth.'"
He also explains that the decision to open in Howard County was a fairly easy one, after the planning and zoning department was so supportive of them and fellow businesses like Jailbreak and Black Flag Brewing.
"In the last three years, it's been fun to see this area get more mom and pop type businesses," he says. "It's important for us to build a relationship with local bartenders and residents and be able to really get to know our own backyard."