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Political Mercury

Rye Spirits plans to build distillery, museum in Templeton


Just hours before celebrating the opening of a $1.7-million community center they helped fund, members of the Templeton Rye Spirits brain trust gathered at their distinctive facility in this southern Carroll County city.

What emerged from that meeting were some big announcements for the future of the legal incarnation of the famously bootlegged whiskey. Short range, Templeton Rye Spirits plans to build a museum showcasing the rich and colorful history of the rye trade. And within years, the company will build a distillery, a process that could start once the city council grants necessary infrastructure approvals.

Keith Kerkhoff, co-founder and executive vice president of Templeton Rye Spirits, said construction on the museum and distillery is expected to start within the next two years.

“I would say the distillery is going to be our priority,” Kerkhoff said.

TR Spirits has worked with MGP, a former Seagram’s facility in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, near the Ohio River, since 2002. The distilling takes place in Indiana with all the bottling and labeling in Templeton. The new plan will consolidate the production in Iowa.

“I think the big picture is that this brand is all about the town of Templeton, no more, no less,” said Vern Underwood, Templeton Rye Spirits’ chairman and CEO, and a major investor in the company. “It’s not the brand; it’s the town of Templeton which will make this all happen. So the more that we can do and bring our business to the town of Templeton benefits everybody.”

Gov. Terry Branstad — who enjoyed some Templeton Rye during a celebration for the community center Saturday night — said the company’s national reputation makes the community a natural for drawing visitors to western Iowa.

“Obviously, this can become a significant tourism attraction,” Branstad said. “We think of the site where ‘Field of Dreams’ was filmed and the amount of people that go there. I think there’s going to be a lot of interest in this.”

Longer term, community leaders see the potential for lodging and related development in Templeton.

“Templeton is such a core part of this brand, and we’re very committed to Templeton,” said Scott Bush, president of Templeton Rye Spirits.

Templeton Rye Spirits has about three undeveloped acres to the north and east of its headquarters and may use more land for the distillery and museum.

“The plan is definitely to have these things in the town of Templeton,” Underwood said.

As it stands, Templeton Rye Spirits employs a dozen people. That number is expected to climb significantly, but management can’t say how much at this point.

“They’re going to be good-paying jobs,” Kerkhoff said.

The consolidation of production in Templeton likely will mean the addition of an aging facility for whiskey at a location separate from the distillery.

“I want everything to be geared toward Templeton,” Underwood said.

Underwood, a veteran in the spirits industry, said Templeton Rye’s history and culture blend for what amounts to a marketing juggernaut.

“I’ve been doing this for 60 years,” Underwood said. “And from brand building and a story, I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. This is the best.”

The Templeton Community Center, a former Catholic school refashioned through a public-private effort into an events center with potential for regional draw, opened Saturday night with a grand celebration headlined by Branstad and attended by more than 300 people.

The grand-hall banquet area of the Templeton Community Center — six former classrooms — holds 420 people. A smaller community room lists an occupancy of 120, and the gymnasium can accommodate 300 people. With a southwest wraparound patio and other features, more than 900 people can attend an event at the center — which is owned and operated by the city.

Templeton Rye Spirits donated $250,000 to the project, and the center in October 2013 earned a $200,000 grant through Vision Iowa, a state program that provides financial incentives to communities for the construction of recreational, cultural, educational or entertainment facilities that enhance the quality of life in Iowa.

“I look forward to coming back to see many events in this community,” said Branstad, who made his second trip to Templeton within a year Saturday.

Last December, the governor labeled the one-millionth bottle of Templeton Rye to roll off the conveyor belt at TR Spirits. He also recalled eating lunch with schoolchildren in Sacred Heart nearly 20 years ago.

“I don’t think there’s any place that’s more special than what you have in Templeton,” Branstad said. CV

Douglas Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa newspaperman who writes for The Carroll Daily Times Herald and offers columns for Cityview.

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