When back in Wall Lake, Iowa, for holidays or family gatherings, Scott Bush, would often stop in for visits with his grandparents and his Uncle Gus. Typically these impromptu family gatherings would include a cocktail and an inevitable turn of the conversation from college, politics and farming to old family stories dating back to the Prohibition era. It took little more than these tales to prompt Grandpa or Uncle Gus to rummage around for a bottle of “The Good Stuff” — the secretive rye whiskey made by their father, Frank Schroeder, out at the family farm near Odebolt, Iowa.
Drawn to his family’s history with Templeton Rye and intrigued by the quality of the product, Scott saw an opportunity for an enterprise that could combine his education in business, his passion for history and his love for his home state of Iowa.
Seeking the Recipe
Scott set out to re–establish Templeton Rye and launch it as a legal brand — understanding the critical importance of staying true to both its history and legend.
He knew this might be a challenge since his family had long since quit making “The Good Stuff.” Fortunately, his Uncle Gus knew of one local–area family that might still have the formula — the Kerkhoffs.
Alphonse Kerkhoff had been one of the most prolific Templeton Rye producers during the Prohibition era and even had the distinction of having been busted twice by government agents. His son, Meryl Kerkhoff, had learned to distill whiskey from a young age and had been taught to never discuss Templeton Rye, particularly with strangers.
So when Scott made a phone call to share his proposition with the 80 year–old former whiskey maker, Meryl promptly hung up the phone. Uncle Gus vouched for Scott, however, and a conversation began.
Following several months of discussion, Meryl ultimately opened up to the idea. He appointed his son, Keith Kerkhoff, to represent him in the business partnership and passed along the nearly century–old recipe handwritten on a small scrap of paper.
The Spirit Behind the Spirits
With recipe in hand, Scott and Keith, two small–town guys with a shared family bootlegging history, set out on a mission to find a production partner that could help them make a product true to the independent spirit of the original.
The duo made countless calls and visits to distilleries across the United States before they made a fortuitous connection — finding a distiller, originally from nearby Breda, Iowa, who showed great interest in their endeavor. Feeling quite comfortable with this partner’s ability to consistently replicate the product to Meryl’s exacting standards, they reached an agreement.
This distillery in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, continues to be their trusted distillation partner today — and Keith remains keenly involved in ensuring that each bottle meets the standard of quality that earned Templeton Rye its nickname of “The Good Stuff.”
Bringing it Home
The more Scott and Keith learned, however, the more they realized that the recipe was just one component of the rye whiskey’s appeal. The town of Templeton and its rich history of association with the product held the true spirit of the brand.
They began exploring the possibility of bringing the brand home by looking for a facility in the Templeton area, but the search proved difficult and they were met with limited success. Determined not to give up, they eventually teamed up with the local area development group and built their own distillery in Templeton in 2005.
Having a solid distillation partner already in place, the team focused the Iowa distillery in Templeton on producing very unique and innovative products, like the Templeton Quasquicentennial Batch. This first product, distilled locally by Meryl and Keith, was sold as part of the town’s 125th Anniversary.
With the hope of harvesting a portion of their raw materials locally, they also planted rye in the fields adjacent to the distillery.
The First Taste of Success
The first batch of Templeton Rye — 68 barrels distilled by their partner and aged for more than four years at home in Templeton, Iowa — was ready to be bottled and brought to market in late 2006.
With more creativity than cash on hand, Scott and Keith skipped running a “Help Wanted” ad in the paper and instead recruited bottlers by placing an announcement in the local church bulletin. The message reached a dedicated group of mostly local retirees, many of whom share a family history with Templeton Rye.
Feeling Right at Home
Although building a distillery from scratch is a slow and expensive process, Scott, Keith and the rest of their team have made great strides. They continue to increase local production capabilities in Templeton and maintain a strong presence in the community.
As the largest employer in Templeton, they have invested more than $1 million in the local economy to date and have hosted more than 25,000 visitors at the distillery since opening to the public.
Each year, they partner with the Templeton Community Betterment Association to put on a local summer music festival called Rock & Rye.
They have spearheaded the Templeton Archive Project — a campaign to document the history of their product by interviewing the older residents of the Templeton area, capturing their stories and preserving their unique memories of Templeton Rye, the Prohibition era and the role it played in this small town.
Demonstrating their local commitment, Templeton Rye donated $250,000 to the Templeton Community Center project, which seeks to create a premier $1.4 million recreational facility.
All the folks at Templeton Rye are proud of what they have accomplished to date, but feel that they are really just getting started. They invite you to come visit Templeton, Iowa, and see what “The Good Stuff” is all about.