George Racz is one busy man. Three years into his Las Vegas Distillery operations, the 47-year-old has released seven products to market, as well as Nevada 150 bourbon, a special edition to celebrate the state’s sesquicentennial. He’s doubled the size of his distillery, adding a store and, later this year, a small chocolate workshop, the Chocolate Makery. And Racz is also at work on what he calls the “Booze District,” a collective of his distillery, Bad Beat Brewing, Vegas Brewing Co., CraftHaus and Grape Expectations, all within walking distance of each other in Henderson. Racz spoke to the Weekly about the business of booze in Southern Nevada and which of his own products he keeps in the fridge.
So how will the Booze District work? We are all in the same center—the whiskey making, wine making, beer making. That almost covers everybody on planet Earth, so we can give more if we are coming together. We would like to organize tours, so you can come and see exactly how to make vodka or beer. We’re talking to the city of Henderson about having farmer’s markets here every second week. We would like to put on one or two festivals together. We just want to put everything on the table and make it fun.
What has been your best-selling product so far? Grandma’s Apple Pie Moonshine, because it was entered into the Costco stores, and for the holidays it was a huge hit. That is our first flavored spirit. The others are a base that people use mostly for cocktails. This you can drink by itself.
Which product are you the most proud of? The bourbon, because bourbon is the American whiskey. So you can make it in 50 states. I was born in Eastern Europe. I came here just 12 years ago, and still today I really have goose bumps when we are barreling bourbon, because who am I to make bourbon in America? Making the first bourbon in Nevada is such a huge, big honor. We are in uncharted territories. It’s like a big adventure.
Which product has surprised you most? The whiskey. There are so many variables when you are making whiskey, you cannot control them. We are making the first American desert-aged whiskeys. This hot, dry climate has a very good effect on the whiskey, because it expands in the barrel and ages, matures and picks up the flavors from the oak faster. There is a real sense of excitement when we open a barrel. Whiskey is a journey, so there are a lot of surprises. We are heading to be mostly a whiskey distillery because of this kind of unique climate.
Which of your products do you drink the most? I have Grandma’s Apple Pie at my home in the fridge.
Any upcoming products you can talk about? We will come out with five new whiskeys in September. We would also like to add to Grandma’s line, some summer flavors—the peach cobbler and also a cherry tart. I would like to add to the rum and Rumskey family. We would like to make spiced Rumskeys or spiced rums. So now we have the base. We survived. Now we have more time to go back to the kitchen and add more products to the line.
Also, Cody Fredrickson, a great mixologist from Paris, he approached me six months ago to make bitters for this December. Nobody makes bitters in Las Vegas, and this is one of the best cities for cocktails. We have 14 bitters going, and we’ll choose four of them, and they’ll be called Mr. Fredrickson’s Bitters.
You mentioned that you “survived.” What did you mean by that? At the beginning, we were all alone here, and I couldn’t sell my product at the distillery. [Racz helped draft a bill that passed in 2013, allowing on-site sales.] We almost went bankrupt, but I’m still here because so many good people started to believe in me. If you’re giving up after the second day, you will never have that journey. I’m very thankful for what happened. My wife and I, we went through very hard times. On every level we stuck together and said, “Let’s do it one more month.” If you have principles, and you are working hard and are honest, wait, because the opportunities will come.
What’s the key to success in the booze business? Being true to yourself. You have to have principles. In every industry there are shortcuts. Mine is that people buy cheap mass-produced alcohol and sell it at high prices. A distillery cannot use outside alcohol. You have to do it 100 percent yourself. You have to protect the craft on that side. I would make 10 times more money if I just start to bottle sh*tty things.
Las Vegas Distillery 7330 Eastgate Road, 702-629-7534.