Matt Altman takes a break from rehabbing the Midlothian storefront that soon will open as Mid-Oak Distillery and produce 25,000 bottles of vodka in its first run. | Mary J. Paleologos
Updated: March 11, 2012 8:37AM
Come spring, vodka enthusiasts may be flocking to Midlothian to get a taste of the liquor produced by a new micro-distillery being built by hometown boy Matt Altman.
“We’re going to produce premium vodka that’s superior and smooth, with mixability like no other,” Altman said.
Mid-Oak Distillery, slated for Tiffany Plaza at the corner of Cicero Avenue and 147th Street, will include a bistro setting for taste-testing and a retail section to sell Altman’s brand — Catalina Dynastii, a reference to 18th century Russian Empress Catherine the Great, during whose reign the best vodka in the history of the world was said to be produced. That’s a hard act to follow, but Altman claimed he is up for the challenge.
“We’ll have different types of martinis and bloody mary’s for people to taste,” Altman said.
Customers also will be able to take tours of the facility to “catch the whole process,” Altman said.
In addition to in-house sales, Altman plans to bottle and distribute Catalina Dynastii to area retailers and restaurants.
“There’s been great support from local liquor stores and restaurants that are interested in carrying it,” Altman said.
An electrician by trade, Altman said he is an expert at producing another type of alcohol.
“I’ve been brewing beer for a long time in my basement,” he said.
But after doing marketing research, he discovered the market for beer and wine micro-breweries was saturated. Meanwhile, hard alcohol sales in the country have been increasing — and that’s when he discovered the beauty of vodka.
“Vodka is a $49 billion industry,” he said.
Coupled with the fact that “the initial mash for beer and vodka are the same,” Altman was ready to start distilling.
“We’re using high quality ingredients and we have a proprietary filtration system that’s second to none that we developed with a chemical engineer. I have a master distiller and a great network of people who know the business and alcohol end of things,” he said.
The government bureaucracy took some time to navigate, he said.
Altman spent 13 months applying for the appropriate permits to open the distillery.
In the meantime, he raised money from “angel” investors. Altman’s father had enough faith in his son’s business plan to heavily invest. More money came from friends and co-workers and even acquaintances who believed in the project.
Midlothian officials were equally enthusiastic about his business.
“I was ecstatic to pitch my idea here,” he said. “Mayor (Terry) Stephens — he was my swim coach in high school — the other trustees and the departments have been supportive. I could’ve gone to Orland — and other towns expressed an interest — but I wanted to stay here. There’s not anything like this in the Chicagoland area except for a couple of craft distilleries up north. I’d like to see more businesses come back to Midlothian.”
Although Altman has big dreams for Mid-Oak, he’s committed to keeping everything local — from the contents of the brew to the labor. The company motto is “Hand-made, hand-bottled, hand-delivered.”
The corn and the spring water supply will come from the Midwest, the bottles will be printed in Oak Forest and the still was made in Blue Island, according to Altman.
“Anyone who works here is local — either from the South Side area or Chicago. There are so many people out of work who are very smart and who are helping me,” he said.
Altman and his friends are almost finished rehabbing the storefront at 4704 W. 147th St., which once housed Religious End.
He expects to open the distillery in April, and already has high hopes of expanding.
“We plan to shoot for 25,000 bottles in the first run,” Altman said. “If it sells well, we’ll expand right away. We have the room. There are two empty retail spaces right next to ours.”