From Southside Daily
It’s been nearly two years in the making but soon, Dead Reckoning Distillery will be operating in Norfolk.
For founder Derek Ungerecht and his business partner Matt Hartman, only a few months stand between them and crafting their first batch of Dead Reckoning rum in the distillery located at 312 W. 24th Street.
When production begins next year, customers will be able to tour the distillery, learn about how craft rum is made and distilled and sample their rum varieties. A contracted ABC store, the distillery will also sell bottles of their rums for customers to take home.
Dead Reckoning will offer two types of rum initially – the dark Dead Reckoning Craft Spiced Rum and a white rum called Rebel Rum – but they said they hope to expand their product line and experiment with aged rums in the future.
Ungerecht, a 32-year-old Army reservist and commercial truck salesperson, said his dream has always been to run his own business. He initially drafted a business plan to open a trucking company, but the idea just didn’t stick.
“I stirred it around in my head for a few months and went cold on it,” Ungerecht said. “I started on the Dead Reckoning business plan and six months later, I still thought it was a great idea.”
For Ungerecht, the microdistillery’s name takes on a number of meanings. He said he chose Dead Reckoning because he wanted to encapsulate the Navy town feeling of Norfolk and trips to the Outer Banks with friends and family.
The name also connects to his Army service. By definition, “dead reckoning” is a navigational term that means to calculate a location based on speed, direction and a previous location – without the help of GPS, of course.
“It’s really what you use when everything else has failed,” Ungerecht said. “It’s really like you’re trying to figure your way, which kind of encapsulates what we’re doing here.”
When Ungerecht decided to bring his rum-distilling dream to fruition, he took the idea to Hartman, a close friend and marketing professional. Hartman said he had friends approach him about starting their own breweries before but wasn’t interested in running a business until the idea of the microdistillery was discussed.
Hartman quickly jumped on board and helped Ungerecht design the logo for the rum brand. The two also built what Ungerecht calls a “creature of necessity,” – the copper still that will distill their rum. Hartman gained some experience with metal-working when he attended Old Dominion University, but Ungerecht had to learn on his own.
“We think we’ve managed to build a still,” Ungerecht said, laughing.
Nestled in the Park Place neighborhood just one block away from O’Connor Brewery, Ungerecht said that the city, as well as the neighborhood, has been incredibly welcoming. When they approached the city of Norfolk with their business plan, Ungerecht said tasting rooms for distilled spirits weren’t allowed.
“Everyone that we have worked with has been incredibly hospitable,” Hartman said. “All we had to do was bring it to the city’s attention and they drafted a definition.”
A location in the Chelsea section of West Ghent had previously been picked for the distillery, but after being approached by other business owners in Park Place, the location on 24th Street felt right. Their new neighbors are even helping the soon-to-be distillers get set up.
Next to their hand-hammered copper still sits a whiskey barrel straight from Tennessee. The barrel was given to Ungerecht by Kevin O’Connor – owner of O’Connor Brewing Company – and has since been turned into the still’s condenser.
Ungerecht said that even members of the neighborhood’s civic league are excited about the distillery’s presence. When production begins, the two business partners hope to provide skilled labor jobs with living wages to local residents.
“Everyone talks about manufacturing leaving the United States,” Ungerecht said. “This is a product that Americans care about where it’s made, and hopefully, a product that Park Place and Norfolk can someday be proud of.”
For now, Ungerecht and Hartman are working to ready the distillery for production, but they hope to be serving – and selling – their rum by March.