Dancing Goat Distillery builds Wisconsin’s first open-air rickhouse

Big things are happening at the Cambridge-based distillery.
Nine men stand in front of a five-story storage facility.
Photo by Bobbie Harte

Dancing Goat Distillery is not ready to welcome back guests to its tasting room yet — it’s been closed since December 2019. But in the meantime, the team has been working on big things.

Vice president of distilling and innovation Nick Maas and his team have created the state’s first open-air, non-climate controlled rickhouse. Dancing Goat is one of only a few craft distillers in the country to use the traditional open-air rickhouse method to age their spirits.

Generally, “rickhouse” is a term heard mostly in the South — Kentucky has more than 7.5 million barrels of bourbon stacked high and wide in these storage facilities. At a basic level, a rickhouse is a warehouse stockpiled with barrels of aging spirits. Though designing a rickhouse is slightly more complicated than simply nailing together racks (or ricks) of sturdy wood.

Two men stand in front of distilling barrels.

Father and son duo Tom Maas (left) and Nick Maas (right) pose in front of their aging spirits. Photo by Bobbie Harte

To assure an authentic, effective product, Dancing Goat Distillery’s rickhouse was built by Buzick Construction of Bardstown, Kentucky, the same building company that creates rickhouses for many major whiskey producers. This particular facility stands five stories high, measures 8,750-square-feet and can hold up to 7,800 barrels. Two plumb bobs measure the building’s balance at all times. Climate inside the building is left up to the sporadic ebb and flow of the Wisconsin elements which means no furnaces, air conditioning or insulation. The barrels are strategically placed and rotated as air flow, outdoor temperature and floor height are all taken into consideration.

“When fully exposed to the extremes of weather in Wisconsin our whiskey will move in and out of the staves as the temperature changes throughout the four seasons, making every year of age incredibly impactful,” says Tom Maas, chairman of Dancing Goat Distillery. “The mellowing and concentration of flavors occurring during this natural process results in whiskey that connoisseurs will truly appreciate while those new to whiskey will be able to experience whiskey as it was meant to be.”

Traditional rickhouses allow for barrels to be stored on their sides in comparison to the more modern technique of standing them upright, where the whiskey doesn’t touch the charred, wooden lid. In using the traditional method, whiskey is exposed to all sides of the wooden barrel, allowing for a better interaction between the barrel and the spirit.

A bottle of Limousine Rye Whiskey and a glass stand on top of a distilling barrel.

Dancing Goat’s popular Limousin Rye Whiskey Photo by Bobbie Harte

Dancing Goat Distillery has set its sights on becoming the largest distiller in the state, so they purchased a 51-acre plot about a mile east of their original location to accommodate plans for expansion. Over the next 20 years, Dancing Goat Distillery plans to construct four more buildings, similar in style and function to the recently completed rickhouse. Each of these new buildings will be designed to store about 24,000 barrels.

Dancing Goat plans to double the size of the distillery at its original location as well. This includes the addition of two more stills to the existing three, and then an extra three fermentation tanks, each able to hold 6,000 gallons.

The first barrels of the award-winning Limousin Rye Whiskey were rolled into the rickhouse in early March.

Hannah Twietmeyer is a contributor for Madison Magazine.

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