Lars Forde, a 1995 DeForest High School graduate, never expected to be in his career field.
The head distiller for micro-producer Yahara Bay Distillers, Forde was working for his stepfather as a contractor. But the recession hit, taking its toll on the construction industry. That’s when the family decided to branch out, Forde said.
“It was right when the recession was hitting,” Forde said. “So it really pushed my stepdad over the edge, so to speak, into this industry … It was a complete 180.”
Forde said Yahara Bay Distillers opened 12 years ago at a 5,000-square foot facility. He and his stepdad handled all facets of the business, Forde said, until they eventually began to bring on employees.
Then, three years ago, Yahara Bay Distillers – classified as a micro-distillery similar to the popular micro-breweries around the nation – moved shop to a 20,000-square foot facility in Fitchburg, he said.
The space is complete with a bar and space for gatherings and produces around 400-500 cases of spirits each month. The distillery boasts about 30 different products and works with a German outfit, Vomfass, to offer an even wider variety of liquor and spirit options.
With 15 full-time employees and about nine part-timers, Forde said the business now boasts large events in collaboration with the nearby municipalities of Verona and Fitchburg. Upcoming attractions include music by the Dead Sea Squirrels on July 5 and music from The Straight 8’s on July 12.
“We didn’t start these big events until we moved to the new facility and brought on an events coordinator and chef,” Forde told the DeForest Times-Tribune.
Forde recalls his childhood in DeForest with nostalgia, saying his generation was among the last technologically untethered kids. That fact is a defining component of his memories – friends would meet up and spend the day skateboarding and biking around the neighborhoods. He said that experience established a lasting impression of a tightly-knit community.
He often sees DeForest locals at the distillery’s bar, the Public House, which is open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Forde said his hometown has been very supportive and he enjoys the opportunity to reconnect with DeForesters.
“It’s kind of fun to see people (from DeForest) walk in for sure,” Forde said. “I’ve seen a lot of people come through. A lot of people I hadn’t seen in years.”
When his family jumped into the distilling business, Forde audited classes from the University of Michigan to prepare himself. He spent two semesters studying. For a while, he juggled both the contracting business and the budding distillery. But eventually, Forde said he went full-time at Yahara Bay.
He credits good timing for the company’s success.
“We got in on the forefront on the wave,” of micro-distilleries, Forde said.
He said that Yahara Bay Distillers was only the second micro-distillery in Wisconsin when it opened a dozen years ago. Now, he said, there are well over 20.
Yahara Bay Distillers utilizes a quality-first approach, Forde said, and achieves its high standards through single-batch distillation and locally sourced ingredients.
“It gives us full control,” Forde said of the process. “We’re focused on quality, small batch, and sourcing locally. We use as much Wisconsin produce and botanicals as we can.”
Some of its speciality drinks include apple and cherry brandies sourced with Wisconsin fruits. Yahara Bay Distillers is also popular for its two-year whiskey, he said.
Three years ago, Forde’s brother, Nels Forde, joined the company as its general manager. Nels Forde relocated to Wisconsin after working as a CPA in Washington state and serving eight years in the Marine Corps.
Forde sees the business continuing strong into the future. He said the support of his friends and family in DeForest have helped make the dream come true.
“I have a great memory of my time there (in DeForest) in general,” Forde said. “It has been a very supportive community.”
Check out the facilities at 6250 Nesbitt Road, Fitchburg, or go online to www.yaharabay.com for more information. The company also has a Facebook page and can be reached at (608) 275-1050.