A simple question from a friend about how to make moonshine sent north central Iowa cattle, hog, corn and soybean farmers, Brian and Sara Winkleman, on a path to owning a distillery. The Winklemans’ willingness to jump headfirst into new opportunities and later switch gears to fill a critical need during the coronavirus pandemic has earned them Iowa Farm Bureau’s Renew Rural Iowa (RRI) Entrepreneur Award.
The Winklemans had never thought about turning corn into whiskey but suddenly were intrigued, and a trip to Georgia to learn more about the distilling process was all it took for Sara to become infatuated with the idea. Soon after, in 2018, the couple found themselves renovating an old Bancroft, Iowa dentist office where S&B Farms Distillery was born.
S&B Farms Distillery offers a lineup of award-winning bourbons and whiskeys made from corn grown on the Winkleman farm. While they offer classic spirit flavors, some of their handcrafted products also have an extra kick like “Field Fire,” a spicy pineapple jalapeno moonshine and “Hog Wild,” with hints of cinnamon. Near and dear to Sara’s heart though is their bottle of “Private First Class,” named after her grandfather, a WWII veteran. “We’ve always been best friends,” she says. “So, when I decided I wanted to go on this adventure, he stood there and cheered me on.”
When it comes to whiskeys from all over the United States, the Winklemans say Iowa corn has a taste advantage. As farmers they know the type of corn, where the corn is planted and the soil plays a huge factor. In fact, their recipe replicated somewhere else in the country would yield a different taste, and distillers who have tried Iowa corn whiskey, Sara says, were very impressed.
“When we were down in Georgia, we would try some of their alcohol that was made from corn down there and compare it to ours, and I think it’s just the good black soil we have in Iowa that just gives the corn a better flavor,” says Brian.
Dean Berte, Kossuth County Farm Bureau president, also knows the value of Iowa’s corn and how it impacts rural communities. “I think any business that uses grain up in this area is good. I think it’s big for the community of Bancroft to have some expanding businesses in town,” he says.
Executive Director of the Kossuth-Palo Alto County Economic Development Corporation Maureen Elbert agrees and says S&B Farms Distillery has had a positive impact on the community and Sara’s entrepreneurial spirit is a major part of the reason why. “Sara is the exact type of person that people go to and even in her industry, people are calling her. She’s helping mentor them just like she was mentored. She has that true spirit of entrepreneurism that continues to grow, and she’s always thinking of new ideas and how can she bring new things to her store.”
The Winklemans never imagined that one of those “new ideas” would come at a crucial time. With COVID-19 spurring a shortage in disinfectant supplies, S&B Farms Distillery quickly switched gears to make hand sanitizer. “We took a big deep breath and regrouped. The transition wasn’t too bad; it was finding everything that we needed because it was completely different ingredients than what we were running with the whiskey,” says Sara.
After acquiring the proper Food and Drug Administration approvals, the Winklemans created and provided their hand sanitizer to emergency management in 15 different counties and also shared their product with the community through a free-will donation with proceeds going to front line workers. Through it all, Sara knows Bancroft is a community that takes care of each other. “Anything and everything that I needed to help get this going, they were there to support. The community has been amazing,” she says.RRI is an Iowa Farm Bureau initiative that supports new and existing businesses through education, mentoring and financial resources. Since its inception, RRI has helped create more than $125M in economic impact for rural communities. For more information about RRI and upcoming business seminars, visit http://programs.iowafarmbureau.com/RRI.