CAROLINA BEACH — Pleasure Island’s first distillery, Four Hounds, is already growing within its first four months of launching. Owners Max Sussman and Chris Stellaccio have been operating the distillery out of 1117 N. Lake Park Blvd., in the Veggie Wagon’s production facility, since it opened in fall 2021. Sussman, owner of the Veggie Wagon, said the move is one that’s much needed.
“We no longer have to operate out of a closet,” he said.
The still that makes Four Hounds spirits was located in a 6-foot-by-15-foot room, enough space for maybe two people to work. The business will be moving not even a quarter mile to 1202 N. Lake Blvd. in a former two-unit office building.
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“We’re basically going from 200 square feet to 2,000,” Sussman said. “It’s a little bit off the beaten path, behind the car wash. But, you know, what town do you go to and you don’t hop over the train tracks or walk through a commercial or industrial zone to get to a brewery or distillery?”
Sussman said the almost half-acre lot has both parking and warehouse space. A back garage door will open into an outdoor area.
The interior — which also will house a tasting room — allows for more production of the brand’s four rums, according to Sussman. Currently, Four Hounds works out of a 25-gallon still that produces 50 bottles. He and Stellaccio distill the product two to four days a week.
They projected to have 5,000 to 10,000 bottles out in the first year ahead of opening. “We don’t have the first year under our belt yet, but we are on track,” Sussman said.
In the new facility, the entrepreneurs plan to add a five-time multiplier to the equipment, which will be able to create 150 gallons of spirits and “hundreds of bottles” per batch. It also will allow them to amp up production and meet their goal of expanding into more ABC stores.
Four Hounds went into the Carolina Beach ABC Store right before December 2021; Sussman said it has continuously sold out of product. With more capacity to distill, Four Hound could be multiplying ABC stores across New Hanover County in the coming year.
“We’re trying to do this all organically,” Sussman said. “We’re more interested in making sure we put out a good, consistent product than making sure we flood the market.”
Four Hounds makes four flavors of rum — Sea Level (tempered with port wine and vanilla), Porch Dog (made with tropical dried fruits and roasted coffee, aged in French oak), Queen’s Share (double distilled, aged in French oak), and a silver everyday mixing rum.
“Chris is a big rum guy and I’m a big whiskey guy,” Sussman said. “So this gave us the ability to age some rum in oak and do a little bit of a hybrid.”
Sussman said the Queen’s Share has won over even the most staunch whiskey and bourbon drinkers. There are no spiced or overly saccharine notes. It comes out in four parts in the still, the fourth called “the tails” — low in ABV but high in rum esters (the chemical reaction when yeast mixes with molasses) and oils.
“They used to save it for the queen back in the day — that’s what royalty drank,” Sussman said.
The distillers save the tails to make Four Hounds 100-proof Queen’s Share, a bold and flavorful sipper.
“This is a completely different spirit than anything you’ve had,” Sussman said. “We do not add sugar post-fermentation, so it’s kind of naturally sweet in the front and then you get some really nice oaky notes after.”
The Four Hounds co-founder said the plan is to expand the portfolio beyond rum. Sussman said producing vodka and whiskey seem like the natural next steps; though, the partners don’t necessarily have a timeline of when they will be making other liquors.
“We’re not going to force it to market,” Sussman said. “We want to take our time and make sure it’s something we would drink.”
The team is hoping to have the new space operational by March, open until 9 p.m. nightly. Sussman and Stellicio are doing all the renovation work, and will hire their first employee to run the tasting room and create a cocktail menu for their spirits. Four Hounds also will serve flights and have merch and bottles available for purchase.
“The community has really driven this expansion,” Sussman said. “We knew that we would be expanding eventually — we just didn’t realize it would be so quick.”
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