SWANTON — Half of Reece Sukovaty's dream lies in a field of Indian corn about 100 feet from his family's restored horse barn.
For the past four years, he's been experimenting with various native maize hybrids to find the right combination of multicolored kernels to make a unique bourbon.
"We're going to make a sipping whiskey that's far better than anything else out there," Sukovaty said while showing off the other half of his dream: a gleaming, double-jacket, stainless steel and copper pot still.
He's launching a micro whiskey distillery in Southeast Nebraska. His goal is to make bourbon, rum and single-malt whiskey on the Saline County family farm.
The Knotted Wood Distillery label is still in the design stage but will most likely feature an oak tree. The name is a loose translation of Sukovaty; the Czech word "suk" means "knot in the wood," said Reece's father, Jack.
The plan is to sell the whiskey through a tasting room and possibly in stores.
Reece Sukovaty has brewed beer at home for years and talked about opening a micro brewery, which requires bringing in several kinds of grain. Whiskey, on the other hand, can be distilled from a single grain that he can grow right there on the farm.
He chose Indian corn because it is a relatively unaltered strain.
"We're trying to do a form of whiskey that dates back to the frontier," he said.
They also want to use their own seed, Reece Sukovaty said.
The horse barn, which was built in the early 1900s, needed some work, and Jack Sukovaty, 67, pitched in and had a new roof and siding installed and a cement floor poured.
Meanwhile, his son, who has a master's degree in business administration, began his research into how to become a distiller of spirits. His apprenticeship included training courses with master distillers in Colorado, South Carolina, Massachusetts and New York and touring more than 75 micro whiskey distilleries across the country.
When he wasn't traveling, Reece Sukovaty, 34, was helping his wife, Sarah, raise their two daughters and working with his dad, who owns an agricultural and environmental consulting business. Jack Sukovaty lives on the farm, and his son commutes from Hickman.
Now, they have two small grain wagons filled with about 500 bushels of Indian corn from last year's harvest and will start distilling after this year's crop comes in this fall.
Their 60 American white oak barrels are waiting to be filled with the unaged bourbon that will come from the still. Reece Sukovaty said he chose the wood because of the flavors it can impart to the bourbon.
"With the temperature (in the Midwest), we should age a whiskey faster than anywhere else," he said.
The hot summers will "push" the bourbon into the wood, he said, enhancing the flavor. And the cold winters will contract the wood, extracting the flavors. In addition, the bourbon will be distilled five times using a specialized column attached to the still.
The Sukovatys plan to use groundwater under the farm in the distilling process.
Jack Sukovaty said it's filtered through natural limestone in the area and tests show the water is low in iron and high in calcium and minerals -- properties that are found in streams in Kentucky and Tennessee, where some of the best bourbon is made.
According to the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission, there are seven micro whiskey distilleries in the state, in West Point, Ansley, Omaha, Lincoln, two in La Vista and one in Moorefield in Frontier County.
The 10-gallon barrels of bourbon will be aged for nine months to two years and the 25-gallon barrels for two to six years. In the interim, the Sukovatys plan to distill white and spiced rum, which can be ready in about 30 days.
Jack Sukovaty said the rum will help with the cash flow -- and something else.
"If you go through all of this work, you want to enjoy a little bit of it, too," he said.
Father and son hope to produce 8,000 to 10,000 bottles of 80 proof bourbon annually.
According to federal regulations, the barrels, which have to be new, can only be used once to make bourbon. But they can be reused to make single-malt whiskey, and that's what Reece Sukovaty plans to do.
They hope to have their first barrel of bourbon available for public consumption on July 4 of next year.
Right now, they'd rather not say how much they've spent on the enterprise so far.
"Dreams are priceless," said Jack Sukovaty.