Skip to main content

From field to product, Township 23 Distillery has roots to the Civil War

Distillery in Nelson first began operations in December 2022

share arrow printer bookmark flag

January 22, 2024

NELSON – From the Civil War to the present day, the story behind how Township 23 Distillery in the Village of Nelson came about dates to a historic time in U.S. history. 

With the picturesque Mississippi River bluffs as a backdrop, the distillery – located at W2363 Co. Road D in Buffalo County – first began operations Dec. 2, 2022.

How it got to this point dates to the war between the states from 1861-65.

“My wife (Samantha) and I were dream chasers to get this thing going, but the story of Township 23 Distillery goes way back,” Zach Hetrick, co-owner/president, said. “I’m the sixth generation, but the farm (that Township 23 Distillery sits on) was homesteaded right after the Civil War. Two Hetricks fought in the Civil War and settled down on the edge of Nelson – at the time, it was called the Village of Fairview.”

Hetrick said it started with a small plot of land but eventually grew from there.

“The people who grew it the most were my grandpa and grandma,” he said. “My grandpa is 98 years old, and my grandma is 94. My grandpa was a dairy farmer, and he expanded it into what our homestead acreage is today.”

Hetrick said after his grandpa retired in the early 1990s, his dad and uncle took over, turning the farm more organic – eventually selling the cattle and focusing on crops instead.

“My dad and uncle are getting a bit older, too, so that took us to about 2014 when they semi-retired,” he said. “Now it’s a move forward – using the grain in what I hope is a more sustainable future for the farm as well. Many smaller farms are getting sold off or eventually go away. When you drive into the property where the distillery sits, the field is right there on both sides of the highway.”

How it all began

Hetrick said it was originally his idea to start the distillery, but he needed to convince his wife.

“My wife was the toughest sell,” he laughed. “My wife is my business partner and manages the tasting room, and does the social media marketing. She wanted to start a family first and see how crazy I was with this idea.”

Hetrick said through it all, he didn’t give up on his dream.

“I became more serious about the idea in 2019,” he said. “A week before the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down, I was talking to banks about getting financing. That halted things for a bit – we didn’t want to move forward at that point because of the unknown, but we were still making plans in the background – talking to contractors, working on construction plans, etc.”

Hetrick said in 2021, Township 23 Distillery broke ground in November – opening about a year later.

“That got us to where we are today,” he said. “I think things are going great. In our region, once winter hits, things slow down – similar to Door County. The first year was successful – we did well. There were times last year where it was standing room only.”

The success of the first year, Hetrick said, led to more ideas and seating.

“We have an outdoor patio, but we’ll probably have to add some more concrete this spring,” he said. “Maybe even putting in a more permanent pergola. We had seating for 34, but now we’re up to about 50.”

Hetrick said there aren’t many farm distilleries along the river – at least for quite a few miles.

“Maybe somewhere in Iowa,” he said. “La Crosse Distilling (Company) is in downtown La Crosse, but they’re not a farm distillery, per se. They do work with local farmers, but it’s in the middle of the city. We’re of the more rural concept.”

Currently, Township 23 Distillery produces two spirits: Village Edge Vodka and By Golly Gin.

“Our flagship spirit is the vodka – we came out with that one first,” he said. “The gin is named after the creek that runs through the property.”

Hetrick said the distillery recently barreled its own bourbon and rye whiskey as well.

“That’ll be a few years down the road,” he said. “I’m being methodical in our approach to add (more spirits). Part of that is because my wife and I still have day jobs, and the other part is to not get burned out – one thing at a time.”

Hetrick said eventually it is the goal to have both him and his wife leave their current full-time jobs and work at the distillery full-time.

“Originally, it was probably just going to be me because I do the distilling, and I’m here every day,” he said. “My wife is planning to leave her job hopefully soon – this year – so she can focus on marketing. Eventually, I’ll follow suit.”

 What’s in a name?

Hetrick said he and his wife referenced history to come up with the name of the distillery.

“We found inspiration from an old 1880s county plat book,” he said. “Back then, where people lived or different monuments were, they just called it back to the township. Naming it Township 23 – where we currently sit in the old county book – went with our vibe, which goes back generations. It’s more unique than calling it ‘Nelson Distillery,’ or something similar to that.”

Township 23 Distillery is open from noon to 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and from noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays.

“We also have extended hours in the late spring through fall on Thursday from 3-7 p.m.,” Hetrick said.

For more information on Township 23 Distillery, visit or find it on Facebook.

share arrow printer bookmark flag