The Swami of Ludlow, Kentucky

The first thing you notice when walking into Second Sight Spirits artisan distillery in Ludlow, Kentucky is the smell: rum. Like two renegade pirates, founders Rick Couch and Carus Waggoner have staked their claim in this little town since their grand op

click to enlarge Second Sight Spirits’ eccentric steampunk-esque pot still
Second Sight Spirits’ eccentric steampunk-esque pot still

The first thing you notice when walking into Second Sight Spirits artisan distillery in Ludlow, Kentucky is the smell: rum. Like two renegade pirates, founders Rick Couch and Carus Waggoner have staked their claim in this little town since their grand opening in April.

The two friends met in high school in Hebron in the ’90s and returned to Northern Kentucky in late 2011. Couch, a mechanical engineer, and Waggoner, an industrial designer, had been in Las Vegas working on two Cirque du Soleil shows, The Beatles LOVE and Viva Elvis. Their experiences with props and sets, such as giant blue suede shoes, started in their formative days with the Cincinnati Ballet on The Nutcracker and has proved fruitful when it comes to their passion: distilling premium alcohol.

That passion has an intriguing origin. Nearly a century ago, Couch’s great grandfather was a town sheriff in Kentucky and Waggoner’s was a moonshiner in West Virginia. Spirits are in their blood, even if their two ancestors never actually met, as they jokingly claim. But with the pull of that pedigree, distilling was never far away. While in Vegas, the duo attended a conference on distilling, hooking up with a craft distiller who needed their design and engineering experience to help him build his equipment. After about a year of working for him, they decided they wanted to open their own distillery.

“Rick crunched the numbers, and it looked like we could pull it off,” Waggoner says. So with Waggoner’s pregnant wife in tow, they headed back to their hometown and set about finding a space of their own. That turned out to be an old pharmacy, which they acquired in February 2014. Despite the family legacy and historic setting, Second Sights Spirits is all about looking forward — and telling a great story with a bit of theatrical flair.

“Most distilleries are about the past,” Waggoner says. “We’re about looking to the future.”

The company’s mascot plays into their love of urban legends. He’s a swami, like something out of a vaudeville act or The Wizard of Oz, and can see the future. The story goes that he’s been rambling around the country peddling the drink, like an old-fashioned medicine show.

The bottle’s logo, realized by the same designer of Burt’s Bees’ iconic label, features the swami’s face. It’s a composite of Sean Connery and Ronnie James Dio, the “King of Metal,” lending the drink a bit of “mystical Rock & Roll,” as Waggoner puts it. That image also serves as the inspiration for the still itself.

The pot still looks a bit like an ominous steampunk fortune-telling robot, festooned with a cooper turban and crystal-ball condenser. And it greets visitors to the distillery from underneath fringed drapery — a contraption straight from the mind of Jules Verne. Built by coppersmith D Picking and Company in Bucyrus, Ohio, the still is a combination of new and old, low-tech and high-tech and is DIY through and through. With bits and pieces purchased from Home Depot, online and local copper smiths, it’s a work in progress that will eventually be the swami logo come to life.

Second Sight’s first product is an 80-proof unbarreled white rum, distilled eight times (seven for luck). Handcrafted from premium quality molasses, the two-week process of making the rum is complex, yet simply described for the layman on free weekend tours. The result is available at Neons in OTR and can be transformed into signature cocktails detailed on Second Sight’s website: the Pomegranate Premonition, the Mystic’s Mojito, the Clairvoyant Daiquiri and more.

Venturing back beyond the still, you stumble upon an eccentric workspace. The storage closets are labeled “Venkman” and “Spengler” after Ghostbusters characters, and an oversized troll doll oversees the bottling area. Here, they’re currently making 100 bottles of rum per week, but they could up that to 300 once they find more warehouse space.

In July, the business was accepted into The Kentucky Distillers’ Association, and they are getting their names out sponsoring Northern Kentucky’s Black-N-Bluegrass Rollergirls.

Rum is just the starting point. They’ve been experimenting with spiced rum, gin, local fruit and cider, and they’re looking into bourbon. They can’t sell out of their business due to Kentucky law, but they do serve samples, even if they are in plastic communion cups.

“I’m out there every day looking for distributors,” Waggoner says. “And we’re always looking to engage the audience.”

Visit SECOND SIGHTS SPIRITS at 301 B Elm St., Ludlow, Ky., for free weekend tours and tastings. More info:

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