"BRINGING THE MOONSHINE TRADITION OUT OF THE WOODS TO THE HEART OF DOWNTOWN HOT SPRINGS"
Home to Crystal Ridge Distillery, Hot Springs National Park was a prohibition-era hot spot for some of the most infamous gangsters, gamblers, and politicians, all looking to capitalize on the production and distribution of illegal alcohol. From legendary mobsters like Owney Madden and Al Capone to household names like major-leaguer Babe Ruth, Hot Springs earned a reputation as a celebrity resort destination for those looking to enjoy a taste of some unbridled fun.
The farmland and forests surrounding Hot Springs also provided the perfect location for illegal distillers to hone their craft under the light of the moon. Well before the decade of prohibition in the 1920s, almost every farmhouse in Arkansas already had a still as standard equipment for processing extra grain. Loading a harvest into a wagon and taking it to town was back-breaking work, and some farmers could make more money just turning their grain into alcohol at home and selling it to their neighbors. With generations of experienced distillers living just outside of town, many New York gangsters quickly made Hot Springs their second home.
With prohibition long over and the return of legal distilling to Arkansas, Danny Bradley along with his wife Mary and son Asher decided to once again bring the tradition of moonshine distilling out of the woods and into the heart of downtown Hot Springs. Located at the site of the historic F.C. Stearns Warehouse, Crystal Ridge Distillery works to blend the roots of distilling in Hot Springs with modern technology and the best distilling practices to produce premium spirits with a smooth, rich flavor.
Our moonshine begins with the creation of mash from finely ground grain. The grain is cooked to extract the starches. These starches are then converted over to fermentable sugars with the help of enzymes added to the cooking process. The yeast will convert the fermentable sugars into alcohol and eventually moonshine. When the mash is ready, it will be pumped from the fermentation tank into our pot still, “Patrick.” Patrick is a 250-gallon copper and wood still that must be heated to 173 degrees for the alcohol to change to a vapor and begin the distillation process.1 of 3
Once Patrick reaches the magic temperature, the alcohol vapors head into a doubler which is designed to distill the output of the pot still a second time, without actually having to run the distillate through the still twice. This is necessary to make high-proof moonshine.2 of 3
The moonshine then moves into the condenser tank which cools the vapors and turns it into alcohol. Alcohol starts coming out at around 168 proof! Once this process is finished, all that’s left is bottling and properly labeling our ‘shine to be passed on to you!3 of 3
Making moonshine is a process that dates back to a time when farmers could make more money from turning their corn into whiskey than selling it as grain alone. A process that is still illegal without the proper permits, we decided to bring the moonshine distillery process out of the woods to the heart of Downtown Hot Springs right here at Crystal Ridge.
Located within walking distance of Central Avenue and Bath House Row, Crystal Ridge Distillery sits on the corner of Broadway and Grand. When first constructed between 1910 and 1920 for F.C. Stearns as a warehouse for their hardware, feed and furniture stores, the building was on the outskirts of downtown. With the current size of Hot Springs, it is now near the heart. Times change.
Over those years, the building was built in three sections, which now account for the beautiful, interior brick walls (18” thick). Back then, a sawmill was set up on site to cut the timbers, posts and beams. In the Crystal Ridge production room, you can still see the circular saw marks on the wood.
When first built, the original Hot Springs Railroad ran and stopped within feet of the east side of the building, which must have been nice for F.C. Stearns. Other historic details of the building are sketchy as the courthouse and all records burned twice since construction. This much is certain, there was drinking going on.
When Danny and Mary first purchased the building, it had been transformed into “The Old Country Store.” The Bradley family began the restoration and while pulling up the flooring, discovered quite a number of dusty whiskey bottles beneath, lying on the dirt. Also, during the remodeling, they discovered three fire doors that were tagged “1916” and built for F.C. Stearns.
Now, it is Crystal Ridge Distillery. When you visit and walk in, you will experience the beauty of the 1920 building. From revealing the 1916 fire doors to leaving the rough-cut lumber rafters exposed, every detail exudes the original architecture. Hand-built with state-of-the-art craftsmanship for its time, we revitalized the structure with modern amenities while keeping the 1920 authenticity. Adding our own industrial twist, all elements of our distillery are highly energy efficient and the many windows provide an abundance of natural lighting.
Between the gift shop, retail liquor, lounge, convention room and the distillery itself, Danny and Mary have created a fun, family venue, a must-see while visiting Hot Springs that will have you talking about it to friends and family.
why we started
Danny Bradley, Owner, President and CEO of Crystal Ridge Distillery, grew up in the shadows of the Ouachita Mountains; specifically, a sub-range called the Crystal Mountains. The quartz in those mountains is of such quality that the small town of Mt. Ida, a short drive from Hot Springs, is known as the “Quartz Capital” of the United States.
Like most boys in rural Arkansas, Danny grew up hunting, fishing, playing sports and ranging in those mountains. Following a stint with the United States Air Force, Danny returned to Arkansas and attended college at Henderson State, where he took a degrees in Health and Physics. Under internship, he taught P.E. and coached football at Lakeside High School and then taught Agriculture and was a FFA sponsor at Magnet Cove High School, just south of Hot Springs in Malvern.
Believing in the need to instill local youth with job skills and work ethic, Danny was also an Instructor at the Arkansas Career Training Institute in Hot Springs where he taught Construction Technology. In his spare time, Danny fished competitively in professional bass tournaments on Lake Ouachita and other regionally located lakes.
Danny then returned to college and graduated from the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville with a Ph.D. in Poultry Science. After years of traveling the United States for work, he decided it was time to return to his home in Garland County. His love for Arkansas and the Hot Springs area inspired him to join in the revitalization of the downtown area. Knowing that jobs were key to sustain a thriving city, Danny chose to build a business, his distillery, downtown. Since its beginning, the mission of Crystal Ridge Distillery has been to create jobs. From the construction and renovation of “The Old Country Store” into Crystal Ridge Distillery itself, Danny not only put many people to work, but also helped immortalize a piece of history so important to Hot Springs.
Like more than a few boys growing up around the Ouachita Mountains, Danny’s father, Charlie, was an illegal moonshiner, although his career was short-lived. It has also been said that Danny himself distilled illegal shine for personal consumption and to the delight of a few dear friends. But that is not true; at least, he denies it vociferously. At around sixteen, Charlie, having watched the movie, “Thunder Road,” starring Robert Mitchum, with its moonshiners and fast cars, became enamored with the idea of moonshine and the cars that led to the creation of stock car racing. While he couldn’t afford the car, his parents did have cow and chicken feed along with a well-stocked pantry. So, with stealth, the makings for mash were readily at hand. Charlie’s first batch was well into fermentation when his mother discovered it in the barn. Being on the side of temperance, she dumped it in the yard to the delight of the chickens, at least at first. Before long, the woozy chickens could be seen stumbling around the barnyard. Thus, ended Charlie’s career as a moonshiner, although he would later help his son Danny build a “legal” distillery.
Mary Bradley, Owner, VP and Chief Financial Officer at Crystal Ridge Distillery also oversees regulatory compliance. As product quality and safety is of utmost concern, having majored and taken degrees in Chemistry and Math, Mary is well suited to manage compliance. In her “other life,” Mary is a Clinical Trial Research Monitor and is currently studying the applicability of an existing pneumonia vaccine for use against Covid-19. Mary and Danny work well together, which is good, as they are married.
Asher Bradley, their oldest son, serves as General Manager and CMO. He is responsible for Marketing and Advertisement. Asher is well equipped for his position, having studied Business at Arkansas Tech. Like his father, Asher enjoyed sports and played pitcher and third base for the Lakeside Rams in Hot Springs. He went on to play college ball at Northern Oklahoma in Enid while earning an associate degree.