WHITE PLAINS, Md. – During what can only be described as a night of destiny, cousins April Toyer and Herb Banks were at a bar enjoying a few drinks together in 2017. After many were consumed, they came up with the brilliant idea to open up a distillery together.
It took two years until they could convince their spouses to let them proceed with their grandiose plans. At first, the two wanted to delve into bourbons and whiskies, but upon further research found that the fermentation and aging process for each takes at least 3-4 years to produce a high-quality product. They decided to pivot to rum to generate initial revenue faster since its production process is significantly shorter.
However, Toyer and Banks shared that additional types of spirits are a definite possibility for the future.
Rum possesses a complex and intriguing history in the U.S. as America’s first spirit, which often was used as a commodity during Colonial times. It is a versatile spirit, finding use in various cocktails, and has a broader appeal to everyone, regardless of background or gender.
Toyer’s and Banks’ rum is made using molasses, which was originally thought to be waste from sugar cane processing but was ultimately utilized by enslaved people during Colonial times to make the popular spirit consumed today.
To launch, Copper Compass Craft Distillery will offer three varieties of rum: platinum, coconut, and whiskey barrel-finished spiced rum. Their platinum is a standard rum with an earthy sugar cane aroma, and a hint of vanilla and molasses. The coconut rum has a deep rich flavor of toasted coconut flakes, with hints of cane sugar, and sea salt. It is flavored with coconut extract since it renders a smoother flavor than using the meat of an actual coconut. Their spiced rum has a smooth oaky flavor with hints of vanilla, cloves, caramel, and a cinnamon spice at the finish.
During the day, Toyer is a pediatric dentist and Banks is a retired U.S. Navy command master chief with more than 23 years of military service. The two believe that the community of Charles County is a close-knit one that feels like home. April shared, “I think this is a unique community in terms of diversity.”
Banks and Toyer are technically cousins but share the kinship of siblings and, by proxy, have a very love/hate relationship at times. There is no shortage of heated discussions about their different opinions on where the distillery should go, but they always amicably work it out and continue to be close.
Banks shared, “I appreciate the contrasting personalities that we have. I’m pretty strong-minded on some things that I think I want to do, but April has some really interesting perspectives on what we should do too.” Toyer finishes with, “It’s great to have someone to tell it like it is. If it’s bad, it’s bad, if it’s good, it’s good. It’s important to get that feedback so we can learn for next time. Sometimes when we don’t know what to do, we can always settle it over a drink.”
Banks laughs and adds, “You know, get back to our core values.”
In August 2019, they moved into the space where the distillery sits in White Plains. A mentor from Dragon Distillery was instrumental in teaching them the ins and outs of running a distillery. That month the fire marshall shut them down temporarily until they could be compliant as a Class 1 Distillery.
The construction aspect was brand new to them and was a very educational, but expensive experience. Banks jokes, “If we don’t sell an ounce of hooch, I’m going to be the best damn general contractor there ever was.”
However, they believe the county has been very supportive and has had their best interest at heart. Their biggest setback took place during the pandemic when their original general contractor passed away from COVID-19, causing them to have to transition to a new GC during a precarious time.
In terms of future events that the distillery will hold, Toyer wants to host the more traditionally feminine-centric events such as game and trivia nights, and Banks hopes to host more traditionally masculine events such as football and boxing nights.
As is the case with the rest of their partnership, their differences only serve to strengthen their company and its offerings. Most weekend events will be catered by an outside company, or food trucks will be parked in front of the building. They are currently in talks with Food Scooter about getting food to patrons while they enjoy a spirited beverage.
The two are also working on developing relationships with local liquor stores and restaurants to sell their product to, in addition to having the freestanding distillery where patrons can enjoy their rum. At the distillery, they have classic rum cocktails with all-natural ingredients to put their spin on it. To appeal to a broader audience, they also offer a smoked old-fashioned for whiskey and bourbon purveyors that involves infusing the drink with smoke from wood chips.
The distillery recently hosted its grand opening and a selection of distillery tours. Charles County District 2 Commissioner Thomasina Coates[D] and Charles County Commissioner President Reuben B. Collins[D] were in attendance and presented an official county seal to the new owners.
Banks shared, “I’d like to say thank you to each and every one of you. Your support means a lot to us and our families. Our spouses have both been very instrumental in getting us to this point. We’ve spent a lot of time in this construction pit for the last three and a half years. We didn’t get to spend a lot of time with our families or get a lot of sleep these days. We would not be here without the support and commitment that our spouses have given to us.”
Commissioner President Collins, with the concurrent support of Commissioner Coates, shared, “Opportunities like this give me the feeling of being totally drunk while sober. This is an example of a tremendous success story. You could argue over 10 years ago, this same concept wouldn’t have worked in this community. The accumulation of wealth that now exists here provides opportunities for all of our citizens to prosper. With your success, the entire county succeeds.”
The Copper Compass Craft Distillery is located at 4317 Charles Crossing Drive, White Plains, MD 20695.
For more information about the Distillery, please visit their website here.
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