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An Innovative Spirit

Most great origin stories come from extraordinary backstories. The same is true in the case of Oklahoma Distilling Company.

Rob Harmon
Sarah Eliza Roberts
August 28, 2019

Working in Oklahoma City restaurants as a 14-year-old, Hunter Gambill’s desire to serve the world in the culinary arts took him in exciting directions. A stint in culinary school beginning at age 16 led him to become a food and beverage manager by 21. From there, he got married and joined a research team that studied the food and beverage industry. After learning how to distill spirits, make various wines, beer, and mead (even doing a master’s thesis on the subject), Gambill’s passions were conceived. Still, it would be years before Oklahoma Distilling Company was founded.

Lacking the capital to open the distillery, Gambill and his wife found jobs outside the United States, where he stoked his desire for teaching, all while bartending and cooking in his off time. Never giving up his passion for making alcohol of various types, his knowledge and experience continually built on itself, as he made homemade beverages for friends he made along the way. After several years of traveling around the world, teaching children of ex-pats, including even becoming a principal of a school at one point, the time came for Gambill to return to Oklahoma.

The distillery’s first product, Indian Grass Vodka, a spirit that contains a piece of Oklahoma’s state grass in every bottle, was on the shelves in 150 stores the day they made it available to the public. After having a killer start, the ODC crew didn’t even think about resting on their laurels. Within months they were supplying liquor stores with additional products. Although even Gambill admits it is a massive draw for Oklahomans to get behind a locally made product, the prolific distiller insists it’s about more than being local.

Hunter Gambill (center) and his Oklahoma Distilling Company crew love spending their days creating spirits. (Photo: Sarah Eliza Roberts)
Hunter Gambill (center) and his Oklahoma Distilling Company crew love spending their days creating spirits. (Photo: Sarah Eliza Roberts)

“From the beginning,” Gambill says, “the idea wasn’t to make local spirits for the sake of being local. The idea is if you were to have our spirits anywhere in America, or the world, you would have it and say, ‘This is a great product.’ For example, our rum, Rose Rock, is in several bars in Tulsa and Oklahoma City and time and time again, I hear it’s the best they’ve ever served.”

Gambill and his crew love spending their days creating spirits. But that doesn’t mean Gambill has lost his desire to teach. “Long term, we’re committed to open-sourcing our recipes. If we want craft distilling to be a thing in Oklahoma, we have to foster it,” he says. At this point, Gambill sees the distillery as a teaching distillery, for locals to visit and learn how ODC does what it does.

“We give tours and love getting the word out,” says Gambill. Available Thursday through Saturday evenings, visitors can purchase a self-guided tour and enjoy complimentary tasting samples afterward in a cocktail lounge.

“We love how people want to learn how we do what we do, and we encourage them to hang out in our lounge and enjoy the whole process. Everything we do, there’s a core value behind it,” says Gambill. Unable to sell visitors bottles of anything because of liquor laws, providing education and a little sample of this or that will have to do for now.

“As far as the ways the laws have shaken out,” says Gambill, “it’s been a roller coaster because there was a bill that was passed by both houses by more than 85% that would have allowed us to sell bottles out of this space. However, it was vetoed by [former Oklahoma governor] Mary Fallin. We thought it would be introduced, but that did not happen.”

Sure that the bill will pass when reintroduced, with new state representatives and senators, as well as a pro-business governor in Kevin Stitt, Gambill sees more significant and better things on the horizon.

“Our rum dunder pit,” says Gambill, “is aptly named Mary Fallin.” Dunder is what is left in a boiler after making a batch of rum. It is a traditional source of flavor used in the fermentation of Jamaican style rum. Similar to sour mash in the process of distilling bourbon whiskey, it’s crucial in achieving an authentic rum flavor. Every distillery specifically names its dunder.

Oklahoma Distilling Company
1724 E. 7th St. | Tulsa
Sunday-Wednesday: Closed
Thursday: 5-9 p.m.
Friday-Saturday: 5-11 p.m.