Before a fateful conversation in an English pub during the 1970s, musician John Dillon had never tried gin before. Fast forward nearly five decades, and the Ozark Mountain Daredevils are bringing their very own liquor to the public.
The Ozark Mountain Daredevils formed in December 1971 in Springfield and have produced 15 albums and sold more than 3 million records worldwide.
The Ozark Dry Gin is a small-batch gin distilled in Springfield by EE Lawson Distillery LLC and will be distributed by Major Brands. Missouri will be the first market for this new product.
The band was set to record their first album, “It Shines When It Shines,” with acclaimed producer Glyn Johns in 1974.
“We found ourselves on a plane, on the way to London for six weeks. Some of us had never even been on an airplane before,” Dillon said in a phone interview with the News-Leader.
While there, the group dived deep into London’s culture, which meant venturing to the English pubs and learning to love the taste of beer served at room temperature, Dillon said.
At one pub in particular, there was a “stately, sophisticated-looking gentleman” who would come in and order the same drink every time: a gin and orange. A bartender would pour the gin and then squeeze fresh orange juice into the glass.
“It was a beautiful thing,” Dillon said. “I started talking to him about it.”
The man told Dillon the history of gin and that he drank it with orange to keep away rickets, a result of Vitamin D deficiency.
“He goes, ‘Ya know, all gins are different,’” Dillon said. “What makes a gin unique and good, if you’re lucky to be so fortunate to have a good recipe, is the botanicals. There are all these different herbs and spices and botanicals that go into gin.’”
It sounded medicinal to Dillon and led him to think about how he and his bandmates, “basically a hippie band from Missouri,” all had their own gardens of varying degrees.
“I never forgot that,” Dillon said.
“Every Now and Then,” Dillon would think of that conversation, and now, nearly 50 years later, the Ozark Mountain Daredevils are bringing their very own gin to the public.
The process took time and, when first approached about pairing the band’s name with an alcohol or “homemade wine,” Dillon said one brewing company suggested a moonshine.
“I asked what goes into a moonshine,” he said. “’Well, you basically buy this grain alcohol, put it in a bottle and put a label on it.’”
Selling a moonshine didn’t sit right with Dillon.
“I never forgot the gin story of our time in London,” Dillon said.
After obtaining a distillery license, it was time to make a gin.
“No one knew what to do,” Dillon said. “We didn’t have a clue.”
With a small-batch still and good distiller, they began to tinker. The distiller told Dillon that they should use 10 botanicals.
“I said, ‘No, it has to be 11,’” Dillon said.
“Have you ever seen ‘Spinal Tap?’” Dillon asked his distiller, referencing an idiom from the 1984 movie where guitarist Nigel Tufnel shows that an amplifier has volume knobs marked from zero to 11, instead of the usual zero to 10.
Some of those 11 botanicals are locally sourced, like an elderberry flower, while others come from all over the world.
The first batch was poured into the drain almost immediately.
“It is the worst thing you have ever tasted,” Dillon said.
Over many months, Dillon and his team continued tweaking the flavor profile.
“I was pretty discouraged because I didn’t think it was going to happen,” he said. “All gins are gins, but there are only a few that are really great.”
After several attempts, they finally landed on the batch, they could all agree, “You made it right.”
“Then we realized that the biggest obstacle we were going to have was convincing people that this was not a novelty product,” Dillon said. “I cannot tell you how proud I am of this flavor profile.”
The band was hand-carrying it with a few others serving it, such as Springfield Brewing Company and Harvest restaurant in Rogersville. They partnered with Major Brands to bring it to a wider audience.
“The most important thing that we’re doing right now is reminding people that the brand is still here, that there are original people still in the group still doing new music and this particular brand idea is still related to the fact that we have a name in the marketplace because of the music we’ve created over the years,” Dillon said.
Other libations are in the works, and Dillon said folks should stay tuned for what comes next. For now, when you open a bottle of Ozark Dry Gin, he suggested you listen to one of the band’s songs because “If you want to get to heaven, you gotta raise a little hell.”