For a generation that prefers locally sourced food — strawberries from Glastonbury, say, or tomatoes from Simsbury, wine from Brookfield and craft beer from East Haddam — it’s only natural to seek out locally produced spirits.
Now locavores, as farm-to-table fans are known, need look no further than Bloomfield for their gin, vodka or rum.
Three friends are launching Waypoint Spirits, a craft distillery and tasting room offering locally made spirits. They plan to open July 1 and have already arranged with local restaurants to begin serving Labrador Noon vodka, Man Overboard Rum and Wintonbury Gin, all under the Waypoint label.
“We could be some small, very boutique distillery, or a fair-sized craft distillery,” said John Taylor, 42, Waypoint’s president.
“Our generation cut our teeth drinking good craft beer,” he said. “We think we are in the beginning phases of the craft distillery [movement]. We are living our passion, enjoying the good things in our lives.”
Taylor has devoted himself full time to the endeavor after leaving his financial management position a year ago. His partners, David Rossi and Doug Bowie, divide their time between selling malpractice insurance and getting the distillery business off the ground.
The schedule has been exhausting, especially for Rossi and Bowie, who still have their day jobs. “We just decided to give up sleeping,” Taylor said. There are three other full-time employees.
Taylor had long fantasized about opening a craft brewery but said he thought the field was getting crowded. On a trip last year to upstate New York, Rossi and Bowie visited a local distillery that made vodka and bourbon, and sent Taylor a text message:
“Do you want to start a distillery?”
“I said, ‘Absolutely,'” Taylor recalled.
Bowie: “I’m serious.”
Taylor: “I’m serious, and I’m all in.”
Within a half-hour, the three men had made the decision to launch a new endeavor, with limited expertise and not much information on how to proceed.
They incorporated less than a year ago and began to learn how to negotiate the legal hurdles they faced, among them federal and state licenses to make, sell and distribute spirits. They found a site — a large warehouse space that previously contained a golf ball recycling center — ordered equipment, and studied recipes for spirits.
After learning of a state law that allows craft breweries and wineries to allow tastings and tours, and to sell small amounts of beer, they realized that the law did not include the sale of spirits, so they helped persuade the legislature to amend the law to include distilleries.
Waypoint is part of a growing trend toward the production of local spirits, said Bill Owens, president and founder the American Distilling Institute in California.
“It’s a real renaissance,” said Owens, who owned three distilleries before selling one to invest in hops. His database contains 900 distilleries that are either open or under construction. “They are in every state, every size,” he said. “They hire local people, they grow local herbs, and they are part of the community.”
Owens runs a conference for would-be craft distillers. Last year, it attracted 1,600 people. “It’s in their DNA,” he said. “You can’t stop them.”
In Ashford, Westford Hill Distillers, which has been doing business since 1997, was glad to hear of the new venture.
“We welcome real distillers,” said Louis Chatey, who with his wife, Margaret, produces brandy or eau de vie from strawberries, raspberries and pears.
“The thing that pleases me is that they own a still,” Chatey said. “Some distillers get licenses, buy alcohol in bulk, and repackage. … I’m glad to see that Waypoint is the real deal; these are actual homemade products.”
According to the criteria of the American Distilling Institute, authentic craft distilleries must distill their own spirits, be independently owned, sell no more than 100,000 gallons a year, and use hands-on techniques. In New Haven, Elm City Distillery LLC, which produces Nine Square Rum and Velocipede Vodka, also meets the criteria for a craft distillery.
Taylor said Waypoint has applied for a grant and loan from the state Department of Economic and Community Development under a program that helps new companies. Waypoint has contracted with a farmer to grow wheat in Windsor and plans to supply the spent grains — the byproduct of the distilling process — to either a lawn care company, pig farmers or a bio fuel company. “Our goal is to be as environmentally conscious as possible,” Taylor said.
Finishing touches are still being put on the Waypoint space on Woodland Avenue in Bloomfield. The chairs and tables are on order for the tasting room. The mahogany and rosewood bar top is nearly ready.
Copper shelves hold USB charging points for customers, and the wall paneling is made of kiln-dried pine that the owners stained six colors and installed in a random design they call “industrial chic.”
But the real eye-catcher is the distillery itself, a huge room with shiny stainless steel stills, holding tanks and copper tubing.
This is where the spirits are made. Wheat, enzymes and water are combined in a mash tun — a kind of tank — to break down the carbohydrates into simple sugars. Then they are pumped into one of six fermentation tanks. Yeast is added to eat the sugar and turn the mixture into alcohol. Then the liquid is boiled to separate the water from ethanol vapors; the vapors rise, and the temperature is lowered so that the steam condenses and drops back into the pot as water, and the ethanol turns into liquid alcohol.
On one side of the room is a bottler, which can fill four bottles at a time, or 30 bottles a minute. Another machine caps and seals them.
But it’s not all work. A pingpong table and a basketball hoop provide stress release.
Taylor estimates that the company has spent about $1 million, raised from friends, family and investors, to get underway. In a year, he plans to add whiskey and bourbon, which need a year or more to age.
“We have a network of professional friends who have gotten involved as far as helping us put this together,” said Bowie. “We think we can help the business in an industry that’s growing regionally and nationally.”
“We like to talk about our journey, in this burgeoning industry,” said Taylor. “It’s so we can enjoy the good things in life and help people experience craft spirits, building on the foundation laid down by local craft breweries.”