WINCHESTER, N.H. — After one year of operating on Main Street but six years of planning, a distillery is appropriately popping open bottles and toasting to their success.
"It's a huge celebration for us and for our friends and family, and everyone in the Brattleboro, Greenfield (Mass.) and Keene (N.H.), area," said Robert Patton-Spruill, owner of New England Sweetwater Farm and Distillery.
The newly available liquor, Clark and Chesterfield High Rye Bourbon Whiskey, was brought to the Winchester Pickle Festival on Saturday. Before heading there, the distillery had sold some of the liquor. Patton-Spruill planned on having half a barrel left for the festival, meaning roughly 200 bottles.
Because first-year sales revenues for young distilleries are not usually published, just how successful his business has been can be difficult to pinpoint. Another distillery reported it would be happy to take in $100,000 in its first year after producing 70,000 gallons.
"In our first year, we doubled that," Patton-Spruill said. "We think we're doing pretty darn well. We're getting a lot of people to like us. We definitely get a lot of repeat customers. But we're on a highway, Route 119 and Route 10. We get a lot of people from out of state as well."
Patton-Spruill estimates that approximately 95 percent of the members of the Winchester community have been welcoming to the new business. Some people are against anything involving alcohol, he told the Reformer, but the majority of residents are supportive. He said he receives compliments regarding improvements he has made to the buildings that are now homes for the distillery and tasting room.
Asked about challenges, Patton-Spruill laughed and said, "I feel like every day we're faced with a new challenge."
His team has learned not to mess with moonshine in the summer. The liquor "only likes to be made in the winter," said Patton-Spruill.
"We've been able to perfect our brown spirits," he said. "We got a distributor. Every day's a new lesson in that."
Berkshire Brewing Company now gets the Winchester distillery's products out to Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. The partnership has opened "a whole new world," said Patton-Spruill.
"In New Hampshire, it's simple. You sell it to the state and that's that," he said. "In Massachusetts, there are thousands of bars, restaurants and liquor stores. It's like the Wild West."
Now, the plan is to learn how to make more liquor at a quicker rate. At the same time, of course, Patton-Spruill doesn't want to lose any of the quality.
The distillery also has a few new products coming in time for the winter holidays. A new rum is being called Christmas in a Bottle.
"We basically took all the classic pumpkin pie spices and spiced the rum with that. It just screams out, 'Put me in eggnog and cider.' It's really fun," Patton-Spruill said. "Then we have Pine Tree in Bottle from a bottle of aged gin, which is pretty epic as well."
His team is looking at ways to expand, and how to reinvest in the business and community. Patton-Spruill said they're trying to figure out how to turn a downtrodden downtown into a tourist destination and it's taking a little longer than expected.
"Last year, we were literally saying, 'We hope someone stops by and buys something,' and they did, which is a fantastic thing," Patton-Spruill said. "But at the same time, a distillery is designed to be 100 years old. That's a challenge; figuring out how to last 100 years and grow and all those things. For us, it was really about figuring out barrels and storage and better ways to make the cleanest booze."
Altogether, about six years were spent in opening the distillery. Issues with permitting and siting delayed the project.
Creating a premium vodka that didn't smell like rubbing alcohol was a major goal which Patton-Spruill said has been achieved.
"That's what separates us from everybody else. At the same time, we're still selling bottles so we can make payroll at the end of the week. Just like any start-up business, meeting every customer and making every sale is really important," he said. "To actually sell bottles of whiskey we're proud of, I don't know, it just gives me goosebumps. To go from one tasting room to 10 liquor stores in New Hampshire and a dozen more in Massachusetts and to continue to grow is a very special thing."
Call Chris Mays at 802-254-2311, ext. 273.