Gloucester once again has its very own distillery, cranking out premium vodka and soon, rum, thanks to an ambitious and enthusiastic all-in-the-family operation.
“We realize that local people work hard, are critical and deserve a world-class spirit,” said Bob Ryan, president and co-founder of Ryan & Wood Distilleries, billed as “the North Shore’s first small-batch micro-distillery of premium and handcrafted spirits.”
The earliest known dated map of Gloucester, from the 1830s, shows a distillery on the waterfront, but Ryan & Wood is thought to be the first to begin operating on Cape Ann in decades — at least legally.
“There are 72 micro-distilleries in the country, and most of them are attached to farms or restaurants,” said Ryan, 53, a native of Gloucester. “But I can’t speak for the backwoods.
“There are a lot of people who still do that, but it’s illegal and dangerous,” added Ryan, who worked for more than 30 years for his family’s fish-processing business, Atlantic Seafoods and Midship Seafoods Inc., and also had a career in banking
Now he has embarked on a new adventure with his partner and nephew, David Wood, 37, a real estate attorney who has an office in his hometown of Manchester-by-the-Sea.
The dream began simply enough, when Ryan read an article on micro-distilleries in the Wall Street Journal.
“I thought it was a joke at first but before I knew it, Bob was up and running,” Wood said.
Ryan added, “I was looking for a business you don’t find on every street corner, and Dave had worked for me before and I knew I could depend on him.
“Soon my wife, Kathy, was on board and we went online and began looking for equipment and providers,” Ryan added.
Ryan and Wood then spent the next two years in extensive training, attending industry workshops and traveling to distilling operations from Maine to Arizona, as well as working with advisers in Canada and Europe.
They also completed an 18-month federal and state licensing process.
Then the two men went searching for a location for their facility and found one in Blackburn Industrial Park at 15 Great Republic Drive. They started installing their equipment and soon were testing products.
“I was blown away by the equipment. The place looks like a Willy Wonka plant,” Wood said.
The centerpiece is a 600-liter still custom-made in Germany, which will allow Ryan & Wood to produce a variety of small-batch spirits and blends.
Ryan added, “We have 3,600 square feet of production floor, 600 feet for office space and 600 feet for a showroom and gift shop.”
Ryan & Wood Inc. has produced a first run of 16 gallons of 180-proof vodka.
That’s right, 180 proof. Enough to knock your socks off. But before the men start to fill shelves with their potent potable, it will be down to 80 proof.
“At 180 proof you really can’t drink it,” Wood said. “You’re testing it by putting your finger into it or by putting a drop on your finger.”
Ryan said most of the world’s vodka makers distill their product from a grain.
“We’ll be using three different grains and rely on those flavors to come through,” he said.
The men are calling their labor of love Beauport Vodka and hope to have it in the stores by the end of January or the first of February.
Wood said they are also “making” their own water to temper the alcohol — from “regular” municipal water.
“Rather than import water from an unknown source, we’re going to go the extra effort and clean the water ourselves so we can trust what goes into the product,” Ryan said.
The men decided to call their inaugural product Beauport after the name first given to Gloucester by the French explorer Samuel de Champlain way back in 1606.
On the drawing board for the summer of 2008 is Folly Cove Rum, named after the sheltered inlet between Gloucester and Rockport that was used as a convenient off-loading spot for the rum runners sailing down from Canada during Prohibition. Other products will follow.
Oh, and about that all-in-the-family reference: Ryan said both his wife and Wood’s wife, Maryann, are on board with the business. Ryan said he also will get help from his son Douglas, a senior at Fordham University, and a daughter, Carolyn Mancini, who’s a graduate student at Boston College.
There’s more: “My wife is one of 14 so I have 30 nephews and nieces” who can also help out, Ryan said.
So do the partners drink vodka?
Ryan said, “I’m a bourbon man.” Wood is a vodka drinker.
“He has three children (between 4 years and 7 weeks) so, yeah, he drinks vodka,” Ryan said.
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