The bar and restaurant scene in downtown Schenectady will gain a distillery come spring 2016.
After four years in Albany and a few months in Troy, Albany Distilling Company is about to tackle its most ambitious project yet. The maker of Ironweed whiskey, Quackenbush rum and Coal Yard rum wants to open a gin and vodka distillery, full-service restaurant and retail operation in downtown Schenectady.
Its plan is to invest $750,000 in a gut renovation of two deteriorated buildings at 10-12 Yates St., which would house a gin manufacturing operation, restaurant and 3,000-square-foot patio complete with fire pits within spitting distance of the city’s lively bar scene on North Broadway and restaurant scene on lower Union Street. The Schenectady County Metroplex Development Authority will provide a $60,000 grant toward renovation costs.
The project is driven by the company’s quick growth since it launched in downtown Albany’s Quackenbush Square four years ago, producing craft spirits one small batch at a time. The spirits — whiskey, rum and most recently vodka — are made using grains from New York farms and sold in stores and bars around the Capital Region. Late last year, the state amended their liquor license to allow them to sell product by the glass. And this summer they started hosting pop-up bar events at the Takk House in Troy.
“We knew that if we could sell by the glass we could start doing cocktails,” said co-owner Rick Sicari. “So we set up a bar in our manufacturing facility and twice a week we do cocktails for everyone who comes in. It’s a lot of fun, but we’re really just not set up here for a restaurant and bar operation. We want to showcase this stuff the right way, and this space just doesn’t do it justice.”
The Schenectady space will be the real showcase space, and it will be a little bit of everything — manufacturing, retail and hospitality. One of the buildings will house a gin still the company bought earlier this year. In addition to gin, the setup can also be used to distill a special line of coffee-infused vodka the team plans to make with the help of Death Wish Coffee Company out of Round Lake.
They’re also brainstorming a single-malt line made from breweries around the Mohawk and Hudson valleys, including Schenectady’s Mad Jack Brewing.
“Whiskey is really just the distillation of beer,” Sicari said. “So when we make the whiskey, we have to create beer ourselves and then distill it. But because there are so many brewers in the region making great beer, we thought it would be cool if they supplied us with their beers and we distilled them into a new series.”
The restaurant operation is something the guys behind Albany Distilling have been hoping to do for a while. Both Curtin and Sicari have backgrounds in hospitality. They’ve recruited Alicia Hendricks, who’s worked for Mazzone Hospitality and BMT Management, to serve as general manager. Dave Gibson, formerly of Creo in Guilderland, will serve as head chef. The menu will feature modern American cuisine and tapas.
Since the Schenectady space will be a showcase space, tours of the manufacturing operation will be provided to anyone curious about everything that goes into making the spirits.
“Distilleries are popping up all over the place and we welcome it,” Sicari said. “The more New York distillers, the better. If you look at craft beer and how much that has exploded in the last 20 years, we are actually following the exact same growth plan, we’re just 20 years behind.”
Albany Distilling will lease the space on Yates Street, which was originally destined for a wine bar. The owner, Ryan Lucey, was the guy behind that project but he changed his mind after he heard Albany Distillery was looking for a place to expand, according to Metroplex Chairman Ray Gillen. Attempts to reach Lucey on Thursday were unsuccessful. The architect on the wine bar project — C2 Design Architecture owner Michael Roman — is handling the design for the distillery project.
Yates Street happens to be in the middle of a larger streetscape makeover that includes a stretch of lower Union Street from Erie Boulevard on up to Lafayette Street. It will include new pavement, curbs, sidewalks, crosswalks, trees and lights. The goal, Metroplex has said, is to create a walkable community that stretches beyond downtown and to the future Mohawk Harbor and casino site.
Reach Gazette reporter Bethany Bump at 395-3107, [email protected] or @BethanyBump on Twitter.