Glenville distillery nears debut

Local attorney seeks to turn hobby into business
Kenneth W. Gibbons stands next to a brand new still at the Schenectady Distilling Co.
Kenneth W. Gibbons stands next to a brand new still at the Schenectady Distilling Co.

GLENVILLE — A local attorney’s plans to operate a farm-based craft distillery inside a former fire station on Route 5 are so close to reality you can almost sip them.

The Schenectady Distilling Co., at 3304 Amsterdam Road (Route 5) in West Glenville, has already opened its tasting room, where it offers samples and bottles of farm-sourced craft liquor, wine and even a cider, all produced in New York state.

“We have 10 different bourbons, none of which you will find in a bar,” said owner Kenneth Gibbons, an attorney in Scotia.

Sometime this spring, Gibbons’ “36 Locks” line of distilled spirits will join others on the shelves of his tasting room. The product is named for the 36 locks along the Erie Canal, which less than a quarter-mile from the tasting room.

The on-site distillery, meanwhile, is taking shape, with a 300-gallon stainless steel still taking up the middle of a room that formerly housed fire trucks.

Other equipment — including two 800-gallon fermenters coming from West Virgina and an 800-pound mash tun for cooking grain and water into mash — expected to arrive in the next few weeks. Gas lines to fire the boilers are being connected, and space against the wall is being set aside for the 10-gallon oak fermentation barrels that will hold clear bourbon for about six months, giving the finished product its characteristic flavor and amber hue.

Gibbons — who has no immediate plan to quit his day job — is hoping to produce moonshine and gin by May and to have barrel-aged bourbon ready for public sale by the fall.

“We want to be producing alcohol as soon as possible,” he said.

In keeping with the state’s requirements for a farm-craft distillery, the raw ingredients will be local: Corn and grains will come from the Arnold farm in West Charlton and other local farms.

In launching a craft distillery, Gibbons is joining the fast-growing movement that has seen craft distilleries, breweries and wineries bloom across New York state since 2012, most recently in response to a 2017 state law that allows farm-sourced craft beverage sellers to also sell liquors from other New York farm-craft businesses.

According to state figures, there are 18 farm distilleries in the Capital Region, though Schenectady Distilling appears to be the first in Schenectady County. There are 123 farm distilleries statewide, making up the vast majority of the state’s 151 craft distilleries.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Thursday touted the success of the state’s efforts to promote craft beverage manufacturing, which he sees as a key to both supporting local agriculture and encouraging agricultural tourism.

“New York’s craft beverage industry is booming, and by cutting red tape to industry development, we have significant growth in the number of manufacturers supporting our local farms and spurring job creation across the Empire State,” Cuomo said in a prepared statement.

For Gibbons, 50, who has long made bourbon as a hobby, the idea of opening a distillery has been in his mind for more than a decade. It’s been something he’s pondered more seriously for the past three years and pursued actively since 2016. He’s planning to oversee production on nights and weekends, while his wife, Terri, keeps the books.

“I call it a hobby gone awry,” said his father, Don Gibbons, a retired Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory engineer who is helping set up the business.

Father and son have each, in recent months, taken classes in Rochester and in Virginia to learn more about commercial distilling.

The distillery is inside the former Rectors fire station, which has been empty for a number of years because the department merged with another West Glenville fire company. Gibbons’ company bought it from the Beukendall Fire District for $130,000 in September, following a protracted on-and-off negotiation, during which another party also sought the building.

Since September, the building — originally a Stewart’s Shop and then a diner before the Rectors department acquired it — has been extensively renovated, with a drop ceiling in the meeting room removed to reveal aged wood. The meeting room is now the tasting room, with a small bar and shelves lined with New York craft bourbons, gins and vodkas with names like Cinister Shine.

Glenville town officials have generally supported Gibbons’ plans, based on the business’s tourism potential, especially given the presence of Wolf Hollow Brewery and Riverside Maple Farm, also on the Route 5 corridor in West Glenville. The distillery and Wolf Hollow are cooperating on some promotion plans and maintaining similar part-time operating schedules.

“We were exicited when he came to the town with this idea because it fits perfectly with the other uses we are getting out there,” said Glenville Town Supervisor Chris Koetzle. “It fits with the agri-tourism corridor we are trying to get started. We’ve had other businesses reach out to us. People are starting to recognize this as a potential agri-tourism corridor.”

The Glenville Local Development Corp., which manages a federally funded revolving loan fund, has loaned the business $60,000 to help with equipment purchases, and the town is anticipating its success.

“It’s right off the Thruway and I-890, so it’s located very close to travel arteries, but is has the rural charm of West Glenville,” Koetzle said.

The tasting room is open from 4 to 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 2 to 8 p.m. Satudays, and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays. Those hours are expected to remain about the same once the 36 Locks products are available for sale and tasting, Gibbons said.

Reach Daily Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

Categories: Business, Schenectady County


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