July 2016 Feature Story: Saint Lawrence Spirits

The ‘Spirit of the River’

St. Lawrence Distillery owners Jody Garrett, left, and his son, Bill, in the taproom at the Clayton facility. Photo by Stephen Swofford, NNY Business.

Saint Lawrence Spirits owners Jody Garrett, left, and his son, Bill, in the taproom at the Clayton facility. Photo by Stephen Swofford, NNY Business.

Hyper-local farm distillery to open in Clayton this summer

By Karee Magee, NNY Business

Sitting outside Fairview Manor in Clayton and looking out over the St. Lawrence River, there couldn’t be a better place that encompasses the feel of the Thousand Islands region, which was Jody Garrett’s plan design from the beginning for his distillery.
Saint Lawrence Spirits is the definition of a hyper-local farm distillery with ingredients coming directly from the Garrett family’s farm Lucky Star Ranch down the road to the refurbishment of Fairview Manor for its taproom, which included more than 100 local craftsmen.

“That was our goal,” Mr. Garrett said. “That was a requirement because these are our customers.”

The distillery was a direct result of the Garrett family’s involvement with Lucky Star Ranch, which they purchased in 2006, and they began looking for another way to capitalize on the property about five years ago.

Mr. Garrett said the initial idea was to open a winery connected to the farm, but after attending a week-long wine course at Cornell University they decided against that because of the delicate nature of wine.

“We knew right away that we didn’t want to do a winery,” he said.

It was on a wine tour, though, that led them to consider operating their own distillery when the owner told them he made any bad batch of wine into spirits with his 50-gallon still.

“That’s what triggered in our mind that the distillery was a better option because it was a faster, safer return,” he said.

The Garrett family is not one to jump in without a plan, though, so Mr. Garrett and his son, Bill, attended the Moonshine University in Louisville, Ky., where they learned through hands-on workshops how to make the spirits and how to develop the flavors and formulas.

The only thing they needed then was to find the right location to get their business off the ground and it happened that they had been driving by it every day.

Two years after purchasing the 7.6 acres of Fairview Manor, including the manor house, the Garretts are preparing to open within the next few weeks, waiting on the approval of small label regulations.

The distillery will start off with six primary products, including vodka, gin, absinthe, moonshine, whiskey and bourbon, which are distilled at Fairview Manor with water from the St. Lawrence River, providing “the spirit of the river in every bottle,” Mr. Garrett said. Saint Lawrence Spirits will be the first craft beverage business to use a shore well from the river.

Mr. Garrett plans to grow most of the ingredients for the distillery at Lucky Star Ranch where he’s already had 40 acres of corn planted, as well as a number of botanicals that provide the flavor in many spirits, including hand-harvested native juniper for their gin.

The Garretts have been working with SUNY ESF out of Syracuse to figure out what botanicals to plant and how to plant them.

“We love it because we learn more about the property from them than we can help them,” Mr. Garrett said.

Once the business is up and running, Mr. Garrett said there will be about 20 to 30 employees in the distillery and farm-to-table restaurant in the manor house.

Despite concerns in the craft beverage industry about not having sustainable number of tourists to support the local businesses, Mr. Garrett said that his family’s experience in business will help them adjust to any challenges.

“We expect to have challenges that we’re going to have to adapt to,” he said. “We’re used to having to adapt to those challenges.”

Mr. Garrett, an Army veteran, already owns Overhead Door Co. and Wayne Dalton in Watertown and his wife, Doreen Garrett was the founder of Otis Technology in Lyons Falls. The couple also co-owns Tilted Kilt Pub & Eatery.

Mr. Garrett said that being a farm distillery also opens up a lot of freedom that bigger distilleries don’t have, including the ability to sell at wholesale at the distillery, at a satellite office, farmers markets and products can be sold directly to restaurants and bars.

Saint Lawrence Spirits will also be able to offer farm-based wine and beer from other local farm brewing businesses in the taproom.

The whole point of farm breweries and distilleries is to help the industry grow as a community, Mr. Garrett said.

“Competition is good for everyone,” he said. “A rising tide raises all boats.”

Community is a major factor in the Garrett’s business. They already have plans in the works to donate a portion of their proceeds to Save the River and offering an internship-style course for Jefferson Community students to learn the process of distilling from harvesting and distilling to serving by having them grow the ingredients at Lucky Star Ranch and assist at the distillery.

“We’re going to help grow the industry for everyone,” Mr. Garrett said.

Karee Magee is a magazine associate for NNY Magazines. Contact her at kmagee@wdt.net or 661-2381.