Samples of mixed drinks, such as cherry-flavored moonshine stirred with Coca-Cola, soon will be available for customers to buy at Clayton Distillery, thanks to the Craft New York Act that took effect Saturday.
The business on Route 12 will begin to offer larger, 2-ounce samples of mixed drinks at its tasting room in February as a result of the new law, co-owner Michael L. Aubertine said Thursday. Among other things, the law permits small distilleries to offer full-size pours of their spirits without having to obtain a separate license. Previously, mixed drinks were banned and only quarter-ounce samples were allowed.
Passed in June and signed into law by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in November, the law was crafted to ease the burden of regulations for small distilleries and promote growth of the industry. Mr. Aubertine said a wider variety of samples at the distillery’s tasting room is expected to be a major draw for customers. To accommodate larger crowds, he said, the tasting bar will be expanded in January to roughly double its size, from about 20 to 40 linear feet.
“We’re going to do tastings the same way we’re doing them now, but customers will be able to buy three 2-ounce glasses of mixed drinks for around $5,” said Mr. Aubertine, who launched the distillery in April 2013. “We’re going to have a small flight of our mixed drinks available so they can sample them to see what they taste like. I think a lot higher percentage of people drink things mixed than they do straight, and if they taste them mixed, they’re more likely to buy.”
After the tasting room’s bar is expanded, customers will be able to mix popular combinations of different drinks to sample, Mr. Aubertine said. Some customers, for example, enjoy mixing lemonade moonshine with raspberry liqueur, he said. In addition to mixed-drink samples, complimentary quarter-ounce samples of unmixed spirits will continue to be served in shot glasses at the tasting room.
While the distillery could theoretically sell full-sized drinks at the tasting room under the new law, Mr. Aubertine said he decided not to do that because he doesn’t want his business to become a bar-like establishment.
“We’re not encouraging people to come in here like they would a bar or restaurant. But the area will become an expanded tasting room where you can actually try out all of our products,” Mr. Aubertine said. The distillery sells different varieties of vodka, gin, moonshine, bourbon, flavored whiskey and liqueur.
The law also will make it easier for distilleries to host special events, Mr. Aubertine said, such as Clayton Distillery’s second annual Whisky Wingding, scheduled for July 20. Due to state law, he said, the distillery couldn’t legally offer alcoholic beverages during the outdoor event last year. Food and alcoholic beverages were catered for the event by O’Brien’s Restaurant and DiPrinzio’s Italian Market, both of Clayton.
“We had to use O’Brien’s liquor license to do the event, and the catering had to be outdoors,” he said. “But now we’ll be able to serve our own drinks.”
The distillery has made about 75 percent of its year-to-date revenue in 2014 from products sold at its tasting room, while the remainder of the revenue has been generated from sales to liquor stores across the state, Mr. Aubertine said. He expects to see a boost in tasting-room sales in 2015 as a result of the larger samples that will be offered.
“We won’t make a ton of money selling drinks at the tasting room, but we expect to sell a lot more bottles,” he said.
DARK ISLAND SPIRITS
Also benefiting from the Craft New York Act will be Dark Island Spirits distillery, which is expected to open in the spring at the former Muskie Lounge on Church Street in Alexandria Bay, owner Roger R. Reifensnyder said Thursday. Assisted by a pair of relatives, the Hammond resident said he has spent the past two years renovating the lounge into a distillery operation and restaurant. The former 1,200-square-foot lounge has been retrofitted into a distillery, and a 1,200-square-foot addition with an outdoor deck was constructed to make room for the restaurant.
Mr. Reifensnyder said the law was needed for his business plan to be successful at the distillery, which is designed to be a walk-to tourism destination near the waterfront.
“Our goal from the beginning was to make this place an event venue. And now, by having this law, we can optimize the venue by serving people New York state-made food alongside distilled spirits by the glass,” said Mr. Reifensnyder, whose operation will be fueled by grain harvested from a farm he owns in Hammond. “It allows us to essentially have a restaurant and also sell our distilled spirits.”
Mr. Reifensnyder said he has had to apply for a handful of different licenses to open the distillery and restaurant in the village. In addition to farm winery and distillery licenses the business has obtained, he has applied for a farm cidery license that will allow the establishment to sell locally made food products, such as packaged artisan cheeses.
In the meantime, Mr. Reifensnyder said, he will be putting the finishing touches on the construction of the building in the coming months. He said spirits already are being prepared at the distillery for the opening date.
“We believe that our tasting room and entire restaurant will be open by May 1,” he said.
By Ted Booker, Times Staff Writer