Update: Eight Buffalo Spirits is now called Lockhouse Distillery – See Facebook
Housed within a region flush with established wineries and once again home to a craft brewing industry that’s gaining force every day, Buffalo certainly holds her own when it comes to satisfying local demand for beverages of the stronger persuasion.
But until recently, one sector of local booze production remained untapped. That’s right, friends–we’re talking about liquor.
Then we overheard last spring that partners Niko Georgiadis, Chad Vosseller, Jon Mirro and Thomas Jablonski had made their move, formally establishing Eight Buffalo Spirits, LLC–the first distillery to open here in Buffalo since the Prohibition Era. Now officially licensed as distillers, they’re ready to move forward with producing craft vodka and whiskey made from locally sourced, organic ingredients.
“As much as we can will be local, artisan-style, made-right-here-in-Buffalo spirits,” Vosseller said. “That’s a big focus of ours. The only thing that’s not happening locally is the actual malting of the grain, but it will be New York State-grown grains used in making that malt. Our bottles will be coming from New York as well.”
According to Georgiadis, the micro distillery movement is steadily gaining ground in areas across the country. Having spent some time living in Brooklyn, he witnessed what craft businesses like Kings County Distillery (founded in 2010) were starting with small-batch brewing right in the heart of the city. Eventually he packed up and headed back to Buffalo, with that craft distillery idea germinating in his head.
“Niko moved back from Brooklyn and needed a place to stay, so I put him up for a couple weeks,” Vosseller said. “So he came into my house one day and he goes, ‘I got it. We’re gonna make liquor.’ As soon as he said it, I thought, ‘I’m in. Where do we start?”
So the crew took a field trip to New York, making stops at Kings County Distillery and Hudson Distillery–picking up insight and inspiration along the way. “It kind of made it obtainable and showed us that it was possible, a little more within our reach,” Vosseller said. Back in Buffalo, the guys hit the books, diving headfirst into the realm of permits and guidelines.
“New York State came up with a new class of license called a Class D Farm Distiller license which is really easy to get into,” Georgiadis said. “It started around Hudson, N.Y. for farmers to turn their excess crops into ethanol. We jumped on that because we saw a couple distilleries out in the Hudson Valley doing it, but nobody was doing it out here yet.”
Next came the search for a location, which had its share of bumps. With the city’s antiquated zoning code and no one having attempted to launch a distillery since the 1930s, their venture fell under the category of “General Industrial,” which limited them to certain areas of the city. Unfortunately, none of them were quite right for the business.
Then they found the historic Pierce-Arrow Factory Complex, which turned out to be ideal. “We needed a place with 24-hour access because during the start-up, we’re going to be running all night. We also needed a freight elevator,” Vosseller said. Unfortunately, the building was zoned as “Light Industrial” only. So with the permission of the building manager, the future distillers applied for a zoning variance and were given a unanimous thumbs up from the City’s Zoning Board.
“We were kind of nervous to go in front of the Zoning Board, but they were just excited for us,” Vosseller said. “All we’ve gotten since we started has been positive feedback. Everyone is trying to help us.”
Then last week–earlier than anticipated–the partners received their license from the NYS Liquor Authority, bringing the waiting game to an end. “For the last year we were just permitting, which is something you have to go through, but it’s frustrating because your destiny’s not in your own hands yet,” Georgiadis said. “Now we’re in control of what’s going to happen. The hard work is next.”
And so begins the process of ordering grains and barrels for production, as well as getting retail labels approved. Mirro–owner and artist at Hand of Doom tattoo–will be putting his artistic skills to work designing the labels for their bottles. They’re also on the prowl for farms to take some spent grain off their hands. With the exception of a new grinder expected to arrive next week, they’ve already got their basic equipment: several fermenters from Italy, a 60-gallon Braumeister mash tun from Germany, and two 50-gallon stills hand-built in Kentucky–one for vodka, one for whiskey.
The vodka will be first off the production line, while the whiskey will require aging time. Vosseller wants to create a craft vodka with a uniquely Buffalo taste. “That pure, ethyl, no-taste vodka is kind of the big companies’ thing. When you’re doing an artisanal vodka, you want a little bit of the trace grain–something that’s not just stripped to hell,” he said. “Although it’s not much, it’ll hopefully have little traces of the NYS grain and in that, it’ll be one-of-a-kind.”
Producing whiskey will require a little more patience, but they want to ensure that they nail down the aging process and find that perfect flavor. “You can’t really rush it,” Georgiadis said. “A lot of people don’t realize that it’s a pretty simple list of ingredients, but all these little tweaks make a world of difference–what kind of yeast you use, what barrels you use, how you boil it, so on and so forth.”
“We’re not going to rush anything to market,” Vosseller added. “Aging in a barrel depends on so many variables. How we’re going to decide is we’re going to taste it, and we’re going to wait until it’s right. Like anything else, it’s just a lot of trial and error, learning from your mistakes and finding what you like.”
Despite being in a “party of one” locally, the guys at Eight Buffalo have gotten plenty of advice from distillers in other states and some insight from our local craft brewers. “There’s a big boom going on with craft distilleries,” Georgiadis said. “There’s a lot of people interested in it right now, which means there’s a lot of people out there who are willing to help you.”
We can’t give an exact date yet for when you can get your hands your own bottle of Eight Buffalo Spirits liquor, but keep tabs on their website and Facebook page for updates on when and where they’ll be hosting prototype tastings. The guys are also working on building out their distillery space to include a tasting space and retail shop. They’ll be able to sell their product on-site, which will keep the price affordable. Several local bars have also committed to distributing their spirits when the time comes.
Until then, we wish the guys at Eight Buffalo Spirits, LLC luck with their “tweaking” process. We’ve been waiting for locally made liquor since Prohibition…a couple more months probably won’t kill us.
Lead photo: Left is Niko Georgiadis, Right is Chad Vosseller. Holding their distillery license in front of their vodka and whiskey stills.
-vodka still (taller one)
-whiskey still (shorter one)
-Braumeister mash tun (wide cylinder by itself)