After learning about the formations of yet another local distillery that has been in the making for over a year’s time, the cat is finally out of the bag. Or in this case, it’s a squirrel. That’s right, Buffalo’s first rum distillery is setting up on Elmwood Avenue (1595 Elmwood – formerly The Kitchen Table). It’s called Black Squirrel Distillery, and it’s being operated by Jason Schwinger and his partners, Brian Fending and Matt Pelkey.
Schwinger, who helped to launch the initial wave of mass public kayaking on the Buffalo River (check out this cool article on the scene), has had his eye set on another prize for quite some time (along with his partners). I was curious about the reason for choosing rum as the spirit of choice, so I gave him a ring to ask him a few questions about the decision. The answer is fascinating:
“The reason for rum is that nobody is doing it. NY State law designates us with a Class D Farm Distillery License. That means that we must make our spirits with a minimum of 75% NYS farm ingredients. That’s easy for whiskeys and cideries, but there is no sugar being produced in NYS. That makes it hard to produce rum. So we decided to use maple trees instead. The problem was, the US Tariff and Taxation Bureau (TTB) is in charge of dictating what your spirit can be called (what it actually is), and there was no designation for rum made from maple syrup. Fortunately, we were able to obtain TTB formula classification as rum with label approval. Now, instead of using press sugar cane juice and molasses, we are the first modern day distillery to make rum out of maple syrup – it’s going to be a traditional amber rum style. It’s new to New York State and created by Black Squirrel.”
At this time, Schwinger tells me that they already have some product made, sitting in French oak and American oak barrels. Black Squirrel will be more of a sugar shack, prohibition-syle speakeasy than a traditional distillery. “My great grandmother had a speakeasy on this corner,” he said [laughing]. “The Volkers had another one on the opposite corner, so I’m going back to my roots, and the roots of this city.”
Black Squirrel’s first barrel is anticipated to be tapped in early January, if all goes according to plan. More details coming soon.