Set another place at the bar for the latest spiritmaker to join Buffalo’s burgeoning distillery renaissance. Tommyrotter Distillery, which makes spirits from New York State corn and wheat, will open its doors in the Larkin District on July 18.
The company, owned by partners Sean Insalaco and Robert Finan, will start by selling vodka for $30 per bottle and American gin for $35 per bottle, but plans to introduce new gins as well as whiskey in the near future. Tommyrotter expects to produce up to 250 bottles per week, which will be available at the distillery’s retail store. The liquor will be available in bars and restaurants over the next couple of months and will eventually be sold in liquor stores, Insalaco said. The two partners are the company’s only employees, but they hope to hire at least two more people as demand ramps up.
Finan, a Buffalo native, was an investment banking analyst in Manhattan when he began visiting craft distilleries in Brooklyn.
“I became absolutely enamored with the craft and changed my career trajectory in a matter of weeks,” he said.
In 2013, he took a job at a distillery in Central New York as its distiller and compliance director, overseeing mashing, fermentation, aging, bottling processes and whiskey and vodka distillation. He also oversaw the company’s compliance with the Alcohol & Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau. Knowledge of government processes is crucial in such a heavily regulated industry. In 2014, he and Insalaco started Tommyrotter.
“I was painted a very accurate portrait of what it took to launch this type of business,” Finan said.
Tommyrotter has a tasting room that will be open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The tasting room is perched on a mezzanine overlooking the production floor with a view of the spirit-making process. Tommyrotter will also offer tours of the distillery, which will give an overview of the distilling process and tell about the history of the industry.
The distillery will open in the old F.N. Burt Building at 500 Seneca St., a 306,000-square-foot former industrial warehouse being redeveloped by Savarino Cos. and Frontier Group of Companies into a $38-million mixed-use complex.
Changes in state regulations have made it cheaper and easier to get into the distilling business, as long as they source more than half of their raw materials within New York State. The changes have spurred a handful of distilleries to open in Buffalo – the first since Prohibition ended in 1933.
The New York Farm Distillery Law greatly reduced licensing fees and allowed distillers to sell spirits by the glass on site, directly to consumers. That provision allows them to open tasting rooms, which attract tourists and other customers, and help increase sales.
Niagara Distilling Co. is getting ready to launch at 459 Ellicott St. this month, but hasn’t yet settled on an official opening date. Since it is still waiting for label approval from the government, Niagara Distilling Co. could be open as early as next week or as late as the end of July. The company makes gluten-free spirits from scratch, including vodka, gin, moonshine, bourbon and rye, but only its Scarecrow Vodka will be available at first. Scarecrow Vodka retails for $33, which includes a tour of the distillery.
Buffalo Distilling Co. is also headed for the Larkin District and hopes to be open by Labor Day. It has been making bourbon and apple brandy on a Wyoming County farm since 2012 but will soon expand its operations at 860 Seneca St.
Lakeward Spirits will build out space at the Barrel Factory, a former warehouse on Vandalia Street. It will make rum, vodka, gin and whiskey and hopes to be open by November.
Black Squirrel Distillery, which makes a rum-style drink using maple syrup, opened at 1595 Elmwood Ave. in Buffalo in February.
Lockhouse Distillery has been making vodka at 255 Great Arrow Ave. in Buffalo since 2013.
Finan believes local distilling will be the “next tidal wave of craft consumer products.
“The local community seems to have really embraced the idea of Buffalo-born spirits,” he said. “Area bars are hosting distiller nights showcasing locally distilled spirits. The liquor stores are carving out shelf space to feature locally crafted products. People tell us that they can’t wait to try our spirits.”