Folks heading to the Ellicottville Fall Fest (Oct. 8-9), might want to take a detour to check out the newly opened Ellicottville Distillery.
Thanks to the diligence of four friends — distiller Bryan Scharf, dairy farmers Charlie and Liz Bares and attorney Kathleen Moriarty — the two-year project-in-the-works is open for business. Like many big ventures, it was a long journey. Along the way there were points when the group questioned what they were doing, but in the end kept moving forward.
“The process is pretty involved. Getting the licenses and dotting the i’s and crossing our t’s took two years. If someone is thinking about opening a distillery, I would tell them plan five years ahead,” said Bares.
The building — owned by Scharf’s family — was renovated and inspected before the installation of custom distilling equipment from Germany. The distillery makes three products under its Agronomist label: two vodkas and a whiskey.
Because the distillery is working under the NY State Farm Distillery License and labeled a New York State spirit, it must have a majority of “farm and food products” from New York.
Ellicottville Distillery has been working with Southern Tier Distilling to secure corn mash used to make the corn vodka and corn whiskey. Cider from Mayer Brothers is used for the apple vodka. But make no mistake, the spirits do not taste like corn or apples.
“All our spirits have a traditional vodka profile. No color, no smell, no taste,” said Bares.
Bares said she and her husband are still amazed at distiller Scharf’s talents in creating the three products.
“He is so young, but he is very talented. He’s created three really smooth spirits,” she said, adding the corn whiskey, which could be the harshest tasting, is smoother than one would expect. The clear corn whiskey is distilled once, while the corn vodka involves more steps to smooth out the taste.
In the tasting room you can try a free tasting flight of the spirits. But if the thought of drinking straight vodka makes you cringe, there are interesting cocktails to drink. (The spirits are served neat or on the rocks, for $5).
A Peppercorn cocktail mixes the corn vodka with a peppercorn infused simple syrup and grapefruit juice. A Fennel cocktail mixes the corn whiskey with the flavors of fennel, lemon and grapefruit juices. The Apple cocktail is more complex and uses an apple shrub, walnut bitters along with homemade club soda.
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“Shrubs were historically used to preserve fruits. I would describe it as a tart fruit syrup. It's sweet, but also has a tartness to it from the vinegar. Some describe it as a vinegar drink or a sweet vinegar. It sounds terrible, but in a cocktail the fruit sweetness and tart vinegar play well with the ‘hot’ booze it's mixed with,” said Bares.
The ability to serve cocktails (thanks to Craft NY Act) has helped distilleries like Ellicottville Distillery to sell bottles. Bares notes that when customers can taste the spirit in a drink rather than straight up it makes a huge difference. Cocktails at the distillery are $7-$8.
If you like what you taste, the cost of a 750 ML bottle is $29.99. The distillery has roughly 2,000 bottles on site ready for purchase and is working to get the product into liquor stores and restaurants in the Buffalo area. Some Ellicottville establishments are serving The Agronomist vodkas and whiskey, so keep an eye out for the sharp looking bottles at the town’s bars and restaurants.
5462 Robbins Road, Ellicottville
Hours: 4 to 8 p.m. Fridays, noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and noon to 3 p.m. Sunday.
Info: Facebook and Instagram.
Directions: It is located near the intersection of Routes 240 and 242. If driving down Route 219, take a left at the intersection of Route 219 and Route 242 rather than a right into the village of Ellicottville. Bares said that during this weekend’s Fall Fest, it would be easier to get to the distillery via Route 240.