When orthopedic surgeon Dave Bannon and his family bought a farm a few miles from Lake George some twenty-five years ago, generations of people from surrounding farms and communities had been bringing jugs to its springs, filling them up with drinking water.
“It’s perfect water; no iron, no sulphur,” said Bannon.
So after retiring a few years ago, while he was casting about for a new direction, a craft distillery, producing spirits from the farm’s unprocessed spring water, was one good option.
“No one else has water like ours, and water matters. If you’re a distiller without the right water, you’re out of business,” he said.
Helping the decision-making process along were reforms in New York State regulations that have given rise to a thriving, locally based craft beverage industry.
For instance, the new laws permit a small distillery like Springbrook Hollow Farm to serve drinks without having to obtain a separate license. And that makes it possible for it to host events such as a Prohibition-themed bridal shower, which it did recently.
Springbrook Hollow Farm also had the perfect building in which to situate the distillery: a 19th century barn.
Bannon still had to convince his family and friends, his potential business partners, in other words, that a small batch distillery was a sustainable business.
“I thought he was out of his mind; you could have knocked me over,” said Ken Rohne, one of those friends and potential partners. “But we started researching craft distilleries, learning about the distillation process and developing a business plan. We started making the products last summer and we opened our doors in December.”
A formal, grand opening ceremony attended by New York State Senator Betty Little, among others, was held in May.
Rohne, curiously enough, has a background in the liquor business.
His family owns Mohan’s in Queensbury, a popular discount wine and liquor store. Though he built a career elsewhere, the liquor business, as family businesses have a tendency to do, or so they say, dragged him back in, just when he thought he was out.
Rohne supervised the renovation of the barn into the combined distillery, bottling plant, tasting room and retail store.
He also helped choose, assemble and install the custom-built equipment, which includes a 275-gallon, German-made copper pot still.
According to Rohne, 75% of the distillery’s grains are grown in New York, a requirement of the Craft New York Act. Springbrook Hollow Farm supplies the fruits.
Moreover, said Rohne, “Everything is recyclable; from the corn mash to the bottles. We’re even powered by solar energy.”
Springbrook Hollow Farm Distillery has a bourbon in the works; it’s now aging in white oak barrels. It also offers an un-aged bourbon which it calls Howl at the Moonshine and three flavored moonshines: apple, coffee and maple.
Also available are Sly Fox Gin, Two Sisters Vodka, Limoncello and an Orangecello.
Because of its water, ingredients and recipes, the Distillery’s products are already winning awards, beating even Hendrick’s Gin in one contest, said Rohne.
The spirits are also winning fans at farmers’ markets, in local bars and at events such as Adirondack Day at the state capitol and at Good Spirits Brooklyn, a pairing of “acclaimed spirits brands with celebrated local restaurants,” as the event’s press release put it, held in a 19th century factory building in Cobble Hill.
Springbrook Hollow Farm’s retail shop is open everyday except Tuesday from noon until 5 pm. Tours and tastings are available upon request. Events can be arranged by calling the distillery at (518) 338-3130.
Photo above, Dave Bannon and Ken Rohne.
A version of this story was first published in the Lake George Mirror.