Distill My Beating Heart: New, old and everything in between — we haven’t met a distillery we don’t love

From the old guard represented by Sons of Liberty to new kid on the block, RI Spirits, distilleries seem to be having a moment and it’s one we hope lasts and lasts. I recently took a tour through Rhode Island’s four distilleries to bring you all the info you need to know before you plan a tour of your own.

Newport Craft Brewing and Distilling in Newport emerged from a shifting paradigm at Newport Storm Brewery about a year ago. In 2006, Brent Ryan, co-founder and master distiller, leaped into distilling when attaining Rhode Island’s first distilling license since 1872 so that he could make Thomas Tew Rum. Now, under Newport Craft, they are in a large warehouse holding 700 barrels of rum and whiskey.

Newport Craft has more ideas than real estate. Ryan notes, “We can replace what we sell right now, but we don’t have space to do more than that. We are working on solving that. Also, we started to add other products. Vodka, gin and moonshine do not require aging, so we can produce them without storage.”

Ryan is interested in the history of the drinks he makes. Enthusiastic and vibrant when speaking, he captivates  listeners and makes them excited to taste the flavors of these eras and geographies filtered through Newport’s sea and salt.

Bryan Picard, one of four co-founders of Sons of Liberty in South Kingstown, explains that their whiskey stems from beer. Their flagship whiskey, Uprising, started as a stout beer with no hops. And now, Sons of Liberty offers 14 products of various styles of whiskey and beer derived from the same stout mash.

Their latest offering is Battlecry, which is made from a Belgian triple ale. Sons of Liberty uses honey, rye and malts in its creation. Picard says, “It lends more American sweetness from the honey for bourbon. It’s super smooth. It’s my favorite we’ve ever done.” 

Sons of Liberty has a large and comfortable space with pool, darts and board games, and Friday and Saturday nights bring live music. Picard notes, “We’re making an experience with our environment. We have to create. We have to get people here.”

When answering the phone, Cathy Plourde is excited, anxious and bewildered that her new Pawtucket distillery, Rhode Island Spirits, will open on March 9. As Cathy recalls, the idea for the business came as she and her wife, Kara Larson, “honed our love of gin in England for two years.” Her enthusiasm is palpable as she talks about their collaboration. She’s excited about “my love of foraging and Kara’s love of concocting.”

The fevered final steps are taking place as Cathy explains, “In front of me are 20 jars of herbs. We are working on a vermouth.”

Plourde was working on compounding as we discussed their all-natural process. They plan to offer four drinks all the time. “One flagship gin that’s juniper forward with citrus, coriander and licorice.” Plourde is particularly proud of their pink gin. They also will also offer a smooth vodka and their Rhode Island Red vodka. Plourde lists the ingredients, “Cranberry and cherries. Rosehips, sumac, autumn berries and florals.”

They will hold a private event with a caterer for the Association of Fundraising RI on March 7. March 9 and 10 will be the official, open-to-the-public opening. “We are crafting cocktails to go with specific spirits. We’ll have coffee milk and some foam-on-top drinks. Not all things are on one day.” She cites as an example the Sunday Bloody Mary bar planned after the first month.

At the bar, about four stools wide, Carlo Catucci, co-owner of White Dog Distillery, is mixing and muddling and measuring. He owns White Dog Distillery with his wife, Alecia Catucci, and Eric Sylvestre and Vincent Greene. Catucci is an excited science teacher, bubbling to explain the dynamic process of distilling and the journey of each spirit.

The space feels like a small speakeasy. The brick décor echoes with a buzz in the air, and the bar is adorned with mason jars of fresh pineapple, limes, cherries, thyme, mint, and basil ready to be mixed and muddled.

Spirits offered include variations on gin. Batch #1 is a traditional juniper forward and Batch #3 is a scaled-down version that compensates with aggressive citrus. There’s also rum, white from cane sugar and molasses or spiced, with ginger, cinnamon and other spices; Puppy Bourbon; Unaged Corn Whiskey and chocolate whiskey. Catucci states, “Some people want a cocktail instead of a neat tasting. It gives them a sense of what they would have at home.” This approach is a proper way to showcase the versatility of a spirit in which they may not indulge normally, and they might purchase a bottle to enjoy at home. Also available are Lella’s Limoncello (“which is a family recipe”) and moonshine.

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