When she answered the phone, Cathy Plourde sounded excited and anxious and bewildered that her new Pawtucket distillery will open on March 9. Cathy explained that the idea came as she and her wife, Kara Larson, “honed our love of gin in England for two years.” The couple moved to RI two years ago. Investigating small gins in London, Plourde and Larson discovered, “It was really fun. It was a craft. As craft as beer or scotch.” But Plourde’s palpable enthusiasm erupted when she talked about combining, “my love of foraging and Kara’s love of concocting.”
She was going through the fevered final steps as she explained, “In front of me are 20 jars of herbs. We are working on a vermouth. Usually, I do small, but here I am doing larger batches this afternoon.” She described the space at 59 Blackstone Avenue where her business will join Mad Dog Art Studios, Fight to Fitness, Mad Dog Café and Motif magazine. Rhode Island Spirits will offer a large tasting room at 1600 sq foot with a lovely bar where visitors can sit or stand.
The process of getting the business going was work, but not the daunting, impenetrable task the couple anticipated. “We were skeptical, but at each crossroads everything worked. We wanted to be in Pawtucket.” Plourde cited enormous help from the city locating possible places. The couple loved Blackstone because it sits on the Blackstone River. “Yes, yes. Beautiful views of the river. In England, we missed having a local pub with a fire burning. We aren’t recreating an English pub, but want to build one with comfort and ease of what we like in an English pub.” Plourde offered a beautiful vision, “We will be an extension of Pawtucket’s living room with lots of comfy seats.”
Cathy admired the city’s efforts in helping her get the business off the ground. “Pawtucket bent over backward to help us.” She was unsure what to expect two years ago when “researching others, how others did it. We heard horror stories about codes and buildings.”
The government shutdown impacted their March 9 launch, but now they are ready. Plourde was working on compounding as she put on her headset to explain the process to me, which is all natural. They plan to offer four drinks all the time. “One flagship gin, juniper forward with citrus, coriander, and licorice; a classic gin that you could do what you would classically do with a gin like a martini or tonic.” Plourde is proud of the other gin, a pink gin culminating “from my love of foraging.” The combination stems from an output of adjuncts placed in the still.
Rhode Island Spirits will also offer a smooth vodka and a Rhode Island Red vodka. Plourde listed the ingredients, “Cranberry and cherries. Rosehips, sumac, autumn berries and florals.”
As longtime gin drinker, facing adversarial sneers and upturned noses, the obvious question was why gin? Or more importantly, can you sustain yourself on a product so vehemently maligned? Plourde enjoys this challenge. She noted that whiskey is judged in stages; aroma, tip of the tongue, the finish. She offers that it is the same process with gin. But many people hate gin, often citing its pine tree-like flavor.
Plourde discusses this. “So, in this new craft world, people bury juniper by not featuring it or go in other direction by punching you in nose.” Eschewing both approaches, Plourde and Larson are doing small batches. “Our pink gin has the juniper but also floral notes and the sharpness of berries. Our botanical gin won’t match as well with a tonic but is designed to be in a cocktail, due to the low juniper.” Also the duo will have a seasonal gin rotating. When they open for March, they’ll offer a winter gin that Plourde described as a classic.
To enhance the comfort and living room atmosphere of their new spot, Plourde and Larson want people happy — meaning fed. So they plan to collaborate with nearby Mad Dog Café, and soon will host local pop-ups and food trucks. And they encourage patrons to BYOF.
RI Spirits’ grand opening on March 9 and 10 will hold lots of fun. The cocktail menu will have standard mixers and more. Plourde said, “We’re crafting cocktails to go with specific spirits. We’ll have coffee milk and some foam on top drinks. Not all things are one day.” Like that tantalizing Bloody Mary bar planned after the first month for Sundays.