On a chilly Friday night, a surprisingly large crowd is navigating the concrete and brick labyrinth of 560 Mineral Spring Ave. This old converted mill has held space for DIY businesses Black Grease Bicycles, Mixed Magic Black Box Theater, Mode Merr fashions, Bucket Brewing and many other small arts and crafts spots. It still boasts Ugol Woodworking and B & F Gym facilities. This old factory, now a community evoking Pawtucket’s history of textiles, is a lure to the seekers of Crooked Current ales and now White Dog Distillery.
At the bar, about four stools wide, co-owner Carlo Catucci is mixing and muddling and measuring. Catucci is an excited science teacher, bubbling to explain the dynamic process of distilling and the journey of each spirit. Catucci helps couples and groups who are grappling with the decision of which to sip initially. A handful of regulars, some coming here since White Dog opened in April 2018, are greeted with familiarity as the small but busy space welcomes each to a great way to begin a Friday night.
Carlo owns White Dog Distillery with his wife, Alecia Catucci, and Eric Sylvestre and Vincent Greene. Carlo explains that his spark for the business idea came after he attained unique licenses to distill at home. “Two and a half years ago,” he said, “my wife took me on a brewery tour of Pawtucket.” When the two landed at Crooked Current, “We were blown away by how much Nichole was putting out in such a small space,” Catucci continues, referencing one of the Crooked Current owners, Nichole Pelletier and Jay Lourenco. Pelletier told Catucci, “You should see where we started!” That even smaller space is where I was enjoying a pert and refreshing gin cocktail bursting with citrus flavor. Carlo prodded Alecia, “Maybe we could do what Crooked Current was doing, but as a distillery.”
The space feels like a small speakeasy. The brick décor echoes with the buzz of patrons chattering about their prior sip. The back wall is filled the equipment and elements of distilling along with multicolored liquids in half-filled jars with taped labels. The back closet is where the actual still resides. Catucci explains, “The laws in RI allows us to do tasting and cocktails.” And White Dog jumped at the opportunity to mix and muddle fresh herbs and fruit; the bar is adorned with mason jars of fresh pineapple, limes, cherries and thyme, mint and basil.
Spirits offered include variations on gin, Batch #1, a traditional juniper forward, or batch #3, a scaled-down version compensated with aggressive citrus; rum, white from cane sugar and molasses or spiced, with ginger, cinnamon, spices; Puppy Bourbon, Unaged Corn Whiskey, or a 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 then maybe purchase one of the bottles to enjoy at home. Also available are Lella’s Limoncello (“which is a family recipe”) and moonshine.
Catucci and the other bartender stir and shake while engaging with customers; I was told it would be a slow night. No such chance. Each time Carlo came to answer a question, he had to ask me to hold, and a new round of customers entered and grabbed a menu. Catucci estimates about 50% are new people each week. Other customers I talked with were excited and had heard about White Dog from word of mouth. White Dog is growing. And delicious.