Less than a decade ago, Ellicott Street was a forgotten strip of downtown: A place where underage kids used to try their luck at getting into bars desperate for patrons.
Now featuring a sushi bar, upscale market, Southern fine dining and a craft brewery – Ellicott Street is all grown up and has just added another jewel to its culinary crown in the form of Niagara Distillery’s new Tasting Room.
On a recent trip to the Tasting Room, I walked in to the bittersweet sounds of Bush’s “Letting the Cables Sleep” jacked up to 11 – which happened to be a technician putting the recently-installed interior sound system through its paces.
With black-and-white pictures of celebrities covering and entire wall and 19th century-inspired décor referencing Niagara Distillery’s 1812 liquor brand, the Tasting Room seemed like the perfect place for a refined, hours-long drinking romp.
However, owner Nick Kotrides assured me that the Tasting Room is intended to be just that; a place to relax and taste the company’s farm-to-bottle spirits.
“It’s a comfortable place, but it’s not a place where you’re going to be here until two in the morning,” Kotrides said. “We’re going to give tours. We’re going to have tastings. You can come and watch the game or have an office party after work.”
Indeed, the emphasis of the Tasting Room is on Niagara Distillery’s products, which are gluten-free and made with organic, non-GMO ingredients. These are craft spirits in the truest sense of the word and made to be sipped and savored, not shot. The 1812 vodka is extremely clean tasting with a hint of sweetness that reminded me a bit of sake.
While the vodka was excellent, the 88-proof 1812 gin really stood out. Craft products have a reputation for bold flavors and Niagara Distillery’s gin is a perfect example of a craft tipple that gives your taste buds a jostling.
Gin is actually “the original flavored vodka,” Kotrides said, with pungent botanicals infused during the standard vodka distillation process. The blend of botanicals a distillery uses to make gin is a closely guarded secret, and Kotrides would only say his distillery uses juniper, coriander, orange and lemon peels.
“We wanted to stay traditional, hand-crafted, with a little bit of extra zest to it,” Kotrides said about the gin. “There are some gins out there that are so citrusy – they could be like a citrus-flavored vodka.”
The process behind Niagara Distillery’s spirits was honed by Kotrides’ partner Eric Heuser while he lived in Europe for decades as a military contractor. European laws regarding distillation are much more lax than they are here in the States, which doles out hefty penalties for home distillers.
“If you make beer at home, you’re a home brewer. If you make wine, at home you’re a wine enthusiast. If you make moonshine at home, you’re a felon,” Kotrides said about the American system.
Looser European laws allowed Heuser to hone his process and try out a wide range of craft European spirits by other local distillers.
More recently, Governor Cuomo and state lawmakers have been pushing for the expansion of craft distillation here in New York, resulting in operations like Niagara Distillery taking root. According to state law, the majority of products from a craft distillery must be made from New York grown products. Supporters say the point of the law is to support New York farmers and businesses.
“The Cuomo Administration has been very helpful in getting this (industry) off the ground, and help New York State farmers in the process,” Kotrides said.
The distillery buys the corn for its mash from a local organic farm and sends the alcohol-free corn byproducts of its process back to farms for use as animal feed.
This philosophy of giving back extends to the Tasting Room. In addition to featuring in-house products, the Tasting Room will also feature spirits from other farm-to-bottle distilleries in New York State, New York State wines and local craft beer. Wines and beers are provided as ‘tastings’ and visitors can take bottles of whatever they taste home with them.
Kotrides said his company plans to build out a large patio area between the old refurbished horse stable that houses the distillery and Ellicott Street. Once the weather breaks, expect to see pop-up events and barbecues involving chefs working up and down the street and around the neighborhood, he added.
For more info on Niagara Distilling Co., visit their website and follow them on Facebook, Twitter
Niagara Distillery Tasting Room
459 Ellicott Street, Buffalo, NY 14201
Hours: Tuesday – Thursday: 3 pm – 10 pm, Friday – Saturday: 3 pm – 12 am
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