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Dark Island Spirits distillery coming in spring to Alexandria Bay

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ALEXANDRIA BAY — Dark Island Spirits distillery will open this spring at the former Muskie Lounge, 42 Church St.

Envisioning the site as a destination for tourists and boaters, Roger R. Reifensnyder, Hammond, plans to retrofit the 1,200-square-foot lounge into a distillery and construct a 1,200-square-foot restaurant, which will expand the building, on a neighboring lot.

The distillery operation will be fueled by grain harvested from an 85-acre farm Mr. Reifensnyder owns in Hammond. It will produce flavored vodka, bourbon and other artisan liquors. To add local flavor, he plans to buy strawberries, cranberries and blueberries from area farmers.

“What we wanted is a walk-to destination,” Mr. Reifensnyder said. “I’ve been to a variety of wineries and tasting rooms that have a social atmosphere, and we thought this particular property in the Bay seems to fit.”

The distillery will feature a retail space in which T-shirts and glasses will be sold. At a tasting area, customers will be able to purchase one-third-ounce liquor samples.

Mr. Reifensnyder said he hopes to open the restaurant addition, which will be on the left of the distillery building, by the end of the summer. A state liquor license will be sought for the restaurant, which will serve drinks made at the distillery, he said. The eatery will not include a bar, but alcohol will be available on the menu.

A 400-square-foot deck outside the entrance will divide the restaurant from the distillery.

The distillery facade will feature glass walls — from ground to ceiling — so customers can see the distilling process firsthand. Screened walls will enable customers to ask employees questions, and the distillery also will host tours at scheduled times.

“We’re setting this up so that people can walk through our picket fence at the restaurant and down to the distillery to look at it through our screens,” Mr. Reifensnyder said.

Two 350-liter stills have been ordered from Germany for the distillery operation, where Mr. Reifensnyder hopes to produce 5,000 gallons of alcohol the first year.

To avoid a strong odor at the downtown site, the mash hopping will be completed off-site at an undetermined location, Mr. Reifensnyder said. He is considering partnerships with two companies that could complete the work, which also could be done at the Hammond farm. The fermentation and bottling process will be done at the distillery.

“With mashing, you end up with flour dust and an odor like sweet porridge,” he said. At the distillery, “we thought it would best suit the village to keep the atmosphere pristine and odor free.”

For the retail side of the operation, Mr. Reifensnyder will seek to partner with area wineries to sell his products and buy theirs, which it will be able to do as a farm distillery.

“It’s to our advantage to help local wineries, and I want to be part of the niche industry in the north country,” he said.

The only objection to the planned distillery was made by the Reformed Church of the Thousand Isles to the New York State Liquor Authority. The church contended that the proposed restaurant violates a proximity law that states the public entrance to establishments serving alcohol must be more than 200 feet from the public entrance of a house of worship.

But the state Liquor Authority later dismissed the complaint after discovering the site had been investigated when the church filed a similar complaint against the Muskie Lounge three years ago. A call to the church this week seeking comment was unsuccessful.

“The state Liquor Authority sent someone to the site at that time, found it was legal, and nothing happened,” Mr. Reifensnyder said. “They told me it was resolved.”

Although the distillery addition will be closer to the church, he said, the law applies exclusively to the restaurant because it will be the place serving alcohol.

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