By Bob Uphues
Riverside's local craft distillery is set to heighten its profile early next month. Derrick Mancini, owner of Quincy Street Distillery, hopes to have his new cocktail bar/retail store up and running in the storefront of the business at 39 E. Quincy St.
According to Mancini, he's shooting to get a final village inspection of the space this week with the goal of opening the cocktail bar to the public on Saturday, Dec. 7, the day after the Riverside Holiday Stroll.
The cocktail bar will feature the distillery's own products — actually, by law it can only sell its own products, according to Mancini. The bar/retail space will be open to the public, to start with, on Fridays from 4 to 9 p.m. and on Saturday from 2 to 9 p.m.
"We'll see how the clientele responds," said Mancini, whose full-time job is working as a scientist at Argonne National Laboratory. "If it goes well, maybe we'll have open hours on another night."
The cocktail bar area in the storefront is tiny, about 500 square feet, and can comfortably seat a dozen, maybe a bit more at a time. So, Mancini isn't looking for the cocktail bar to operate like a traditional tavern. Rather, it will support another of the distillery's missions — providing tours and spreading the gospel of craft spirits.
For months the distillery has been hosting tours on Fridays and Saturdays (and sometimes Sundays), using online discounts to help lure the curious to Riverside. Mancini sees the distillery as a destination. The tours last about an hour and include tastings of the products. The cocktail bar will be a key part of growing that component of the business.
"It definitely has that tourism component," said Mancini. "In that context, the cocktail bar will be critical."
Quincy Street Distillery opened its doors in July 2012. At that time, the operation was pretty basic. Mancini installed a copper still inside the old industrial building and began distilling his Water Tower White Lightning.
The distillery is now already bursting at the seams, and the creation of the cocktail bar/retail space will clear some much needed space at the rear of the facility for storage. For months, the retail space has been tough to discern from the street. In fact, it's invisible and accessible only through a hallway outside the business.
Once inside, it's evident just how much the distillery has grown. In addition to the white lightning, Quincy Street Distillery also sells its own "railroad" gin; a "young rested" bourbon called Bourbon Spring, after the local landmark in Swan Pond Park; a distilled mead, called Prairie Sunshine; a honey-sweetened corn mash liquor called Prairie Moonshine; and a persimmon and honey spirit.
There are more products on the way, including a rye whiskey, an aged corn whiskey, a barrel reserve gin, an aquavit, a Dutch-style genever gin and absinthe.
The real key is boosting the distribution of the products, which has been a slow, sometime frustrating process. The distillery's first distributor, which the company picked up in February, ceased operations in September.
However, the company did make some inroads, placing Quincy Street's gin and white lightning in Binny's locations. Riverside Foods carries all of the distillery's products as well.
In July, the company picked up a second distributor, which now handles its entire line.
"The issue is still predominantly awareness of the distillery and brand awareness," said Mancini. "It's a perennial issue."