Cork finally pops for Riverside distillery

State license in hand, owner begins whiskey production

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By BOB UPHUES

It takes more than just water, corn and malted grains to make whiskey. It takes patience and perseverance.

Riverside resident Derrick Mancini learned that much during the past year as he worked to establish Quincy Street Distillery in downtown Riverside.

But as of July 9, Mancini was busy crafting the first batches of Water Tower White Lightning, an unaged corn whiskey, in the copper still set up inside the distillery at 39 E. Quincy St.

On July 9, Mancini finally received his Illinois craft distiller's license - he received his federal license in March and his local liquor license on July 3 - allowing him to fire up the still and make his first batch of corn mash, which has since been distilled and is well on its way to becoming the inaugural batch of white lightning.

"One thing I learned in my day job [as a scientist at Argonne National Laboratory] is the importance of perseverance and that there will always be another challenge," said Mancini, who first brought his idea of a craft distillery to Riverside officials in June of 2011.

While the production end of the business is finally up and running, it'll be another few weeks before Mancini will be selling his products. Mancini is targeting early August for a grand opening of the business, once he finishes building out the retail space for his business, which is located inside the same building in what used to house a resale clothing store.

In time, he would like to move the retail operation to the storefront space and develop a speakeasy-style tasting room in front of the distillery, but that will likely have to wait until at least December, maybe longer.

Moving the retail space into the smaller storefront area would allow him to use the former clothing store space as a storage and aging area for the distillery, which he says will produce a variety of products, including other types of barrel-aged whiskey and bourbon, eau de vie, absinthe, brandy, gin and vodka.

In addition to the unaged White Lightning, one of the first products Mancini will be making is Old No. 176 Gin, a juniper and coriander flavored liquor named after the locomotive custom built for the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad, whose tracks (now the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe) still run through the village.

Mancini is working with a distilling consultant, Danny Maguire, who was formerly an assistant distiller at Koval, the first craft distiller to open within Chicago since Prohibition. As the business grows, he expects to hire a full-time assistant distiller and retail manager.

While the distillery is a dream come true, Mancini, who has a Ph.D. in physics, said he doesn't plan on leaving his job as a researcher at Argonne, a place he's been for the past 15 years.

"For me, it's a weekend and evening activity," he said. "It doesn't hurt that it's a block from my house."

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