Be still his heart

Riverside man asks village to allow liquor distillery operation

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By BOB UPHUES

The village of Riverside, famously dry until recent years, may soon be known for its dry gin, crafted at a commercial - albeit very small - liquor distillery by year's end.

On Tuesday, the Riverside Plan Commission voted 6-0 with one abstention to recommend a change in the Riverside zoning code that would permit craft distilleries and brew pubs in the village's downtown and Harlem Avenue business districts.

The village board, which has final say on such amendments to the zoning code, will take up the matter in October. The change, which would allow such businesses as a special use in the business districts, could be approved at the village board's meeting on Oct. 17.

Why is there a push to make a change in the code, you ask? Because a Riverside resident would like to open a craft distillery - making gin, vodka, eau de vie and other spirits - inside an East Quincy Street building in the downtown business district.

Derrick Mancini, a 15-year resident of the village, says he'd like to distill high-end spirits in an 1,100-square-foot space at 39 E. Quincy St., a vintage industrial building that once housed the Riverside Works. The business, which he's calling Quincy Street Distillery, would not be a tavern or restaurant. In addition to distilling spirits, Mancini would like to have a separate room for tastings and a small retail space to sell his products.

"It would be a very small business," said Mancini, who is a scientist in the Center for Nanoscale Materials at Argonne National Laboratory. "But it could help create a sense of place and help make the village a destination point."

The building Mancini is targeting for his operation is owned by local architect Charles Pipal. He bought the building in 2009 and renovated it, bringing it up to code and installing a fire sprinkler system.

Even before Pipal bought the building, Mancini had his eye on it, believing it to be perfect for his needs.

"I was always attracted to it because it was an early-century industrial building," said Mancini. "When I found out space was still available, I got in touch with [Pipal]."

Pipal sees the business as a good fit, too, though there's no signed lease agreement in place yet.

"It's a community-based business that's similar to some other successful ones in Riverside like Aunt Diana's and Higgins Glass, where they produce something and sell it," said Pipal. "Those kinds of businesses are a real asset to the village."

In addition to local regulations, Mancini has plenty of other hoops to jump through before Quincy Street Distillery becomes a reality. The manufacture of liquor is regulated at the federal level, which means Mancini will need to apply for and get a federal license to operate.

"It's not something you can do as a hobby like beer and wine," said Mancini, who has made both since he was a graduate student. "You have to make a decision to do it because of the legal requirements."

What made Quincy Street Distillery even thinkable was a change in Illinois law in 2010 that allowed craft distillers to have tastings and sell their own product on a retail basis. They also raised the production limit.

"Those critical things made it possible to do in Illinois," said Mancini.

Mancini has a 50-gallon still on order and feels he would likely be able to produce at least 5,000 gallons of spirits per year. He said the plan is to start out distilling "white" spirits, in particular gin and a mead-based eau de vie. In time, however, he may move into crafting small batches of vodka, which is more complicated to distill, and whiskey, which requires aging in oak barrels.

"All of these will be very high-end products," Mancini said. "They will not be inexpensive."

If all goes well, Mancini said the business could be up and running within three months.

"It'll be challenging, but it's not unreasonable that we'd be operating by the end of the year if all goes well."

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