A nascent craft distillery, with plans to produce vodka, gin, whiskey and bourbon, could take the place of Blue Point Brewing Co. when the Patchogue-based beer maker relocates to its new headquarters at the former Briarcliffe College campus.
The Better Man Distilling Co., owned by Bayport residents Anthony and Laurie Gruppuso, has signed a lease for three buildings at 161 River Ave. in Patchogue. The site has been home to Blue Point since the brewer was founded 20 years ago.
The lease is dependent upon village site plan approvals, Gruppuso said Wednesday.
“Craft spirits are where craft beer was probably 15 years ago,” said Gruppuso, who also owns AutoFix Collision Center Inc. in Bohemia and works as a sports photographer for USA Today. "It follows with the 'eat local and drink local' mentality that is everywhere.”
The number of active craft distillers in the United States grew by 20.8 percent in 2016, reaching 1,589 distillers in August of last year, according to data from the American Craft Spirits Association. The craft spirits market reached $3 billion in sales that year, with an annual growth rate of 25 percent.
“We’re hoping to make this a national brand,” Gruppuso “This is the time.”
Gruppuso said the plan for the property would be to take occupancy in January, with a grand opening planned for next summer. Initially, he said, the distillery – which has already identified a head distiller – will make vodka and gin. “Whiskey will come 16 months later,” he said, and bourbon “will be later down the road.”
Better Man plans to expand the existing tasting room at the site and make slight changes to the property’s facade. Gruppuso said the distiller would eventually employ about 20 workers.
The business has had some obstacles in getting off the ground. Last year, the operation had identified a former auto repair shop at 147 West Ave. that it planned to redevelop, but the deal fell through after the death of the property owner, Gruppuso said. Recently, the company changed its name from Bitter Man Distilling to Better Man after the company received a legal notice from a California entity.
Patchogue Mayor Paul V. Pontieri Jr. welcomed the idea of a distillery opening in the village, joking that it would be a first for the municipality “unless something was happening in people’s basements during prohibition.”
Ultimately, Pontieri said, a distillery would create another asset to attract visitors. “You hope that it creates a reason for people to come to the community and partake in who we are,” he said.
Mario Vigliotta of Coldwell Banker Commercial Island Corporate Services represented both the landlord and Better Man in the lease deal.
Blue Point, founded in 1998, is building a new $35 million brewery at the site of the former Briarcliffe College campus along West Main Street. When complete, the 53,000-square-foot facility will feature an outdoor beer garden and green space, restaurant, tasting room, gift shop and tours of the brewing operations.
Blue Point was purchased by beer giant Anheuser-Busch InBev in 2014.