Where once there was beer, soon there will be liquor.
The Better Man Distilling Co., founded by Bayport resident Anthony Gruppuso, is pushing along with plans to open a distillery at the site of Blue Point Brewing Co.’s former Patchogue headquarters at 161 River Ave. Better Man plans to begin manufacturing and bottling operations sometime in October.
The distillery plans to focus on gin but will also produce whiskey, vodka and bourbon.
“Once we are done connecting our steam and our cooling systems, we’ll be able to start manufacturing,” said Gruppuso, who also owns AutoFix Collision Center Inc. in Bohemia. “At that point, once we start manufacturing, we will have product available for local restaurants, bars and liquor stores.”
The small startup, which moved into the old Blue Point space in January, is underway with a challenging renovation effort that has cost “well over” a million dollars, said Gruppuso.
“It’s been a ridiculous renovation,” said Gruppuso, who has been working on launching the distilling business for more than five years. Part of the challenge, he said, was that much of Blue Point’s operation at the site required that piping and other equipment run through customized holes and other additions through sections of the property’s walls.
In the end, much of the brewhouse had to be gutted to make way for the nascent distillery, all the way up to a new roof.
Better Man has already purchased much of the needed equipment – including its towering metal stills and bottling devices, has brought on board distiller Peter Cornielle and is now in the final stages of trying to complete its tasting room and event space.
“Distilling currently is where craft beer was 15 years ago,” Gruppuso said. “It’s the next level of the craft movement.”
The number of active craft distillers in the United States grew by 15.5 percent in 2018, reaching 1,835 distillers in August of last year, according to the most recent annual report from the American Craft Spirits Association. The craft spirits market reached $3.7 billion in sales in 2017, with an annual growth rate of 29.9 percent. The number of craft distillers on Long Island rose from two in 2012 to eight in 2018, according to the New York Liquor Authority.
Gruppuso and his daughter Abby Gruppuso, Better Man’s head of operations, hoped to have the tasting room complete and the business open to the public by Labor Day, but unexpected costs have lengthened the timetable, they said.
“The biggest challenge is financial,” the founder said. “You cannot plan for every eventuality.”
To help mitigate costs, the early-stage family business turned to Indiegogo in hopes of raising funds, though the crowdfunding effort has raised less than $8,000 of its $60,000 goal. Still, Abby Gruppuso said, the operation will be able to proceed, though at a slower pace.
“I had pretty low expectations going into it just because we’re new to the community and people don’t know us,” she said of the crowdfunding effort. “It’s hard for us when people haven’t really experienced the distillery before.”
The small business began ginning up interest in its brand this summer by selling hundreds of gin-infused ice pops during the village’s four Alive After Five community events.
With only days left in its fundraising effort, the Gruppusos said they plan to move forward with starting commercial production and will use whatever funds they’ve raised to lower construction costs of the tasting room. The current timeline calls for a grand opening to the public before the end of the year.
“We can still do off-site tastings,” the head of operations said. “We can have a presence even if people can’t come here yet.”
Blue Point Brewing, founded in 1998, had operated out of the River Avenue location for 20 years before constructing and moving into its much larger headquarters on the site of the former Briarcliffe College. The new brewery, which is around the corner from Better Man, opened to the public earlier this year.