evl distillery

By Deb Everts

The Ellicottville Distillery will mark its two-year anniversary on Sunday, Sept. 30. The public is invited to join the celebration at the distillery, located at 5462 Robbins Road near Ashford Junction, from 1 to 7 p.m.

Buffalo area entertainer Rod Tucker will perform as a solo artist at the anniversary party from 3 to 6 p.m. Tucker covers a wide assortment of genres that includes everything from the ‘60s to the present. KB Foods of Salamanca will be onsite with its food trailer. The event will be held rain or shine.

The Ellicottville Distillery officially opened its doors for business Oct. 1, 2016 after a two-and-a-half year project in the making. It opened with a unique line of corn whiskey, corn vodka and apple vodka  — all under its label, “The Agronomist.” The spirits are created in a 500-gallon copper pot still custom-made in Germany that is the heart of the entire operation.

Chief Distiller Bryan Scharf manages the distillery and is in charge of most of the day-to-day operations. His partners, Charlie and Liz Bares of Ellicottville, own the farmlands where the corn and barley crops are grown, making the distillery self-sustaining and allowing it to operate independently. Scharf said the ability to grow their own products sets them apart, unlike most distilleries that buy commodity grain.

According to Scharf, the building housing the distillery is owned by his father, Don Scharf, who often helps him. With high ceilings and ample space, it’s an ideal place for a distillery. The interior of the building has a 40-by-60-foot open floor plan that was renovated to accommodate the distillery and retail area. It has a tasting room with a beautiful copper-topped bar, and upstairs there is a mezzanine for bottles and storage. The fermentors and still are downstairs, along with a bottling and labeling area and a retail space.

Scharf said the first two years have been up and down, but it’s looking up now. He said their recent products have made a difference and the new “Appleshine” is definitely going to be a “shot in the arm.”

“I gave it the Appleshine name. It’s cider-based and, if you’ve ever had Apple Pie Moonshine, that’s pretty much what this is,” he said. “It has corn whiskey in it, which is clear unaged corn with a cider. Some spices and sweetness have been added to make it what I like to call ‘a cocktail in a bottle.’”

Their bourbon is now one year old but, Scharf said, they don’t have any packaged right now and it’s still aging. He’s thinking about doing a limited release — probably around mid-October.

“There’s a demand for bourbon and it doesn’t go bad. Alcohol also mellows with age. The longer it sits, the better it gets,” he said. “I’d really like to get it to that two-year mark, but a lot of people have been asking for it and we had a limited run. We have probably 30 bottles out and it sold very well and went very quickly.”

Last December, the distillery launched its New York Craft Honey Spirit made with locally crafted honey supplied by beekeeper Bob Brachmann of Little Valley. To craft the spirit, Scharf ferments honey to mead, then distills it to a spirit which is an ancient process that requires time, patience and dedication similar to distilling spirits made from grain.

According to Scharf, mead is classified as a wine but, because it’s honey, it’s under its own classification. He said like the other spirits — vodka, whiskey and bourbon — it gets distilled in a copper still and smells like honey while it’s fermenting.

“The Honey Spirit is selling great. We’ve sold a huge amount and we are down to the last eight cases,” he said. “We started out with 450 bottles when we released it toward the end of December.”

Scharf said he is seriously considering distilling a bourbon cream liqueur that would be similar to Baileys Irish Cream and would be a nice, sweet dessert drink.

Last November, the Ellicottville Distillery was put in the spotlight by the website, “The Fifty Best” and awarded a Double Gold medal for “The Agronomist: New York State Corn Whiskey,” which was a distinguished “Best Moonshine” award for 2018.

Future plans for the facility include making the tasting room bigger. Scharf said that project probably won’t happen this year, but they have definite plans and hope to do it next spring.

Public tastings are currently held on Saturdays from noon to 5 p.m., and have been extended to Sunday from 1 to 7 p.m. For more details, call the distillery at 597-6121 or visit online at ellicottvilledistillery.com, Facebook and Instagram.