Small distilleries are seemingly popping up everywhere, garnering attention from the media and enthusiasts far beyond the trickle of volume they bottle and sell. It's encouraging to see, though, and adding a few spirits made at distilleries close by is a fairly simple way to signal to customers that your operation is trend-aware and willing to try something new. But generally, it will be quite some time before many of these new spirit brands have anything beyond marginal local impact.
However, there is another quiet evolution going on when it comes to small distillery spirits, and that’s in the still tiny but increasingly interesting emergence of bars and restaurants where some of the spirits are made on-premise. Call them still pubs, although in many cases this phenomenon is happening in places where brewing on-site has already been at the core of the business model.
Square One Brewery and Distillery in St. Louis is a prime example of how well that brewery/distillery/pub can work. Twelve brews and 15 spirits, all brewed, distilled or infused on-premise, form the backbone of their offerings, most in the classic model like Oktoberfest beer and Island Time Amber Rum, while others, like the Hopskey Hop Infused Whiskey, are unusual and unexpectedly tasty. Their cocktail menu features many of their spirits and infusions, though some, like the Earl Grey-infused Gin, requires only chilling to be a perfect appetizer cocktail on its own.
Like at many brewpubs, the food menu at Square One includes lots of beer and food pairing suggestions, and both the brews and the spirits are sold in tasting flights, the beers in two portion sizes, a smart move for any brewpub hoping that their customers will explore the brewing possibilities.
Square One is a pioneer in this style of restaurant in St. Louis, but others have been working this road for a while, including the Bardenay Restaurant and Distillery in Boise, Idaho, and of course Dogfish Head Brewing and Eats in Rehoboth, Del., where well-known brewing explorer Sam Calagione has managed to combine the three concepts in addition to running his brewing empire. It's a natural move, as we've already seen many of the small distillery revolution come directly from their own breweries.
As state laws modernize, it's likely that more food and drink entrepreneurs will give the scheme a try, though it's doubtful that many chain restaurants will soon start ordering spirits to be bottled under their own name, as many did with beer when brewpubs boomed in the late 1990s. But it's not impossible to imagine a chain connecting with a fast-growing distiller on an experimental basis, and when it happens, the industry will watch closely, to see how the mass market of chain restaurant customers react to something that until lately has only been a niche business.