Three men call on farm background to establish distillery
BALLSTON Farming runs in the blood of three Saratoga County men who aim to open a distillery on Route 50 in Ballston.
Peter Hatalyk Jr. of Ballston Spa is buying the former Mario’s Ice Cream building at 1321 Saratoga Road and has spent the last year establishing High Rock Distillery with partners Jacob Hewson of Ballston Spa and Dan Cooper of Saratoga Springs.
The partners are waiting on state and federal licenses to produce vodka, gin and whiskey, and they also need zoning approval to operate a microdistillery at the former Mario’s, which is now the home of Christy’s Cones. Hatalyk, 36, is buying the 1.16-acre property near the Brookline Road intersection from owner Mario Ferri and plans to close on it this week.
The farm distillery license the company seeks would allow it to produce as much as 36,000 gallons a year, but it will make far less than that, Hewson said.
“We are not and cannot be like Jim Beam or Jack Daniels,” he said.
Hatalyk hopes to be open as early as January or February.
“What we’re hoping for is a fast turnaround from the town.”
The business could help the town by attracting visitors who take distillery tours like people who go on winery trips, one town official said.
“These microdistilleries become tourist destinations,” said Ballston Town Board member William Goslin.
Visitors would be able to sample a thimble-sized taste of the products, tour the operation and buy products from the showroom.
Gin and vodka would be available right away, but whiskey takes about a year to age, Hatalyk said.
Cooper, Hatalyk and Hewson know from personal experience how tough it is to be a farmer and scrape together enough money to pay the bills and property taxes. Hatalyk’s family owns a 105-acre farm in Stillwater that family members have endeavored to retain, first by becoming a tree farm and then by growing hops.
Hewson, 38, worked as a dairy farmer with his father for 20 years in Hoosick Falls and now grows grains. Cooper’s family owns a farm in Schoharie County.
They’re excited to work in an agricultural business that will support local farmers, Hatalyk said.
High Rock Distillery will buy as much of its grains — corn, wheat, barley and rye — from local farms as possible.
Locally grown barley and rye are in scarce supply, so the partners are looking for area farmers who want to start growing them to sell to High Rock Distillery.
The grain byproducts that are left over after making liquor can be fed back to the farmers’ livestock, Hatalyk said.
At the former Mario’s site, Hatalyk aims to renovate the building, adding brick, new windows and doors to the facade. The back room would become the distillery and the garage would serve as storage.
The building is about 2,800 square feet, according to county property records.
Hatalyk is familiar with the Mario’s building because his fiancée, Alexis Antonecchia, runs Christy’s Cones and has leased the building for the past two years.
“She’s looking for another business to buy,” he said.
The Capital Region has a few other distilleries, including the Albany Distilling Co. in Albany, which opened last fall; Saratoga Distilleries in Galway, which started production more than a year ago; and KyMar Farm Distillery in Charlotteville, Schoharie County, which opened in 2011. Also, Lake George Distilling Co. formed last year in Fort Ann.