Ohio Distilling Spotlight: Ron Petrosky of Renaissance Artisan Distillers
We’re switching gears back to Ohio’s high-test products, this time in the city of Akron. Distilleries aren’t as numerous as wineries or breweries, but craft liquor popularity is growing - despite some obstacles that stand in the way of the layperson getting involved. The biggest hurdle? It is illegal to distill for personal consumption in just about every country on the planet (with a few exceptions). Despite this, home distilling is a fast-growing hobby and stills are legal to buy, but only for uses like essential oils. Much like the “tobacco only” glass pipes available for purchase at various outlets. But these troubles have not stopped locals from getting involved and setting up shop here in Ohio.
The Grape and Granary is a family-owned business that started 25 years ago as a homebrew shop and expanded to shipping supplies worldwide. They arrived at their current Akron location a little over a decade ago to accommodate their expanding homebrew and winemaking business. Their facility has a wine on premise and tasting room with winemaking and beer making classes, as well as a large warehouse where they keep their homebrewing and winemaking supplies. The most recent adventure for the company was the start of Renaissance Artisan Distillers, which officially started in 2013. Owner John Pastor and Distiller Ron Petrosky were kind enough to show me around and speak on Ohio’s distilling community.
Fermenting Ohio: How did The Grape and Granary decide to move into distilling?
Ron Petrosky: The move to distilling actually worked out well with the warehouse space becoming available. This back part here was originally dedicated to selling grapes, but this had some challenges. You never knew what condition the grapes would be in and it required a lot more equipment that was stored back here, on top of renting the crushers and presses. We decided to leave grape sales and just stick with juice sales. This left us with some warehouse space and we decided to research distilling (which would take a long time to research and then set up).
FO: How did you learn to do this?
RP: The internet is a wonderful resource! I learned a lot online, but there’s also an annual conference that offers classes. John and I learned a lot at those classes when we were deciding to get started and have attended every year since. We built the distillery in stages, following John’s plan for slow but sustained growth.
FO: How did you personally get to the distillery?
RP: Before this, I had 30 years of IT experience. In 2008 when the economy tanked, I lost that job. My wife and I have been coming to The Grape and Granary for years and got to know the owners. I was eventually offered some part-time work until I could find a full-time gig back in IT. I knew nothing about winemaking, but they trained me and I took to it and now I teach some of the classes. It was evident that the market and the economy wasn’t going to bounce back, so my wife and I decided that I would retire and reinvent myself. I did the wine thing for a while, and then John came out and pitched the distilling idea. Distilling is an artform, the nuances you add affect the end product, and the science behind it really appeals to me. I like doing this.
FO: What products do you make here?
RP: We started with gin, which is somewhat easier to make and doesn’t require aging. Our first gin was our Route 8 Gin, named after Akron’s Route 8. That was good and from there we updated the recipe and came out with our Original Gin, which has our new branding and logo. A lot of people still liked the Route 8 version, so we ended up keeping both. Route 8 Gin has more anise flavor, the Original Gin has more juniper and citrus notes.
Additionally, we have two liqueurs, a malt whiskey, and a rum. We also have a brandy and grappa (at some point we’ll barrel age the grappa as well) made from our wines. The next product we’re going to experiment with is a bourbon later this month. Eventually, we’ll try a scotch too. We probably won’t do a vodka; our still column isn’t as big as we would need it to be efficient.
FO: What do you need for equipment?
RP: We have a hybrid pot-column still for small batches. To accompany this, we have a 10-barrel mash/lauter tun which makes our distiller’s beer. Next to that, we have a 10-barrel fermenter and a 10 ton chiller unit, which might be overkill for our still but it sure comes in handy when we cool down our mashWe’re always looking to add something to the arsenal. Since we double distill most products, when profit allows, we’d like to see a second still.
FO: What’s the aging process look like?
RP: We started with 10-gallon barrels and moved onto 15- and 30-gallons. You can’t replicate time, so our 15-gallon barrels age for about a year, while 30-gallons go beyond a year. The good thing about this part of the warehouse is that it gets cool in the winter, warm in the summer, so we have natural expansion and contraction for the barrels.
FO: Where do you see the distilling industry in Ohio heading?
RP: I think the industry is expanding. That first conference I attended had 700 guests, but the same conference this past year was over 1500. You’re going to see a lot more in Ohio. Ohio can help promote this industry by reducing some of the taxes, which are barriers, particularly to the smaller distilleries.
FO: What are some challenges you face in the distilling industry?
RP: Taxes and low profit margins are always a challenge, but the distilling world has the added hurdle of being new, and it can be dangerous. We’re noticing some local governmental slow down on some permit approvals of ours ever since Wolf Creek’s still exploded this past summer. That’s got the county rethinking the approvals for distilleries, and will likely make it harder for anyone trying to get into the game currently. It was pretty much like a bomb went off - it was a very significant explosion, but fortunately no one was hurt.
FO: Does Renaissance offer samples?
RP: Yes, we have a tasting bar in the winery where you can get samples of wine or liquor. State allows four ¼ ounce samples. We can sell our bottled products there as well.
Thanks to Ron and John for introducing me to their distillery and great products (seriously, try the gins and limoncello...) You can check them out for yourself here:
Renaissance Artisan Distillers
915 Home Ave
Akron, OH 44310