By J.W. Oliver
Split Rock Distillery owners Matt Page (left) and Topher Mallory pose at the entrance to the future distillery and tasting room in Newcastle Thursday, Aug. 7. (J.W. Oliver photo)
Local entrepreneurs and friends Topher Mallory and Matt Page plan to open a distillery in Newcastle in June 2015. Split Rock Distillery will specialize in small-batch spirits with local ingredients.
Mallory, 36, of Walpole, and Page, 37, of Damariscotta, recently purchased property off Route 1 at 16 Osprey Point Road, formerly home to D & L Screen Printers.
Mallory and Page are currently navigating the complex state and federal permitting process. They hope to start production in early 2015.
“We’re going to have a broad range of spirits,” Mallory said in an interview at the future home of the distillery. “Our initial inspiration is definitely whiskey, and it will certainly be a big part of our future, but we’ll start with nonaged spirits for our opening, hopefully next year.”
Early products will include a gin, a vodka, and a white rum while the distillery works on another rum and a whiskey, which require aging.
“Those will be somewhere on a six- to 18-month timeline and there will certainly be whiskeys that will be three years and six years and further out,” Mallory said.
The business takes its name from Split Rock Road, a narrow country road that connects Route 129 in Walpole and Route 130 in Bristol. “It’s a road we both travel between our homes as we’re working on this business plan late at night,” Mallory said.
The partners settled on the Newcastle property after an extensive search. The loop driveway and the proximity to Route 1 will facilitate shipping, and the high ceilings of the main building will provide capacity for distillery equipment.
“We were in the right place at the right time,” Mallory said. “It’s a nice, open canvas.”
The partners plan to remodel the interior of the main building, build a tasting room near the front entrance, and create an “open concept” production area.
A glass wall will separate the tasting room from the distillery so customers can watch the distillation process in action.
The partners bring strong business backgrounds to their new project. Mallory is the chief executive officer of Mexicali Blues Inc., of Newcastle, while Page is a partner with Ken Cotton and Associates LLC, a Bristol site evaluation company.
The friends met at a birthday party some 10 years ago. They share a passion for climbing and dogs, and they and their wives became good friends. The idea of a distillery started as “talking and joking over glasses of whiskey,” Mallory said.
The friends decided to visit a distillery, then another, and took a class in distillation.
Maine’s craft distilleries, like Portland’s Maine Craft Distilling and New England Distilling and Union’s Sweetgrass Winery & Distillery “provide a huge inspiration for us,” Mallory said.
The distilleries are “exploring different things and not just creating your standard whiskey or vodka or gin,” Mallory said.
The friends also visited distilleries throughout the Northeast, focusing on “small grain-to-glass operations” that use local ingredients, Mallory said.
Split Rock Distillery will follow a similar model.
“It’s our intention to source as many local ingredients as possible,” Page said. The distillery also plans to work with local farms to recycle the spent grains from the distillation process for use as animal feed and for composting.
The partners want to “create a premium product that takes the finest of ingredients, as close to locally sourced as possible, and release them in small batches that we’re really proud of,” Mallory said.
“We’re definitely going to focus on a traditional approach as far as the whiskeys, the rum, the vodka, and the gin, but also on taking a step forward in attempts at experimenting with various grains, with various sources of sugar, and attempting to come up with some unique flavor profiles in spirits,” Page said.
For now, the distillery needs to secure a series of permits from the federal and state governments. The process takes some time, and Mallory and Page hope to acquire all their permits by late 2014.
They hope to have a soft opening around June 1, 2015, work the kinks out during the summer, and host a grand opening between late summer and Columbus Day weekend, perhaps with one of their first aged products.
Distribution will come later. They want to open the tasting room, gather some feedback, and “make sure we have a great product before we take that next step,” Mallory said.
Customers will be able to buy bottles directly from the tasting room. Local grocery stores are a possibility for year two, and the distillery could pursue out-of-state distribution by years three or four, Mallory said.