Litchfield Distillery by Steven Hill – instagram.com/whiskeybythefire/

Nestled peacefully in the green, rolling hills of Connecticut’s northwest corner, lies the quintessential New England small town – Litchfield. Complete with requisite white, clapboard church, village green and quaint shops and restaurants dotting its Main Street, Litchfield seems stuck in time. But if you venture just outside of town, down the two-lane Route 202, you’ll stumble on an old, small converted sewing factory… converted to a distillery, that is.

Purchased in June of 2014 by the Baker brothers – David, Jack and Peter – the distillery opened its doors later that year. Launched with the commitment to distill the finest spirits in small batches, Litchfield Distillery has now come into its own, with a plethora of spirits to offer the thirsty adult palate. Apart from its regular lineup of gin, vodka, rye whiskey and bourbon whiskey, Litchfield also offers flavored vodkas and whiskies along with Port Finished bourbon, Cask Strength bourbon and a Double Barreled 5-year bourbon. Standout Limited Release whiskies and a Blue Agave spirit have recently been added. They’ve also jumped on the ready-to-drink cocktail can bandwagon by offering Spiked Lemonade (vodka based), Batcherita (agave based) and The Litchfielder (bourbon based). Armed with a rainbow of spirit offerings and the recent addition of a new still and rickhouse, Litchfield Distillery is poised to successfully ride the crest of the spirits and whiskey wave overtaking North America.

I recently spoke with Jack Baker to get a feel for what Litchfield is doing and how they’ve carved out a comfortable niche in the craft distillery scene:

I’ve visited and toured your distillery a handful of times, tell us about your background in the spring water business and how you guys decided to get into the spirits business? Any challenges you had to overcome?

We grew up in the water business. Our great grandfather founded Crystal Rock Water in 1914 and my two brothers (David and Peter Baker) and I (Jack), all served in different roles over the years until we sold the business in 2018. About six or so years ago, the three of us started to discuss what else we might want to invest in and devote our energy to. We’ve always had an interest in bourbon, especially David. We thought the craft spirits industry was poised for significant growth. So, we decided to go for it. Having experience in another beverage category certainly helped us. We know the fundamental operating requirements needed to build and manage an efficient manufacturing facility as well as what it takes to distribute products effectively. Of course, distilling spirits has its own unique set of nuanced skills, which we’ve learned along the way and by utilizing some great industry consultants, like Donald Snyder, formerly of Buffalo Trace. 

How did you come up with your company mission/tag line: The Spirit of Hard Work?

The line was born from our marketing consultant, Tony Vengrove of Miles Finch Innovation. When we first met with him, he reinforced the need to build a brand that had strong values and a positioning that would resonate with consumers across the country. As we shared our vision and values in that meeting, he simply summarized what we had said as, “you guys are about doing the work it takes to be great; you’re The Spirit of Hard Work.” It just stuck and we’ve been centered on that idea ever since. We love the line because we feel our personal commitment to a strong work ethic, which was ingrained in us by our Mother, is what enabled us to be successful throughout our careers. We hope by honoring effort, hard work, and resilience—all those important, intangible traits that can make the difference between good and great, we’ll not only create a brand people can identify with, they’ll be inspired to roll up their sleeves and give 110% to the things they’re passionate about. This mindset certainly helped us navigate uncharted territory when the pandemic struck.

Can you shed a little light on distribution? We don’t often hear much about that end of the business. H

As I mentioned earlier, we had a lot experience with distribution from our water days. However, distribution in the alcohol world is definitely different. We did our due diligence and researched several distribution companies in Connecticut, and finally partnered with Slocum & Sons, which has been a great collaboration. We took the same approach when selecting Johnson Brothers in Rhode Island and Craft Brewer’s Guild in Massachusetts. In 2021, we partnered with Constantine Wines to expand distribution to Maryland, Delaware and Washington DC. We’re trying to manage our distribution growth strategically so we can support the business adequately as our geography expands. 

What’s Litchfield’s best-selling liquor? Whiskey?

Our Straight Bourbon Whiskey is a top seller in our bourbon lineup. It’s currently bottled at 4 years, 92 Proof. Our 5-Year Double-Barreled Bourbon has become quite popular since we released it and in 2021 it earned a Gold Medal at the NY International Spirits Competition. Among our flavored spirits, the Vanilla Bourbon is the top seller. We add a little bit of Madagascar Vanilla Extract when we proof it down and then place a vanilla bean in each bottle, which allows for more flavor development as the bottle rests. It’s exceptionally smooth. We’re really proud of it.

Can you tell us more about your new Rye just released, mashbill, how long aged, etc?

We continue to get great feedback about our Straight Rye Whiskey and it won a Gold Medal at the 2021 ASCOT Awards. Born from 70% Winter Rye and 30% Malted Barley, it’s aged for two years and bottled at 92 proof. It rested in special honey-combed cooperage that helped increase the whiskey’s exposure to caramelized sugars in the barrel’s char. We believe Connecticut-Grown Rye is something unique and special — perhaps our mineral-rich terroir enhances the spice and peppery notes that are accentuated in our Rye Whiskey.

What made you decide to distill Agave Spirits?

After we got our feet wet with the launch of our craft cocktail cans, we wanted to add a Margarita-style cocktail to the lineup, which we did under the name, “Batcherita.” (The TTB wouldn’t let us call it a margarita.) To make this drink, we needed agave spirits, so we imported the finest organic Blue Agave Weber we could find in Mexico and fermented and distilled it here in Litchfield to produce agave spirits. We thought it tasted pretty good, so we decided to experiment and rest some for a few months in our retired bourbon barrels and see if we could create our own “resposado” style spirit. Well, folks loved it, so we decided to launch it as an ongoing item. As far as we know, we’re the only craft distillery east of the Mississippi distilling agave spirits. The judges at this year’s ASCOT Awards gave it a Platinum medal, which, for us, really validated the quality of this expression.

What’s in store for the future for LD?

2021 was a big year for us. We broke ground on a major expansion to help us manage our growth. Our new 7,000 sq/ft rickhouse is almost completed and in just a few weeks, we’ll bring back about 800 barrels that we moved into a temporary warehouse while the construction was underway. In addition, we added a second distillation line to double our production capability. We purchased another hybrid still from Müller in Germany and got it up and running this past summer, which allowed us to fill more barrels in 2021 than in any other year. 

We have a few new products in the works for 2022, but you’ll have to wait a bit before we announce what they are.

Litchfield Distillery is open for tours and tastings. The tours, usually conducted by one of the Baker brothers themselves, are fascinating and educational, as one gets a peek into the daily life of a modern-day craft distiller. The tasting room is cozy and comfortable with enough seating for small and medium sized groups. Oriental rugs, leather chairs and a cast-iron gas fired stove give it that warm, homey feel. Of course, you can purchase any of their spirits or branded merchandise in the tasting room. If you plan to visit, please check the hours of operation on their website – www.litchfielddistillery.com – and to make tour reservations. Make sure you tell them Steven Hill from @whiskeybythefire sent you!

Other Facts:

Other Interesting Facts/Honors:

  • Nearly 100% of our power is generated by our roof-top solar panels.
  • Named “Best Distillery” for the past 5 years by Connecticut Magazine.
  • “CT Distillery of the Year” – NY International Spirits Competition (2018-2020)
  • “CT Whiskey Distillery of the Year” – NY International Spirits Competition (2021)

Litchfield Distillery 2021 ASCOT Awards Medals:

  • LD Port Cask Finish Bourbon: Double Platinum
  • LD Agave Spirits: Platinum
  • LD Straight Rye Whiskey: Gol

Litchfield Distillery 2021 NYISC Awards Medals:

    • LD Double-Barrled Bourbon: Gold
    • LD Straight Rye Whiskey: Silver
    • “CT Whiskey Distillery of the Year”