ST. JOHNSBURY — The St. Johnsbury Distillery, formerly Dunc’s Mill of Barnet, officially owns a building downtown — the former St. J Hardware building at the corner of Eastern Avenue and Pearl Street, where renovations and a conversion to make the retail space into a rum distillery and tasting room will begin next week.
Dan Hughes, one of the three owners of the St. Johnsbury Distillery, who bought the business from founder and distillery operator Duncan Holaday with his son, Brendan Hughes, and son-in-law Brian Garvey, said the closing for the building happened at 11 a.m. Tuesday.
The sales price for the former downtown hardware store building was not made public.
“Construction will begin next week,” said Hughes.
Hughes said, “There are some good things happening in town, and this is one.”
“We hope to have the production level completed by May 2019,” said Hughes. “The Tasting Room space on Eastern Avenue might take another year to complete.”
Hughes said, “It’s been a long and winding road.”
Hughes said the building was bought from John and Denise Gebbie, who owned and operated the hardware store for decades, as-is, “so there’s a lot of shelving that needs to come out, a lot of retail shelving.”
“We’re doing all new electrical, heating, plumbing, it needs a new roof, basically it’s going to be a complete rehab. We’ve got a lot to do,” said Hughes. “We’re hoping to move our equipment and start producing in St. Johnsbury by June.”
Hughes said, “Duncan is still involved. Mark Kuligoski is the next in line to become the distiller.”
“Mark has been with us since January, and he’s going to take over as the chief distiller. He’s learning from the master,” said Hughes. “Gregory Piper is also learning how to distill, and we’re using him in a sales role as well. Both Mark and Greg are full-time employees.”
Hughes said the company is helping to keep a few local young workers here.
“Mark had plans to go to California last year. We put our arm around him and asked him if he could wait six months. He absolutely loves it, and of course, he’s got a great teacher in Duncan. And Greg was working down in Boston and he wasn’t real happy with what he was doing. We asked him to come back and work for us and learn how to distill and have some fun”
The closing was through Passumpsic Savings Bank, who Hughes said is being “very supportive.”
Hughes said the company believes in St. Johnsbury, “Just recently last week we got our certification that we’ve trademarked St. Johnsbury Distillery, so that’s all official. We’ve been working hard since last December to come out with a spiced rum, it was not an easy project. Duncan and I hit it right away in a test batch, but then gearing it to a large production run, we couldn’t quite duplicate it. Last week, I got a call to come down to the mill and try some spiced rum that just came out of the barrels and it’s fabulous. We’re very excited to have it before Christmas, and it will be called Brendan’s Spiced Rum.”
Bill Graves will be the contractor. Mike Sorrell is doing the heating and plumbing. Brad Fontaine from CFW Electric is doing the electric, and Black River Design is doing the plans. Hughes said, “We’re doing absolutely as much local as possible.”
Hughes said the distillery could “potentially down the road,” house a restaurant. He said getting the production up and running is the first order of business, then the tasting room. He said there will be space for food trucks to serve on site for events.
“It’s a big project. It’s very exciting. It’s something that we need, and it’s something that will help the town, because it will be a tourist attraction some day,” said Hughes. He said he was at the Autumn on the Green event in Danville this past Sunday and the reception was very strong. “We can’t do this without the community’s support, that’s for sure.”
Hughes said Holaday had a one-year contract with the new owners, and that was renewed this month “and it’s open-ended.”
“He’s very involved in helping plan the production space for the new space,” said Hughes.
Holaday began selling rum in 1998, “Duncan was the very first distiller in the State of Vermont, of all spirits. He was the very first distillery to open in Vermont. It’s cool. And we’re doing everything we can to protect his legacy.”