Food & Culture | Spirits are alive at Renaissance Artisan Distillers

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Meet the guys behind Akron’s only–and perhaps first–distillery

by Brittany Nader

The craft beer scene is booming in Greater Akron as locals embrace the complex flavors and creative offerings of the numerous breweries in the area. Now, those with a higher tolerance for their preferred alcoholic beverages are in luck. Akron’s first commercial distillery has opened its doors, and business is booming.

John Pastor, co-owner of Grape and Granary, which has long been a haven for homebrewers and amateur wine makers. (Photo courtesy of Renaissance Artisan Distillers)
John Pastor, co-owner of Grape and Granary, which has long been a haven for homebrewers and amateur wine makers. (Photo courtesy of Renaissance Artisan Distillers)

Renaissance Artisan Distillers operates adjacent to Grape and Granary, the one-stop shop where local home brewers and winemakers load up on all their supplies and ingredients. The creation of the distillery was a natural progression for John Pastor and Ron Petrosky, two avid brewers who were eager to give Akronites high spirits and homegrown artisanal liquor options.

Pastor, who co-owns Grape and Granary with his family, has become a working expert in the art of distilling. Through his years running Grape and Granary, he has witnessed craft beer enthusiasts evolve from curious shoppers to owners of successful local breweries like Thirsty Dog and Hoppin’ Frog. Inspired by their drive to take their love of the craft to a commercial level, he and Petrosky began attending conferences around the globe to stay apprised of industry trends and learn tricks of the trade from seasoned distillers.

“The name Renaissance comes from a resurgence of interest in artisan spirits,” Pastor says. “People’s tastes are changing. They prefer local and quality over the mass produced. Mass-produced products just don’t have a lot of character.”

Pastor and Petrosky agree that having a deep understanding of beer and wine making has been essential in the development of the rich, vibrant flavors of their craft spirits. Visitors will instantly taste the difference between big-name liquors they’re used to, like Jim Beam or Jack Daniels, and the unique flavor fusions in the local distillery’s single-malt whiskey, gin or brandy. Developing these kinds of high-quality spirits is truly a science, and one look at the still and set up of the operation conjures images of mad scientists or chefs working tirelessly to develop the perfect formula or recipe for their creations.

Renaissance Artisan Distillers’ goods are made from as many local ingredients as its operators can get their hands on. Its grappa, a spicy, fruity Italian spirit, is produced from soaked grape skins given to the distillers from nearby Viking Vineyards. The vanilla and caramelized sugar used for its Crooked Cannon coffee liqueur are both made in house. Special time and care go into each of the distillery’s products, from month-long soaking of fruits and herbs to yearlong barrel aging of its flavorful and aromatic whiskey.

“Making everything under one roof means you won’t have to worry about extra expenses,” Petrosky says.

Ron Petrosky, who moved over from his work with Grape and Granary to help John launch the disillery. (Photo courtesy of Renaissance Artisan Distillers)
Ron Petrosky, who moved over from his work with Grape and Granary to help John launch the disillery. (Photo courtesy of Renaissance Artisan Distillers)

This is especially important for the distillers as they work to get their spirits into local bars and restaurants. Right now, the artisan offerings are only available for sampling and purchase at the distillery’s location on Home Avenue. The operators are currently working on developing a barrel-aged rum, in addition to their current offerings, which they hope to have completed and bottled in the next month. The goal is to make enough of each type of spirit for distribution. Ohio laws are stringent about the sale of craft spirits, limiting purchases from distilleries to 1.5 liters or four quarter-ounce samples per customer per day.

“We also have to have a distribution point,” Pastor says, “You can’t just take spirits to a bar or restaurant like you can with beer or wine.”

Despite the current limitations with the availability of its products, Pastor and Petrosky are optimistic about the distillery’s future. Spirits are already flying off the shelves–with their limoncello, whiskey and Route 8 gin being the most popular offerings–and as the distillery grows, so will its output of craft liquor. Laws in the state have become a bit more lax in recent years, allowing the passionate brewers to open and operate the distillery in the first place. As craft spirits continue to rise in popularity and are embraced by the local community, there is a good chance enthusiasts could soon see new high-quality offerings widely available across the region.

“No one has been able to find another commercial distillery in Akron’s history,” Pastor says. “We love the creative aspect of it, and we think people are going to be really surprised when they try it.”

Renaissance Artisan Distillers is located at 915 Home Ave in North Hill. Locals can stop in to the tasting room to sample the latest craft spirits, or sip on wine from Grape and Granary if that’s more their style. Pastor and Petrosky are more than willing to share their extensive knowledge of spirits and give a brief tour of their operation to curious patrons. Bottles of the distillery’s creations can be purchased directly from the store, with prices starting at $25. Learn more about RAD’s traditional artisan distilling process at renartisan.com.

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