Spirits project proposed may be village first
A rendering of the proposed distillery project.

Courtesy photo

Spirits project proposed may be village first

Story By: LINDA LEUZZI
3/16/2017


It’s now officially known as The Bitter Man Distilling Company, a plan Anthony Gruppuso proposed at Patchogue Village’s Feb. 28 planning board meeting.

He hopes to transform the old 6,000-square-foot Pat Felice’s Automotive & Tire Center building  across from Bowl Long Island and the Watch Hill Ferry Terminal into a destination area. 

For raising a toast to craft spirits.

Gruppuso, a Bayport resident who owns Bohemia-based AutoFix Collision Center Inc. said his company will distill vodka, gin and whiskey under their own brand name at the 147 West Avenue site. His wife Lorie is the partner in the endeavor.

Gruppuso said he’s had a longstanding interest in small batch spirits being made by hand. 

Planning coordinator Carol Giglio said the total property site is 28,360 square feet. 

Planning board chairman John Rocco said it was the first distillery pitched to the village that he was aware of, “at least over the last 20 years,” he said. Gruppuso is scheduled to return to the planning board on March 28. More details are being sought from the Architectural Review and Planning boards on the elevation, lighting and landscaping. 

Patchogue mayor Paul Pontieri said  other than people making wine in their basements, during the 30’s and 40’s , this was the first distillery in the village. 

“The craft spirits movement is where beer was 10 years ago,” Gruppuso said. He referred to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s edict that 75 percent of a craft product’s ingredients have to be produced in New York State. 

“When farms are normally dormant, they’re growing crops for this,” he said, adding that winter wheat and red wheat are the usual basis for vodka, gin and whiskey; corn is for bourbon.

The spirits made here will be under their own brand name. 

“We are allowed to sell direct through our tasting room,” he said. “We can self-distribute to restaurants and liquor stores. The appeal is eat local, drink local. People are eating locally sourced food, they’re drinking local beers and now we’re offering local spirits. A lot of people drink vodka, and gin is having a resurgence.”

Gruppuso said half of the building’s space would be set aside for manufacturing, half will be a tasting-room environment. “We’ll offer small plates,” he said. “It’s a New York State law that we have to offer something for people to chew on. It will be high end. I won’t serve pretzels, when offering a premium product.”

The big daddy in the distilling process is a giant kettle. “You first create a mash, then ferment it,” he explained. “When that’s done, you remove the grain and boil what’s left. That goes into the kettle. It’s a completely closed system. Nothing is dispersed into the atmosphere and there’s no waste. Once the grain is used, it’s shipped back to the farm as animal feed.”

The start-out staff will be five or six, with an increase hovering at around 20 in several years, “but that’s with sales reps,” he said. “The distilling operation is three people, two people for tasting. We’ll walk then through, then there will be a tasting. It’s a purchasing opportunity.”

Two huge windows that roll up and a patio are in the mix, a space that’s 25 feet by 50 feet, “but the space is bigger than what we’ll actually use,” he said, adding that a small planting area will be set aside to grow a few ingredients. No music is planned. The hours are Thursday from 5-10 p.m., Friday from 5-11 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Planning board chairman John Rocco said one person at the planning board meeting introduced concerns.

“It’s no music, no drinking in the streets,” Gruppuso assured. “If you’re paying $29 or $39 a bottle and $10 to $12 for drinks, you won’t be bellying up to the bar having a lot of drinks. It’s a destination facility like a winery, but we won’t have tour buses. I think people will find us good neighbors. At our current business, we did the façade for the second time, whereas someone else wouldn’t. 

“The person who spoke out [at the planning board meeting] is equating his experience with Blue Point Brewery. We won’t have runs or 1,000-people events.”

John Bojak, who lives nearby the site and attended the planning board meeting, said he was in favor of the application “provided all the stipulations protecting the neighborhood and nearby area are enforced,” he said. “It won’t be a bar or a club and there’s no outdoor music. He seemed like a stand-up guy.”

Gruppuso said he chose the spot because of the amazing rebirth of the village. “I wouldn’t put this any other place,” he said. 

On his next round with the planning board, besides landscaping and lighting, “architectural review wants a detailed view of the patio area,” he said. 

Gruppuso, 55, has owned AutoFix Collision Center for 19 years. His company was just officially certified by Assured Performance, a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization, for their approach in maintaining the proper tools, equipment, training and facility needed to repair vehicles according to the manufacturer’s specifications. He also works for USA Today as a sports photographer.

Rocco said as planning board chairman he couldn’t comment much more than that it was still an open application. “The board is still considering it and it’s adjourned until the next meeting,” he said. “So if people want to comment, they should come.”