I found Obegley’s at the farmers market while hobbling around on a Saturday morning in Rochester, NY. I of course wasn’t very interested in the vegetables my mom was looking for since I can’t cook, and went over to the whisky table. I met a man named Jim and asked if they did distillery tours. He said they didn’t, but that his son would love to hear what I was doing with my whiskey research and would show me around. I called his son, Adam, and the next day I was at the distillery in Pittsford and what an amazing 3 hours that ensued after that.
O’Begley's is a unique story compared to other distilleries I have visited. First off, it is the cleanest by far which can be explained after hearing about Adam’s expertise in engineering. As a start-up distillery you can pursue full equipment set-ups from companies like Kothe in Germany, however, these can cost thousands if not hundreds of thousands of dollars. This is difficult for any start-up, especially if their end goal is to make whiskey where the lead-time for product release is already a source of stress. Adam decided to use his education and expertise to put together his own equipment. He worked with scrap yards, eBay and other local outlets to find the parts he needed and to make a functioning system. He has a little of everything including stills from the pharmaceutical world, to pumps from the food processing world. His end goal was to be as efficient as possible and eliminate any unnecessary equipment; making sure each piece he bought could serve multiple functions.
The best part of this visit was probably Adam’s genuine interest in the chemical and mechanical process of distillation. If you have any interest in whiskey, you most likely read about the strict still design and distillation process that each distillery will follow. Distillation has been around for so long, that it’s not necessarily that there are any proven results that certain methods work better than others and some may say a lot of this is due to habit and superstition. Adam looks at the equipment as an engineering feat, and of course the more control you have over the whole process from start to finish the more consistent your product and usually the higher the quality.
They currently have quite a bit in the pipeline, but for now they have their two major brands: Irish Style Whiskey and Poitin. The whiskey is typically aged around two years and in American oak, once used bourbon barrels. There are only a handful of suppliers in the US for these kinds of barrels. Two of the manufacturers that O’Begley’s uses are East Coast Wood Barrels and Black Swan. Black Swan has a really cool patent-pending technique that I hadn’t heard of before. It’s called the “honeycomb”. You can see just from the picture below how it could affect aging and flavor. Also, when I looked them up, I found the company was started by a young girl. Awesome!
Now besides the whiskey, you are probably wondering the same thing I did, what the heck is Poitin—pronounced “poo-cheen”. This is the un-aged moonshine of the Irish. Farmers would make it for their family and friends. I was also able to try product that isn’t on the market yet. My favorite was the Single Barrel Reserve. It’s been aged about 2 years and has a very tobacco, cigar box taste. This is one of the distiller’s favorites as well and he did mention he will be playing around with more tobacco flavors!
I can’t thank Adam enough for taking the time to show me his business and process. We spent almost three hours tasting, talking about the industry. He is a great teacher on the actual distillation process! So stop by the Rochester Public Market on Saturdays or at Marketview Liquor and check them out! You can get a bottle of the whiskey for around 45USD and the Poitin is at about 35USD. They also have a tasting room in Dundee. Go Rochester and go craft distilling!