Tracy Schuhmacher, @RahChaChowPublished 4:11 p.m. ET March 19, 2017 | Updated 4:21 p.m. ET March 19, 2017
For Jason Barrett, head distiller and president of Black Button Distilling since it opened in 2014, a big moment came in 2016: he started getting paid. With the large spaces, expensive equipment and hands-on labor required to produce spirits commercially, it takes a critical mass of sales and production for a distillery to become profitable. New equipment and a planned Buffalo tasting room promise to help Black Button cross that threshold.
The distillery at 85 Railroad St. recently took delivery of two new stills. A 650-gallon still will increase capacity and eliminate a production bottleneck. In the summer, Black Button will also add fermenters to enable the distillery to ramp up to 5,000 bottles of spirits per week.
A smaller 200-liter test still will allow the distillery to test new products with a greater degree of accuracy than its current equipment allows. This will decrease the risk that comes with trying new products, Barrett said.
The smaller still also is a good size for "fun little projects" — spirits that will be created for small batches. One example is its popular but labor intensive lilac gin, which it makes each spring. Another could be a spirit that could uniquely appeal to its new Buffalo tasting room, slated to open at 149 Swan Street in June.
The new location is in downtown Buffalo, a block from the ballpark and walking distance from the area's Canalside district, which is in the midst of a revival. It took Barrett more than a year to find the right spot.
"It's an incredibly tight market," Barrett said. When he heard through the grapevine that the owner of the cyclist-themed Handlebar was ready to move on, he moved quickly.
"We're right in the thick of it," he said, noting that the building is surrounded by convenient parking, and is one block off Seneca Street, another area showing promise. He finds the area analogous to the distillery's location near the Rochester Public Market, which will see two eateries open in the coming weeks.
The Buffalo tasting room will consist of a full bar featuring the Black Button Distilling product line, along with New York products like Rohrbach beers, Heron Hill wines and cider from Steampunk. Hard-to-find drafts from breweries in the eastern part of New York state will also be served on a rotating basis. The tasting room will also serve tapas-style small plates and desserts; once food service is up and running in Buffalo, it will likely be introduced in Rochester, Barrett said.
Barrett hopes the new tasting room will enable the distillery to become part of Buffalo's community in the same way it has in Rochester — "in essence become a hometown distillery," he said. He considers Rochester and Buffalo to be neighbors, and said that many bartenders work in both cities. In fact, he hopes to use the smaller new still to create a product aimed right at the heart of Buffalonians: loganberry sloe gin.
Black Button Distilling opened in January 2014 and is now distributed in 12 states. It currently employs 28 people in total; Barrett expects the number to increase to 40 when the Buffalo location opens.