Catching up with: Black Button Distilling

DEMOCRAT & CHRONICLE

Jinelle Shengulette Published 12:02 a.m. ET May 23, 2015 | Updated 7:56 p.m. ET May 24, 2015

Jason Barrett has a work ethic that's hard to match.

Black Button Distilling's president and founder works about 80 hours a week, and he travels to meet with out-of-state distributors twice per month.

"For the most part, it's a six-day-a-week job. I don't work on Sundays, though. My grandmother still cooks a big Sunday dinner, so I'm smart enough not to miss that!" says Barrett, 27.

The founder of Black Button — a grain-to-glass craft distillery serving up gin, vodka, moonshine, bourbon and more — grew up in a family where "work and life always sort of melded together."

His grandparents owned what is now Shantz Associates, a button company, and his mother runs the Victor business today.

"If I was on vacation from school, I would end up on my grandfather's couch in his office or sweeping the button factory floors," says Barrett, 27.

His distillery opened in January 2014 and has since added two 15-ton grain silos, six full-time employees and distributors in seven states.

 

We spoke with the East End resident recently about how he got into distilling, how the business model has changed since Black Button opened and more.

Starting with craft beer: "In college, I picked up the hobby of home brewing. ... I went to a brewing/distilling school, and I realized that making bourbon and making beer were almost the same, and there was so much more opportunity for gin and bourbon — all of these taste profiles that really haven't been done. I was suddenly much more interested in distilled spirits than beer."

How the business model has changed: "I originally thought we'd be this little, tiny company. The original business plan doesn't call for us to get the second still until year four, and here we are, a year and a half in, and I'm sitting here with the drawing in front of me because we're bringing it in this summer."

On the liquidity of the company: "I have 217 barrels of bourbon that we've laid down so far, and they're all aging. Some will come due this fall and many next year, and when those do, we'll be in very good shape, but right now, with all that money tied up in bourbon barrels, it just makes liquidity very tight."

On why he started his business in Rochester: "Rochester really is a special place. It's a very food-smart city, very culture-oriented, a lot of people enjoying the festivals and the city, making the most of living here. I really think there's a lot to be said for the support that the local craft brewing community gets from our hometown. A customer asked me an hour ago, 'Why start a distillery in Rochester?' And I said, 'I don't know why you'd start one anywhere else!' "

For more information: Black Button Distilling, 85 Railroad St., Rochester. Call (585) 730-4512 or go to www.blackbuttondistilling.com.