This article first appeared in The Independent Newspaper. Read more about #EverythingEastEnd here
Once a whaling village, Greenport has been making a splash in the beverage industry. For beer, there’s the Greenport Harbor Brewing Company and now, for spirits, there’s a new kid on the block, Matchbook Distilling Co. The team behind this “bespoke distillery and incubator” is changing the dynamic of the spirits industry, one label at a time.
Envision walking into a 38,000-square-foot warehouse, where imagination guides your spirit, literally, including a wall of straight botanicals, where people can come in and create their own blend. Bars and restaurants, farmers, start-ups, and brands — everyone from the eager-to-learn novice to industry experts looking to stretch their creativity has an opportunity to create a tailor-made libation. This includes the finest of flavors and bottle branding.
“When you think about what distilling is, you are literally capturing flavor in a super concentrated form. You’re building flavor and then taking it out by separating it from everything else,” said Leslie Merinoff Kwasnieski.
She and Brian Kwasnieski are the company’s co-founders. They have a history of innovative start-ups together. In their college town of Burlington, VT, they founded Broke in Burlington, a company that listed drink and event specials at local bars and restaurants.
Eventually, through establishing close relationships with local businesses, the company gained popularity among the public and grew to aid in spirits promotions for several college towns. It was from that Merinoff Kwasnieski was hired by William Grant & Sons to take the lead in sales of Sailor Jerry Rum, where she proudly closed a million cases.
From this benchmark success, she then ventured to The Noble Experiment NYC, a Brooklyn-based craft distillery. It was here that she came to understand the hardships faced by small businesses, as giant companies continue to control the market, she said.
“It’s the same thing again and again. We want to push people to think outside of the box,” she explained. “What I wanted to do with Matchbook was create a launch pad for people to create the spirits that they wanted to create without compromising, in a simpler space.” It was also during this time, working for The Noble Experiment NYC, that she fell in love with Greenport. Taking the ferry allowed her to admire the waterfront view of this port town. Between the wineries and the agriculture, it all clicked. And so, after two months of trial research and development, Matchbook Distilling Co. was born, with an official opening at the end of June.
Clients can be as hands on as they’d like or entrust the team to run free with the project. Paul Monahan is the chief marketing officer. He was once a global ambassador for Sailor Jerry Rum and winner of Wine Enthusiast’s Mixologist/Brand Ambassador of the Year in 2012. Nancy Cameron Duffy is creative director alongside her business partner and husband Josh Duffy, director of fabrication.
“It’s so much more than a logo. It’s the liquid, the full label, the full concept . . . For brands specifically, we want people to have a really good idea on what their marketing and sales strategy is going to be,” Merinoff Kwasnieski said. “We prioritize client tradition, agriculture, and anthropology of making spirits.”
The men behind the crafting are the chief of science and distilling, Matthew Spinozzi, and head of production and development, Dean Babiar. Spinozzi holds a master’s of science degree in brewing and distilling from Heriot-Watt University in Scotland. Babiar graduated from the University of Maryland, where he studied agricultural economics. Babiar has worked as a winemaker, focusing on old-school methods across five continents, landing the role as head winemaker at Jamesport Vineyards.
“The best thing I’ve ever done is create this team . . . everyone plays so well off of each other,” Merinoff Kwasnieski said. “When they have great ideas, being able to have them come to fruition has been one of the best experiences of my life. It’s so great that we get to be together all the time, in Greenport, that is such a stunning and likeminded setting for this to happen.”
Clients have full ownership rights and Matchbook proudly carries the craft bottles at its sister property and boutique hotel, the Lin Beach House, for the public to enjoy. For roughly $6000 a year, with prices varying with ingredients and order size, once a project is in the works, clients can partake in year-round programming, including private events, classes, tastings, and dinners. Included in the warehouse space is also a front-of-the-house coffee bar to work, host meetings, meet friends, and indulge in a fuller experience.