Last Thursday afternoon in the industrial area of Terminal Street almost directly under the Mystic/Tobin Bridge, Distiller Kyle LeClerc fed grain into a two-story tall tank to begin the bourbon mashing process for the day – something they do twice a day at Chattermark Distillery.
On the ground, Founder John Sorgini leaned against 50-pound sacks of grain and rye that had just arrived from Maine.
“We just got grain shipped in from a family farm in Maine,” said Sorgini. “It’s about as back to the basics as you can get. We are a fully operating distillery, but we really try to keep everything local and the product of a very high-quality.”
Chattermark has been around for about three years, locating in the former Downeast Cider brewery on Terminal Street. However, due to COVID-19 and the long process of aging spirits, they are just now ready to push their products out the door. So far, they have bottled Bourbons, Rye Whiskey, and a very unique New Englandy Gin. With scores of beautiful American Oak barrels aging in their warehouse from a flurry of distilling done during COVID-19, they have a huge head start and are poised for brisk business.
“We’ve been here about three years now,” said Sorgini, who is originally from Lynn but is very active in Charlestown organizations and is a board member of Charlestown Youth Hockey. “We planned on going out last year, but COVID-19 hit and the City stopped doing a lot of permitting. So we hunkered down and made a ton of whiskey and rye. We do have a huge head start with all that we’ve produced during the shutdowns. We just kept it here. I didn’t want to go around selling the product to restaurants that were about to go out of business because of COVID. We’re on the other side of that now, and getting a lot of interest in our product from restaurants and liquor stores.”
Tapping one of the first barrels they produced, he said, “We’re pretty close to having two-year stuff ready to get out the door.”
Whiskey and Bourbon, of course, are produced in a still – with Chattermark’s extraordinary equipment being hand-made and imported from Germany. The distillery does some unique things as well in the process, using water that is recycled from a huge cooling tank to lower the temperature of the mash before it hits the fermenter. That allows the process to start immediately, and is creates a difference in their product, he said.
Once the spirits are fully distilled, they must go into an American Oak barrel for aging. Two years is pretty standard for a lot of high-quality products, and the extended start-up time for Chattermark has been a mixed blessing to build up lots of properly-aged product, and also to get their ducks in a row.
In fact, Sorgini and LeClerc just had a hearing this month to approve their tasting room in the distillery. The plan would be to get it up and running as soon as they are approved officially and invite Charlestown residents and the public in regularly for drinks and tours. The tasting room would have business hours and would serve drinks using their products. That will all depend upon the lifting of COVID occupancy restrictions, however, though that could be coming soon.
It has been a long journey for Chattermark, and Sorgini said he recalls the first time he stepped into the vacant warehouse.
“When I took this space, Downeast Cider had recently moved to East Boston,” he said. “I remember stepping into this empty warehouse and thinking, ‘What have I gotten myself into?’”
What he got himself into is a passion he’s had for a long time.
Sorgini is a 26-year Air Force veteran, and is still on duty. He’s had multiple deployments in his career, and is a trained battle manager for the Air Force. However, he stepped out of active duty and came back to Boston some years ago to pursue a law degree, working as a corporate lawyer for years. During that time, he realized that there was a need for high-quality spirits, as most professionals enjoyed drinks in social circles after work. Sorgini studied the distilling process for years and visited a lot of existing distilleries big and small before he stepped out on his own. Now, what he got into within that once-empty warehouse was something that has become his passion.
“I love the art and science of it – the blending of both,” he said. “I wanted to create a product people would enjoy and that would bring people together. It’s a very big and complex operation, but it’s worthwhile…If you keep pursuing things you’re passionate about, it’s easy work. It’s still a job some days, but it’s something you’re passionate about.”
Sorgini said they are very excited to begin getting their product to the market and to the community in Charlestown. He said, being involved in the Town, he is very excited to be located here as well. At this point, they are excited to start the next phase and to do it in Charlestown.
“I feel very fortunate we’re in the community and we can call 02129 home,” he said. “It’s important to us to have our address say Charlestown on all our labels – showing we are a part of this community. We’re excited about the next phase. It took a lot of hard work to get here and now we’re ready to take it to the next stage of operations.” Chattermark is still finalizing the details of its tasting room operations and will announce regular hours as soon as such venues are fully able to operate