By JONATHAN BISSONNETTE
PAWTUCKET – With its comfortable sofas and chairs perfect for lounging, and its relaxed ambiance providing a sense of total tranquility, Rhode Island Spirits on Blackstone Avenue is more than a distillery. According to co-owner Kara Larson, it’s a “third space.”
“It’s not work, it’s not home, but it’s a place to be comfortable and be cozy,” Larson said. “We want people to sense comfort here and that they’re welcome.”
That sense of calm was showcased on Saturday afternoon as Rhode Island Spirits opened its doors to the general public for the first time with a soft opening from inside its space at 59 Blackstone Ave. along the banks of the Blackstone River.
“What is so amazing is people are thrilled,” co-owner Cathy Plourde said. “People are so happy for us, they find the place to be beautiful.”
Reaching Saturday’s soft opening was no easy task, though, as Rhode Island Spirits’ opening was collateral damage resulting from the 35-day federal government shutdown earlier this year. The distillery had its grand opening plans scaled back from a full roll-out to a preview of sorts as the owners awaited needed federal approvals for formulas and labels.
While the distillery opened for tastings and cocktail sales on Saturday, the original grand opening plans were significantly scaled back. Under normal circumstances for distilleries, there are two needed federal approvals – one for formulas and one for labels – either of which traditionally takes about three to five business days. But without a federal employee from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau to look over the application and give it the OK, a backlog began to form during the month-long shutdown.
While small batches are held up a bit, the flagship white spirits were available for cocktails, tastings, and in bottles, Plourde said. They also had test batches of limoncello on Saturday.
“What we hadn’t planned on was the government pinching us,” Plourde said.
That said, the frustration stemming from the shutdown was a minor inconvenience in an otherwise welcome opening day.
“We wanted to open as soon as we could,” Larson said.
“We’re really excited and a little overwhelmed,” she later said. “Part of us expected a quiet thing, to not make a big deal, but we’ve been overwhelmed by the response. It’s not just friends, it’s the public … People are metaphorically jumping up and down.”
The menu on Saturday offered tasting flights of gin, vodka, and limoncello; tonics with vodka and gin; gin cocktails; vodka cocktails; non-alcoholic options such as seltzer, soda, and kombucha; and snacks. Plourde said the diversity in menu offered at Rhode Island Spirits was something new for the crowds of people who’ve seemingly visited every brewery in the state’s burgeoning craft beer scene.
“To put a distillery into the mix, people are really happy,” she said.
Larson added: “We’re lucky to catch a moment with so many breweries. We’re something new and different. It’s the right time for it.”
As for the concept of a “third space,” Larson says the 3,300 square-foot facility and its 1,600 square-foot tasting room is an “extension of a living room.” Those who live in a small apartment or work in a cramped space will surely find the high ceilings, bright natural light, and cozy furniture to be a relaxing environment.
“We’ll never turn a table in here, we’re not that,” Larson said of comparisons between the distillery and a bar. “We want them to come and stay. People came last night (for a soft opening for friends and family) and we couldn’t get people out of here!”
Located at 59 Blackstone Ave., Rhode Island Spirits is open Thursday and Friday from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 7 p.m.
Jonathan Bissonnette on Twitter @J_Bissonnette