PAWTUCKET – Cathy Plourde and Kara Larson are in high spirits right about now. That’s because their craft distillery on Blackstone Avenue – Rhode Island Spirits – was recently named one of USA Today’s 10 best new craft distilleries in the country.
“We were nominated by somebody in the industry, that was kind of cool, that somebody saw us and put us forward, and from there, gosh, this kind of thing means a lot because we’ve not entered any kinds of competitions at all,” Plourde said in a phone interview on Thursday. “We were really excited, we have some really dedicated fans who I think pushed up their sleeves and got to town voting.”
“When you do something and you work really hard, you sort of have your nose down and you’re doing what you can do. To have notice on a national level is kind of over the top and exciting,” Plourde added.
Nestled along the banks of the Blackstone River at 59 Blackstone Ave., Rhode Island Spirits has quickly made a name for itself as a premiere destination for cocktails in a city known for its booming craft beer scene. As the makers of Rhodium-brand gins, vodkas, and liqueurs, Plourde and Larson have worked tirelessly since opening in March 2019 to turn their distillery into a space for visitors to sample a carefully-crafted line of craft spirits.
And it’s not just the tastes that have drawn guests to Rhode Island Spirits. Plourde and Larson have turned their distillery into a destination that appeals to all five senses, saying from day one that their goal was to morph the location into a “third space” – neither work nor home, but a place to be comfortable and cozy in between.
The 3,300 square-foot facility and its 1,600 square-foot tasting room might be considered by some to be an extension of their living room, while those who live in a small apartment or work in cramped quarters would surely find the high ceilings, bright natural light, and cozy furniture to be a welcoming and relaxing environment.
But, like all businesses, Rhode Island Spirits has been impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“We opened a month late because of the (2018-19) government shutdown and closed our tasting room on the one-year anniversary because of the pandemic … It’s frustrating and sad for us that we can’t open our tasting room right now, we don’t have a safe way to do it right now that we can afford,” Plourde said of the pandemic’s impacts on business at Rhode Island Spirits. “What it meant was that we have focused on our distribution. Ultimately, distribution is where this business is going to break even and pay for itself.”
“The tasting room has been a great brand ambassador, people have loved the space, they’ve loved the products very much, we miss people trying out new cocktails, new spirits, that’s hard,” Plourde added.
“Frankly, this is a tricky time to get in front of people because the tasting room is closed. We can’t do booming business at restaurants and bars, we are reliant on publicity … You can only say ‘Hey, I make really good booze,’ so many times,” she later said. “When people try it, they really like it, they are surprised at how deep the line is, they really like it all.”
According to USA Today, the number of craft distilleries in the United States grew by more than 11 percent between 2018 and 2019, with now more than 2,000 spread across the country. A panel of experts was asked to nominate 20 of the best new craft distilleries opened within the past three years, and USA Today’s readers then voted for their favorites.
Rhode Island Spirits came in third, behind only Ballmer Peak Distillery of Lakewood, Colo. and Lost State Distilling of Bristol, Tenn.
“All the spirits from Rhode Island Spirits are organic, vegan, gluten-free and non-GMO,” USA Today’s write-up of Rhode Island Spirits reads. “The vodka, made from organic corn spirits, is distilled seven times and filtered through charcoal, while the gin features botanicals like juniper, angelica, orris, coriander, cardamom and citrus. The distillery also produces limoncello, cherry and cranberry Red Vodka and coffee and black walnut vodka.”
With the ongoing success of Rhode Island Spirits, Plourde and Larson have visions of continued growth. Rhodium-brand products are available statewide in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
“We aspire to be a regional brand that is respected and loved. World domination is a little more than our budget can handle right now. But if we can be the strong regional brand that people turn to for high-quality gins and vodkas and flavored spirits, that would make us really happy…” Plourde said. “For better, for worse, a pandemic makes people drink more, because people aren’t going out for their cocktails.”
Jonathan Bissonnette on Twitter @J_Bissonnette