BAITING HOLLOW, N.Y. - Rich Stabile has it down to a science. The electrical engineer-turned-master distiller opened Long Island Spirits 10 years ago.
"Long Island had a long history of growing potatoes and it was always my idea: why doesn't someone make a potato vodka from our wonderful potatoes?" he said.
So Stabile started with potato vodka, and now manufactures and sells gin, liqueurs, and whiskies. It is all done inside a 14,000-square-foot distillery and barrelhouse in Baiting Hollow, on the North Fork.
"Long Island has its own unique micro climate and agriculture," Stabile said. "We have about 15 to 20 longer growing days than Connecticut, which is only 10 miles away, because the Gulf Stream hits the base of Long Island.
Different from the wineries, Long Island Spirits manufactures year-round using local agriculture. The company has been on a 50 percent annual growth rate It sells in 35 states and Canada and is also in talks with distributors in Europe. Stabile, who has 15 employees, said the company is on track to do close to $2.5 million in sales this year.
"One day we'll be milling and fermenting," Stabile said. "Another day we will be distilling. Today we'll be bottling."
Whisky makes up 80 percent of the business. An automated machine can fill, cap, and label up to 1,000 bottles an hour. 25 pounds of potatoes make one liter of vodka. Why? Well 80 percent of a potato is water. But to make whiskey, each bottle only needs about three pounds of corn, rye, or wheat.
"This is the actual local winter rye that's planted in October and forms a cover crop for the potatoes," Stabile said, holding some grain. "This is what we make our Rough Rider Rye Whisky out of."
The rye is milled and then goes into the mash tun. It cooks for about 2.5 hours and then it's cooled and fermented for 10 days.
"Basically it looks like oatmeal. You distill that and the clear liquid, the spirit, comes out," assistant distiller Matt Nikitopoulos said. "And then you have to distill it once more to clean it up. And if you're making whisky or bourbon you can barrel that second run."
It is aged for at least one year before it is bottled, boxed, and shipped.
A liter of vodka costs $36. Whiskies and bourbons start at $45. Each whisky has its own flavor profile. And just like wines, they tend to improve with age.