BENNINGTON — Ken Lorenz knew 10 years ago that he wanted to start his own distillery.
The seeds were sown during a trip to Scotland. A lover of fine Scotch and an engineer by trade, he was drawn to the series of tanks, pipes and tubes, all of which played a roll in making a good spirt.
Lorenz and his wife Alexis founded the Spirits of Old Bennington, a craft distillery located in the former Vermont Tissue Mill. They've recently opened a new tasting room, where visitors can sample the locally made rum and gin, and purchase bottles. It will be open most weekends from noon to 4 p.m., but will be closed over the Fourth of July weekend.
Lorenz said he will meet with state liquor licensing officials in the next couple of weeks to list his products for sale in state liquor outlets.
"Come the end of July, we should be in some local liquor stores, restaurants and bars," Lorenz said.
Two products are currently bottled. There's a white rum named "Covered Bridge Rum," and "Sedition Gin," their take on a London dry.
A wheat whiskey hasn't been named. But batches are now aging in oak barrels, Lorenz said, and should be done by Christmas. And a vodka made with local potatoes is in the works — Lorenz said he's still fine tuning the recipe.
He said they aim to use locally produced ingredients whenever possible and want to work with other business owners and community members.
The tasting room includes a small bar and seating area. Nearby is the manufacturing space, which includes a 500-gallon mash tank, a 300-gallon still, fermenting tanks and other equipment. The entire 3,000-square-foot space takes up about a quarter of the former Vermont Tissue Mill on North Bennington Road. The mill on the Walloomsac River was built in 1887. The Vermont Tissue Paper Corp. used it for decades to manufacture and process paper before closing in 2006. North Bennington residents Bill and Maria Scully bought it in 2009. A multi-year, $2.5 million effort cleaned up contamination and installed the state's first hydroelectric project in decades.
Lorenz said he buys electricity through a net-metering agreement. While all of his electricity comes from the dam, he said he still uses propane to run the still and mash tank, and for heat.
He said local response has been positive, with lots of locals interested in what he's doing. And weekend traffic has been good — he said out-of-state visitors have stopped in to learn more about the distillation process and his business.
Fine-tuning the process and the resulting liquor, he said, has been "trial and error."
"We tried what we liked and visited other distilleries," he said. "How is it made? How long do you age it? Most people like to talk about how they make it. So we were able to narrow the field."
And with his experience in engineering, he's been able to streamline the entire process.
"This last batch was much easier than the one before," he said.
Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979