WINSTON — A little under eight years ago Stonehouse Distillery started making spirits and doing it the way they wanted to do it. Though over the last year the COVID-19 Pandemic has forced them to make some changes, they’re still thriving.
“I think what really helped us was that our distilleries on our property, we own the building, we own the equipment,” said John Grahlert. “We just continued to do what we actually did. We scaled down, of course, because the demand was less. But we scaled down and we continued to mash and distill and bottle and just be ready for whatever was coming along.”
Nestled between Canyon Ferry Lake and the Winston Mine sits Stonehouse Distillery. The operation is run by the husband and wife team of John, the head distiller, and Snezhi Grahlert, who operates the marketing portion of the business.
John said their distillery was born out of dissatisfaction with what was offered as a nice cocktail around the area.
“We were somewhat dissatisfied if we went out to treat ourselves to a nice meal, if it was a nice cocktail, a nice drink, to what was actually offered,” said John. “So the stubborn streak came out and I told my wife, we're going to open a distillery and we're going to do things right.”
“We don’t even drink,” chuckled Snezhi.
From there Stonehouse Distillery was born, but in John’s words, it wasn’t exactly what they were looking for.
“When we came home, we researched what is involved and found out it is one of the most regulated industries,” said John. “Which was not what we were after but we figured, well, this is what it's going to be and we just have to deal with it.”
Over the last seven years, featuring various different spirits, it’s just been John and Snezhi. Yet as word of their spirits spread it created a demand that Stonehouse couldn’t fulfill with the equipment they had.
“We have so many back orders that we haven't been able to fulfill with our current level of equipment. So my wife said well, what we can do is we can hire somebody and you know pay a yearly salary, or for that yearly salary, we can purchase some equipment,” said John. “That was actually a great idea which I never had time to consider.”
Now, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Grahlerts are upgrading their equipment to increase the output of their spirits. Being a smaller distillery, the Grahlerts noted they’ve had troubles trying to fill their orders in recent years and hopes with the new equipment they’ll be able to completely get up to speed with the orders coming in while creating a less labor-intensive workspace.
“Hopefully with the new equipment being able to supply the backorders, number one. You know, my wife said earlier that we've had requests from out of states and most distilleries actually are distributing across different states, which we have not. Because we need to be able to supply the local market before we can branch out, and we even have problems for the local market,” said John.
Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, many local distilleries opted to start producing hand sanitizer at a time when many people couldn’t find it. Grahlert said he was asked if he could produce hand sanitizer, but chose not to because his main focus is on producing spirits.
“We were, at one point, able to shut down for a couple of weeks, and when we were asked would we make hand sanitizer and other things, you know, born out of the virus situation. We did not. We chose not to go that route because we make a small batch crafted spirits for consumption, and we didn't want to change that,” said Grahlert.
As Stonehouse Distillery prepares for its eighth anniversary, set for Independence Day, the Grahlerts said they have big plans in the works for expanding their business including a larger tasting room and a deck that faces east towards Canyon Ferry lake, but their main focus is on getting the new equipment up and running.
There are a couple of differences between Stonehouse and other distilleries across the country, but none is more present than their location. Stonehouse Distillery sits about 30 paces from the Grahlert’s front door, and John says he has no plans on letting go of the business anytime soon.
“I feel good. I feel fit. I enjoy what I do. I have no reason to go anywhere else. So I mean, I enjoy it. So I don't know. I guess until they carry me out feet first. I'll be here,” said John with a chuckle.
The reason? He enjoys watching people enjoy the fruits of his labor.
“Personally, my biggest reward is when customers come in and drink it and like rather than saying ‘Oh yeah, this is pretty nice,’ actually say, ‘Wow, this is incredible. I've never had anything like this before.’”