The Birth of a Craft Distillery: Tommyrotter

It’s boom time for craft distilling. Drinkers today have a taste for local, small-batch spirits. Increasing numbers of small distilleries are firing up stills across the nation.

Take Tommyrotter Distillery in Buffalo. The staff here numbers two. Opened last year in the heart of Buffalo’s hydraulics manufacturing district, this spirits-producer has so far launched a vodka and a gin. This is a craft distillery in its infancy.

We recently caught up with Bobby Finan, who runs Tommyrotter with his partner Sean Insalaco, to talk about being in the business at this early juncture.

CH: What is Tommyrotter’s background?

BF: I was turned onto the craft-distilling world while living in NYC. At the time, the Brooklyn distilling scene was just starting to really get some attention. I decided I wanted to pursue a career in the industry and ended up lucking out and getting the first employee spot at the Cooperstown Distillery, which was just opening in 2013. I relocated to my hometown of Buffalo, NY in 2014 and collided with my soon-to-be business partner, Sean Insalaco. By July 2015, Tommyrotter Distillery opened up its doors to the public.

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Sean Insalaco (left) and Bobby Finan, partners at Tommyrotter Distillery in Buffalo.

CH: Your staff is two people. What are the struggles and advantages of a small-staff distillery? Do you have plans to expand?

BF: The obvious struggle is that there is a shortage of labor. Sean and I both wear many hats in our day-to-day. The greatest advantage of the small team is that we’re very dynamic. Decisions can be made and executed quickly. We would like to expand our staff soon. You always need people out in the streets, visiting sales accounts and spreading the word of the brand.

CH: Is it difficult for a new distillery to gain attention?

BF: If you don’t advertise or do events, then yes, it is quite difficult. However, most craft brands do very little advertising. We have found that with advertising, social media, charity events, events at liquor stores and cocktail bars, that people are eager to form a relationship with us.

CH: Are you tied into your area’s mixology scene?

BF: Yes, in a big way. Buffalo’s craft cocktail scene has been very receptive of our spirits. We always defer to the best area bartenders for cocktail-creation advice and often consult with them on how to best present our product in venues that have very high-level bar programs.

CH: You’ve started with a vodka and a gin. Is this the typical route for a new distillery?

BF: Clear spirits are always the typical route for a new distillery as they require no aging and can generate cash flow immediately. It would be quite difficult to launch a business and pay 4-6 years of operating costs while aging a premium bourbon.

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CH: What were your goals for the vodka and gin?

BF: We wanted to make a vodka that was truly a neutral spirit, balanced, smooth and a great canvas for a cocktail and our gin. If you didn’t know, gin is the same product a vodka, just infused with the essential oils of botanicals.

With regard to our gin, we wanted to make something truly unique and defined by nuanced complexity and herbaceousness. We don’t like London Dry gin so we took a different route. We’re finding that gin skeptics and lovers, alike, love it.

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