Too Young to Retire So Lets Make Whiskey!

A new sense of spirit has swept across the land, here and abroad. The spirit of ingenuity, entrepreneurial visions, thinking local, sourcing local is bursting forth. Brave and bold people are creating small businesses focused on brewing and distilling at a record pace. We the consumer are benefiting from all these new products. Naturally, over time, there will be a shake down and some will fail or choose to close, some will continue to thrive independently, some will succeed and be bought out by conglomerates. All the while we get to sample, sip, and slurp.

Owners Kathy and bob Ryan
Owners Kathy and Bob Ryan

I visited a local distillery this past week, Ryan and Wood of Gloucester, Massachusetts.  Their products include a rye whiskey, a single malt whiskey,  Folly Cove rum, Beauport vodka and Knockabout gin. Kathy Ryan, owner with husband Bob, spent more than two hours with me talking about how they entered the world of distilling, their learning curve, and how the company trudged through the federal and local requirements. Additionally, the tour alone was jammed packed with information not only about their company operations but the impact local history has on their mission and vision. I did try the rye and single malt at the end of the tour! Tasting notes at the end of this article.

The following is a synopsis of my interview with Kathy and Bob:

Why did you start Ryan and Wood Distillery?

K. We were in the fish processing business here in Gloucester. We were well aware that  overfishing, ever changing federal and state regulations and other fishing concerns were making the fishing industry difficult; it made sense to sell. We were too young to retire so we had to do something.  There is a long history of distilling in Massachusetts – the rum trade of our forefathers, breweries, distilleries. Ethanol was produced here during Prohibition for munitions, and there was an active illegal running of alcohol right here on Folly Beach. Folly has deep water and a sandy beach, perfect for unloading banned liquor and making a dash back out to sea.We wanted to do something again in Gloucester. We knew distilling could be done here.

What did you know about distilling when you decided to enter this field?

B. We were a blank slate in 2006 when we began the process.

K. We knew nothing related to distilling. We went to a workshop in Arizona sponsored by Arnold Holstein, the German makers of our still. We visited Kentucky. We brought in the 70ish year old son of the family who produced Appleton Estate Rum to guide us in our rum production.

Arnold Holstein 600 liter alembic copper pot still
Custom fabricated Arnold Holstein 600 liter alembic copper pot still

Weren’t you brave and bold!

K. It took us almost two years to actually start production. It gave us lots of time to do research. The still took one year to build. The licenses took eleven months. Recipes had to be approved, labels had to be approved, background checks had to be completed to make sure we weren’t felons nor potential terrorists.  The government took this quite seriously. Some of the bureaucracy has changed but recently a Massachusetts Distillers Alliance was formed with fourteen members so we can have one strong voice when discussing what is best for our small business industry.

Tell me about your rye whiskey.  It was the first one I tried about four years ago.

K. Rye has a long history in America and it is popular again. Our rye whiskey is aged over two years in new American White Oak barrels. We use up to 80% rye, along with wheat and barley. As with all of our products, the production is cyclical and not really seasonal. It makes a great Manhattan, Old Fashion or Sazarac, but I usually sip it neat.


And you now have a single malt whiskey?

K. Yes, our single malt is made using malted barley from Valley Malt in Hadley, Massachusetts. As our label states, “The barrels are then matured under the influence of Cape Ann’s unique coastal climate.” Our single malt is bottled at 80 proof while our rye whiskey is bottled at 86 proof. For both our whiskies we use spring water, our other products use distilled water. We have a wheated whiskey coming out sometime in the next year – we are waiting for it to reach the right level of maturation to be called a Ryan and Wood.

Tell me about the Jack Daniel’s barrels.

K. We were fortunate to know someone, who knew someone who could set up the transactions. We are so small that this would not have happened otherwise. We receive used Jack Daniels barrels and our rum spends some time in the barrels before being finished off in new American White Oak barrels. An interesting side note, a local restaurant, the Blue Ox in Lynn MA, purchases our used chopped up barrels to aid in the smoking of their filet mignon steaks. Our products are used in some of their cocktails.

I have had their cocktails and the smoked steak – absolutely fabulous. Makes my mouth water just thinking about it!

Bob, any last words that you would like to add?

B.  I read the very old book “The Compleat Distiller” when we were first starting out.  It was a very helpful book.  The other thing is, not everybody is in it to make a good product. for some it is about profits.

K. We are only in Massachusetts for now and we have just brought on a distributer, Ruby Wines. We don’t want to become huge.  Our children and grand children will benefit from our company over the long term, we are building the business and paying off the loans.

B. Our son, Doug, works here full time. He went to school to be a lawyer. On a sad note, David Wood, Kathy’s nephew, was our original back-up person to run the company, if anything happened to us.  David, passed away unexpectedly in his sleep. Doug is now here.


Ryan and Wood Distillery is a small shop but they have wonderful products and the desire to live and work and support the community. I applaud their commitment to being “local” and for creating products that meet their high standards without being concerned about the conglomerates. Do spend some time looking at their web site. Try their whiskies when you can!

Tasting notes: The single malt starts off with a hint of sweet and finishes with a touch of grain. It is light and feathery and makes a nice summer dram.  The rye is also on the light side with a hint of spice.  I like to make an Old Fashion with it.

The shiny door for the beautiful Holstein still
The shiny door for the beautiful Holstein still