CLEVELAND, Ohio – Some brewers dabble in distilling. Occasionally you might find a winemaker who can brew beer. A distiller here or there might know a thing or two about wine. Then there’s Jim Waltz.
Waltz is a triple threat. He can brew beer, make wine, and craft spirits.
The brewer at Forest City Brewery in Cleveland distilled spirits in his previous job at Southern Tier Brewing Co. in New York, and he knows how to make wine. It’s rare to find the three skills wrapped into one fermentation craftsman.
Through his expertise and the brewery owners’ willingness to share space, Waltz and partners have started Duck Island Cocktails.
The business sits in a snug, 500-square foot space within the Columbus Road brewery. They offer pre-mixed cocktails, kegged and distributed to bars and restaurants. Waltz, Simon Ellett, Randy Phillips and a silent partner own the business, which they say is the first of its kind in Ohio and possibly the United States.
The mixes are distributed in the same types of kegs that hold beer.
“We’re essentially a blending house,” Waltz said.
It’s mixology requiring a massive multiplier.
“Instead of making a five-ounce glass we’re doing a 130-gallon cocktail,” he said.
The mixes that Duck Island Cocktails are bringing to the market are around 7 percent alcohol. They could be higher, the owners said, but initial reception has gravitated toward the lower ABV.
“It’s up to the bar with what they want to do,” Waltz said. “You want to sugar the rim? Sugar the rim.” A bartender could add a lemon wedge, cinnamon stick – whatever they want, he said.
It’s a good working relationship: The owners of Duck Island Cocktails are not so attached to their creation that they want to micro-manage how bars serve it. And bartenders on busy nights don’t have to worry about taking time to mix drinks with a crowd at the bar. Also: If restaurants have requests for a specialized mix, they can do that, too.
“It’s very beneficial to be able to serve this way,” Waltz said. All that a bartender has to do is “garnish and go.”
The production space at Forest City doesn’t have a separate tasting room, but a 1930s mushroom-shaped tower tap system is in place on the bar.
“Jay (Demagall, one of the brewery owners) bought it for the brewery. It sat up in the rafters for three years,” said Waltz, who said he felt he wanted “to bring it back to life.”
“The big driving point was I got into this industry to have fun,” said Waltz, who likens his brewing job to being a cook, making sure required ingredients are added at specific time periods.
That pace of the brewing process actually leads to down time that allows Waltz to work on the cocktails. They went through trial-and-taste batches before deciding on the first line of rotating cocktails: A pumpkin spiced sangria (crafted with white wine and peach-mango juice), and apple cinnamon, a fall cocktail. The “Kringle” – a cranberry-cinnamon cocktail – is set to be released.
The mixes yield some effervescence, Waltz said.
“The flavors get carried in the carbonation,” he said.
“The key is innovation,” said Ellett, who added: “They’re not girlie drinks.”
A key challenge that had to be solved involved government regulation.
“With the cocktails, it’s very different (for) the wine, beer and distilling industries,” Waltz said. “I’ve figured out what is allowed to be put in a keg. The TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) is very strict about what you can and cannot do. Kegged cocktails are around, but they cannot be distributed.”
Through his experience with brewing, Waltz knows how to navigate government approval for labels, and soon found the legal steps to take.
In the end, Phillips said, “The driving focus is a good product. It tastes good.”
About Duck Island Cocktails