NEWCASTLE, Maine — In a well-used gambrel-roof barn on Route 1 in Newcastle, an organic distillery is being developed by two midcoast men. It will open in early July.
Topher Mallory and Matt Page, who bonded over a love of rock climbing, knew the 50-year-old barn would be an ideal distillery. The price, size and location were right for their grain-based, organic operation. What the two friends didn’t know was the many ways the barn would shape their mission.
“As we ripped back the barn and saw the space, it inspired us to look past where we started with our business,” said Mallory, who also is the chief operating officer of the Maine clothing and jewelry chain Mexicali Blues.
He has worked nights and weekends to get Split Rock Distilling ready for market and visitors.
“It was amazing that we were able to relook at our distillation equipment and go bigger, but with more variety,” Mallory said.
The mundane vinyl siding was taken off to reveal the barn’s original wood exterior, and in keeping with the clean-cut taste of Split Rock’s natural spirits, the outside was painted a classic red, trimmed in white.
Inside the barn, last home to a tangle of businesses including screenprinting, sign making and wood carving, a gleaming vodka and whiskey column, hybrid still, gin basket and condenser anchor the space.
Striving to become Maine’s first organic distiller while turning a hodgepodge interior into an efficient booze barn has been a nonstop two-year endeavor.
“We had budget limitations, but at the end of the day, it is who we are as entrepreneurs that inspired taking on the restoration project, and what our brand is rooted in — an intimate handmade mentality,” said Mallory.
That mentality was tested during the frigid winter of 2014 and 2015. Blood and tears were shed, and countless splinters and chilly nights were spent hovered over a kerosene lantern for heat as the pair took the barn down to the studs, opened walls and built a tasting room.
They also had friends and family who believed in the endeavor — and a supportive community. When Mallory and Page needed it the most, help arrived — like the time they tried to set up the still’s cooling water delivery system.
After 12 hours of sweating over copper pipes, the novices had made decent headway. But it was with help from a local plumber friend who stopped by to check on them that they were able to finish the job.
A thank-you wall in the tasting room bears the names of those who helped bring the barn-based distillery to life.
Split Rock’s design aesthetic is both rustic and chic.
An old pine tree that was on Mallory’s wife’s family property (“A place that means a lot to me, this tree was standing right behind me when I got married”) was milled into lumber and now serves as the tasting room bar.
“We wanted [the space] to reflect the barrels and barn with old wood on the tasting room walls,” said Page, who added that he didn’t start out looking for a barn but became fascinated with the all-purpose country shelter.
Upstairs, in what was likely a hayloft, the owners cut a hole through the second floor to fit a 20-foot tall vodka tower. It soon will be encased in glass and serve as a focal point in their company headquarters. When you walk through the front door, a glass wall provides a peek into their operation.
“We didn’t want customers to feel that they were in this pristine tasting room,” said Page, a licensed site evaluator. “We wanted them to feel like they were involved in the making of the spirits.”
As tourists descend soon, Split Rock will be ready with bourbon, white whiskey, vodka (both 80 and 150 proof), blueberry vodka, horseradish vodka and an intrepid backstory. Even the company’s name, chosen for the dirt road the founders travel between their homes (a well-known shortcut), is soaked in irony.
“Friends tell us that’s the only shortcut we’ve taken,” said Mallory.