Spirits are Soaring at Ryan & Woods


by Lindsey Danis
Photographs by: Katie Noble

Hidden in an industrial park a few minutes’ drive from Gloucester center, Ryan &Wood Distilleries is a hidden attraction that visitors to this seaside town might miss were it not for owner Bob Wood’s grassroots marketing plan. To promote agritourism, Wood keeps Cape Ann’s innkeepers stocked with his wooden coins imprinted with the distillery’s motto, “The Spirit of Cape Ann.”

Visitors enter the distillery’s office clutching the small wooden coin, handing it to Bob or his wife Kathy in a transaction that all enjoy. The tourists are excited about the tour and Bob likes the community aspect of the North Shore tourism industry.

Wood’s enthusiasm for his product is so vast—and his knowledge, accumulated in the four years since the distillery’s opening, so broad—that it’s no wonder Ryan & Wood enjoys steady sales from tours and tastings. While visitors to the distillery taste the spirits (Knockabout Gin, Folly Cove Rum and Beauport Vodka) the process is more interactive than that.

Wood hands our party a vial of licorice root and instructs us to taste a small piece. “This is what gives our gin its sweetness,” he says, before moving on to a discussion of the difference between cinnamon and cassia bark, two of the 10 botanicals used in their gin (cassia, regularly sold as cinnamon, is peppery and tastes hot, while real cinnamon offers a sweet, complex flavor).

This dedication to craft shows in each product. Folly Cove Rum is aged for “around 15 months” in charred oak barrels formerly used to age Jack Daniel’s whiskey. Since the rum that emerges from these barrels is honey-colored, they also age a small percentage of each batch in new oak barrels. The new-oak rum takes on a darker hue and when the two are mixed together they turn an amber color. While the tint of the rum pleases the consumer’s eye, the aging period develops its flavor.  Wood waits for a signature butterscotch aroma before bottling the rum.

An upcoming project of American rye—“the original spirit of the colonies,” notes Wood—aims to turn a new generation on to this forgotten spirit. At present, the rye has been aging for nearly two years and is at 70% alcohol. Wood dilutes our samples with water; the flavor is bracing, rough, spicy without being as sweet as its cousins bourbon and whiskey. “We’re happy with where it’s at,” he says. “It’s not there yet, but we’re happy with it.” He is hoping to get the rye on the market soon.

Rye isn’t the only product under development, evidenced by a small shelf ofMason jars in the tasting area.While they don’t intend to craft flavored spirits, Ryan & Wood are planning a cranberry rum and a spiced honey rum using honey from local beekeepers. They are also working on a rose-infused gin using rose hips from the Rosa rugosa found along Gloucester’s beaches.

Staying local is a belief dear to Wood’s heart. The distillery project began ultimately not out of a love of spirits but a love for a community. Wood grew up in Gloucester; he worked for years in the seafood processing plant his family owned before switching to the commercial banking industry. He’d seen firsthand the decline of the fishing industry, both a way of life and a livelihood for many Cape Ann residents.

In 2006, he and nephew Dave Ryan got the idea for the distillery after reading about Vermont Spirits, a distillery that creates vodka from maple sap and milk whey.Wood wanted to start a business in Gloucester as a way to prove that one could bring jobs and money back to the community. The article piqued his interest and he started doing research on distilling, hoping to combine a craft industry with local flavor and New England heritage.

Going on intuition, Wood cold-called Bill Owens, the founder of American Distilling Institute. He knew Owens was coming to Boston for a convention and—as the Big Dig was still under way—he offered him a ride from the airport. Owens agreed, then called back later asking if he could also get a ride to Maine. And New Hampshire. Before he knew it, Wood accompanied Owens to every member distillery in New England, taste testing, listening to craft discussions and getting a feel for the business.

When asked if the collaborative spirit he encountered is an aberration, Wood is quick to note that America’s small-batch distillers are, by and large, very welcoming. The four Massachusetts distilleries are spread throughout the state—the Berkshires, Nantucket, Nashoba Valley and Gloucester—so they’re not in direct competition. Plus each distiller has his own philosophy on creating products.

In the four years since opening the distillery, Ryan &Wood have expanded from selling only on Cape Ann to locations closer to Boston.  They participate in a large number of events, from tastings at the North Shore Music Festival or private clubs to boat cruises with Essex River Cruise. They stand behind their product at each event, presenting themselves as the face of their spirits.

“You can still invest in people,” he says when asked about the decision to open Ryan & Wood. “You can still invest in ideas.” The same attention to detail given to making the spirits is present in their community relations.

The distillery offers scheduled tours Thursday through Saturday at 10am and tastings Monday through Friday from 9am to 5pm. (Saturdays 9am–noon) though tours at other times can be arranged. Currently, visitors to the distillery can purchase Beauport Vodka, Folly Cove Rum or Knockabout Gin.

Ryan &Woods Distilleries
15 Great Republic Drive
Gloucester, MA 01930

Lindsey Danis’s writing has appeared in USA Today, Garden Guides and many literary magazines. She worked as a professional cook in Boston and San Francisco and currently bakes, preserves, brews beer and keeps bees in Cambridge. This is her first piece for Edible Boston. Contact her at danis.lue@gmail.com.

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