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Boston Born: GrandTen Distilling Punches With Fire

As a mechanical engineering student, Matt Nuernberger solved problems. But he couldn’t find the answer to what it was he was passionate about.

“I went back to school to get my MBA in entrepreneurship at Babson,” the GrandTen Distilling co-founder says. “I figured while I was there I’d meet this group of people and have this awesome idea, and go off and launch it. I didn’t head into Babson thinking I wanted to do distilling.”

The grand idea didn’t end up coming from his fellow students, and didn’t come until halfway through his program, when he embraced his love of a different topic: history.

GrandTen Distilling is located in an old ironworks factory in South Boston that used to be owned by Cyrus Alger, a prolific arms manufacturer. His company would make everything from wire to cannonballs.

Opening a distillery in Boston may not seem the most obvious way to show an appreciation for the past. For Nuernberger, the science behind distilling had always appealed to his mechanical mind, and as he grew up all over the country, he’d pour over books on the subject. But the history of the industry — specifically in Massachusetts — was the other part of the allure. Realising distilling spirits was something he felt passionately enough to dedicate his life to, Nuernberger spent the second of his two years at Babson planning GrandTen.

“Boston had a lot of really great craft beer brands, but not a lot of craft spirit brands yet,” he says. Combined with his love of the city, he decided it was the perfect place to start his small business. He recruited his cousin, Chemistry PhD Spencer McMinn as co-founder, and the two began day drinking. Or making and testing spirits, as it’s known in the industry.

Matt Nuernberger runs the day to day of the distillery, as his cousin wanted put his chemistry PhD to good use and get back in the lab after finishing developing the product.

The fledgeling company’s first craft spirit was Wire Works American Gin, named for the wire factory that used to occupy the space in South Boston that GrandTen calls home. Despite being one of the oldest tipples in the western world, the advantage of making gin is that it doesn’t need aging, Nuernberger says. Had the cousins started with whiskey or bourbon, it would’ve taken them years to even try their first product.

Gin was the first spirit that GrandTen made, but it now ages products like rum, apple brandy, and whiskey in wooden barrels.

Wire Works American Gin isn’t the only spirit that GrandTen distills with a nod to the historical. “Boston has a very rich rum distilling history,” Nuernberger says. “One of our products, Medford Rum, is a recreation of a historical brand in Medford. They even say that Paul Revere stopped for a dram of Medford Rum on his midnight ride.”

Obviously midnight riding while intoxicated is sternly discouraged, but for anybody that fancies stopping in Southie for a dram of Medford Rum in 2017, GrandTen Distilling opened a cocktail bar at the front of its facility last year.

“As a local manufacturer, there’s layers built in between us and the customer,’ Nuernberger says. “We have to sell to a distributor, the distributor sells to the retailer, the retailer sells to the customer. By creating a cocktail bar here, we’re able to cut out all those middle men.”

 

From left to right, “Mai Tai Your Tai,” “Viaduct,” and “Weekend at Ernie’s” are three of the most popular drinks on offer at the bar. Each uses a spirit GrandTen produces just feet away. The latter is a variation on a Hemingway Daiquiri, made with the company’s New Medford Rum, and it’s the company’s first bottled cocktail.
The drink menu at GrandTen’s bar changes constantly, both with the seasons and with specials as bartenders invent them.

The Farmers-Distillery license that GrandTen serves drinks under doesn’t allow its bartenders to serve anything alcoholic not made on site, but as is often the case with restrictions, they can force you to get creative. For example, the bartenders make an orange liqueur from rum that’s been distilled in the building.

Nuernberger says this creativity and the constantly changing menu means that the bar at GrandTen can be wildly more inventive than a craft beer taproom, while offering the same experience of barrel to glass pours that people want from a local alcohol company.

The company had been distilling all its products in a 50 gallon hybrid still, but recently invested in a shiny new one they’ll be using in conjunction with the original to produce larger quantities of product. It’s in the process of being set up and tested, but will soon be online, Nuernberger says.

Though a little more developed than when he first started GrandTen Distilling, the craft spirits market in Boston is still pretty young, Nuernberger admits.

“So many bars and restaurants do a great job of focussing on local beer,” Nuernberger says. More are beginning to catch on to craft spirits, but there’s still a way to go and hurdles to overcome. “Competing with the other craft distilleries here is one thing, but really we’re all competing against the big guys.”

Potential customers in Massachusetts and beyond aren’t the issue though, so there’s no limit on how successful local craft distilleries could be. With his brilliant bar and ever-widening arsenal of small batch spirits, Nuernberger’s going to give the challenge his best shot.

Everything at GrandTen Distilling is bottled and labelled by hand as it comes out of the various tanks and machines at the old ironworks factory. The company will produce a certain spirit for a few weeks before switching to a new cycle. Enough is produced to stock the bars and the shelves of area liquor stores.
The company also produces a line of liqueurs, which are available for sale and for use in the bar’s cocktail program. From left to right: Amandine, an almond liqueur; Craneberry, an ode to the local cranberry; and Angelica, a botanical spirit that puts the flavor of Angelica root first and foremost.
Some of the perks of being the boss are getting to choose your own hours and drive the company’s rolling billboard flatbed truck. Nuernberger heads out for the day.

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Yelp connects people to great local businesses, and in our Boston Born series, we’re sharing the stories behind some of the highest-rated, locally-owned biz in and around the city. Features researched, written and photographed by Lloyd Mallison. To read what Yelpers have to say about the featured biz, download the Yelp app.