In a region known for its burgeoning craft beer scene, visitors may be surprised to learn they are just as close to some of the country’s finest spirits – like those of the award-winning Wiggly Bridge Distillery in York, Maine.
A historic barn with a lot of local character houses the small batch craft distillery where father and son David and David Woods craft wildly popular spirits like the Small Barrel Bourbon (think hints of caramel, oak, dried fruit, cinnamon, pepper, sweet tobacco, honey, and grain) in a homemade copper pot still.
Both of the Woods men had always shared a love for whiskey, and when the younger David expressed a desire to make his own, the two headed to a family home in the Caribbean, specifically Monserrat, to begin distilling.
Using ingredients such as molasses, sugar cane, and fruits straight from the rainforest, father and son began making alcohol in the traditional copper pot still that the younger David welded after teaching himself through online research. When they had a recipe they were proud of, they moved the operation into a storefront in York Beach.
Four years later, the new Wiggly Bridge Distillery location at York Corner still uses the same process and homemade stills, with father and son working together on spirits distilled from sour mash recipes such as White Whisky, Vodka, and Small Barrel Rum (recently named the fourth best craft rum in the nation by USA Today).
According to the younger David’s wife (and member of the Wiggly Bridge team), Amanda Woods, the duo is always working on their recipes to improve, even after winning multiple awards. She jokes that it is their ADD that makes them perfectly suited to distilling.
“It’s a constantly changing process for them,” says Amanda. “It’s not mundane. Every day is not the same. In the distillation process, there are things that come up and there is problem solving, and that’s what they were made for.”
Because Wiggly Bridge is a small batch craft distiller, they only make one batch of alcohol at a time. The traditional copper pot still is used instead of the much larger steam column stills that some big brands use, and the Woods believe that the pot still gives the alcohol its flavor. “It’s an old form of distillation,” says Amanda, “so every dent and every ding contributes to how the spirit is made and how it tastes.”
The majority of the production takes place in Wiggly Bridge’s barn, which opened in May of last year after a serious labor of love. Because the 1800s barn was an icon in the community, having previously been the town hardware store, the family felt compelled to maintain the identity of the structure.
“It had so much charm and unique character that we wanted to try and keep that but also make it useful for what we needed for the distillery,” says Amanda. “So if we could reuse a board somewhere that came from the original building, we did it.”
Today the distillery still has the same frame of the barn, but it is divided into warm, smaller spaces accented with dark wood and a glowing wood stove fireplace. A sheet of glass gives a view of the production room below, and the tasting bar offers hand-crafted cocktails with all fruits and juices fresh-squeezed. As for the distillery’s name, it comes from a nearby pedestrian suspension bridge of the same name – a bridge that seems insignificant from afar but is actually rather beautiful upon closer inspection.
“Everyone who comes in [to the distillery] loves it,” says brand ambassador Kevin McGann, “because it feels like a nice, cozy place where you can tuck up into the bar.”
You can even get up close and personal with the distillers in Wiggly Bridge’s Distiller for a Day course, in which four participants can work alongside David and David learning to make bourbon. The first (sold-out-within-a-week) course takes place in January with more coming up soon. And if you sign up, expect to be doing the dirty work too, including hauling grain and cooking it.
Wiggly Bridge also hosts monthly cocktail classes, holiday celebrations for National Vodka Day and the like, and has an upcoming lecture series about the history of cocktails and distillation – for people to “dork out on,” according to Kevin.
On the horizon for the talented distillers: more collaborations with neighbors (they spend a lot of time hanging out with Dave and David of SoMe Brewing Company), a possible third location, and even a restaurant on the second floor of the barn. In the restaurant, David Senior envisions a one-seating-per-night, small-group experience involving spirits matched with courses, live entertainment, and getting to know the people next to you – possibly as soon as winter 2018.
Wiggly Bridge Distillery is open year-round, offering tours and tastings every day. You can also find some of the acclaimed spirits at Cliff House, including the Bourbon (which is in the Signature Manhattan), the Vodka, and the Small Barrel Rum. And in the future, Cliff House plans to offer distillery dinners with Wiggly Bridge.