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The Job Interview: Canterbury residents plan to open distillery

  • Cider falls from the presser and into a bucket that Greg Meeh is using to collect before fermenting at his home in Canterbury on November 1, 2013. Meeh is opening a distillery in a barn on his property next year. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Cider falls from the presser and into a bucket that Greg Meeh is using to collect before fermenting at his home in Canterbury on November 1, 2013. Meeh is opening a distillery in a barn on his property next year.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Greg Meeh, center, and Doug Stern, right, work on pressing cider on November 1, 2013 in the barn on his property in Canterbury where Meeh will open a distillery next year. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Greg Meeh, center, and Doug Stern, right, work on pressing cider on November 1, 2013 in the barn on his property in Canterbury where Meeh will open a distillery next year.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Cider falls from the presser and into a bucket that Greg Meeh is using to collect before fermenting at his home in Canterbury on November 1, 2013. Meeh is opening a distillery in a barn on his property next year. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Greg Meeh, center, and Doug Stern, right, work on pressing cider on November 1, 2013 in the barn on his property in Canterbury where Meeh will open a distillery next year. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

After years of interest in brewing beer and making hard cider, Canterbury resident Greg Meeh plans to turn that hobby into a professional opportunity and retirement project.

If Meeh, 65, gets all of the proper approvals, a distillery called Canterbury Spirits will be open by this time next year.

The distillery will make and sell homemade apple brandy, corn whiskey and gin, with most of the necessary fruit, cider and botanicals coming from local farms.

He and his wife, Hillary Nelson, plan to open the distillery in a barn on their Shaker Road property. (Nelson is a freelance contributor for the Monitor.)

Aside from converting the space and ordering the necessary equipment, there’s a lengthy approval process before Meeh can turn his hobby into a business.

Meeh received town approval this summer and is now seeking state and federal licenses to produce and sell spirits, a process that will take about six months. Once the distillery is open, the tasting season will run from about June to December.

Meeh recently spoke with the Monitor about his plans.

What kinds of spirits will you produce?

My passion is for apple brandy, and that has a fairly long aging requirement.

We would probably also make something like gin with local botanicals and probably a corn whiskey, which can get to market a lot faster. So we’re doing a lot with experimenting with fruit. One of my goals is to support local agriculture here with the local orchards and corn growers being pressed more and more.

(I’m) trying to help provide
market for utility grade fruit. The

process here (will be) fermenting cider mixed with pear and quince.

Will you run the distillery full time?

Yes. I’ve had a business in New York City for many years, (doing) theatrical special effects for Broadway. But I have a succession plan in place there and am phasing myself out of the business more and more.

This is my retirement business – one can’t just retire, you have to have a crazy idea like this.

What’s the process for making brandy, and how long does it take?

First you would pick and squeeze your apples or purchase cider, and try to get a mix of some of the older cider varieties that are more astringent and bitter, but you want a lot of the sweetness too because it’s sugar that converts to alcohol.

Then you add yeast and ferment it for anywhere from four weeks to three months depending on temperature and how fast you want to run it.

After the first week or 10 days you’ll do what’s called racking, which is (when) you siphon the fermented cider off the top because you’ll have the yeast sediment on the bottom. . . .

Then there will usually be a mixing process where you mix a few different batches to get a flavor and then you’ll distill it. Then there’s an aging and a mixing process, and then there will be aging in oak.

Depending on what you’re looking for (that takes) between one and three months and maybe even one week to three months.

There’s (also) the longer term aging which is typically one to 12 years.

Where will you find the fruits?

We have a small orchard here. We have like 50 trees of quince and pear, peach and plum. We work with some local orchards.

We’ve been doing it as a hobby for a number of years. So we will grind and press a lot of our own fruit so we can get the unusual mixes in addition to flavors that we’re looking for, but we also purchase cider.

Will there be tasting at your distillery?

There will be a tasting room. The New Hampshire micro-distillery law allows distillers who are producing under a certain volume yearly to sell on site and offer tasting on site.

(But) it’s not consumption on site, people can’t buy a bottle and sit there and drink it.

Where will you sell the bottled spirits?

The current law says either I have to sell it on site, or I have to sell it to the New Hampshire liquor store. My business model is to sell on site.

How big is the space you’ll use?

I’m converting an existing barn, and it’ll be about 1,000 square feet in the basic distilling space, and then a lot of utility space.

What’s your experience making spirits?

I’ve been a hobby beer brewer and (made) hard cider for 30 years. I also worked in Europe for a bit and toured through the cider and pear places there, and then I
took a course in distilling
in Chicago at a distillery there.

I have a lot of equipment that is on order now, (and) I’ve acquired some equipment that I’m using currently to make home-use hard cider.

Anything else you want to share?

There’s been a tremendous amount of interest for local people.

I’ve been surprised by it, there’s a lot of interest in it and support.

I’m hoping to open right around this time next year to have the season before the holidays.

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or
kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @kronayne.)

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