Western Reserve Distillers opens Ohio’s first organic distillery in Lakewood
LAKEWOOD, Ohio -- After working for decades as a Nestlé executive, Hudson’s Kevin Thomas was given one edict from his wife, Ann, regarding an early retirement.
“I was in charge of innovations for the food service division in North America and was also in charge of small business that sold into chain restaurants and bars,” said Thomas, 47.
“I was just getting kind of tired of corporate life and decided to take early retirement. More or less, what basically my wife said was we had to do something else, not just retire. So this is what something else looked like,” he said.
That something is the recently opened Western Reserve Distillers in Lakewood. The business at 14221 Madison Ave. is Ohio’s first organic distillery.
What started out roughly four years ago as a conversation about business possibilities led to the Thomas’ landing on a growing industry.
“If you look at spirits consumption over the past 20 years, it’s been on a consistent rise,” said Thomas, who co-owns Western Reserve Distillers with his wife. “I think beer would have been an option, but there’s a tremendous amount of breweries out there.
“Distilleries are a little bit different. There really aren’t that many. There are a couple in Columbus, but there really haven’t been any projects here in Cleveland that have had any kind of scale or any type of significance,” he said.
The decision to select Lakewood as its location was built around finding a living community with a decent-sized population.
“We also wanted kind of a diverse consumer set,” Thomas said. “I think Lakewood provides that, as well as they have great fire and police response.”
After refurbishing the roughly 22,000-square-foot, four-story building, which was formerly home to a moving and storage company, the $3 million Western Reserve Distillers recently opened its doors, featuring the Distill Table restaurant, a tasting room and a gift shop.
Chef Eddie Tancredi offers signature plates with modern American food, such as pizza, sandwiches, burgers and salads.
“It very much is a farm-to-table restaurant, just like it’s a farm-to-bottle distillery,” Thomas said.
The centerpiece of the distillery is its handmade, 3000L copper hybrid pot still, which boasts 24 plates inside tall towers that allow the transformation of mash to the final spirit in a single pass. Featuring sourced grains from organic farms within 150 miles of Lakewood, the process preserves the natural flavors.
“We’re Ohio’s only certified organic distillery, which is important to us,” Thomas said. “That’s not to say that the vodka is healthy because it’s organic; it’s a distilled spirit. But for us it was more important about the impact in the environment.
“The grains are all grown without pesticides and herbicides. There’s natural crop rotation that’s used to prevent weeds and maintain agricultural output.”
Currently, Western Reserve Distillers offers Handcrafted Vodka, with Handcrafted Gin service beginning Sept. 1. There’s also a premium line of vodka and gin that will be available starting in October.
Overall, Thomas said the response has been overwhelmingly positive during tastings, which take place Thursday through Saturday at the venue.
“People are very impressed with how smooth the product is and also the flavor,” Thomas said.
Western Reserve Distillers labels are also available in roughly 70 liquor stores in the Greater Cleveland area.
“The goals for the first year are really to develop the market and build products that Lakewood, Cleveland and Ohio can be really proud of,” Thomas said.
Lakewood Director of Planning and Development Bryce Sylvester said Western Reserve Distillers and the Distill Table represent how small business owners can use creativity, vision and industry expertise to execute a major redevelopment project in Lakewood.
“We expect this project to be a regional draw to our community,” Sylvester said. “We’re very much looking forward to welcoming the Thomas family to the business community and being part of their company’s growth.”