By Scott Scanlon | Published June 6, 2017 | Updated June 7, 2017
New York State liquor law allows wineries to set up five tasting rooms away from their production sites. Breweries can establish up to three. Distilleries? Only one.
Jason Barrett – president and chief distiller at Black Button Distillery in Rochester – picked Buffalo for his.
The Black Button tasting room will open June 9 at 149 Swan St., about two blocks east of Coca-Cola Field.
Visitors will notice the same bar, multilevel shelving and ladder featured at Handlebar’s tavern, which used the same space before it closed earlier this year.
Barrett promises to bring some of the same flourishes to his new digs as those in his 5,000-square-foot distillery inside the Rohrbach Railroad Street Beer Hall and Brewery, which sits in a revamped window and door factory built in 1892. The brewery-distillery tandem help anchor the Rochester Public Market, one of the busiest farm-style markets in the country.
“We want to become a part of the fabric of Buffalo in a way that we have in Rochester,” Barrett said. “We were looking for a similar historic, meaningful building. We didn’t just want to be in a strip mall out in the suburbs.”
The tasting room will offer nine spirits Black Button produces in Rochester including Citrus Forward Gin, 20-Plate Vodka, three bourbons, a bourbon cream and Apple Pie Moonshine. Most already are available in liquor stores and a small number of taverns in Buffalo.
A tasting flight of bourbons – Four Grain, Single Barrel and port barrel-aged – the latter of which runs $100 a bottle – will cost $14. A flight of Citrus Forward gin, bourbon, moonshine and Bespoke Bourbon Cream will cost about $5.
Black Button also will feature craft beers from across the state, including small batches made by breweries that use the distillery’s bourbon barrels. State wines, ciders and a limited number of food options, including charcuterie and cheeses, will be offered as well.
“The idea behind any of our tasting rooms is an education and an opportunity to experience craft products,” Barrett said. “We’re not going to ever be the place to go to have a big meal but there will be something to munch on while you’re enjoying beverages.”
Barrett left his job about five years ago as a small business adviser for the Rochester-based Paychex to launch Black Button. Jeff Fairbrother, a former Abandon Brewing Co. brewer in Penn Yan, left that job to become distillery production manager. Both are master-level distillers and have created a distilling school at the Rochester production facility.
Black Button bottle stoppers have a design rooted in the Barrett family history. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)
The duo has teamed up to win several awards, including two from the American Craft Spirits Association. The trade association’s annual competition draws hundreds of entries.
Citrus Forward Gin gathered a third place two years ago in the gin category – the same year Food and Beverage magazine dubbed it “the official gin of summer” – and last year placed second in the bourbon category.
The distillery name – and Barrett’s interest in the historic industrial feel of both his Rochester and Buffalo locations – comes from his family’s deep roots in the button-making business. His great-grandparents both worked at Shantz Associates in the 1920s.
His grandfather later bought the business and his mother, Anne Barrett, continues to own and operate what has become one of only four button-makers in the U.S.
“If you’re wearing a $400-plus suit, there’s a 50-50 chance we made the buttons,” said Jason Barrett, who discovered at age 7 that he was colorblind. “There was a joke in the family when I was growing up that if I did take over the business we’d have to switch to only making black buttons.”
The Black Button tasting room will be open Thursdays to Sundays, at least to start, and host the official pre-party June 17 for the Kerfuffle concert at Canalside. Learn more at blackbuttondistilling.com