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Locally made vodka harkens to simpler time

Rochester Business Journal
March 7, 2014

A new, locally made vodka paying homage to a simpler time with classic tastes has been launched by four Victor friends.

Stonehurst Brands LLC recently introduced its first product, 1961 Vodka. It is available at nearly 50 locations, including Rochester-area restaurants, liquor stores and other places in the Finger Lakes, Albany, Buffalo and Syracuse.

The idea for the vodka originated at a neighborhood party, co-owner Dale Worrall said.

He and company partners Lisa Ginther, Chris Parsons and Teresa Parsons wanted to make a classic martini but did not want to use the artificially flavored vodkas available.

“The idea of using bacon- or cupcake-flavored vodka to make a classic, great-tasting martini was ridiculous,” Worrall said. “We thought we could do better.”

They began talking about the need for a classic vodka with a taste reminiscent of the early 1960s. It was a time people associate with historic milestones such as the home run race between Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, the first American in space and John F. Kennedy being elected president, as well as entertainers from Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack to Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe.

The Finger Lakes region, with its glacial soils and artesian waters, was an ideal location to make the vodka, Worrall said.

So the group started talking about creating a business venture. The result is Stonehurst, which has taken roughly two years to get the product launched, with an emphasis placed on the recipe, as well as the product branding.

Stonehurst is working with Lake Distilling LLC in King Ferry, Cayuga County, where the product is made. It is produced from white wheat grown in the Finger Lakes and is handcrafted in small batches, distilled five times daily by hand.

Worrall declined to say how much the venture cost to become operational; it was privately financed, he said.

Teresa Parsons said the business is more of a hobby for the group, since each person has another job and their backgrounds are diverse, from legal services to business operations and the culinary field.

“It’s a nice blend of backgrounds,” she said.

1961 Vodka comes in one-liter bottles costing $26.99 to $29.99 and is distributed by Opici Family Distributing, a division of the Opici Wine Group. The goal is to continue to add locations where the vodka is sold, possibly entering the New York City market, Parsons said.

Jerry Serafine, owner of Restaurant 2 Vine on Winthrop Street in Rochester, said that while 1961 Vodka has been available only for a short time, it has been received well. The restaurant is using the vodka in some premium cocktails, and Serafine said it fits with the trend of using locally made ingredients.

“People seem to love it, and there is a buzz around it,” Serafine said.

Stonehurst is part of a growing trend of New York-based spirits makers. It is one Worrall believes will continue to grow.

“It won’t be long before you go into a store and, like (New York-produced) wine now, you will see a section of local spirits,” he said. “That’s where the market is headed.”


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