22-year military veteran and Smoky Quartz Distillery founder Kevin Kurland was crouched safely after a mortar attack shook the ground nearby where he had been working as an engineer while on a tour of duty in June of 2008. As his team swept the area for explosives, he read a Wall Street Journal article about the evolution of alcohol production in the US since Prohibition and the new proliferation of microdistilleries.
“It sounded interesting to me,” Kurland said. “My uncle had a still in the backyard growing up, producing family grappa’s, so it sounded like something I could do.”
Fast forward through years of visiting other microdistilleries with homemade equipment, which he planned to mimic (given his engineering background), and as of this past May, he began officially distributing Solid Granite Vodka at Smoky Quartz Distillery in Seabrook, New Hampshire, and at liquor stores across the state. He also just launched a corn whiskey-based moonshine, and a gin product is on the way.
“My uncle had a still in the backyard growing up, producing family grappa’s, so it sounded like something I could do.”
When asked why he chose to start with vodka, Kurland explained: “Vodka is defined by being flavorless and odorless and tasteless,” he said. “You may as well be making rubbing alcohol. So to give ours character, I distilled to a point where there’s a little corn-sweetness on the tongue and a smooth finish that has no burn at all.”
Besides using all-organic Maine corn, Kurland drives a tank up to a family spring in Alton, New Hampshire, that’s been in use since 1790, where water is extracted before ever seeing chlorine, fluoride, and other mass-treatment chemicals. According to Kurland, the pure New Hampshire water is integral to quality.
“The water you use is critical when you distill,” he said. “And I love watching people’s faces when they come into the storefront for a tasting and didn’t expect [a small local outfit] to be producing a really consistent spirit.”
His sights are set on distributing in Boston next, but for now bottles can be purchased at the distillery and select liquor stores, as well as at private tours and tastings.
Dan is a freelance journalist and has written for publications including Vice, Esquire, the Daily Beast, Fast Company, Pacific Standard, MEL, Leafly, Thrillist, and DigBoston.