There’s a lot happening in the GlenPharmer pipeline, and not all of it is strictly potable
Fun fact: the stretch between Franklin and Foxborough was once considered “the straw-hat capitol of the world.” I’m relaying this information from GlenPharmer Distillery co-founder Patrick Downing, who speaks between bites of sugar-dusted waffle nuggets and sips from a bacon-garnished bloody mary made with his own vodka.
As it turns out, this bit of Massachusetts trivia is highly relevant to our surroundings. The distillery and tasting room founded by Patrick and his wife, Beth Downing, is housed in a restored textile mill that dates back to 1883 and comes attached to its own covered bridge. On the day of my visit in early January there isn’t a single straw boater in sight, but there is plenty of hootch—and much more on the way.
Patrick and Beth are both pharmacists by trade, which is how they landed on the name “GlenPharmer,” which also references the Bay State’s unique Farmer Distillery license. But the moniker is more than a cutesy pun: It also hearkens back to the days of prohibition and earlier, when a prescription for bourbon might be filled at your local drug store.
No doctor’s visit is required to taste GlenPharmer’s spirits today, which are sold in 52 Massachusetts liquor stores and encompass the “big five” categories in liquor: vodka, rum, gin, “tequila”, and whiskey. This range includes its wheat vodka, which is also used to make three flavored vodkas: “Bog,” infused by local cranberries; “Ghost,” infused with local ghost peppers; and the limited-edition “Bean,” infused by Madagascar vanilla beans and coffee beans sourced from Salem’s Atomic Coffee Roasters.
The distillery also produces a platinum rum, which is itself not bottled but used to make the barrel-rested Dark Tide Rum and a Reserve Spiced Rum flavored by nine spices. Rounding out the portfolio is GlenPharmer’s Brookdale gin, flavored with 11 botanicals including locally foraged pine needles, and “GlenQuila”—a 100% blue agave spirit that can’t legally be called tequila, due to its origins in Massachusetts rather than Mexico.
In comparison to other startup distilleries that begin with sourced spirits purchased from third parties, GlenPharmer makes it all in the old mill, via a pair of pot stills assisted by hybrid column stills. This commitment to making its own juice, rather than bottling or barreling someone else’s, has delayed the release of GlenPharmer’s whiskeys thus far, but that’s set to change in 2022.
Directly below the distillery area is an underground barrel room, where a combined 68 barrels—56 holding whiskey, 12 holding GlenQuila—currently idle, soon to be joined by another 40 barrels. Those 56 whiskey barrels are split between three categories: a rye, a bourbon, and a single malt. All will be aged in new American oak for at least two years: The rye is set for a release in May, while the bourbon and single malt await a November debut.
Though the whiskies are not yet ready for prime time, Patrick generously pulls a preview of each from the sleeping barrels. I first experience the bourbon, which is a little over a year old and composed of 25% wheat, 60% corn, and 15% rye. At 117 proof cask-strength, it’s more earthy than sweet with a big grain flavor and a satisfying slap of barrel spices at the end.
Next up is GlenPharmer’s rye, which is made of 95% rye and 5% wheat, and has so far napped for a year and a half. I taste it at 109.8 proof, where it shows earthy spice topped by hot cocoa mix and dark chocolate chunk cookies. Last but not least, the single malt stands at 110 proof after a bit more than a year in casks and sings with big, malty notes both earthy and sweet.
Yes, there’s a lot happening in the GlenPharmer pipeline, and not all of it is strictly potable. In addition to an on-site restaurant that serves flatbread pizzas or squash agnolotti beside cocktails made with the brand’s spirits, a 7,000-square-foot private event space that can hold 125 guests is being built on the second floor.
On paper, one may wonder if this little distillery located off Franklin’s Mine Brook has bitten off more than it can chew. But if that’s the case, it hasn’t bothered Patrick or Beth. As I sit at their bar nursing a Smoking Gun—a combination of Bean, Dark Tide Rum, and spicy ancho-coffee bitters smoked on cedarwood—the couple is electric with thoughts of what the coming year will bring. Their enthusiasm, it should be noted, is contagious.
Eric Twardzik is a Boston-based writer and editor with extensive experience in branded copywriting and journalism with an emphasis on food, drink, travel and men's lifestyle.