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Quincy Street Distillery opens ‘speakeasy’ tasting bar in Riverside

RIVERSIDE – On a recent, brutally cold night in Riverside, I sat down with Quincy Street Distillery owner Derrick Mancini and sipped a little moonshine.

And yes, while the whiskey was good for taking a bit of the bite out of the air, I was surprised, too, that the “young” whiskey lacked much bite itself.

“Yeah, it’s pretty smooth, right?” Mancini said.

In recent years, the boom of microbreweries across the Chicago area has done much to familiarize many of us with a wide and varied assortment of locally-made ales and lagers. Derrick Mancini, of Riverside, is hoping to help do the same thing with whiskey. Local whiskey distillers are not as common as breweries, yet, but their numbers are steadily growing, he said.

“We’re not the smallest distillery in Illinois,” Mancini said. “But we’re pretty darn close.”

But, just how do you drink moonshine, one might wonder? Or, for that matter, how do you drink Quincy Street’s Prairie Sunshine – and what is it?

To help with those questions, Mancini has branched out from the distilling business to open his own “speakeasy” in Riverside. And so, on a not-quite-so-brutally-cold night in Riverside, that’s how I wound up drinking Mancini’s whiskey again, but this time in a cocktail.

“You know, we get the question, ‘what do I do with it,’ ” Mancini said between making cocktails for a crowd that had grown large in the small confines of the tasting bar at Friday night’s grand opening of “the speakeasy.”

“Well, this not only lets people sample [the distillery’s products] but shows them how to mix them.”

Like its whiskeys, Quincy Street Distillery still is relatively young.

Full time, Mancini is a physicist at Argonne National Laboratory, but he’s always been a crafter at heart. In college, Mancini made his own beer. He’s also previously toyed with the idea of making wine – even going so far as to plan to purchase a vineyard in Michigan for a time before starting Quincy Street.

“It’s something that’s always been of interest to me,” he said. “The desire was planted in me as a young man.”

Quincy Street Distillery was born in Riverside about two years ago. The distillery has been in production for about a year and a half.

According to Mancini, Bourbon whiskey, as most know it, takes two years to mature and mellow in wood barrels as it gradually gets its golden-brown coloring. Due to the required aging process, much of what’s available at Quincy Street is still in its adolescent phase. The distillery’s Bourbon Spring whiskey is a “baby whiskey” aged for four months in small, charred-oak barrels, for example. The flavors are still easy to identify (they blend with time), and the result is a sweet, smokey whiskey with a bit of a kick.

For those who prefer gin or vodka, the distillery has also branched out to include a “railroad gin” and a range of spirits distilled from mead – basically water, honey and botanicals. The Prairie Sunshine, one of Mancini’s mead spirits, has a flavor profile similar to a white tequila, and thus, it makes one mean mojito.

Which, of course, brings us back to the grand opening of Quincy Street’s tasting bar last Friday. Because of the bars liquor license, the only alcoholic products that can be sold are made in-house. At the opening, the cocktail selections included gin sours, hot toddies, whiskey sours and old-fashioneds.

But then, some prefer their whiskey neat and with piano music, which was provided by Riverside’s Bob Opel and friends livening up the night with some prohibition-era tunes.

Frank Gangware of Riverside was sipping on some of Quincy Street’s Bourbon Spring whiskey Friday. His son recently went on a trip to the Three Floyds Brewery in Indiana, and Gangware said he could see people doing the same with Quincy Street.

“It’s a very interesting bourbon,” he said with a sip. “I think it will become one of the better known brands, and, yes, I think it will bring new people to Riverside.”

The opening brought out locals and travelers from Chicago alike. Karen Boylan of Brookfield came out to the event with her husband on the snowy night looking to try something new.

“I have a whiskey with seltzer – it’s very good,” Boylan said. “I’ve tried [some of the area’s microbrewed beers], but the distillery is something else. It’s cool to have a local distillery.”

Unike a real speakeasy, you wont need a password to get in at the door. But, the phrase, “this one’s on me” certainly wouldn’t hurt.

Quincy Street Distillery is located at 39 E. Quincy St. in Riverside. For more information about products and tours, visit quincystreetdistillery.com.

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