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One last shot: Last Shot Distillery brews up history in building from Skaneateles' industrial heyday
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One last shot: Last Shot Distillery brews up history in building from Skaneateles' industrial heyday

SKANEATELES | It might be the last shot for Chris Uyehara before his retirement, but it could be a new age for industry in the town of Skaneateles in a building that harks back to the heyday of factories along the creek.

Such is the way in which Last Shot Distillery comes into the world at 4022 Mill Road in Skaneateles, with Uyehara as its owner and distiller, Kate Menapace as its business manager and John Menapace as its operations manager, in a building on a property that once boasted a distillery about 150 years ago.

"It's an old building. We're bringing it back to a distillery," Uyehara said, noting he and John Menapace wanted to build something to give their children a reason to stay in Skaneateles. "We wanted to create jobs for our families to work."

Right near the current Charlie Major Nature Trail, the building is situated along what used to be the Skaneateles Short Line Railroad that carried freight and passengers to and from a strip of factories and mills that once dotted the landscape and boomed with Skaneateles Creek hydropower.

The site that Uyehara and the Menapaces aim to open as a distillery sometime in November contained the Earll & Kellogg distillery from 1840 to 1864 until, Uyehara said, the anti-alcohol temperance movement caught up with the business and forced it to close.

The former distillery had previously been Solomon Earll's grist mill, and it became the Earlls, Thayer & Co. paper mill, later Skaneateles Paper Co. The factory also later made Lightning sailboats and ceramic tiles, Uyehara said.

"It's the perfect place to open a distillery, obviously because of the history," Kate Menapace said of the 3,000-square-foot space that will contain a 500-square-foot tasting room above a 2,500-squate-foot production area.

She said Last Shot is labeled as a small farm distillery, meaning its products are comprised of at least 75 percent New York state ingredients. Uyehera said Last Shot's number will be closer to 95 percent as it purchases corn, wheat and other crops from local farmers.

He also plans to give the spent grains back to farmers to feed their pigs — J.R. Simmons, of Shotwell Brook Farm in Skaneateles, is one of those farmers. The old distillery raised pigs on its property with the spent grains, so Uyehara so he wants to follow in that tradition in a way.

"We're not just doing it for us," Menapace said. "We're doing it for the town."

She said the distillery plans to produce a variety of white and flavored whiskey, vodka, bourbon and moonshine, as well as a 100 percent maple syrup spirit, under the Last Shot label.

The distillery hopes to open sometime in November in order to take advantage of the holiday shopping season, Menapace said. She said people can visit Last Shot Distillery on Facebook, and the distillery is working on setting up its website.

Once it is operating, the distillery will be open Friday and Saturday all day and Sunday afternoons for retail and tours. Uyehara said the distillery could eventually host mixology classes in the evenings to teach people the ins and outs of making a drink and possibly host musical acts as well.

As renovations continue to turn the site back into a distillery — with John Menapace leading the way with the construction — Uyehara said Last Shot is about 95 percent there in terms of being ready to open, and Kate Menapace said the company has a conditional license to produce alcohol.

Menapace said the distillery's entrance will lead into the tasting room with a direct view from the door of a curved staircase that lead down into a viewing area from where visitors can watch the company's products being made in a series of three stills.

Uyehara said there is a small still that John Menapace originally built to produce ethanol fuel but converted to produce alcohol instead. There is a 200-gallon mash tun cooker that mixes the grains with water and heats it.

After that mixture ferments, Uyehara said it can go inside a 100-gallon column still to finish the process. There is also a small experimental still with which the distillery plans to make small batches of gin or vodka.

Uyehara said he thought of the Last Shot while sitting around the table with his family as they tried to come up with a name for the distillery. A chef and baker by trade who admitted he is getting up in years, Uyehara said he told his family, "This is my last shot before retirement."

The name stuck and received the approval of Uyehara's family. Menapace noted it means one thing for Uyehara but can mean different things to different people. Uyehara, too, thought the name might be universal.

"It went all the way up," he said of the process to get Last Shot trademarked. "You figure somebody would have used it by now."

Uyehara noted Last Shot has been a few years in the making, from coming up with the idea to preparing the building, and he expects the road to continue to be a long one.

But, he and the Menapaces are willing to put in the work and the effort, adamant that they wanted to create something to pass onto their families.

"It's not for the faint of heart," he said, noting he sought advice from local distiller who have been in the business awhile. "We just started... Who knows? We'll see in five years."

"We'll be so big and so busy that we'll have to expand," Menapace said. "Hopefully, one day."

Skaneateles Journal Editor Jonathan Monfiletto can be reached at jonathan.monfiletto@lee.net or (315) 283-1615. Follow him on Twitter @Skan_Monfiletto.

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