In Cooperstown, the influence of America’s pastime seems to permeate everything. Five and a half years ago, Gene Marra, owner of the Cooperstown Distillery and the Beverage Exchange, moved to the village to capture that influence — and blend it into his spirits.
“I fell in love with the quaintness of the town. I was fascinated and intrigued beyond even my own entrepreneurial spirit to marry and merge baseball and spirits,” Marra said, describing his decision to move to Cooperstown and open his distillery.
Marra, a native of New York City, spent most of his adult life in the south, living in Georgia and the west coast of Florida. In 2011, he moved to Cooperstown after examining several upstate areas as possible homes for his business.
“The cachet of Cooperstown made it the preeminent spot of any in New York state,” he said. “Cooperstown won hands down when I was evaluating possible locations. It helped that I have a number of close friends and a history here, separate and distinct from the distillery.”
Since its inception, the Cooperstown Distillery has seen both local and national success, as well as earned critical acclaim. Marra is proud of his achievement, and that of his staff.
“At the risk of sounding boastful, which I don’t want to do, we are the most unique craft distillery in the U.S. because of the synergy we absorb from the tie-in with baseball. We have a patented, baseball-shaped, decanter, which we sell nationwide. We also create more brands than any craft distillery in the U.S.”
The distillery offers 13 distinct spirits, ranging from rum to vodka. The flagship products, however, are the whiskeys.
“We believe strongly that we make some of the best whiskey in the world. We have won gold medals for virtually every whiskey we make. Our whiskey portfolio currently consists of a bourbon, a rye and an American whiskey, and soon we will be adding a single malt, like scotch,” Marra said.
The addition of the new whiskey isn’t the only thing that is changing at the distillery. After five years, the distillery is preparing for a major expansion. “The real story for us is that after five years we are ready to emerge with a new backdrop to who we are,” Marra said. “We have just implemented and are installing two massive new stills as part of our growth strategy. They are going to quintuple our production capacity.”
Marra described the new phase as an “aggressive growth strategy” which he and his new partners hope will not only increase production capacity, but also increase market penetration. Capacity, Marra said, had previously been limiting the company’s potential for growth.
New stills are not the only thing being added; a new rickhouse, a type of storage shed for aging whiskey barrels, is being built near the distillery.
“This is very exciting, because part of our inside track on the quality of our product is related to our unique and proprietary barrel aging strategy,” Marra said.
The product sales are helped considerably by the exposure provided by the Cooperstown Beverage Exchange at 73 Main Street in Cooperstown.
“We do very well with that store, especially selling the baseball bottles,” Marra said. That site offers a more traditional bar experience, including live music and other events throughout the year.
“It is shaping up to be a great year, and an even greater 2020. We want to be known for the quality of our product, especially our whiskey,” he said.
The Cooperstown Distillery can be visited at 11 Railroad Ave. in Cooperstown. Summer hours will be seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. For night owls, the Beverage Exchange will be open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week during the summer.