When thinking of the best states in the country to start a new business, Rhode Island isn’t typically given a chance. There are, however, many determined entrepreneurs in the state that are proving a lot of skeptics wrong. One prime example is Mike Reppucci’s Sons of Liberty Spirits Company, a new distillery in South Kingstown that produces UPRISING American Whiskey and Rhode Island’s first vodka, Loyal 9 Vodka.
Mike Reppucci, a Narragansett native and Brown grad, took the chance that many locals are now taking; drastically changing their life and career to pursue something they truly believe in. Mike has always enjoyed work; after receiving his Masters in Finance from London Business School he worked those dreadful 100 hour weeks one after another, and another, and another. Eventually realizing it wasn’t the life he wanted, he dropped everything and started making whiskey.
By moving his wife and then 18-month old child in with his parents, leveraging all his savings, and bringing Dave Pickerell, ex-master distiller for Makers Mark, on board, Mike started down a road he refuses to turn back on (still living with his parents and now with two little ones along for the ride).
The company, rightfully named after the Sons of Liberty from the 1700s [a group of merchants and distillers who were fed up and took a stand for what they believed in], is revolutionizing spirits right in our backyard. The interesting fact about whiskey is that it starts as beer, and when Mike learned this he asked himself, “How come no one is brewing the beers I love and turning them into whiskey?”. Instead of brewing the typical light beer, Mike and his team have created a stout beer that they use to make UPRISING American Whiskey – a smooth whiskey with complexity of flavor from the grains. The grain-forward whiskey is made to retain the dark, malted barley flavors that were used to make the stout beer.
As they say over at Sons of Liberty, “Every revolution starts with an UPRISING”, but that’s just the beginning, Mike didn’t choose Rhode Island just because he was born and raised here, but also because it’s an amazing climate to age whiskey. The Delta T, the temperature differential from the 3 warmest to the 3 coldest weeks, is almost double what it is in Scotland, allowing for quicker maturation of the product. Another thought was that American whiskey has no real sense of terroir, instead it is defined by Bourbon from the south. The Sons of Liberty seek to define American Single Malt Whiskey with New England terroir. Mike also says to be on the lookout for seasonal whiskies coming out of South Kingstown.
From conception to launch, amazing people doing business right here in Rhode Island have been a significant part of the company’s growth. From Mel Co Ed, who manufactures the metal labels on the bottles, to Four Town Farm and McCormick and Wojnar Farms who grow the mint and cucumber for their Mint Cucumber Flavored Vodka. Their distributor, Horizon Beverage, has been on board with the company’s vision since day one, and Sherri Carrera of RIEDC was extremely helpful as a liaison with government agencies; navigating the licensing and hearing process. The company’s success to this point and even the ability to get the second distillery in the state since the 1800’s running is owed to many locals. “Business is growing in the state and the more people feel positive about Rhode Island, the more we will attract the right kind of businesses”, says Mike.
One thing Mike has quickly learned is the biggest sacrifice of all is made by the family of the entrepreneur. He and his wife, Lauren, now have two children and have been living with his parents for 3 years as he gets the business going. They, and many other family members, including his 92 year old grandmother, can be found at the distillery quite often helping to hand bottle and label each bottle that hits the shelves.
UPRISING American Whiskey, which launched early last December can now be found in over 200 locations throughout Rhode Island and Loyal 9 Vodka, as well as Loyal 9 Mint Cucumber Flavored Vodka, is nearing 100 locations after just 4 weeks in the market. It won’t be long before these hand-crafted Rhode Island products take off and spread throughout New England, but it’s all starting with Rhode Islanders, according to their Facebook page, the revolution is over 1,000 strong and growing.
If interested in checking out the operation, they hold tours and tastings every Wednesday and Saturday 12pm-4pm. And if you’d like to purchase one of their products you can find out where to go by visiting them on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/solspirits) or at http://www.solspirits.com.