Maine's Wine and Spirits Part 2

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Maine (WABI) Dan Davis is the owner of Sebago Lake Distillery in Gardiner. Operating out of a historic pulp factory, Davis' barrel-aged rum is still fairly new to the market.

"We've been working on this project for about 4 years. We started out making a business plan and developing ideas on how we were going to go about this.. and we've actually been making product now for about three months."

His distillery may be new, but Davis has plenty of experience making his own spirts. Now, he's ready to share his product with his home state.

"I did go to bourbon-making school in Kentucky and was very interested in the whole process because I'm a beer-brewer from way back and the process for making the bourbon is very different from making beer so it was kind of exciting to learn that. And now we're making rum which is a different process once again."

Because Davis makes rum, he sells his product through Maine Spirt, the state's exclusive spirts wholesaler. He says working with Maine has been easy, but like all new businesses, Davis said he has had to figure out a few issues on the fly.

"The things that you would expect to be a problem aren't the problems. It's the things you don't expect. Things like buying sugar. We're in an odd spot. You can buy a 50 pound bag of sugar and you can buy a truck-load of sugar, but you can't buy a ton of sugar. Nobody wants to do that. So it's those little things that come up, it's like 'how are we going to work through this?'"

Being so new, Davis says his product's demand is relatively low. He expects that to change soon however, and has plans to open up a tasting room when the time comes, stock full with his rum, as well as a few other souvenirs.

"Most people who want to try a craft-made spirit like this, they're interested in the whole experience. They're interested in seeing the still, they're interested in seeing something happen, and they're interested in a memorable thing to take with them like a hat or a t-shirt or something."

Davis isn't the only spirit maker in the state to turn a former hobby into a business. Bruce Olson started making homemade wine 15 years ago. Now, he owns Tree Spirits Winery and Distillery in Oakland. He says his product is much different than what people are used to.

"We make wine and spirits from local stuff. So we don't use any grapes. We use apples, pears and maple syrup to make everything. So we get our apple and our pear cider from an orchard over in Fairfield called The Apple Farm, and we get our maple syrup from a sugar house in Sidney called The Bacon Farm. Everything basically comes from within about eight miles of here."

His company is also the only distillery in the state to make absinthe, something Olsen says surprises some people.

"It was actually outlawed for almost 100 years. It didn't become legal in the U.S. until about 2007 after it was outlawed in about 1915."

The folks at Tree Spirits pride themselves on making local, unique products. And despite being in business for several years and winning multiple awards, Olson says it can be tough to convince people to try something they haven't had before.

"Making fruit wine, it's hard to get experienced wine drinkers to even try your wine. They think it's going to be this super sweet, sticky, horrible tasting stuff. If you can get them to try it, then they are always pleasantly surprised."

But being different from everything else is something that suits Olson just fine.

"If I could change it so I was only like 42…that would be okay. But other than that, which I probably won't be able to do, yeah, I wouldn't change a thing."