by Jessie Ammons
Tucked into a warehouse just north of Durham Central Park, a massive, gleaming window-front copper still distinguishes Durham Distillery. It makes “modern gin,” says owner Melissa Katrincic. “When you think of gin, you might think of your grandparents’ gin, the stuff that tastes like licking a pine tree. This is not that.”
Katrincic and her husband, Lee Katrincic, opened Durham Distillery a year ago, and already their two types of gin and three liquors have won a whopping 16 awards. “It’s been an amazing year,” Melissa Katrincic says. “It’s kind of nuts.” Both Katrincics have backgrounds in science – Lee Katrincic still works as a pharmaceutical chemist – but consider themselves creative sorts as well. So when Melissa Katrincic lost her pharmaceutical marketing job three years ago, the couple decided to take a gamble and make gin.
They did a lot of research, took intensive workshops, and then developed their own technique that incorporates pharmaceutical equipment. After they put their gin in the beautiful copper still, it then goes into a 20L Rotovap, a vaccum pump typically used for pharmaceutical development. The Katrincics use it to infuse flavor. Often, big-batch companies add extracts for flavor, but the Rotovap allows the infusion of precise, actual concentrates of honeysuckle and cucumber. “As far as we know, we’re the only (distillery) in the U.S. using this technique,” Melissa Katrincic says.
The couple believes their ingenuity comes from a passion for both science and creativity, which is why to celebrate their anniversary they’re giving back to projects that promote both. “We really believe in both arts and math-and-science education,” Melissa Katrincic says. All month long, 50 percent of proceeds from distillery tours will benefit arts and STEM projects in Wake, Durham, and Orange county public schools via the public school-oriented crowdfunding site DonorsChoose.org. As of press time, projects weren’t yet finalized, but the contenders include a middle school science teacher hoping to build an augmented reality sandbox to bring topography studies to life, and an elementary school teacher seeking handheld digital microscopes so her students can roam campus in search of micro-organisms.
With two gins – a smooth, botanical Conniption American Dry and a spicy, savory Conniption Navy Strength – and three liquors made from Slingshot coffee concentrate and Videri 70-percent dark chocolate, touring the facility and stocking your home bar shouldn’t take much convincing. The distillery is open for public tours and tastings on Friday and Saturday evenings: The tasting bar’s dark herringbone wood and fabric barrel lights make a visit feel like a cozy evening in a friend’s living room. Which is by design. “This,” Melissa says, gesturing around the space, “is the art of gin.”
Quick-tours-and-tastings are available without reservation from 6 – 9 p.m. on Fridays and 2 – 5 p.m. on Saturdays for $7, and hour-long tours followed by a tasting are available at 5 and 6 p.m. on Saturdays and select Fridays by appointment for $10. Learn more and buy Durham Distillery gin at durhamdistillery.com