June 30, 2022
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Distiller at Waypoint Spirits, Tony Gugino has diverse experience in distilling and a demonstrated history of working in the wine and spirits industry. With an Associate of Arts and Sciences from Goodwin University, Tony is a strong professional, skilled in Customer Service, Marketing Strategy, Management, and Leadership. He has been associated with the hospitality industry as a bartender for a long time before joining Waypoint Spirits as a Distiller. Waypoint Spirits is a high-quality craft spirits brand founded in 2015 in Connecticut. The spirit carries a true essence of the Connecticut landscape and takes pride in the high-quality taste and its Connecticut roots. From distillation to consumption, Waypoint believes in quality and is produced using high-quality local ingredients. Currently, Waypoint produces Gin, Vodka, Rum, and Canned Cocktails and operates an amazing taproom, serving some quality drinks. See how Tony creates this unique series of fine spirits.
My distilling career started about 4 years ago when I was hired as a part-time assistant distiller with Waypoint Spirits, this is where I learned the basics of proofing, blending, and packaging. The company then closed its doors during the pandemic and went through an ownership change, and in that ownership change, I was offered the position of full-time distiller which I accepted in October of 2020. From there I have hit the ground running with revamping the old recipes, refining our procedures, and releasing 12 different spirits and 2 RTDs this past year. I currently run 2, 500-gallon hybrid pot stills and also a 150-gallon column still.
John Taylor, Co-owner; Khalid Williams, Brand Ambassador; and Tony Gugino, Distiller, Tasting Room and Tours, Waypoint Spirits. Source: The Beverage Journal
I think the spirits industry has evolved in that we are accepting of new processes, and new flavors and really starting to embrace craft as a whole. People are realizing that there are craft distilleries in their towns or cities and starting to explore them more and get to see what is unique to their location through distillation.
Day to day for me changes and I love that. But typically you will find me in the production space working on new recipes, trying out new ideas in the test stills we have. The most current project I am working on is taking some past date beer from a local brewery I am good friends with and distilling it to make a hopped whiskey. I’ll let it rest in a new 30-gallon #4 char barrels from the Adirondack Barrel in New York and I am very excited. Currently, I’ve opened 2,980 cans and have another 3,000 to go!
What’s unique about distilling is that there’s really only one way to get the alcohol out of your mash, so there are not many secrets in the industry. But what I do like is how each distiller has their own take on the equipment preferences, where they like to see copper touch their product and how they treat it afterward that makes each and every one of us uniquely different.
Team Waypoint Spirits; Source: Instagram / Waypoint Spirits
The challenges I faced when I distilled my first spirit could be a book in and of itself. From stuck mash, stills puking to very low yields and off-flavors. You think of something that could’ve gone wrong and I’ve probably done it. Each mistake I’ve made I have made sure to keep track of what I did to cause that so I can learn from it and be better the next time. Those who don’t make mistakes are truly not learning.
A distiller can help in marketing and sales by living their product and brand. For me, it’s tough to think of taking the distiller out of the production facility to go help with sales. Their job is to ensure that the product is coming out to their standards and consistent with their flavors.
The most essential skill to being a distiller is patience. Patience with your fermentation, your distillation, and your proofing will all provide you with a better spirit. Being meticulous in note-taking on each of your runs whether it’s a ferment, stripping run, spirit run, or proofing down, all of these have their nuances and the better you can recreate what you did before, the better and more consistent your product will be.
Waypoint’s Taproom; Source: Drink Waypoint
A good distiller is one who is willing to put the care and time into their product. Distilling isn’t something that is a fast-moving industry; spirits take time and effort for them to stand out. Making critical cuts, and ensuring you’re collecting only what you would want to drink yourself.
Advice to future distillers is don’t be afraid to try something different. Yes, there are tried and true methods to our madness but those that can create something unique without fear of bending traditional practices will thrive. There are people putting seaweed in gin now…and I have to tell you, it’s fantastic.
Which is your go-to drink and what is the perfect setting you enjoy it in?
My go-to drink is a gin on the rocks with a splash of tonic, no fruit, best enjoyed on or near the water’s edge with a fishing pole in hand.
Waypoint’s Product Line; Source: Instagram / Waypoint Spirits
When I’m not distilling, you can find me in the woods or on the water enjoying what mother nature has given us.
A good life is one you enjoy, no set standard for that!
Header image source: Drink Waypoint
Interviewed By Prithvi Nagpal, Editor & Sommelier, Beverage Trade Network