Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Vince and Donna Pedini, proprietors of Dragonfyre Distillery, sit at the bar of the business at 1062 Leonard Road in Marathon.
MARATHON — Deep in the rolling hills just outside a small village, at the end of a winding dirt road near a pond next to an old hobbit hole, sits a tiny little tavern-like building where the tears of dragons are bottled and sold.
This is what Marathon residents Vince and Donna Pedini would have people believe when they invite visitors to come see their new business, the Dragonfyre Distillery at 1062 Leonard Road, during their grand opening this weekend.
Donna Pedini said she and her husband had been interested in starting a new smaller yet profitable business once she realized the market for her current business, selling brass stampings used for jewelry, was drying up.
“We wanted something to take us into our retirement,” she said. “The only thing that we could come up with that would actually … make a living at was the distillery because it’s this up-and-coming thing in New York.”
The passage of the state’s Farm Distillery Act in 2007, in an effort to boost the craft beverage industry, relaxed regulations and made it easier for people to make and sell alcoholic beverages made from ingredients grown in New York.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office reported in September that the number of farm distilleries in the state has grown exponentially over the last six years from 10 in 2010 to 95 in 2016.
So it was over a year ago when Vince Pedini said he considered turning the old family hobby into a new family business.
“My grandfather had this tiny little still he made on the Lehigh Valley Railroad,” he said. “It was this beautiful little spun-copper still. (He)… made wine and whiskey but he didn’t sell it. It was always made just for our own consumption.”
However, once the Pedinis invested in building the distillery on their property near Leonard Road, there was not much left over for actual equipment.
“We couldn’t afford to buy a ton of stuff,” Vince Pedini said. “I said well if we’re going to do this, we’re going to need a still that can produce more than a gallon of whiskey.”
That’s when Pedini said he decided to do what any self-respecting, third-generation distiller would do: he made his own equipment and hand-crafted both of the 100-gallon mash tubs, the steam injector need to cook the contents, and the 25-gallon copper still used to make his Dragon Moon Shine whiskey.
Pedini said first he grinds the corn he purchased from Willet with a small hand-cranked mill. He mixes the corn with yeast, enzymes and water to make mash in the tubs, yielding a truly artisanal product.
While the recipe is simple, Pedini said making the whiskey requires attention to detail and patience as it takes nearly the whole day for the small still to pump out a few gallons of product.
“Everything … is slow and tedious, but the results are very good,” he said.
As Vince perfected his corn whiskey recipe, Donna used her artistic talents to create an unusual identity and theme for the Dragonfyre Distillery.
From the hand-painted dragon head sconces hanging near the ceiling to the fairy doors and the cobblestone designs painted on the floor, the details will make guests feel like they have been transported to a tavern the likes of which are seen on the pages of a medieval fantasy novel.
Even the bathroom has been transformed into an enchanted forest where the trees and other mystical creatures seem to come to life on the walls.
“I’ve always loved fairies and all of that kind of stuff,” Donna Pedini said. “I love the outdoors and nature … (and) a lot of women like fairy stuff and dragon stuff. I wanted something for them to look at.”
The gift shop at the Dragonfyre Distillery features a number of hand-crafted gifts such as cloth gift bags, ornaments, note cards and other decorations and accessories made by Pedini and her mom, Nancy Focardi.
Vince Pedini said by next year, he would like to have at least a few different types of whiskey to sell and hopes to make a mark on the craft beverage industry by changing people’s expectations about what can be done with the spirit.
If all goes accordingly, Pedini said he plans to leave some Dragon Moon Shine in barrels with wood chips to make an aged Dragon Moon Shadow and he hopes to unveil “Scorched Earth” whiskey with a touch of apple in coming months.
For now, though, Vince and Donna Pedini are focused on setting the Dragonfyre Distillery apart from others by introducing people to what they see as a quality product while capturing people’s business and their imagination at the same time.
“It’s just a passion to make good whiskey,” Vince Pedini said. “If you’re going to do it, why not make it fun?”