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An Irishman and an American walk into a bar. Only, there’s no punchline here. The Irishman is Mick O’Neill, the American is Matt Moore, and the bar they own – the newly established Enchanted Mountain Spirits Distillery – is no joke at all.
Enchanted Mountain, which is located at 137 Water Street in Jamestown, opened its doors for the first time just a few weeks ago on Dec. 10. The distillery is a little slice of Ireland smack dab in the middle of Jamestown: the walls are Kelly green, the employees are full of witty banter, and their spirits are handcrafted from a 200-year old family recipe which utilizes the secret ingredient of – what else? – potatoes.
The men behind the liquor are just as colorful and unique as the distillery itself. Mick O’Neill, who originally hails from Belfast, Ireland, first came to the United States for university. He later decided to stay on the East Coast and make his living as a rock-climbing instructor. In his spare time, he participated in SCA fighting, a pastime which resembles full-armored, medieval combat dueling. It was through this hobby that he met and befriended Matt Moore, an Olean native who works for TitanX.
“So the story goes: we were sitting around one Labor Day when Matt asked me, ‘If you could do anything, what would you do?’” said O’Neill, who is now the head distiller. “I told him I’d open a distillery. And he goes, ‘Well, why don’t you?’”
So that’s exactly what they did. It took eighteen months to conduct research, write a business plan, and get licensed, with Moore operating as the business consultant and O’Neill conducting the day-to-day operations. Now, they’ve made – and completely sold out of – their first three batches of Knockboy poteen and their first batch of Knockboy vodka, and are working on more. The process is time-consuming: it takes O’Neill and his assistant distiller, John Fisk, roughly eighteen days to complete a batch (47 to 53 bottles) from start to finish. This includes hand-cutting potatoes, distilling multiple times for an optimal tasting experience, and hand-labelling the bottles when they’re finished.
“We want to up production in the next year, but we want to do it in a manner that we’re still keeping true to ourselves,” O’Neill said. “That’s the main part. We want to be sure that we are who we want to be, not who others expect us to be. It’s hard, because I know eventually we’ll have to get away from hand-cutting and hand-labelling, but to me, there will always have to be something that I touch, something that’s personal, in the process.”
For O’Neill, the distillation process hits home: his recipes for potato vodka and poteen – an unaged specialty spirit which originated as a sort of Irish moonshine – have been passed down through his family for generations. Even the name of the distillery has an Irish derivation: “Enchanted Mountains” is the colloquial name of the Shehy Mounains in County Cork, Ireland. And Knockboy Peak – for which their liquor is named – is the highest mountain in Cork, and the birthplace of O’Neill’s family recipe.
“I realized, I’m the last person in my family who knows this recipe. So I had a moment of asking myself, what do I do with this? I had to do something,” O’Neill said.
While poteen is usually made with potato treacle and malt, O’Neill, Fisk and Moore have put their own stamp on the liquor. They added carroway as an homage to O’Neill’s Uncle Jerry, who loved the flavor, and substituted treacle with a local, single-variety, goldenrod honey. This honey joins all the other ingredients in being local. The trio have put a lot of effort into ensuring that everything from their potatoes to the wax that seals their bottles comes from New York State.
“The best thing here is that we give a sample of everything,” said Fisk. “We want people to know what’s going in their drink and we want them to like it. We want people to touch and taste the product and the ingredients and get actively involved.”
This earnestness for customers to experience their liquor, not just drink it, and to yield to whimsy is another stamp of Enchanted Mountain’s brand. They have samples of their poteen ingredients on the bar countertop, just in case patrons are curious. These sit next to their non-traditional bar snacks: Swedish fish, peanut butter bon-bons, and trail mix, which Fisk calls a “compromise to be normal.” Even their drink list is creative and tempting – take the Smoked Mad Molly, which blends poteen, black currant juice, lemon-lime soda, and a whisp of smoke that settles in your mouth like an afterthought.
Perhaps the most inviting thing about Enchanted Mountain, however, is the attitude they take towards their customers. O’Neill and Fisk encourage patrons to challenge them in a game of darts or foosball – if the customer wins, their drink is on the house. And while they post set hours on their Facebook page, they admit that if you want to stay past closing time, they have no problem keeping open.
“That’s just the way it is in Ireland,” O’Neill said. “If you’re having a grand time, that means we’re having fun too, so why wouldn’t we want you to stay? We just wanted to bring a little bit of a different vibe to Jamestown.”
Knockboy poteen and vodka can currently only be purchased at Enchanted Mountain or Bag and String Wine Merchants in Lakewood. For more information on Enchanted Mountain and their spirits, visit their Facebook page or call 716-483-4673.
To read more of Cortney Linnecke’s creative and informative contributions to the Jamestown Gazette, please go to www.jamestowngazette.com and click on the picture to search our archives for more of the stories you want to read.