- February 7, 2018
- November 21, 2017
Q&A: Diego Peña of Eastern Standard
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During the 1800s, a seven-foot-wide passageway across from the old Boston Stock Exchange building became known as Damnation Alley. And for good reason: Merchants scurrying through the narrow passage from Quincy Market to State Street were known to clash there, filling the tunnel with foul language. While the passageway no longer exists (the 60 State Street tower was built in its place), its name lives on at this Belmont distillery.
This spot stands out for several reasons. Until just 12 years ago, Belmont had been a dry town. Moreover, it’s remarkably small. In the back, 970 square feet is devoted to distilling and in the front, 200 square feet is dedicated to retail space. There’s an upside to this compact size: Since spirits are made in small batches, the team gets really creative. To say the product is hyper-localized is an understatement: Grains, produce, fruits, and herbs are all sourced from Massachusetts farms.
Damnation Alley got its start when Alex Thurston, a hobby homebrewer, shifted his focus to distilling. After taking a class on the subject at Michigan Brewing Company, he became hell-bent on pursuing the craft. After recruiting his wife Emma, her sister Jessica, Jessica’s husband Jeremy, and friend Alison, the team officially launched the company in 2011.
The five cofounders spent a year trekking around the Bay State hunting for grains. Whereas many “craft” distillers buy grain-neutral spirits from far and wide, Damnation Alley selects, mills, and brews its own. Many of the grains are malted by Valley Malt in Hadley; Four Star Farms in Northfield provides wheat and rye; and whiskeys use Longfellow yellow and Rhode Island white capped corn from Mainstone Farm. (Fun fact: Longfellow yellow corn dates to the early 1800s, while Rhode Island white capped corn harkens back to the Narragansett Indian Tribe).
When the distillery’s retail shop opened in 2013, the company sold two unaged white whiskeys and two vodkas. Today, you’ll find up to ten spirits for sale, a mix of seasonal and year-round offers. While bourbon, sipping vodka, and gin are the most popular products, the distillery is known for innovative vodka infusions, such as the I Remember Nothing vodka (with rosemary) and the Zombie (with cranberry).
Stop by the Belmont distillery during business hours for tastings of its present lineup. Paid tours can be scheduled for up to 15 people, but public tours are held just three to four times a year. Aside from the on-site storefront, you’ll also find these spirits on menus around town, including Backbar in Somerville, Bondir in Concord, Seoul Kitchen in Westford, Stoddard’s Fine Food & Ale in Boston, and VIA Italian Table in Worcester.