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Distillery to be launched in Clayton

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First and foremost, Michael L. Aubertine, co-owner of Aubertine and Currier Architects of Watertown, is known as an engineer.

But that’s going to change this summer, as Mr. Aubertine will use his expertise as an architect to become the owner of a distillery on Route 12 outside the village of Clayton.

Called Clayton Distilling Co., the distillery will complement wineries in the north country by producing a wide spectrum of liquor products ranging from vodka and whiskey to an array of fruit-flavored brandies, said Mr. Aubertine, who will co-own the business with Roger Howard. The distillery will be between the Thousand Islands Winery of Alexandria Bay and the Coyote Moon Vineyards in Clayton, an ideal area for attracting visitors during the summer.

“Last year I spent a few months researching this and visited about five distilleries across the state, and I decided to go full force with this plan in the fall,” said Mr. Aubertine, who plans to break ground on the project in July after acquiring approval of the site plan. He hopes to open the business in the spring of 2013.

“This location is perfect for retail-oriented sales because of tourism in the Clayton area,” he said.

An application was submitted Tuesday for a $100,000 Rural Business Enterprise Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to the Jefferson County Planning Board. The funds would purchase equipment for the facility, which will include a 475-liter still that will be able to process 1,300 pounds of grain per day, as well as three 1,500-liter fermentation tanks. The Jefferson County Job Development Corp., which prepared the grant application, plans to use the funding to obtain the equipment on behalf of the company and then lease it to the distillery at an affordable rate.

As a retail store, the distillery will cater to visitors by offering tours throughout the day, Mr. Aubertine said, explaining that it will be equipped with safety features for the public. “People will be able to come in and see how the fermenting tanks work, and we also plan to have private bottling parties so that people can learn how to do it themselves.”

Mr. Aubertine will be leasing farm property in Clayton owned by his parents, Terry and Linda Aubertine, to grow corn, rye, wheat and oats to be used at the distillery. And, as a qualified farm distillery, the business will be able to partner with wineries in the region to trade products.

For example, “we could take some of their wines and distill it down to create brandy products they would be able to sell,” he said.

The distillery will launch a website this summer at which people will be able to track the project’s progress from start to finish.

Mr. Aubertine will be accomplishing a rare feat by launching a distillery, as only a handful have ever been started in Jefferson County, said Lenka P. Walldroff, curator of collections at the Jefferson County Historical Society.

The earliest distillery recorded in the area was Bailey & Clark, which opened in 1811 on Matthew Street where the Old Jail Antiques store now is operated, Mrs. Walldroff said. According to a census taken in 1827, there were two distilleries in Watertown. Otherwise, the record is vague.

“There were a lot of bars and saloons, but distilleries were kind of taboo and not talked about much,” she said.

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