FRED HARRIGAN grew up for a time in Ireland, where he was introduced to distilling a potato-based whiskey called poitin. He now is a co-founder of Black Diamond Whiskey LLC, based in Brunswick.

FRED HARRIGAN grew up for a time in Ireland, where he was introduced to distilling a potato-based whiskey called poitin. He now is a co-founder of Black Diamond Whiskey LLC, based in Brunswick.

BRUNSWICK

“We’re unapologetic, unaged and unrefined. We are what we are,” explained Shane McKenna, co-owner of Black Diamond Whiskey, a rapidly developing company that will distill three white whiskeys in Brunswick, drawing inspiration from Ireland and the American South.

McKenna said the brand is for those who, “will be on the back of a bike at 2 a.m., cruising back into town, on the Bath viaduct while everybody else is asleep.”

“They are on the edge a bit,” he said.

Since its inception two years ago, the business has seen tremendous growth, with McKenna and business partner Fred Harrigan estimating they will produce 100,000 bottles in the coming year. The idea for the venture began when McKenna and Harrigan, who both made liquor at home as a hobby, began to brainstorm on how to build something out of their common interest.

Four employees, with more coming

The business employs four people, but will likely expand once settled in Brunswick.

Black Diamond distills three whiskeys: A plain, called La Dama Blanca, that is the base for all their products; a cinnamon flavor (Infierno), and apple-flavored (Primera Tentacion). A cherry version will be introduced to the line later this year.

The whiskey is called a white whiskey because it is unaged.

“The line between whiskey and vodka is a fine line. White whiskey is called a whiskey because it sits in a barrel,” said Harrigan of the aspects that make a liquor a whiskey, adding it is subjective. “There’s a spigot in one end and one out the other. It’s got to be poured through a barrel, if nothing else.”

White whiskey, the pair explained, is similar to tequila, but with a better flavor. They said some may call their product moonshine, but moonshine, they said, is usually a sugar liquor, whereas their whiskey is grain-based.

Harrigan grew up for a time in Ireland as a teenager, where he was introduced to a potato-based whiskey called poitin. With poitin, a grain is added, and the Irish used oats, he explained. As an adult, Harrigan moved to the American South, where he became familiar with making corn liquor but continued to add oats to temper the burn of corn.

McKenna and Harrigan said what’s unique about their product is namely the taste and the way it mixes. “A lot of corn liquors are hot when they go down your throat, but ours is smooth,” McKenna said.

The recipes are developed through plain trial-and-error.

“I’ve been doing it for decades,” said Harrigan. “It’s a little bit of oats from Ireland, corn from down South, and I’ve got a bunch of old books on different drinks and liquor, sometimes we pull from there and try them in-house.”

His career background is in historic restoration and preservation, which he recently left to focus on the distillery full-time. While working in the South, and learning about corn liquors, he was also on staff at Mount Vernon, Monticello and the White House.

The 1% brand and logo came from Harrigan’s affiliation with a local outlaw motorcycle club in Portland. He took from that experience the 1% brand idea, which is a freedom concept — with people doing what they want to.

The company began to lease space at Brunswick Landing in June, and a local Portland company is at work building the still. Although based in Maine, the pair has sights set on national and international markets. The whiskey was to make a debut in California, and will move on to Texas, Florida, Massachusetts and upstate New York. They hope to be sold in 12 states this coming year, and from there, move into international markets.

Huge success at airshow

At the Great State of Maine Airshow in August, the company set up a stand to sell mixed drinks. They sold 1,500 drinks and ran out of whiskey on the Sunday afternoon.

“At 11 a.m. on Saturday morning, there were 30 people in line,” said McKenna, of recognizing their product was a hit. “It was all the validation we needed.”

McKenna’s 20-year-old son, Wesley, has been involved from the start, beginning as a bar back and now traveling with Harrigan to help promote the product. McKenna hopes the venture will morph into a family business.

The pair said they are entering the market at the right time, with whiskey-making giants like Jack Daniels and Jim Beam making their own white whiskeys.

“We’ve hit the wave at the right time, we feel,” McKenna said.

The pair said Brunswick Landing is the ideal place to expand their business — with room to expand, opportunity, and proximity to home and the highway. Long-term goals of the company include aging liquor in bunkers left over from World War II at the former base and the pair are considering producing an absinthe.

“Call it a mid-life crisis, or whatever — I’m 51, he’s 52 — it’s just time for a change,” said Harrigan. “We’re not going to do anything that’s not fun.”

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What will you have?

BLACK DIAMOND distills three whiskeys: A plain, called La Dama Blanca, that is the base for all their products; a cinnamon flavor (Infierno), and apple-flavored (Primera Tentacion). A cherry version will be introduced to the line later this year.


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