UPDATE: Falls Church Distillers will open Saturday at noon serving beer, wine and food only. Paluzzi told the News-Press the ABC license to serve spirits will take at least another week. The distillery’s hours will be: Monday – Tuesday: closed; Wednesday – Thursday: 5 – 11 p.m.; Friday: 3 p.m. – midnight; Saturday: noon – midnight; Sunday: noon – 6 p.m.;
If all goes as planned, the City of Falls Church will see the debut of its first-ever distillery this weekend.
It’s been almost a year since the News-Press reported Falls Church Distillers CEO Michael Paluzzi signed a lease for 3,400 square feet in the former Mobu Kids space on S. Washington St. and the distillery has quickly become one of the most anticipated Little City openings since Mad Fox Brewing Company debuted in 2010. Located next-door to the new Lincoln at Tinner Hill development — and future home of Target — and across the street from Pearson Square, Falls Church Distillers is part of a burgeoning commercial and residential district in the City.
The upcoming distillery, tasting room, bar and restaurant is an ambitious venture — not only for Paluzzi but also the City of Falls Church. The decision to choose Falls Church for his distillery came down to the type of experience he wanted people to have. Fairfax County had too many limits on what he could do, he said, with the distillery having to be in a warehouse and only allowed to serve prepackaged food there. Paluzzi wanted to provide more than that and he says Falls Church was happy to work with him to make it happen.
“We’re learning as we go,” he says, the newness of the industry has naturally made building a distillery from scratch a challenging process. “Nobody has done this before [in the City],” says Paluzzi. In fact, Falls Church Distillers is just the 44th distillery permitted in Virginia and joins Mount Vernon, Catoctin Creek Distilling Company and XO Distilling in Manassas as the only ones in Northern Virginia.
The heart of Falls Church Distillers is a 2,000-pound, custom-made copper still, affectionately dubbed “Frankenstein’s Goggles” by its designer, Still Dragon. The equipment, which will be manned by Paluzzi’s son and chief distiller Lorenzo, took about a year to design and construct, and with a 1,000-liter capacity, it can churn out close to 190 liters of spirits in eight hours.
A five-stage filtration system designed by Lorenzo gives Fairfax Water’s finest the proper alkalinity and pH levels needed for the base of the spirits and also for custom-made, one-inch ice cubes used in their cocktails. “We’re making some great tasting water,” Paluzzi says with a grin.
The first bottles from Falls Church Distillers, which Paluzzi says he hopes to have available by mid-July, will include gin, vodka and Virginia bourbon. Since bourbon typically takes at least two years to age, the distillery’s initial brown-spirit offering will be an 80-proof blend based on 70-gallons of three-year old bourbon he sourced from a southern Virginia supplier. Paluzzi and his team spent the past weekend bottling and labeling the liquor, dubbed Church Bourbon, and will have 320 bottles available at opening. (In an example of Little City synergy, Paluzzi gave the empty bourbon barrel to Mad Fox Brewing’s Bill Madden who will use it for a batch of beer there before returning it to the distillery).
Soon, Paluzzi plans to have 10, 53-gallon barrels in the distillery for aging his own whiskey, rum and brandy.
Falls Church Distillers’ clear spirits — Frozen Falls Vodka and Great Falls Gin — will be available straight up and flavored with pepperoncini (vodka) and lemon verbena and pineapple sage (gin).
Because of strict ABC laws and regulations, Paluzzi had to get creative with the layout of the tasting room and restaurant sections of his space. Regulations won’t allow customers to bring spirits into the restaurant section of the room or let restaurant patrons bring beer or wine into the tasting room, so there’s a metal partition separating the two. Adorned with art from the Front Royal-based Let Art Live On collective, the open concept provides the required separation but doesn’t wall-off the two sides. Plus, Paluzzi says, if they ever decide to ramp up food service, it’s easy to remove the wall.
The tasting room, where spirits will be available for sampling, includes a row of tables on the ground floor and a pair of rooms in a loft Paluzzi calls the “Sun” and “Reflection” rooms. Since ABC rules allow for up to three ounces of spirits per person per day, Falls Church Distillers will offer customers tastings available in half-, one- and one-and-a-half ounce portions that they can mix and match up to the limit. The spirits will be available straight or as part of cocktails. (But since regulations won’t allow for custom orders, drinks must be on the menu to be ordered). There will also be an ABC room with bottles of spirits available for purchase.
On the larger, restaurant side, there will be more tables and a bar with four beers on tap and an Italian-heavy wine list of 20. And like the wine selection, the small plates lineup of food will be Italian-themed, featuring bruschetta, panini, salads, soup and cheese and meat plates.
Eventually, Paluzzi says there will be acoustic music to the dining room (“Nothing too loud.”) and he has plans for Saturday morning bottling parties where people can bottle, cork and label their own bottles of spirits.
“I want to give people the total experience,” Paluzzi says.
If Falls Church Distillers passes its two inspections scheduled for Thursday, that experience begins this Saturday, July 8, at noon. (Otherwise, we’ll have to wait a week).
Falls Church Distillers | 442 S. Washington St. | Falls Church | fcdistillers.com