By Tom Long and Stacy Milbouer
Fiddlehead Contributing Editors
Nothing heats up a cold winter day like a good, stiff drink. André Marcoux, along with a growing number of other New Hampshire entrepreneurs, is doing his best to warm the cockles of our hearts by running his own distillery.
“I think a lot of people are getting tired of beer and want to try something different,” Marcoux said recently as he stood behind the bar at Live Free Distillery in Manchester.
He’s not alone. There are currently 16 local breweries in New Hampshire. It makes business sense considering a recent national study found that New Hampshire is leading all states in alcohol consumption with an average consumption of 4.76 gallons per capital, a year.
On the counter in front of him was an array of the products he produces and ages in barrels he made with his father: Mountain Top Lavender Vodka, Riptide White Rum, Shire Shine Apple Pie Moonshine and Backroads, a honey-flavored whiskey, to name a few.
He also makes bourbon and other spirits.
“We’re constantly trying to come up with new ideas,” he said.
Marcoux, 36, took a roundabout route to the liquor business.
“I worked in the steel industry. I was working crazy hours and needed a hobby,” he said. He laughed and added, “Like a lot of people, I love beer, so I was afraid if I brewed my own, I might become an alcoholic, so I decided to try my hand a distilling. And, to tell the truth, I love the science and math involved.”
He made his first batch of whiskey under the deck at his home by repurposing his wife’s stockpot and a turkey fryer.
What was the result?
“It tasted God-awful,” he said, “and I suppose it wasn’t the best idea to have an open flame under the deck.”
So, he asked his wife if he could turn the basement into a distillery or a grow room. “Both are illegal,” he said. “I think she chose the lesser of two evils.”
His second batch?
“It was not the greatest. I could drink it, but not too many could,” he admitted.
So, he upped his game, bought more adequate equipment, and his liquor got more professional, too. In fact, it has won some awards.
When the building in an industrial plaza on East Industrial Drive became available, he jumped at the chance… after getting the OK from his wife.
“She said it was all right, as long as I did not use the house for collateral,” he said.
Marcoux, who lives in Weare with his wife and two young children, opened Live Free Distillery in 2018. He built much of the equipment himself.
“I come from a metal fabricating background, so it wasn’t much of a stretch,” he said.
With help from his father, Ron, who lives in Bedford and is a master woodworker, he made the only wood-wrapped still in the state, he said.
In addition to supporting and promoting other distilleries in the state — he devotes a wall to plaques touting the others — Marcoux said he tries to source as many local ingredients as possible, like maple from Knoll Top Farm in Sunapee and honey from a neighbor.
He offers tours and tastings on Saturdays and Sundays. During a recent tour of the small batch brewery, he pointed out rum, whiskey and other spirits aging in barrels, some of which he made with his dad — he plans to name a wheat whiskey currently aging in one of those barrels in his honor.
Marcoux’s libations are also sold at state liquor stores, where he sometimes conducts tastings too. He plans to serve tasting cocktails using his spirits in the new year.