Dave Willis was happy guests seemed to enjoy the “experiential” tours at his Roxbury distillery, Bully Boy, when they first started six years ago, “but I was always a bit embarrassed by them, to be honest.”
He always envisioned a classy, comfortable cocktail bar where the Bully Boy team could show off the capabilities of their Boston-made spirits, “which is what’s so exciting about this.”
This being the high-style tasting room and fivefold distillery expansion that Dave and brother Will Willis are finally ready to debut. The Bully Boy still-to-glass cocktail bar opens Friday, April 21.
“I remember the first tour I did. It was literally a week into production, and someone just walked in. We had nothing in there, except for a still and a couple of fermentors,” Dave recalls. He was across the street from the new distillery and tasting room, in Bully Boy’s original home in the Newmarket area of Roxbury.
Since 2012, Bully Boy has grown an average of 32 percent annually, and the fivefold production expansion will only increase its reach. The company is currently in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island markets, and Maine is coming online next month. Next year, it will expand into Connecticut.
They plan to keep the original, 3,500-square foot space, and their first, 150-gallon still designated for gin. Within the next month, all rum and whiskey production will move into the new, 8,000-square foot expansion.
Tours will pick up again, and there’s just more to see now, Dave says: a custom-built, 750-gallon copper pot still from German maker Christian Carl, plus three, 1,500-gallon fermentors, and a shiny steel mash tun.
The floor also features “a graveyard of distillations past,” the head distiller jokes, pointing out bottles of test batches, organized apothecary-style on a vintage science bench salvaged from a college classroom. Along one wall is a 10-foot mural of the Bully Boy logo—a rendering of a photograph of the Willises’ great-grandfather atop the workhorse, Bully Boy—by artist Matt Perdoni.
But the main attraction is the bar. With an eclectic, lounge vibe courtesy of SirTank Design, it also doesn’t shy away from being a working space. Guests seated at the black marble-topped bar will have a great view of the still through giant, vintage oak windows, custom-designed by Massachusetts-based woodworking company ArcArt. A barrel hangs above the bar, soon to be filled with a rum Old Fashioned that will constantly evolve as it sits and is served directly from the oak.
“We wanted someone who’s having a cocktail to be able to see the whole process. It reinforces that grain-to-glass notion,” Willis says.
The robust cocktail program will definitely hone in on the reason you’re there. Designed by Alex Koblan, it highlights the spirits with other house-made bitters, shrubs, and tonics.
“Because we’re makers, the inclination is to make everything,” Dave Willis says. “We can do things because we’re working on a small scale that other bars might not be able to do, because the prep would be completely insane.”
Those things include a bitter grapefruit tonic that adds another layer to a gin and tonic; Boston Honey Co. syrup, made with honey from hives on the Willis family farm; and Teddie Peanut Butter fat-washed rum in the unexpected, delicious Teddie’s Peanut Butter Dream flip. Koblan has been playing around with various botanicals leftover from Bully Boy’s Estate Gin, amari, and sweet vermouth distillations to create new bitters. As the agricultural season ramps up, she is excited to use more produce from the Willis farm as the cocktail program evolves, she says.
Check out her debut drink list below.
Bully Boy will also serve spirit and cocktail flights, to give guests ample opportunity to try new things. Madeira, port, and other barrels are currently finishing some aged whiskies, for an eventual finished whiskey flight; and Dave Willis is hopeful that a daiquiri flight helps educate drinkers on the classic cocktail and makes it cool again, he says.
“We’ve been doing this gin Old Fashioned for a while, just to show people there are different ways to drink,” Koblan adds. “It’s whimsical, it’s kind of funny, and it highlights our stuff in different ways.”
There are also a couple draft cocktails, including a Planter’s Punch with house-made grenadine, and mocktails for the designated driver. Bully Boy will plans to bring food trucks in, but in the meantime, snack on artisan cheese puffs, made by a Barcelona Wine Bar chef and friend of Koblan’s.
The 26-seat tasting room has drink rails and gilded, velour banquettes, plus bold, retro floral wallpaper and eclectic greenery—it seems like a natural place to sip rum. Through a leaded fire door (the only original piece of equipment salvaged during buildout from the former commercial laundry facility) is a barrel room, illuminated with dramatic chandeliers, which will be used for dynamic private events.
The Bully Boy tasting room will be open Thursdays from 5-9 p.m., Fridays from 5 p.m.-midnight, Saturdays from noon-midnight, and on Sundays from noon-5 p.m. Tours will pick up on Saturdays and can be booked in advance; the $10 event also includes spirits tastings.
44 Cedric St., Boston, 617-442-6000, bullyboydistillers.com.
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