Buffalo distiller Adam Bystran
Photo by kc kratt
65 Vandalia Street, Buffalo
Lakeward Spirits in South Buffalo urges its visitors to “look lakeward,” which refers to the natural resource Buffalo all but ignored for so long. “Even though Buffalo has had ups and downs since its founding, the lake has always been constant,” Lakeward distiller Adam Bystran explains. “We try to think lakeward in regards to ingredient sourcing, energy use, and waste stream management,” he adds. “We try to think like a tributary to the lakes: is there water leaving my facility at the same pH, temperature, and total dissolved solids level it was when it entered? Even our spent grain returns to local fields as cow feed.”
The distillery opened in October 2016, and, today, provides the backbone for the Barrel Factory, a refurbished warehouse in South Buffalo that also houses Pressure Drop Brewing, Leonard Oakes’ Bar Cultivar cider bar, and Snowy Owl Kombucha. Bystran calls the complex a “Disneyland for drinkers.” We caught up with the distiller on what got him started, what keeps him going, and the inspiration behind his product and process.
How did you first get involved in distilling? Walk me through your process.
My interest in distillation was a branch of my homebrewing adventures. I had been making my own beer for six years, and even attended the Siebel Institute in Chicago to get more hands-on training. I stopped at an antique shop in Ellicottville with my [now wife] Whitney and found a one-gallon pot still. I bought it on a whim and started experimenting with whiskey, rum, and tequila distillation. After a few months, I built a fifteen-gallon still, and then, eventually, a thirty-one-gallon to accommodate higher volume. After five years of experimentation, my family started to discuss the possibility of a full-time business.
Can you give me a brief history of Lakeward Spirits?
Lakeward Spirits started over a drink at family dinner. We had been sampling some of our homemade brews and whiskey experiments, and all expressed how tired we were of working for companies we weren’t passionate about. After trying to find a location for several years, we decided to invest in the Old First Ward, a community with a deep history tied to grain. The Bystran, Mack, and Sasiadek families brought enough skills to the table to tackle a project as big as the Barrel Factory.
Bruce Mack, owner of Woodcrafter Construction, oversaw rehabilitation of everything from the original maple floors from 1903, to the original freight elevator, made in Warsaw, New York. My parents Stephen and Andrea Bystran built our business model, and my aunt and uncle Larry and Nelly Bystran manage our social media for the Barrel Factory/Lakeward Spirits. My sister Tara Sasiadek designs our bottle labels, and founded Snowy Owl Kombucha with Andy Bannister, a longtime Ward resident. Her husband Chris Sasiadek secured our licensing, and handles legal compliance for the distillery. He also assists with developing new products in the distillery. His parents, Roy and Sue, have helped with everything from bartending to boiler maintenance.
My primary role is to make the vodka, gin, rum, and whiskey. That involves coordinating with local maltsters to find the best barley, wheat, and rye for our products, running the stills, and making our seasonal drink list.
What’s your inspiration, as a distiller? Why do you choose the ingredients you do?
Lakeward Spirits is a farm distillery, so we’re required by the state to use local ingredients. We use 100 percent New York State grain for our vodka, gin, and whiskey. We’re extremely fortunate to have a growing malting industry in New York, which gives us a wide array of grain varieties. It gives us great pride to know that our products grew in a field within an hour of the distillery.
As a distiller, I try to preserve the flavor of the fresh ingredients in the best possible way. It’s actually pretty easy to over-distill something and remove too much character. I guess my philosophy is, “Find good ingredients, and let them speak for themselves.”
What’s coming down the pike that you’re excited to share with us?
I’m very proud of our new rum program. After almost a year of development, we recently released “Inland Sea,” a white rum with a bright, gingery flavor. I’m even more excited to release our aged rum products next year. Our first aged rum is currently sitting in used Woodford Reserve bourbon barrels, taking on some color and vanilla character.
Lakeward’s big dreams all revolve around whiskey. We have space for around 600 barrels in our current production space, and about five whiskey products planned for release in the next three to five years. The local maltsters keep coming up with new products (like plum-smoked malt) that will make New York whiskey a very exciting market in years to come. We can’t wait to pour you some of what we’ve been working on.
Spree contributor Lizz Schumer writes for The Cheat Sheet, as well as other outlets, including the New York Times.