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Jason Barrett

Black Button Distilling

Interview No. 29

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"Our community cares and wants to connect to the homegrown stories and Rochester pride that has brought people together through good and bad times."

Where did you grow up?

I was born and raised in Penfield and graduated from Penfield high school in 2005. After that, I went to SUNY Cortland for political science.

How did you get involved in the distilling industry?

I started making alcohol when I was in college after learning that I could buy everything to make beer at 19, even though you can’t actually drink it until 21. After graduation, I moved to DC and brewed beer as a hobby, which I would share with my friends. While working at Paychex in D.C., I began working in accounting and had a lot breweries as clients, which helped me to understand the brewing industry. A lot of the skills required for beer brewing also apply for distilling bourbon, which really interested me and drove me to get a master’s distilling certificate. I moved back to Rochester in the spring of 2013 to get the still at Black Button up and running. By January of 2014, the tasting room opened to the public with our first products.

*On a side note, Jason’s master’s distilling certificate allows him to train master distiller’s at Black Button. This makes them the only place in New York that trains master distillers.

What is your favorite neighborhood in Rochester?

I’m partial to the Rochester Public Market because of our location, but also because it is an interesting collection of people, activity, and excitement in one place. The Park Ave and East Ave areas are also a part of Rochester that I enjoy. I really appreciate Rochester for the small-town-but-big-city feeling that makes everyone feel like they are a part of the community. I couldn’t be happier to have a distillery in Rochester and am thankful to the Rochester community for embracing us.

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Do you have a favorite/secret spot?

I’m really into McCann’s Meats on Clinton. Kevin and the rest of his team there create interesting and delicious cuts of meats. I also relate to McCann’s because of their similar ethos with regards to sustainability to both environment and community.

Describe your dream Rochester day.

My dream day would be in the early spring when it’s slightly warm and would consist of brewery tours, breakfast at Highland diner, drinks at a craft cocktail place, and falling asleep with the windows open.

What makes Rochester unique?

The sense of community and sense of Rochester pride is palpable in this city. We regularly work and collaborate with different restaurants, breweries, and organizations which isn’t something you see in very many other markets. The Rochester community also has a level of support  and for hometown organizations and groups that is very authentic. Our community cares and wants to connect to the homegrown stories and Rochester pride that has brought people together through good and bad times. We’re all on this boat together and we all have to help turn the boat around. Rochesterians seem to be very involved in making Rochester a better place.

If you could describe Rochester as an animal, what would it be?

Rochester is sort of like a puppy that has wild excitement and energy. Rochester, like a puppy, is wide-eyed with lots of energy and excitement and ready to grow into a better form of itself.

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The public market, great restaurants, and Wegmans contribute to a great food town, which then contributes to the beer and wine industry as well.

What made you decide to start a business in Rochester versus somewhere else?

Rochester is a very food-smart town with a wide array of restaurants that are doing lots of great things. Laws in NYS are better for distillers, which have allowed for beer and wine to develop and become a mainstay of the region’s economy. The public market, great restaurants, and Wegmans contribute to a great food town, which then contributes to the beer and wine industry as well. I’m hoping to bring spirits to the Rochester market in the same way that wine and beer have developed as a mainstay in the area.

What are some challenges you face?

Trying to keep all the pieces moving can be very difficult, as I have a lot of roles and jobs that have to be maintained in a timely manner. The company also faces challenges in that we try to do it as much as we can internally. From making, distributing, selling, and marketing the spirits, it all happens in-house.

Do you have any advice for up-and-coming entrepreneurs in the Rochester area?

Go for it! I think people are little too nervous sometimes to make the jump and take a risk. You’ll regret more things you didn’t do than the things you do do. Also, it’s important to do your research and be prepared but in the end just go for it.

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Whether you’re on the way to the public market or looking for a Rochester-centered alcohol maker that is a little different, Black Button Distilling is a must visit for locals and newbies alike. You can find out more about Black Button on their website, Twitter, or Instagram accounts. Special thanks to head distiller and president, Jason Barrett for the tour of the still and interview.

Interview by Emma Daitz.