SARATOGA SPRINGS — Ryen Van Hall definitely has helpers in his effort to revive the local alcohol distilling industry. He produces the strong stuff, like vodka and whiskey, in a modern warehouse off Geyser Road.
In opening his Upstate Distilling Company a year ago, Van Hall first employed the enthusiasm and scientific curiosity of Glenna Joyce.
Joyce is a Skidmore College graduate who is already well versed in the process of aging alcohol in wooden barrels made of oak.
She also delights in knowing how to clean the company’s impressive copper pot still. When that job is done, Joyce says, “It looks like a brand new penny.”
“I’m constantly learning new things about the industry,” she adds.
Van Hall also gets lots of assistance from two minority owners.
His significant other, Lindsay Richardson, serves as the company’s artistic director. And Todd Gordon, a reputable Wall Street investment analyst, is listed on Van Hall’s website (www.upstatedistilling.com) as a marketing specialist.
Gordon posted a statement praising Van Hall’s “vision to operate the first distillery in Saratoga since Prohibition” for being “perfectly in line with the booming international bull market in handcrafted American spirits.”
Most recently, Van Hall received a boost from the City of Saratoga Springs, which offered a modest loan to his Upstate Distilling Co. that funded various upgrades to the production facility.
“I personally bankrolled the whole project,” Van Hall says. But unanticipated costs can arise when starting any small business, he added.
Shelby Schneider, director of business retention and expansion at the Saratoga County Prosperity Partnership, was instrumental in bringing Van Hall’s business plan to the attention of city officials who manage its revolving loan fund.
That city fund is “a great little tool and more people need to know about it,” she said this week.
According to Bradley Birge, the city’s planning and economic development administrator, the revolving loan fund has been provided through a federal grant program for many years.
Federal rules stipulate that loans to small businesses can range between $25,000 and $75,000 and they must be tied to certain levels of job creation.
Birge stated that Van Hall was approved for a $50,000 loan. The Salem-based R.S. Taylor and Sons brewery and AgroChem Inc., in the Grande Industrial Park, were each recently loaned $75,000 for local business expansion, he said.
R.S. Taylor and Sons is planning to open a taproom in Saratoga Springs for its distinctive farm-made products.
“There are so many resources in the community that are available to small businesses,” Birge explained, pointing to related programs offered by the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce.
Schneider said the terms of revolving loans are negotiable and it takes local companies an average of 5 to 7 years to pay them back. Small business owners from across Saratoga County can contact her office to begin the application process.
Schneider added that she works closely with Birge in performing “due diligence” and credit checks to review fund applicants in the city program. “We do our best,” she said.
James Lee, a financial planner and administrator for the Town of Greenfield’s revolving loan fund, said a pool of money totaling $1.4 million is presently available to lend in Greenfield.
Current borrowers vary “in size and type,” Lee said, and they include Putnam Brook, the Greenfield Veterinary Clinic, Saratoga Health and Wellness and the Post Cafe. He indicated that loans of $530,000 remain outstanding.
“We’re always looking for new businesses,” Lee said.
Van Hall expressed his gratitude for the extra support. He says Upstate Distilling Co. is now “growing at a nice, organic pace” with all of the financing and right individuals in place.
“Every year it just gets better,” Van Hall said of the two whiskey blends he produces, during a quick tour of the facility.
This summer, he explained, two more staff members may be hired, possibly by the time production starts on Upstate Distilling Co.’s third whiskey blend.