Longtime restaurateur Eugene Marra focused on food, wine and spirits as part of his profession, a career that’s lasted more than 45 years. A student of his winemaking grandfather, he took his appreciation beyond the glass when he started a vineyard in northern Georgia around 1991.
Eugene’s passion for fine spirits fueled his interest in becoming a distiller in the late 2000s, just as New York state was increasing its support of small-batch producers. Today the New York City native takes pride in the all-New York state ingredients that make up his whiskey, bourbon, gin and vodka.
The names reference Cooperstown’s baseball roots and other historic assets, but Eugene is always looking forward. The former chef continues to craft new recipes that contribute to New York’s growing reputation for high-quality distilleries.
Eugene: Having been in the restaurant business most of my life, I’ve dabbled in food, wine, and spirits for the last 45 years actually. Coming to Cooperstown was an evolution of a great friendship in a business relationship where I was doing some consulting for a restaurant in Cooperstown, fell in love with the town. Simultaneously with that, New York State was rewriting most of their craft distilling legislation, which was beginning to get very interesting for me as an entrepreneur to come back to New York. I’m a native New Yorker. It was sort of a dream come dream true. The marriage of Cooperstown and spirits was always implicit in our business model from day one.
I always knew that part of the strategy of developing this brand in Cooperstown was predicated on that we could marry baseball and spirits. Of course, we started the strategize on the baseball bottle, the decanter bottle, which is our hands down most significant marketing tool that we have is our Abner Doubleday baseball decanter, which has been a huge success for us. We spent almost a year in prototypes with a mechanical engineer. It took a lot of planning. We got it down, right down to the 108 stitches on the baseball seams like a regulation baseball. We gleaned Doubleday’s actual autograph from the archives. If you turn it upside down, it’s got the baseball diamond. It’s got an ash-finish top, just like a baseball bat. Even the box is a period-style baseball box like the old baseballs used to come in. We really thought that that was a key piece of our marketing strategy: the baseball bottle.
Rory: New York is doing great things with this craft distilling movement. I’m originally from Pennsylvania. It’s a little bit more state controlled to liquor. New York is saying, “We see this chance for revenue here. Go for it, guys. Make some great spirits. There’s demand for it. We’ll help you out.” You have the state on your side which is a great thing. Then I feel New York State as a whole, there’s a lot of people that are agriculturally driven here. Ninety-five percent of ingredients come from the state. All my grains, right now, are coming from Canajoharie. I’m getting my grains 20 miles north of here. Hopefully, within anybody another month, there’s going to be a cooper coming online, a cooperage, a place that builds barrels. Within about another month, I won’t have to go more than an hour drive to get grains for bourbon and whiskey. I won’t have to go more than an hour drive to get those barrels. I think New York is going to be known for making some great bourbons here in the future.
Eugene: Being in Cooperstown was a very important piece of our business model. We knew this was a great place for us. We knew that the village would support us. We knew that it was ripe for the picking: marrying baseball and spirits. We think we’ve done a great job with it.