From spore to spirit: Mushroom distillery set to open this fall


ITHACA, N.Y. — The first mushroom distillery will be planting itself along the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail.

Blue Oyster Cultivation, a family-owned, gourmet mushroom farm that has been in Ithaca for the last 12 years, is launching Mushroom Spirits Distillery, which will sell mushroom-infused alcohol. Joe and Wendy Rizzo, owners of the farm, said that they are aiming to have a soft launch of the distillery and tasting room — located on Route 89 in Fayette, about 20 miles north of Ithaca — as well as bottles for sale, in the fall.

“We love it up here. We love the wineries. We love the nature,” Rizzo said. “We saw that there are a lot of spirit distilleries, and they were kind of having a moment, just like mushrooms were. We started to think, it would be an interesting merger of the two.”

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The Rizzos will be infusing mushrooms that they grow on the farm, including woody and earthy flavored mushrooms like reishi, chaga and hen-of-the-woods. These mushrooms are known for their culinary uses, but are also popular as medicinal supplements. Rizzo said he is planning to start with mushroom vodka, and then incorporate mushroom gins and whiskeys.

When picking up a bottle, don’t expect to see the same clear vodka from the liquor store. Rizzo said that so far, the spirits — which are at least 40% alcohol — mimic the taste of the mushrooms and have an earthy, but light flavor. Each mushroom gives off a different color, ranging from a light amber to a dark, almost black alcohol.

“This idea of a blank slate, this neutral alcohol, and by infusing it with different mushrooms, you’re getting a true sense of the mushroom flavor,” he said.

Specialty mushroom growing has proven to be profitable due to the relatively low expenses, high earnings and adaptable production environments, according to the Cornell Small Farms Program. Research has shown that in most local markets, the demand for specialty mushrooms exceeds the supply. Mushrooms sales hit an all-time high in 2017–18, with a value of $1.23 billion. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the number of specialty mushroom growers in the United States has decreased from 317 in 2016–17 to 307 in 2017–18. The mushroom supplement market is also growing, with expected sales of $34.3 billion by 2024, up from $20 billion in 2018.

Inside the Mushroom Spirits Distillery tasting room.

While there are some distilleries around the country that sell mushroom-infused spirits, Mushroom Spirits will be the only distillery site that focuses on mushroom libations. Mushroom Spirits will also be one of the few distilleries in the area, joining the likes of Six Mile Creek Winery and Distillery and Montezuma Winery and Hidden Marsh Distillery.

The distillery itself has been a process, about five or six years in the making. Mushroom Spirits recently received its federal distilled spirits permit, and the tasting room is built.

The Rizzos said that in addition to the tasting room, they hope to sell the alcohol at the Ithaca Farmers Market. Joe primarily deals with the Union Square Greenmarket in New York City, while Wendy runs the Blue Oyster stall at the Ithaca Farmers Market. 

“I’m so looking forward to getting open and being out there and being part of the wine trail and part of the community,” she said.

Photos courtesy of John Rizzo.





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