This is why I was so surprised to learn that right here in Boston, within the city limits, we’ve got our very own distillery.
Bully Boy Distillers is located on 35 Cedric Street in Roxbury, and was started by brothers Will and Dave Willis. About three years ago, the brothers found themselves at a career crossroads, and were exploring ways they might go into business together. Having grown up on a small family-run farm, they had an appreciation for and familiarity with handcrafted, artisan products. As kids, they made their own cider, and as they got older, they began making hard cider, and eventually made the jump to producing spirits as a hobby.
“We were actively looking for ways to start our own business,” says Will. “We were looking at trends like buying local, the upswing in organic products, and the appreciation for craft cocktails. We saw there was the beginning of a microdistilling movement in the same way the microbrewery movement has taken off.”
Looking to local businesses like Sam Adams and Harpoon for inspiration, the brothers took six months to craft their business plan. The actual business of making the spirits seems to have been the easy part. The brothers had to wade through three different levels of licensing with the federal, state, and finally city governments. When it came to dealing with Boston, it was a learning experience for both parties. Being the first distillery in Boston, the City wasn’t exactly sure how to regulate the business.
The brothers persevered, knowing that being able to call themselves “Boston’s first” would go a long way. “Bostonians support their own, and we knew Boston would be the biggest market for what we wanted to make.”
The end results have been exceptionally well-received. With local breweries Sam Adams and Harppon already established and a booming microbrewery scene in the region, Bostonians have been welcoming to the idea of microdistilling. While there has been more of a learning curve out in the ‘burbs, the brothers are confident that the trend will catch on there as well.
The Wills brothers understand the important role Boston plays in making small businesses such as theirs successful. Being in Boston provides opportunities you can’t find elsewhere in New England, and Will and Dave knew it would be beneficial to their business to be here. While they were able to work things out with City Hall, their story does shed light on some things that the City should address if it wants to continue to attract more entrepreneurs like the Willis brothers to the city. Just because your business is different than anything else doesn’t mean you should have to go through the ringer to get things off the ground.
So next time you’re out at the bar and looking to have a cocktail, ask the bartender if they have any Bully Boy. Not only will you get to enjoy a drink made with handcrafted spirits, but you’ll be supporting the type of entrepreneurial business we need more of in Boston.
– Nick Downing, Future Boston Research Coordinator