Tom’s Foolery Distillery: A Grass Roots Success Story

Thought your best Bourbon had to come from Kentucky or Tennessee? Think again.

Owning a distillery has been an almost-lifelong ambition for Tom Herbruck.

Herbruck, who owns the Chagrin Falls-based Tom’s Foolery distillery with his wife Lianne, began researching how to make and market applejack before he was old enough to drink it.

While they were applying for their present federal and state permits, Lianne found Tom’s original application from 1983 and personal notes including “Where do I get stills?” and “Where can I store 100 gallons of Cider?”

“He applied for his first permit when he was 15,” Lianne said. “He was going to try to make applejack. I’m not sure they knew they were talking to a 15-year-old.”

Tom’s father owned a 1-acre vineyard and would press cider every fall. It became and early inspiration for Tom, as apple cider can be used to make applejack, an American apple brandy.

That longtime dream became a reality in 2008, when the Herbrucks obtained the required permits, bought a small 30-gallon still and opened Tom’s Foolery. They produced their first batch of applejack in 2009.

A solid demand grew for the applejack and the couple upgraded to larger stills when a historic set of copper pot stills from Michter’s Distillery in Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania became available.

“That was huge for us,” Lianne said. “It took us a whole year to make that first barrel. Our first release was 300 bottles. But this year’s Applejack release was 1,300 bottles.”

The distillery added rye and sour mash bourbon to its production line, but currently only sells applejack.

“We are aging our bourbon in the barrel for at least two years,” Lianne said. “We’re trying to stay patient and do it right. It has to be mature enough before we will bottle it.

“We’re sitting on a lot of product, so when it’s ready, there will be a lot of it.”

The distillery has one full-time employee, Erik Rothschiller, in addition to Tom and Lianne. Lianne handles the business end of Tom’s Foolery, drives the tow motor and manages the plant. Tom maintains a full-time job in Cleveland in addition to his stilling duties.

Tom’s Foolery, considered a micro-distillery, makes “small batches” where they turn about 850 pounds of grain, or 500 gallons of cider, into one barrel of whiskey or applejack.

The smaller size distilling allows Tom to change the recipe barrel-by-barrel and adjust flavoring.

The system appears to be working well. In 2013, their applejack was awarded a silver medal at the American Distilling Institute 7th Annual Judging of Artisan American Spirits. The popular applejack quickly sells out.

The flourishing distillery is not open to the public, and the Herbrucks are looking to expand down the road to a location suitable for visitors.

Currently, Tom’s Foolery is selling Applejack Batch #4, a blend of seven applejack barrels that have been aging for the last two to three years. The proof has been increased to 90.

The product is available in numerous stores in Cleveland and Columbus and can be sampled at The Wine Spot in Cleveland Heights on March 16, as part of a the Edible Cleveland Happy Hour – A Nip and a Pint.

Video tells the story         

The seven-minute video (above) takes viewers through the distilling process and the history of this Ohio company while the distillery’s website tells the history of applejack and Tom’s Foolery’s part in it.

Win a Tom’s Foolery T-shirt 

Win a Tom’s Foolery T-shirt. Click here to see the shirt and “Like” TheWineBuzz Magazine’s Facebook page to enter and write “pink” or “black” in the comments under the Tom’s Foolery T-shirt post.  We’ll select a winner for the pink medium shirt and the large black shirt from the comments section on March 16.

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