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Know Your Distillers: Tony Gugino

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02/01/2024 Embark on an extraordinary distilling journey with Tony Gugino, the mastermind behind Eighth District Distilling. Dive into a world where passion, innovation, and sustainability converge, creating exceptional spirits.

Seven years ago, Tony Gugino ventured into distilling after years as a bartender, fueled by a passion for spirits. Starting with infusions and crafting a memorable 5-gallon batch of limoncello for a brother's wedding, Tony transitioned into distillery ownership. Currently navigating the build-out process for Eighth District Distilling Company, Tony combines distillery development with consulting, aiming to secure permits by year-end. Inspired by a love for crafting spirits, key distilling skills for Tony include passion, equipment expertise, and a deep understanding of spirit evolution. A gin enthusiast, Tony explores chemical compositions of gin flavors, focusing on continuous learning. A good life, for Tony, involves distilling, family, and moments spent fishing. With a go-to drink of gin on the rocks by the water, Tony values sustainability in operations, creatively utilizing byproducts. Challenging norms, pushing boundaries, and anticipating growth define Tony's approach to business development in the craft distilling scene.

Tell us a little about your background and journey into distilling.

I started distilling about 7 years ago. After being a bartender for years, and falling in love with spirits from the cocktail perspective. I then started infusing my spirits, and a big start was making a 5-gallon batch of limoncello for my brother's wedding. After that, I decided to see what the spirits industry could offer me on the production side of things and I landed my first job at a distillery and started learning ever since and continue to do so to this day.

Your current role and what does your day look like?

Owner of Eighth District Distilling Company. Currently, my days are filled with working on getting my distillery open and working with a few clients on the consulting side of things. I am in the build-out process and am hoping to be able to apply for my permit by the end of the year.

What inspired you to become a distiller?

My inspiration came from working behind the bar with a strong cocktail program and being challenged to understand spirits on a deeper level than the norm from there I began infusing my spirits and aging my spirits at home. After making a large batch of limoncello for my brother's wedding gifts, I knew I wanted to get into the making spirits from the beginning and my distilling journey began.

What are some of the most important skills for a distiller?

It's all about passion, knowing your equipment, and knowing your spirit beyond what comes off the still. If you're not passionate about this craft, or this industry, then it is not for you. There are long days, meticulous cuts, and continual understanding of your production process. Knowing how your equipment works and what spirits you can produce is essential. Furthermore, understanding how your spirit will change with time, from barrel aging to being in a bottle that isn't finished in one sitting, the variables are numerous.

Image Source: Tony Gugino

How do you think a distiller can help in driving marketing and sales personally?

From my perspective, being the sole owner/operator of my distillery, I can drive marketing and sales by being present in the industry on social media and in person at events. People enjoy knowing not only what ingredients are in the bottle but also who is behind the liquid in the bottle. 

Define a good distiller.

A good distiller is different for each distillery. A good distiller at a high-production facility with continuous distillation and triple shifts can follow directions well. But a good distiller at your local craft distillery is meticulous in their work, understanding of their ingredients, and one who cares about their craft.

What is the hardest part of a distiller’s job?

For me, the hardest part of our job is the waiting, but it's also the most fun part of the job as well. We wait for a lot...we wait for fermentation and we get a hint at what the spirit will be like. We wait while we distill but ever-changing flavors during a gin distillation are very exciting to be around. We wait while our spirit ages in barrels, for years, and the anticipation of that first taste of a barrel never goes away. Waiting may be the hardest part, but it's also the most rewarding.

What's your elevator pitch to a bartender when pitching your brand?

It's local; I make it and it's good.

What are the current challenges the spirits industry is facing according to you?

The big thing that I feel affects us is our fill sizes. For instance, we can't fill a 16oz or 24oz can with a 5% alcohol-based seltzer, but beer can fill them (and larger) with higher abv and it's not an issue.

What skill or topic you are learning currently and why?

I am always researching, but my current focus is on gin as I am heading down to Kentucky to take a gin class with BDAS (Brewing and Distilling Analytical Services) to get to know more about the chemical compositions of gin flavors.

What is your idea of a good life?

A good life is fulfilling to you. I get to distill as my job...that's a pretty great life right there. I have my wife and daughter, our dog and cats, and I go fishing on my boat, which makes it even better.

Which is your go-to drink and what is the perfect setting you enjoy it in?

Give me a gin on the rocks next to the water with a fishing pole and I'll call that paradise. 

Your favorite 2-3 distilling or spirits books?

Proof - The Science of Booze - Adam Rogers

The Alcohol Textbook - Lallemand Distilling

What do you look for in a supplier when sourcing bulk spirits / NGS if you do?

For my operations, I will source NGS for certain aspects of my production. When I'm sourcing NGS I'm looking for a producer that is creating spirits off a byproduct that would otherwise go to waste.

Take us through your process of blending.

Blending is a delicate process that not many may realize. I can't give all my secrets away, but I will say during the blending process it's very important to not rush the process and also to not "shock" either side of the process.

Image Source: Tony Gugino

How do you take care of production waste?

I will send my spent grains to local farmers for feed and I am working on using my waste from my molasses fermentation to mix with salt for the winter while spreading on the surfaces of the parking lots.

If you had to give a quick elevator pitch on why an account should bring in your product for its consumers, what would it be?

I don't plan to go to distribution or stores for quite a bit so I still have to figure this one out.

How do you create complexity in the fermentation stage?

Temperature. You can ferment the same rum mash at a 20-degree (Fahrenheit) difference and get two complete distillates.

What steps do you take to become more sustainable?

My first step is utilizing my spent mash and grains in different ways. As well, I am recirculating my condenser water through a chiller to lessen the amount of water I use.

How do you explore new markets for your spirits and focus on business development?

Challenging the norm. Distilling is an ancient art that is quite rooted in its ways. The more I push the boundaries of spirits, the more markets I will open, and the more I will develop and tailor my business to where it needs to be.

What trends do you anticipate in the beverage industry in the coming months? Where do you see the domestic craft distilling scene going? What's next for the industry?

I see the domestic craft distilling scene growing larger in the coming months and years. It's not the easiest industry to get into, but it's getting easier for smaller distilleries to open knowing there is a market out there for it.


The 2024 Bartender Spirits Awards results are out! View the results here.