Barry Bacon, the owner of the Spicy Water Distillery in Millbury, MA. Photos by Kevin Paul Saleeba
By Kevin Saleeba
MILBURY – Barry Bacon is passionate about eating and drinking.
“I’m really what you’d call a, quote-unquote, foodie,” said the owner and operator of the Spicy Water Distillery. As he stood near several large blue barrels of amber liquid that lined the center wall of his business, Bacon dipped his finger for a taste.
“It’s got a sweet flavor,” he said as his face glowed with excitement. “I can tell from that … I’m going to get something I want to drink. That’s why, in the end, our rum will do well. It’s got a nice, sweet flavor to it.”
The Spicy Water Distillery is a 4,400 square-foot, full production distillery, tasting room and event space located in the historic Armory Village of downtown Millbury. Bacon started his distillery business after the Pandemic hit in 2020. In just three years, he has grown from a person passionate about making his own rum at home to graduating as a StartUp Worcester cohort in 2021 and to an eventual successful working distillery business.
“My passion comes from wanting to create something,” he said. “It came down to what was I looking to create. The Pandemic taught me quite a few things. Business needs to be somewhat versatile. I wanted to design something that had multiple business avenues to it and one of those things was the creation of quality alcohol. We have traditional drinks like vodka and rum, but we also create different flavors that aren’t really on the market yet.
For instance, one of his signature drinks is called the New Englander, which is a mixture of Moxie soda, gin, and a couple dashes of Worcestershire sauce, which creates a flora; sarsaparilla/root beer taste. “Three things that should never have gone together but somehow they work,” he said. “To really appeal to different types of pallets, my passion is to create different experiences that people would enjoy.”
Spicy Water recently opened in January and Bacon said he was knocked out by the positive local reception he has received from his hometown of Millbury. “I was thinking if we can just get 100 people to come through, we can stay open for another month. That first weekend in January, we had about 400 people come through,” he said. “We sat there and said, ok, we’ve got something here!”
As a member of the StartUp Worcester cohort, Bacon, a former high school history teacher, said he is grateful for the business opportunities the program provided him. StartUp Worcester is a program that encourages and nurtures new businesses in the Worcester area. “It was such a great program because, when they selected us, we still did not have a business opened. It was still just a concept,” said Bacon. “We needed a lot of help, and they did that and gave us a lot of confidence in building this business. It gave us the credibility that we needed. It proved we were not just a business idea, but a business concept that was worth looking at.
“As a result, we were able to secure funding in a business that many folks might think was very, very risky,” he said. During his time with the program, Bacon combined his own money with loans from the bank, which allowed him to purchase the needed distilling equipment for production and it helped secure for the business a location in the center of town.
“StartUp Worcester gave me an opportunity to meet a lot of people I don’t think I would have been able to meet with or talk to,” he said. “I was able to learn about their businesses and learn from their mistakes. I asked questions … StartUp Worcester did a great job connecting me with the right people in both government and business to really help us to make that step forward. We went from having that idea on paper to becoming a full-fledged business in a year. To me, that was just a phenomenal opportunity … I’m very thankful for that.”
Bacon does not work alone. He gets a lot of help from Matt Tella, a high school friend of more than 30 years, serves as operations manager. Tella, who has a degree in chemistry and communications, shares Bacon’s same passion for creating popular drinks. “It’s been great,” he said. “It’s a chance to do something new and different.” Tella previously worked in sales and the food service industry.
Tella, who used to commute to Walpole every day for work, said Spicy Water has given him a opportunity to work in his hometown and to reconnect with local people. It also allows him to help an old friend. “It’s a chance to reconnect with a lot of people I haven’t seen in a long time,” he said. “A lot of family and friends have popped in here. To have that is amazing. It’s definitely well worth it. Getting to work with one of your closet friends and to help him realize his dream, to get this thing going and to be part of something that, if it’s any indication by how well it started, down the road, it’s going to be huge.”
Bacon said the response has been bigger than he had ever imagined. “To be honest with you, I imagined I’d be shipping stuff out the door all the time and people would occasionally come in there,” he said pointing to the main room. “It’s completely opposite. They love the atmosphere. They love what we’re doing here. They love the drink menu that Matt put together. They really enjoy the alcohol that I produce back here. We’ve had such great support from everyone … I realized the dream I wanted is happening … I had faith that this thing would work. I knew I had something special, but to see it take off as quickly as it has is thrilling. We’re happy and now, it’s about what can we do next. I just want to keep pushing the boundaries of what we can do and how we can do it and just see who else enjoys what we enjoy.
Bacon smiled and dipped his finger back into the amber liquid for another taste. “Matt, you did a great job with this one. It’s real sweet,” he said as he let out some giddy laughter. “I want to pour it on some food.”
To learn more about Spicy Water Distillery, visit the business website at www.spicywaterdistillery.com.