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The tasting room at Connecticut Distilling. Photo by Stelios Stavrianos.

Featured Article

Toast of the Town

Connecticut Distilling is making—and serving— can't miss spirits in Waterbury.

Stelios Stavrianos wanted to pay homage to Waterbury’s bootlegger history with his new distillery, Connecticut Distilling. You can see that on the walls, which are peppered with old maps of the area and photographs of buildings that were important throughout its history. But there’s a deeper connection, too: According to legend, the Waterbury police chief was asked why the town’s residents weren’t celebrating the repeal of prohibition back in 1933. According to the Waterbury American, he replied: “There was already enough hard stuff in town to wet all the dry whistles." Stelios loved that. “It’s a cool story [that links to] what we’re doing and why we’re doing it in Waterbury,” Stelios says.

So what’s he doing, exactly? Helming a distillery that takes leftover components from making beers and turns them into whiskey, called Charred. It’s a unique process that makes the whiskey available at Connecticut Distilling hyper-local, since the beers are made in the state. “It’s innovative, it’s amazing for us because we get to collaborate with these other breweries, and it’s delicious,” says Stelios, who started his career in the beverage industry as a bartender in his hometown of Stamford before launching a company of his own, CoreBev, the parent company of many award-winning spirit brands. As to how he made the pivot, he remembers meeting a brand rep for a popular rum company while bartending and asking how he could get a similar gig. The answer was to work his way up over years. “This is how my brain works: I thought, that sounds like a lot. It sounds like if I just start an alcohol company, I can give myself that job,” Stelios recalls with a laugh. “So I bought a still off Amazon, and I started making vodka in my parents’ basement.” His vodka, Cylinder Vodka, was his focus for years, but during the pandemic he reassessed.  “I took a step back and started to develop a new portfolio of products,” he says. At Connecticut Distilling, which he bought in December of 2023, Stelios now makes rum, canned cocktails, beer-derived whiskey, bourbon aged in Stout barrels, and, yes, still makes vodka. 

In a way, his whole career is coming full circle with Connecticut Distilling, which Stelios aims to make a destination for folks all over the state– and beyond. They offer private tours with their master distiller, Brandon Collins, which includes a sit-down spirit tasting and a take-home set of their products. “This is an intimate, hands-on experience where you can ask questions and really get to know the process,” he says. “And it's fun!” There’s also a tasting lounge—which is open-air during these nice summer months— with games and expertly-crafted cocktails “by some of the best bartenders in the state,” says Stelios. There is also a curated selection of local beers and wines, for those who prefer. And if you don’t know what to try, ask the staff– “everyone’s knowledgeable about our products,” Stelios says, and they can walk you through the intention behind every drink.  They’ve also got entertainment, from live music to comedy to karaoke depending on the day and time, as well as food trucks, and Stelios stresses that despite the cocktails it's a kid-friendly environment. “It’s worth the drive,” says Stelios. “It’s a super comfy place to come and celebrate life.”   

Visit Connecticut Distilling at 2066 Thomaston Ave., Waterbury or at ctdistillingco.com

  • The tasting room at Connecticut Distilling. Photo by Stelios Stavrianos.
  • Stelios Stavrianos.