Name: Blake Ragghianti, Scott Township
Work: Co-owner and head distiller, Kingfly Distillery
What do you do?
Develop the character of the company through the spirits we produce. We have a full bar, and everything behind the bar and on the cocktail menu, we make: rum, vodka, bourbon, vermouth, bitters, seltzer, tonic, sodas. Everything we make in-house. So it’s a lot to keep track of, it’s a lot to design, and it’s a lot to cohesively keep together.
What does that mean on a day-by-day basis?
Honestly, I wish I had the answer to that myself because it’s ever-changing; part and parcel of being a startup. We don’t have a regular set production where every Tuesday is rum production. At this point, we kind of are going with the flow.
Who is “we”?
I have a sidekick, Colin Anderson. [He started the bar program at Cure, and has contributed to many popular places in Pittsburgh including Bar Marco, Umami, and Tender.] Truth be told, I couldn’t do it without him. He’s not only a hard worker but phenomenally talented with an excellent palate.
What does distillation mean for you?
The elimination of the inessential and the collection of the essential. If you start with raw material that’s marginal, you’re going to get a marginal essence. If you start with raw material that is perfect, like the most beautiful, perfect ripe pear or apple, and collect the essence of that, you’ll have a wonderful distillate at the end.
Is production seasonal?
Yes. We make vodka grapes from Napa Valley, so we have to schedule production around grape harvesting season. Lemons are only harvested in Sorrento once a year, so we pick and choose how and when we’re going to produce limoncello based upon that schedule.
How’d you get started?
A genealogical research project led me to Italy and cousins that were long lost. We made limoncello, and they gave me the family recipe. Back in Pittsburgh, I wanted to make it but you need high-proof alcohol, and you can’t just obtain 190 proof at the state store. I was complaining about this to my dad and he said, “I have an old still that I made in the 1960s with my mother out of her pressure cooker.” We pulled this out of storage, [and] lo and behold, inside was the original recipe. We began to play around with that and I was hooked. I went to school for music and I’m always attracted to working with harmonies and balance, and this was the same thing, just a different medium.
Did you think it was going to be a business or something for yourself?
It was for friends and family. I got so into it that one night I’m at my parents’ house on my laptop reading about legalities. What if I wanted to make a product? How would I do it? I looked at my dad and said, “I’m going to start a distillery” and he said, “Yeah, right. Let me know when that happens.” I’ll never let him live that moment down.
What’s your favorite part?
When someone comes in and sits at the bar and tells me, “I really don’t like rum at all.” They had Captain Morgan in college, too much of it, and now hate rum, or that’s all they know about rum. I give them a taste of our spiced rum, and they say, “Oh my god, I could drink this all day long.”
Changing people’s paradigm and perspectives and altering the way they think about spirits is really my favorite thing. Really, it’s the reason I started the distillery and is the main philosophy behind what we do.