NASHUA, NH — Andy Harthcock is no stranger to evolution. He was over 50 years old when he decided to open up Djinn Spirits, a local distillery with a focus on whiskeys and spirits.
Harthcock had spent several decades in computer engineering when he started searching for viable businesses ventures that he could pursue.
“I had always been thinking about owning my own business, but could never come up with an idea for something that was practical and that would be interesting,” Harthcock said.
It was his wife, Cindy, who set him on the path to distilling, mentioning one day that “distilling would be fun.”
“It took me a couple of years in planning and procurement of basic elements to bring together before I was able to open the business,” Harthcock said, “and then it was another roughly 6 years where I worked both as an engineering manager and as a distiller, and then finally, it was about a year and a half ago, I went full time at the distillery here. It became a work of passion.”
But distilling is different from the average small business. Distilling whiskey, for example, requires a minimum of a two-year aging process — when the feedback cycle is that long, tweaking batches and procuring enough stock is a lengthy process.
“It’s enabling and humbling all at the same time,” Harthcock said.
When COVID-19 began to spread in mid-March, Harthcock moved quickly to stay viable in a suddenly tenuous marketplace.
“At the time when it got critical, I realized I was sitting on three or four drums of ethanol alcohol, which can be used to make sanitizer,” Harthcock said. “I was thinking I can help out and give out little bottles of sanitizer until the supply chain catches up.”
And though that venture began as a way to help the community, sales in mid-summer were so high that Harthcock began bottling and selling it.
“I was able to come out with a relatively low price on the sanitizer and so we went through a period in the middle of the summer where I was selling a whole lot of sanitizer,” Harthcock said. “The big manufacturers have caught up, so I’m not selling as much now but I have some left.”
The onslaught of the pandemic also incited, for Harthcock, a hitherto unexplored option: online purchasing for curbside pickup, something that proved instrumental in the health of the distillery, especially over the summer.
“It got to a point with the COVID situation that I was sensing that people would be more comfortable making the purchase online and then just driving up,” Harthcock said. “That was very popular for several months. That was something that definitely helped my business, and it helped raise confidence and security for people that wanted to buy.”
And though the situation presented by the pandemic is certainly erratic, Djinn Spirits has weathered the worst of the storm thus far.
“I was in a fairly good situation in that mostly it’s just myself working here, so it wasn’t like I had full-time mouths to feed,” Harthcock said. “The income really has been chaotic — there was a while there during the summer where we were selling so much sanitizer that not selling any liquor was fine. It’s really been up and down, but by and large, I’ve been able to make ends meet, so I haven’t had to shudder our operations here.”
Though he did have to halt his “whiskey 102 class,” now, under safe social distancing and mask guidelines, Harthcock has been able to resume tours and tastings, something that has faced a reduction in popularity, but is gradually making a resurgence.
“It’s been interesting, but we’re hanging in there,” Harthcock said.