Suffolk IDA takes a shine to incubator project

To give spirits-focused startups a chance to properly ferment, two East End entrepreneurs have launched a “distillery incubator” – and the Suffolk County Industrial Development Agency is picking up the first round.

The Suffolk IDA has approved a 10-year, $120,860 tax break for the Matchbook Distilling Co., the brainchild of East Enders Leslie Merinoff and Brian Kwasnieski. Their plan: help regional beverage-makers break into the small-batch market through with a complete farm-to-bottle distillery incubator.

“We are passionate about working with farmers to bottle the flavors of Suffolk County,” noted Merinoff, a longtime South Fork farmhand. “Farm distilleries are part of the state’s agricultural future, and we want to help farmers get there comfortably and in control of their own businesses.”

With the IDA’s assistance, Merinoff and Kwasnieski plan to purchase and renovate a four-building Greenport complex totaling 35,779 square feet and fill it with state-of-the-art distilling equipment, to be shared low-cost with regional beverage makers.

Including property, renovations and equipment, the total project cost is estimated around $2.7 million, according to the Suffolk IDA.

County officials hailed a deal that’s projected to create 11 full-time jobs while promoting Suffolk’s agricultural industry. Deputy County Executive Joanne Minieri, Suffolk’s economic development commissioner and the IDA’s planning chair, called Matchbook Distilling Co. “innovative” and “a welcome addition to the county.”

“Along with creating jobs, the company plans to work with local farmers, assisting them in producing their own spirits while providing discounted accesses to distillers and expert advice on launching their own distilling businesses,” Minieri said in a statement.

That will not only promote regional spirits and the formation of new companies, according to Suffolk IDA Executive Director Tony Catapano, but will help many regional farmers improve their bottom lines by offering new options for their crops.

“Matchbook Distilling Company will support the county’s agriculture by helping farmers turn their high-quality produce, often sold for cents per pound, into high-end spirits worth up to thousands of times that amount,” Catapano said.