COOPERSTOWN — When he considered going into the distillery business, Gene Marra recalled Friday, he could think of no better place to produce spirits than the community reputed to be the birthplace of baseball.
For more than 40 years, Marra had been in the restaurant business. He’d gotten to know Cooperstown very well over the past several years while working for the Moffat family, the owners of the Blue Mingo restaurant overlooking Otsego Lake.
The dream that first germinated a few years ago — opening a micro-distillery in Cooperstown, in a region already known for its high-quality craft beer — hatched Friday when he unveiled the Cooperstown Distillery on Railroad Avenue.
“I had been in the wine business for many years, and so it was a natural segue to move into distilling,” said Marra, 60, a native of the Bronx.
Already a skilled winemaker, he buffed up his knowledge of spirits by enrolling in seminars for micro-distillers at Cornell University, and later took another course in Chicago in distilling in 2010.
“As I looked at the opportunities in the field in general and examined what was at my feet — which was this great iconic town called Cooperstown — I realized its notoriety and the underpinning of what it’s all about,” he said.
“It’s cachet — with a capital C — is because of the baseball tie-in, and because of tourism, and its position in a very pretty part of New York State,” he continued. “I jokingly told people: ‘Don’t underestimate the cachet of the word Cooperstown,’ and I never did. That’s why we’re the Cooperstown Distillery, and not the Schenectady Distillery.”
And so Marra has joined a growing trend across the nation. Eighty years after Prohibition ended, there are now approximately 300 craft distillers in the country, and a new one opens each month.