Moxi On the Rocks Founder Tomas Nenortas is bringing a new concept to the Hartford Region by creating a one-stop destination for Connecticut-made craft beverages, including his own Quiver Spirits. He spoke with MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price about the business concept.
NAN PRICE: Have you always had an entrepreneurial spirit (no pun intended)?
TOMAS NENORTAS: Yes. It dates back to when my Lithuanian grandparents immigrated to America in 1949. Some of the family ended up in Hartford. They rolled up their sleeves and worked in the tobacco fields in Windsor and went to night school to learn English. They made enough money to put their three kids through college. So, it was always instilled in us that hard work leads to great things, especially in America, where there’s freedom and opportunity if you have that kind of DNA in you.
My extended family were all moonshiners. We grew up in a mad laboratory with things always percolating in their basements. Whether it was a berry, a piece of bark, or grass, they would make some type of delicious booze out of it.
Fast forward to 2016, my brother and I had been creating our own moonshine and we were encouraged by family and friends to sell it. That year we formed our company, Quiver Spirits, which is our flagship brand. It’s a spiced honey spirit, one of the national drinks of Lithuania called Krupnikas. Our American version is more palatable for the American market.
NAN: How did you come up with the idea for Moxi On The Rocks?
TOMAS: I was looking for storage for our bottles and boxes and I responded to a Craigslist posting for space at an old factory in East Hartford on the Hockanum River. I’m an architectural historian, so it sounded cool. I almost didn’t show up that day, so we would’ve ended up in an industrial park in the suburbs. Serendipity intervened.
When I saw the location, my jaw dropped. I grew up in the area. I never knew this place existed. It’s a beautiful scenic location overlooking a waterfall. It’s also 7,000 square feet, which is too big for our brand alone. I remember thinking: I don’t know what it might be, how long it might take, and how much it might cost, I’ll figure it out later. I left a deposit that day.
This was right in the middle of the pandemic. I had been talking with my colleagues in the liquor industry; some were struggling, some were doing better than others. Still, all these amazing breweries, distilleries, wineries, and soda pop makers have been popping up all over the state. I thought: What about a one-stop shop libation library with anything made in Connecticut, alcoholic or non-alcoholic. You’d be able to come to this fabulous location and do a tasting representing the best the Nutmeg State has to offer.
This location is smack of middle of the state, right off all the major highways. It’s a perfect scenario. We have about 45 partners signed up already. Right now, we’re venturing out to these partners and doing pop-up Quiver tastings to spread the word before our launch.
NAN: Tell us a little about the process of manufacturing your own spirit.
TOMAS: Serendipity intervened once again. It was challenging to find a distiller that could make Quiver to our specifications, because it’s made in an old-fashioned way. And it involves heat. A lot of distilleries, for obvious reasons, don’t have open flames. So, we had to find some way of mimicking that recipe and still achieving the right flavor profile.
We started this process in 2016 and went through five or six distillers all around New England. We even went to Lithuania. We were very close to signing a deal with a distillery there, but when the pandemic hit, we had to retreat when they began making hand sanitizer. So, we had to find somebody local.
A few years ago, I met a gentleman at Little River Restoratives cocktail bar in Hartford who was a scientist at a large pharmaceutical company. He has his own liqueur company called Fruitful Mixology. He also opened a new distillery in East Hartford. We’re his second clients. He nailed our flavor profile.
NAN: Any advice or lessons learned in your entrepreneurial journey?
TOMAS: The big thing is don’t give up. Talk to people. The networks are amazing in Connecticut, especially in the Hartford area with all these youth organizations, business groups, chambers of commerce—everybody’s been welcoming us with open arms. It’s been a great resource to go through our issues and learn from others as well. We’re very happy to make these networks stronger.
NAN: What’s next?
TOMAS: The launch of Quiver spirits will happen over the summer. We have 36,000 bottles to unload, so we’re hiring a sales team. Our plan is to distribute it in Connecticut liquor store shelves and make it available in bars and restaurants. We’re starting in Connecticut because we want to win home base and learn from our mistakes before we venture out to more of New England and the rest of America.
We’re going to be hitting liquor stores, bars, restaurants, and anybody else that wants to talk with us. We’re also working with our partners and developing a new niche category for cocktails mixed with beers. So, the sky’s the limit at this point.
Opening Moxi On The Rocks is a little more complicated because the location was a paper mill that was hydro powered. We’re estimating it will be a two-year construction project because of the complexities of the site and including the environmental studies we need to perform. We need to raise the capital because it’s a multi-million dollar project.
We’re very excited because we’ve done the research. This space would be America’s first hydro-powered distillery blending house. It may be the first in the world. That would be amazing for Connecticut.
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