GARDINER — When Dave Tomer describes what he and his partners are doing to get their business up and running, one thing becomes abundantly clear: You can’t start a distillery by accident.

Tomer is one of the partners behind the Sebago Lake Distillery, which is seeking a federal job creation grant to help get the craft distilling business launched in Gardiner.

On Wednesday, the Gardiner City Council authorized federal workforce training and job creation grant applications to be submitted on behalf of Sebago Lake Distillery, as well as Commonwealth Poultry and Central Maine Meats.

With the $90,000 being sought through the Community Development Block Grant program, the distillery plans to create three jobs, and it would be able to do it far sooner than it otherwise could.

“It’s very much a chicken-and-egg process,” Tomer said last week. “You can’t get a license for a distillery without a facility, and you can’t get a facility without capital.”

What that means is that Sebago Lake Distillery has to secure everything it needs before it can receive its license, and only then can it produce the first drop of spirits.


The outlay is enormous. Tomer and his partners have signed a five-year lease on 463 Water St., the former Water Street Grill building. They have ordered the still, which could take six months to build and is expected to cost more than $100,000. That doesn’t include the boiler required to heat the still, and that can run between $40,000 and $50,000. Then there’s the cost of ingredients and bottling.

“Then you need employees, so any type of grant or loan you can get in advance is helpful,” he said.

Putting this all together, he said, including meeting the federal and state license requirements, is a daunting task.

But he and his partners — who have collaborated with him on other business ventures — think the risk is well worth taking.

“The craft distilling business is where the craft brewery business was 15 years ago,” he said. He thinks there is the same potential for growth and market development.

When it came to finding a home for the distillery, the partners considered buildings in several central Maine locations, but settled on Gardiner.


“Gardiner has been phenomenal,” he said. “A lot of towns and cities don’t have foresight and haven’t committed economic development people. It’s easier when you have a champion.”

Dan Davis, who is the master distiller in the enterprise, is familiar with southern Kennebec County, he said. They knew that the Gardiner/Hallowell area is considered up and coming and that tourists like it.

“It’s a cool area,” he said, and he considers that spirits, particularly those made in a Maine-made still with Maine-sourced ingredients, will compliment Gardiner’s food hub identity.

“We hope to have a tasting room and be able to pair our spirits with meats and cheeses,” he said. “We see the need and the desire to have that there.”

Patrick Wright, who is the economic development coordinator for Gardiner, said a convergence is emerging in Gardiner.

“Businesses are recognizing what a fertile place Gardiner is for opportunity, and the city is getting a lot more comfortable with the CDBG program,” he said. “The growth in craft/local food and beverage is an intentional component of our economic development strategy, and we are happy to be able to support these hard-working entrepreneurs.”

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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