If you came asking for Jon Quade, head distiller of Batson River Brewing & Distilling, in the summer of 2019, you would not have found him scrubbing stills at the distillery in Biddeford. You would not have found him surveying the Kennebunkport farm that grows hops and botanicals used in his spirits, or even tippling the fruits of his labor at Batson’s flagship tasting room in Kennebunk.
Because in the summer of 2019, Jon Quade was among creaking pines and the clap of cabin doors. He was at a riflery range cloudy with gun smoke and on the shore of a lake ringing with laughter. The head distiller was at Camp Tohkomeupog, a boys’ sleepaway camp in East Madison, New Hampshire.
When asked what managing a boys’ camp and a distillery might have in common, Jon, who himself, at 38, has the clean-cut look of an Eagle Scout, smiles. “Follow your passions.” For him, it’s the joy of nudging someone, or something, toward its best self, whether that’s a gangly 13-year-old edging toward adulthood or a mash of Maine grains. It’s the alchemy of age plus influence plus attention.
The two original pot stills at Batson’s modest 1,500-square-foot brewery and distillery hold 25 gallons each. A single batch takes seven runs. That’s a lot of pot scrubbing, something Jon mastered at New England Distilling in Portland, where he began his apprenticeship after a revelatory wheated bourbon in his 20s sent him down the rabbit hole of craft spirits.
At Batson, Jon now makes his own bourbon, as well as rum, vodka, and Riparian gin, where the distiller’s influence is perhaps most evident. While a spirit like bourbon has strict guidelines, gin allows for experimentation. “You have to have juniper in it,” Jon says. “Full stop.” Riparian uses juniper, as well as traditional coriander—both infused through a steeping process called maceration—but also bitter orange, grapefruit, lavender, chamomile, and Cascade hops, which Jon vapor-infuses. The Batson River Farm will hopefully one day grow the lavender, chamomile, and hops, and possibly even the juniper.
In December 2020, Batson River opened a second tasting room in Portland’s West Bayside neighborhood. At the back of the sumptuously designed space, visitors might catch Jon working on a 100-gallon copper Carl Holstein pot still, a “Rolls-Royce,” he says, compared with the original Biddeford stills, which will find new purpose for experimental batches. And this year, Jon will oversee the opening of a new brewing facility at the Lincoln Mill in Biddeford. Batson River is growing up fast….
The challenges and opportunities of the last two years have prevented Jon from returning to Tohkomeupog, but as president of the alumni board, he’s never “too far out of the loop.” He’ll hear the loons on Purity Lake again. “The reward you get from seeing a camper grow from the beginning of the summer to the end of the summer, or from year to year, in confidence, independence, and happiness,” Jon says, “is priceless.”He’ll find his way back. Luckily, Batson River is willing to share him.
A riff on the classic Aviation cocktail, from Batson River bar manager Rachel Dick, uses tart verjus and floral lavender to highlight the distinctive botanicals of head distiller Jon Quade’s Riparian gin.
2 ounces Batson River Riparian gin
.75 ounces Cocchi Rosa
1 ounce lavender verjus syrup
.25 ounces lemon juice
Flower garnish, optional
Lavender Verjus Syrup
3/4 cup verjus blanc (such as Le Grapillon Vert Verjus du Perigord)
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons dried lavender flowers
Combine all the ingredients in a pot on the stove. The lavender can be added loose. Heat on superlow until the sugar dissolves. Do not let the liquid simmer. Heat on superlow for 20 minutes to let the lavender steep. Strain out the lavender and let the syrup cool before refrigerating. Yields about 6 ounces, or 6 drinks’ worth. The syrup should keep up to 2 weeks in the fridge.
To make the cocktail, combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and give 5 to 10 quick, hard shakes. Double-strain the liquid through the shaker and a fine mesh bar strainer (to remove any ice shards that might float on top) into a chilled Nick and Nora glass. Garnish with a small edible flower, such as a violet.
Verjus (literally, from the French, “green juice”) is juice made from unripened wine grapes. Quite tart, it’s most often used as a substitute for vinegar in cooking but also brings bright acidity to cocktails.