ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Roger Peery and Nick Pavlakos met in an eighth-grade math class at Jefferson Middle School, then known as Jefferson Junior High.
The two became friends, a friendship that grew after the pair became a part of the first-ever freshman class at Highland High School, and solidified through watching “Star Trek” at one another’s houses during their time at University of New Mexico, Pavlakos said. While their careers took them in different directions, they talked about one day starting a business together.
On September 7, that dream came true, when Albuquerque Distilling opened its doors at 5001 Central Ave. NE. The new distillery is located minutes from where the two friends grew up, and Pavlakos and Peery agreed that they want to play a role in revitalizing their old stomping grounds.
“This is the neighborhood we grew up in,” Pavlakos said. “We really want to be a part of what happens here.”
Both Pavlakos and Peery are new to distilling, the process of making hard alcohol ranging from gin to moonshine, but they added that they’re learning quickly. Peery, who has a background in geology and water resources, said he studied books and videos on distilling for three years before the new business opened.
Pavlakos added that the distillery produces 10 varieties of alcohol, including three flavors of moonshine, using a 75-gallon still. Pavlakos said each batch of liquor takes between four and six weeks to distill and bottle for consumption. Peery and Pavlakos agreed that the process gives them room to experiment with flavors and techniques.
“I kind of like the science-project part of it,” Peery said.
Craft liquor distilleries are gaining popularity in New Mexico and across the country. Colin Keegan, owner of Santa Fe Spirits and a board member for the American Craft Spirits Association, said there are roughly 1,900 distilleries operating across the country, up from around 200 when his company opened in 2010.
Keegan, who also serves as the president of the New Mexico Distillers Guild, said there are between 12 and 15 distilleries currently in operation in the state, most of which have opened in the past five years. Keegan said there’s still plenty of room for the industry to grow in New Mexico, noting that Colorado has 96 distilleries. He pointed to potential changes to state liquor laws and interest among younger generations in buying local as reasons the local industry can continue to grow.
“They would rather pay a little bit more for a quality product where they know where it came from,” Keegan said.
The 2,400-square-foot space that’s home to Albuquerque Distilling is part of a strip mall built by Pavlakos and his brother near the eastern edge of Nob Hill, but he said the construction of Albuquerque Rapid Transit kept tenants away. Both men said they’ve seen that stretch of Central Avenue fall on hard times, and were adamant that they could be part of the process of bringing it back to life.
“It’s just about being able to bring people here, give them a great experience, and for them to see a different side of whatever they’re thinking about Central,” Pavlakos said.