In the world of craft distilling there are always interesting stores about the journey that the distiller took to create their product. However, in the case of Kozuba & Sons there is also an actual physical distance involved in the journey since the family started distilling in Poland and opened a distillery in St. Petersburg, FL after an extensive search for a suitable location. They settled on a 12,000 square foot building at 1960 Fifth Ave. S in St. Petersburg, FL 33712.
The diversity of liquors that Kozuba & Sons creates is astounding – from their fruit liqueurs made of cranberry and quince to pure grain and natural rye malt vodkas to their white dog and straight rye whiskey. All of these are made of all natural ingredients in the old world tradition they cultivated in Poland.
The distillery is family run (as the name suggests) – the patriarch of the family Zbigniew Kozuba (a former biochemist) is the master distiller, his son Jacob is in charge of administration and finances and Maciej is VP of marketing for the distillery. Maciej was kind enough to take time to answer a few questions about his family’s pursuit of the American Dream through craft distilling.
Can you tell me how your family got interested in distilling in Poland?
My great grandfathers were farmers, living off the land by the eastern boarder of Poland in the 1920s, after World War I. They were soldiers so they got a lot of land from the government, and they grew rye and wheat. They made their own “Okovita”, or what would be more commonly known as moonshine. The recipes were passed down to my father’s father and my father – and that is how it started. My father ran medical diagnostic labs but decided to sell the company and move out the city to the countryside. He started making fruit liquors in 2005 – and Kozuba and Sons started.
Why did you decide to start up operations in the United States and do you still have distillery operations in Poland?
We had being doing this Poland for 10 years. We thought more micro-distilleries would pop up, but none did because there was no competition and there was no interest or knowledge of craft distilleries. We had been watching distilleries in America news for three years. It grew from 20 distilleries to 600 in just four years. In the USA, we thought micro distilleries would become big like micro-breweries. Local communities had been awarding and promoting their distilleries. Tampa Bay was a good choice because of the economic, locals, authorities and St. Petersburg reminded us of Europe.
What is Kozuba and Sons philosophy when distilling spirits?
First, transparency – we want people to know what we are doing. Our entire philosophy is “grain to glass” by making it all ourselves. We don’t want any secrets – everything that takes place at the distillery needs to be displayed – it is all handmade by our family. We don’t only own the company we also make it. We want to be like a boutique – we make it all in small batches so it is done right. We want to invent and we don’t want to do what everyone else is doing – we want to add our own things.
We’re trying to get some specs on your two stills (similar to what gearheads want from muscle cars when they talk about them) can you let us know the capacity, number of columns (if any) and anything else you think our readers would find interesting?
We have two copper column stills, custom made in Germany by one of the best manufactures in the world – Arnold Holstein. One has a column that has 16 bubble plates and the other has a column with four bubble plates. Both of the stills have a capacity of 600 liters.
When you purchased your stills what features and attributes did you take into account when having them created?
First of all, we wanted our stills to be made of copper because it reacts with sulfur compounds. We wanted also wanted stills for batch distillations not for continuous distillation.
What supporting equipment do you have in your distillery (e.g. number of fermenting tanks, mash tuns, etc.)?
We have two mash tuns and four fermentation tanks. We also have a mill for grain crushing. Soon we are going to purchase four more fermentation tanks. We also have a small bottling station.
Do you have any unique technology that you have implemented at your distillery?
We are very traditional when it comes to mashing, fermentation and distillation process, and we try to experiment when it comes to the process of aging. Right now we are working on two new aging methods. But we cannot reveal details on this until a later date.
What is your predicted capacity per year (for all of your products) for your distillery in the United States?
We are typical craft distillery, so our production is capped at 75,000 gallons per year.
What is the best bit of advice you have ever had for distilling the product you are making?
No short cuts and a lot of patience.
Can you tell us about a “secret project” – something new in your company?
We are working on new aging methods that will be revealed soon.
What is the most rewarding part of your job as a distiller?
Probably the smile on peoples faces when they taste the products and they leave and spread the word about our product.
Who do you look up to in the distilling craft world today?
As I said before, we are not trying to follow anyone – we are trying to create our own path. We don’t want to copy other peoples work. Just trying to replicate what our father (and his father) created and share it with the Tampa Bay community.
What is one thing you feel people should know about the craft spirits industry?
That they still have to be very careful when buying any type of liquor. They need to remember to read between the lines and know the story of how and why it is being made. The term “craft” is being diluted, and it is not regulated. They need to look for the true “craft” products. It doesn’t necessarily mean it is made in small batches, or that it is better quality. Craftmanship is truly about the hard work and dedication people are putting into making that drink.
What excites you about the future of the craft spirits industry?
What excites me the most is that people are looking for more customized products – real products made by real people who stand for and behind those products. I am excited that people want to be educated in the industry – they ask questions and tell their friends. What’s really great about craft spirits is they become part of the community. Without the community they don’t stand a chance since it is all about the relationship with the people.
What product do you want to be known for in 10 years?
We would want to be known for our aging techniques. One of the reasons for this is the way it makes it smell in our warehouse. Our two current aged products are Mr. Rye and Starkus.
Thanks for taking the time to speak with us Maciej! If any of our readers are in the St. Petersburg area be sure to stop in for a tour or to pick up some liquor for your next get together to have something special to talk about!
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