Tucked between Night Shift Brewing and Bone Up Brewing Co. in Everett is Short Path, a small-batch distillery based out of an old metal shop in the city’s Riverfront District. Short Path has been making liquor (chiefly rum, whiskey, and gin) their way since June 2015. They distill their spirits in-house; they use locally sourced ingredients as opportunity affords; and, in keeping with their Boston roots, they play off traditional practices by infusing their spirits with everything from blueberries to unique botanicals.
An emphasis on scientific process is as key to their work as juniper is to gin. Short Path marries Old World methods with new world science and a contemporary approach to flavor profiles. As co-founder Jackson Hewlett sees it, “That’s really the best of both worlds.”
In fact, Short Path’s science-driven aesthetic is featured right in their name, a reference to the short-path distillation technique. “The shorter the path from where the alcohol is evaporated to where it’s condensed again, the more flavor makes its way through the process,” explains tasting room manager Sean Smith. “So with the shorter path, you’re going to get more flavor.” That’s ideal for Short Path’s preferences in spirits; rum, for instance, benefits greatly from a short-path process. For something like vodka, you’d rather take your time.
Short Path’s name also honors their local commitment: They source their ingredients from as nearby as possible to minimize their carbon footprint. In addition, their labels feature an avian theme, with a different bird representing each of their spirits—dark-eyed junco, northern shrike, robin…more than you can fit inside an aviary. Sean unpacks the symbolism handily. “As the crow flies,” he says, “it’s going to take the shortest path.” Makes sense. They also draw connections between the birds and specific drinks. For example, the European starling is the mascot for Short Path’s London dry gin. Starlings are widespread in the United Kingdom, and gin’s history is inextricable from London’s, so the association feels appropriate.
Feather and fowl aside, what makes Short Path stand out is palatability. Even if you eschew hard alcohol and the thought of sipping spirits sends your taste buds into revolt, Short Path’s offerings might change your mind. Anyone less inured to, say, the sting of gin may find Short Path’s offering surprisingly mellow, and that comes down to those botanical elements used in distillation. “There’s a chemical compound in eucalyptus called eucalyptol, and it’s actually in the same chemical family as menthol,” says Hewlett. Think about the cooling effect a cough drop has on a sore throat. “There’s a similar aspect to this eucalyptol flavor compound, and that’s something that helps give our gin a really nice, cool, crisp, and refreshing finish.”
Short Path evens out the piney tang with bracing mint; the result is balanced, piquant enough for veteran gin drinkers, but soft enough for the uninitiated. Credit that to the eucalyptol, or other botanicals in Short Path’s arsenal—coriander, lemongrass, and lavender among them. But it’s in the approach, too. According to Sean, normally botanicals soak directly in the distiller’s base. Short Path does things differently: They use vapor extraction. “Rather than soaking, the flavor’s entirely picked up as the alcohol passes through the botanicals as steam,” he says. Vapor extraction lets each flavor shine individually instead of creating a muddle of competing tastes, and this makes for an equally unique drinking experience.
Take their Scotch-style whiskey, with peat harvested from Maine, boasting a classic, smoky Scotch flavor while presenting a nose like a chocolate bar (most likely imparted from the barrels, which also come from Maine). Or Rosid, a rum made with hibiscus and lemon, likely a flavor combination you’ve not had the chance to try in rum. It’s best served as simply as possible, though Hewlett stresses that “there’s no right way” to enjoy Short Path spirits, there’s just the way that works for you. The Rosid, quite frankly, could be your next favorite drink, but so could the whiskey. Figuring that out is part of the pleasure. “Being able to share that joy of discovery is something that’s been really important to us,” Hewlett says excitedly, “especially now that we’re close to two breweries and have a ton of people discovering us for the first time.”
Maybe you don’t know what a distillery does, or maybe you’ll wander by Short Path’s space by accident and stop in to see what they’re all about. If you do, or if you head there on a mission, you’ll find that there’s much to learn about distilling—and you’ll find a team of knowledgeable enthusiasts who are more than happy to educate you on the art of making a line of truly original spirits.