ATLANTIC CITY — Things have been moving fast lately for the family project called Little Water Distillery.
In the last week, brothers Eric and Mark Ganter have gotten the certificate of occupancy to open their distilling plant and tasting room, their craft-distilling license from the state and their mercantile license from the city. And come Saturday, they plan to introduce the world to their first product, Whitecap Whiskey, with tastings at the two Passion Vines stores in Somers Point and Egg Harbor Township.
But that doesn’t mean everything has always been smooth sailing for Little Water’s “booze brothers,” as Eric likes to think of them. Before they landed in their new home, a converted electrical warehouse in the city’s Northeast Inlet, they spent most of three years trying to find other locations in Atlantic City and to turn their dream business into a working company.
The business story starts in a family story, with the two brothers buying their father, Frank, a tiny still as a “man-who-has-everything” 70th birthday present in 2013. And even though that little still was more of a toy than a tool for making real spirits, having it in the family started the brothers talking about a business — especially after the state loosened its distilling laws about that same time.
Mark, Little Water’s CEO and “sales guy,” has 15 years of professional experience as a design and “project management consultant in the wine and spirits industry.” Eric was a teacher in Ventnor, where he’s lived for 20 years, but was open to a career change.
They grew up in Upper Deerfield Township, where their parents still live. But Frank Ganter is a native of Frittlingen, Germany, and the first working distillery the brothers visited was back there, in their dad’s hometown.
“That’s where it started to get serious,” said Eric Ganter, the chief operations officer and distiller.
Since then, they figure they’ve traveled to about 30 craft distilleries from Florida to New York to learn everything they can about the process.
They didn’t look into quite that many locations in Atlantic City, but sometimes it must have felt that way. As they worked on their business, they tried to settle in a long-closed firehouse on Atlantic Avenue, but that deal fell through. They also planned to set up in Historic Gardner’s Basin, but environmental rules blocked that move.
“Their tenacity to make this work in Atlantic City really motivated me,” said Elizabeth Terenik, the city’s planning director.
“This is their third location,” Terenik said. “They could have gone somewhere else, but they really believed in Atlantic City, and I’m so grateful that they continued to persevere and made it happen here.”
Terenik likes Little Water because she says it “exemplifies the diversification of attractions that will make the city successful. It attracts new and different people to the city, and it’s targeting a demographic of millennials that really fits with Atlantic City’s new brand. … I think it will actually change people’s opinions about the city.”
She added that Little Water will be Atlantic City’s first legal distillery — at least since Prohibition. Plus a new brewery hopes to start making beer in another part of the same old warehouse, Terenik said Tuesday.
Mark Ganter said one reason they wanted to be in Atlantic City is right in the name of the business: Atlantic City’s municipal water comes from the nearby pinelands and has won national taste tests. Another is that the brothers’ research tells them the seaside climate can help them age their booze better.
But even though they plan to welcome visitors, and Little Water can now legally work in its new home, the brothers say they don’t plan to open their tasting room until early 2017.
They’ve found allies in the area. Michael Bray, Passion Vines’ owner, met Mark Ganter last year and is happy to be able to finally sell Little Water’s products.
“We’re a full-service store, but our passion is small-batch ... and handcrafted” beverages, Bray said. “So this fits right into our niche.”