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2019 Local Hero: Four Fights Distilling

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Donna and Matt Bowers on the distillery floor. Who’s a Local Hero when it comes to local food? We define it as someone whose business offers high quality local products and maintains high standards in their social and environmental practices, food sourcing, regional economic impact, and commitment to promoting a sustainable food system. Late last year we challenged our readers to pick their local heroes from the Finger Lakes in six different categories. As always, we had an enormous response, with people voting from all over the region. In the following pages we tell the stories of the different winners and we hope you enjoy reading them as much as we enjoyed writing them.

Written by Ray Pompilio

Photo by Lee Speary

Craft distilleries are popping up all over the United States, including the Finger Lakes. Four Fights Distilling is located in Corning, in a large former garage for Corning Glass Works. It is the quintessential “Mom and Pop” operation.

Knocking on the distillery door, I was met by “Mom,” Donna Bowers, with a shovel in her hand. She had been shoveling freshly made corn mash, destined to be whiskey, into a 50-gallon barrel for fermentation. The mother of three children, aged 8 to 16, she works together with “Pop,” her husband Matt, to create their complete line of craft-distilled spirits.

Their path to distilling began with home winemaking, and received a jump-start when Matt, an employee of Corning, traveled on business to Kentucky, where he discovered the allure of bourbon distilleries. Four Fights began in 2014 and opened to the public the following year. The name came from an old quality guideline for “moonshine”: It was said that if you drank a pint you were likely to get into a fight, and if it was really good you might get into as many as four fights. The Bowerses planned to make the really good stuff.

Corn is the primary grain and is locally sourced from nearby Smithome Farms in Big Flats. During a family trip to the farm’s well-known pumpkin patch, Matt asked if they had any corn for sale. The owner did and, like long ago, gave Matt a key to his barn and told him to come anytime and just leave $8 per 50-pound bag. So began their local distillery.

Four Fights makes Bowers’ Bourbon from corn, malted red wheat and malted barley, and Bowers’ American Whiskey from corn and Octoberfest malted barley. They are both aged in five-gallon white oak barrels. To be called “bourbon” it must be aged in unused charred oak, which houses the whiskey after the bourbon is removed. Four Fights also produces Crystal City Vodka, Suite 101 Gin, Emperial Moonshine, Emperial Cinnamoon (whiskey made with cinnamon sticks) and a lower-alcohol Emperial Apple Pie.

This diverse product line aims to appeal to as many people as possible. Four Fights is sold in many stores in the Finger Lakes, at local festivals and events, and is readily available to enjoy at their modest yet stylish tasting room at the distillery, open Thursday through Sunday. The tasting room has a good local following, evident by the ceiling display of 142 special copper mugs for their “Mule Club” members. The club is named for the Moscow Mule cocktail containing their Crystal City Vodka.

Production is currently at about 850 cases. Matt Bowers said, “It can be tough work, but it’s rewarding—it’s nice that it has grown at a modest rate.” He notes that distilling is rooted in American heritage.

“We want to help showcase what this area can do now,” he said, smiling.

This story was originally published in our March/April 2019 edition.

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