The cure for almost anything was water. That was the belief of Dr. James Seth Rogers, a property owner in the 1860s in Pomfret. If you were overweight, or diabetic or addicted to alcohol, Rogers prescribed water therapy.
More than 150 years later, Daniel and Aubrie Nagy purchased farmland that Rogers once owned. Daniel was a paramedic and, though he didn’t agree with all of Rogers’ theories about water, the history of Dr. Rogers’ “Watercure” medicine spoke to him. “One of the first things we did when you got in the ambulance was start the IV and hang a bag of saline and start fluids on someone, so it was just one of those words, philosophies, whatever it may be, that resonated with us,” he says.
The Nagys decided to name their farm Watercure Farm. A few years later in 2019, they opened Watercure Farm Distillery. “People say water is kind of what makes the whiskey. When your whiskey is blended with water, a lot of your product is actually your water,” Daniel says.
Watercure’s products are made with water from a local well celebrated for its taste. And while the whiskey and other spirits served at Watercure may not cure the body of its afflictions, it is definitely good for the soul.
Situated on property that was once part of a grand 1900s estate called Gwyn Careg, the distillery retains the splendor of the Gilded Age. I pull off Route 44 and pass through the grandest distillery entrance I’ve ever seen, a stone entranceway that once welcomed guests to the estate. The short driveway to Watercure is lined with young fruit trees that have already begun powering the distillery’s products. There is also direct access to the distillery from the Air Line State Park Rail Trail, a good pre- or post-distillery excursion for walkers or bicyclists.
The distillery itself is a newly built, barn-like building with an inviting feel. Daniel and Aubrie are waiting outside when I arrive, and as they open the doors, I’m reminded of a cathedral. A small bar and taproom sit in front of the distillery area which is dominated by a towering column still which has clear glass compartments, allowing visitors to see the magnificent waterfall effect that occurs as part of the distillation process. Elsewhere in the distillery sit barrels with various aging spirits.
Daniel pours a small sample, then another one and another one. The apple spice-flavored rum is one of the distillery’s most popular products and has wonderful notes of sweet cinnamon and apple, making it a warm and perfect drink for cold weather. A shiitake mushroom-flavored vodka is made from mushrooms grown on the Nagys’ farm. While this spirit might sound over the top or gimmicky, its flavor is quite balanced. The mushroom is subtle, cutting some of the vodka bite and giving it a savory and woodsy flavor that, though different from the floral flavors of gin, reminds me more of gin than of other vodkas. Another variety of vodka is distilled from apples, while another is made with potatoes. Both are complex and enjoyable drinks with far more character than your average liquor-store variety. The distillery also has or will soon offer brandies, gin, bourbon and other whiskeys.
As I drink, Daniel tells me about the family history that inspired his switch from the medical field to farm distilling. “Ancestors on both sides of my family have partaken the craft of distilling and it was something that always sat in the back of my mind,” he says. His great-uncles made eau de vie brandy in France, while on the other side of his family here in the U.S., another great-uncle produced rye whiskey during Prohibition.
During 12-hour shifts as a paramedic, Daniel began researching the art of distilling, reading books and watching YouTube videos on his iPhone. He’d spent years making beer and wine at home and was intrigued by the next step in alcohol production that distilling represented. “Being able to make a beer or wine and then transform it into a product that will stand the test of time by distillation was and still is a fascination to me,” he says.
Aubrie was also intrigued by the idea of opening a distillery, and when land became available, the dream started to become a reality and the distillery became the state’s first establishment licensed as a farm distillery.
Making spirits with local ingredients hasn’t lost any of its allure for Daniel. “Being able to purify alcohol but retain the original grain or fruit flavor used is my drive,” he says. “Then there is the art of barrel aging. There is a beautiful transformation that happens over the time a spirit sits in a permeable barrel interacting with the wood and the world around it. What else to say, it’s agriculture, alchemy, art and alcohol.”
Watercure Farm Distillery
426 Mashamoquet Road, Pomfret Center
860-315-5566, watercurefarm.com, @watercurefarmdistillery on Instagram
Hours: Tue.–Sat. 10 a.m.–6 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.–6 p.m. Closed Mon.