written by: Zanne Lamb-Hunt
Monica Pearce refers to herself as a ‘Fredneck at heart,’ having grown up right here in Frederick. She waitressed at the Waffle House on Patrick Street when she was only fourteen and has primarily remained in the service industry since that time.
She earned a BS in Environmental Science and Policy from the University of Maryland. She then achieved a Masters in Natural Resource Management from Virginia Tech.
She also spent about six years employed by a non-profit organization that specialized in social marketing (marketing for a greater good) and brought a lot of her learned skills into her own business.
“I learned not just a ton about natural resource management through that career but also so many other skills that I never thought I would have built then.”
In her free time, this energetic ‘Boss Lady’ likes to stay connected to the environment through gardening, hiking and being outdoors. She also enjoys cooking and keeping up with what’s happening in the local booze scene — discovering new brews and new establishments.
The Inspiration To Blaze A Boozy Trail
“I was really inspired by the boom of the distilling industry that has been happening. We’re really following on the craft brewing boom that has had so much success over the past ten years.”
Monica visited a friend who had opened up Lyon Distilling on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. It sparked an interest and she thought, “Frederick doesn’t make any local liquor. We’ve got a really great beer scene but we’re sort of lacking on the liquor scene.”
It took some time to follow through on it, though. “I kind of gave up on the idea.” Why did she hesitate? Because she didn’t really know how to start a business and thought it was probably a crazy thing to do. But, serendipity stepped in as it often does with budding entrepreneurs.
“I was about to leave my job and got pushed over the edge by a friend in a conversation over a glass of whiskey. That’s when I really did just jump in head-first and sought out my business partner, Kyle, who was a home brewer who was ready to transition into distilling.”
Monica continues, “That was Memorial Day of 2015 and we’ve been open since July of 2016.” As part of the learning process, they interned at the Copper Fox Distillery in Sperryville, Virginia.
“That was a fun week for us. That’s where we learned the more difficult and minuscule tasks in making liquor. You can’t really home distill. That’s considered moonshining.”
And, then there was the slow churn of bureaucracy. “Opening a distillery requires both a State license and a Federal license. That’s probably what took us the longest. It took about 200 days to get our Federal Permit.
“I’d like to think that it is legally required because making alcohol – making liquor, especially – can be unsafe if you don’t know what you’re doing. But, we learned it’s really more that the government wants to make sure they’re getting their taxes from all of that liquor that’s being made.”
So, what’s the difference between moonshining and running a distillery? Monica says distilleries are using the same process as moonshiners but “on a more efficient, official and legal scale.”
She adds an educational note. “Fundamentally, whiskey is distilled beer and brandy is distilled wine. We actually have to make both of those first.”
Tenth Ward Distillery Is Supporting Local Sources
“For our whiskey, we source everything from a farm right outside of Charlestown, West Virginia from “farmer Rusty and his wife Cricket – the cutest farm couple ever!
“I know it’s not Maryland-made but I consider it local because it’s only about a forty-minute drive from Frederick. We’re pretty much neighbors with West Virginia, anyway.”
And, for the Brandy? “We specialize in an Apple Jack which is a traditional American style Brandy. It’s a brandy that we distill using McCutcheon’s Cider.”
McCutcheons’s is a local factory less than a mile from the Distillery that has been around since the ’30’s. There are fourth generation McCutcheons now working at the factory.
What’s In A Name? Tenth Ward Distillery Has Historical Reference
In the late 1800s – early 1900s, Frederick was sectioned into ten voting districts or ‘wards’. “We found that just by looking at an old map,” said Monica. “We also learned — pretty interestingly — that the Tenth Ward is also sort of the industrial side of town because the winds in Frederick blow East.
“So, if you look at a map of the Tenth Ward, you’ll see all of these old factories, tanneries and plants that were built in order to keep the winds blowing all of the smells outside of town.”
How’s that for expanding your knowledge a bit on the local history?
The Biggest Challenge Of Being The Boss Lady Of A Distillery
Monica confides that educating people, although fun, has been the greatest challenge. “Educating people on how distillation works.”
On what ‘white whiskey’ is, for example — which is an unaged whiskey — because people might think that it’s a moonshine and they’re afraid it’s going to taste like rubbing alcohol.
“Little things like that. Getting over that hump and getting them excited to learn about it, and to understand it and how it works has been one of my favorite challenges with the business.”
She points out that there are not many distilleries in Maryland. “Most people are used to going to wineries and breweries. A good 75% of my customers right now had never been to a distillery before.”
Distilleries Have Restrictions That Don’t Apply To Breweries And Wineries
“Legally, we can only pour 3 samples per person. We usually have four or five spirits on the bar so you get to choose between a couple.” But, don’t expect a cocktail.
“Legally, in the state of Maryland right now, you can’t drink a cocktail at a distillery like you could have a pint of beer or a glass of wine at a brewery or a winery. A lot of people agree that we should be fairly treated in that sense per licensing requirements.
Monica continues, “There are a number of people that are lobbying to change that. But, for now, we sell merchandise and our bottles out of the distillery. And, there are a number of products of ours that we also distribute to some bars, restaurants and liquor stores around town, as well.”
What Advice Would Monica Give Herself If She Could Go Back In Time?
“I think I would have liked to have spent more time researching some of our larger purchases that we had to make. Things that we had to get put in place before we could actually apply for our permit made us really rush into certain decisions.
“I wish I could have gone back and said “Hey, this specific product — maybe make a couple more phone calls or think about where we’re divvying our money up.”
Making A Difference With Tenth Ward Distillery
“Now that I’ve been in business, it’s super important to me to continue to be an environmental steward, to source locally, to use energy-efficient practices in our business. I feel like I can physically see a change in my community, in that sense.
“Not that I am a leader in that direction but I do feel like I’m a part of the source local movement, the shop local movement, of reducing our emissions and our environmental impact here in my community where I have face to face conversations and relationships with people.”
What Drives Monica’s Entrepreneurial Passion?
“The connectivity with the industry that we’ve been crafting in the Frederick County area. The breweries. The wineries. The distilleries. The farms that supply us and other suppliers.
“Not only are we connecting, speaking and meeting but people are also driving those conversations from other ends. Our Tourism Department. Our Economic Development Department. Downtown Frederick Partnership.
“Being a part of that community and those conversations has really helped to drive and mold how I work with the business and how I treat those that I don’t really consider competition any more but friends and collaborators in the industry because we really are building our own booze trail in this area.
“It has become so beneficial in terms of tourism, economic growth and fostering those small businesses and local business owners.”
Tours Start Whenever You Walk In!
Want to know more about the Tenth Ward Distillery? Or the history of the Frederick Tenth Ward? Or just want to meet and chat with the cool Boss Lady of Frederick’s boozery?
The Tenth Ward Distillery is open Wednesday – Sunday, from 12 – 6. Stop in soon for a tasting and a tour.
Tenth Ward Distilling Company
508 East Church Street
tenthwarddistilling.com (Subscribe online “to get the insider’s scoop”)
Contents Provided by Frederick Advice Givers Podcast Episode #082: Eric Verdi Interviews Monica Pearce