Kingfly Spirits opens in the Strip District on Groundhog Day. But for Blake Ragghianti, life at the distillery is anything but routine.
“Today I might make brandy. Tomorrow I’ll make rum. While it’s fermenting, I can work on the limoncello and then move on to mash the bourbon,” he says. “I can work on a half-dozen products simultaneously.”
The Scott Township native does a lot of things, but he does them right.
The company’s first product, Bliss 1895 Spiced Rum, recently won Double Gold at the 2018 New York International Spirits Competition and earned Ragghianti the title of Pennsylvania Rum Distiller of the Year.
Pittsburghers will finally get a chance to indulge in his work when Kingfly makes its debut on Feb. 2.
The building itself is intoxicating.
Built in 1890, the 10,400-square-foot structure at 2613 Smallman St. originally served as a horse stable. Later incarnations included a lumber mill and upscale home goods store. When Ragghianti and his business partner Mark Willson bought the property in 2016, it housed Artistry. They knew the building was something special.
The “urban barn” was in need of some love, but it had good bones, even if some of the floors were made of dirt.
The pair spent nearly two years on restorations. Today, it’s a free-flowing space accented by red brick walls and exposed wooden beams. There’s a large bar downstairs and the former hayloft is now a large event space that can accommodate up to 250 people. Workers unearthed vintage equestrian gear, including yokes and reins, that will be incorporated into the décor.
The centerpiece of Kingfly is the 58-gallon copper still.
“We’re all about transparency,” Ragghianti says. “The still is smack dab in the middle. It’s everything that embodies what we want to do, what differentiates us and makes us unique. We aren’t just focused on making a product; it’s about the consumer having an experience.”
This spring, visitors will be able to make their own batches of booze. The apothecary area is set up with long tables where the public can learn tricks of the trade from Ragghianti, who was taught by his dad.
Using an old family recipe and a modified pressure cooker, father and son made limoncello, an Italian lemon liqueur, in their garage. The hobby became a passion and when changes to state alcohol laws gave distilleries the go-ahead to sell cocktails and bottles on-site, Ragghianti knew it was time to go into business.
Together with Willson, whom he met through their mutual love of music and sailing, Ragghianti set out to find the best ingredients — lemons from Italy, spices from Vietnam, agave from Mexico, sugar cane juice from Colombia and grapes from Napa Valley — to create a beautiful product.
The company’s logo (a Monarch, the king of the butterflies) hints at migration. That spoke to their interest in traveling to all parts of the world for raw ingredients.
Kingfly, which will be open Wednesdays through Sundays, will sell its products by the bottle and incorporate them into a cocktail menu designed by Colin Anderson. The bartending veteran ran beverage programs at hotspots such as Bar Marco, Cure and Umami.
In addition to an impressive resume, he brought his own hand-crafted vermouth to his Kingfly interview.
Although not a full-service restaurant, Kingfly has also hired chef Kate Romane of Black Radish Kitchen to create a snack menu. They’ll also invite other local culinarians in each month to work their magic in the large kitchen.
“The Strip is a place that has a lot of diversity,” Ragghianti says. “We’re hoping we can deliver that to people and open their eyes to new experiences.”