Standing in front of a massive, bubbling copper still, Bully Boy cofounder Dave Willis has just launched into an explanation of the company’s new distillation equipment when a stream of 180-proof liquor erupts from a spigot behind him, splattering on the concrete floor. Unfazed, he grabs a nearby stainless steel barrel and deftly slides it under the flow.
“Whoops,” Willis grins, as alcohol vapor chokes the air. “Can someone turn the fans on?”
This is a typical day at Bully Boy Distillers, which has retained its fun, passion-project vibe even after riding the surging craft spirits market to become one of the area’s best-known local liquor brands.
Now, the company founded by Willis and his brother Will in 2010 is set to grow even more. On April 21, Bully Boy will open its new headquarters, an inviting “bohemian oasis” that, like a speakeasy, is hidden inside a drab brick building across the road from their current facility on a little-trafficked side street in Roxbury’s industrial Newmarket District.
The debut represents two business bets: First, that Bully Boy will continue its impressive streak of more than 30 percent annual growth in sales to bars, package stores, and other retailers. An expanded production floor and larger-capacity tanks means the company can increase its output fivefold, to 50,000 cases a year of gin, rum, vodka, and whiskey.
Second, Bully Boy is hoping to increase its on-site business with an eccentrically decorated tasting room, where patrons can watch the booze-making process through a window as they sip aged spirits dispensed straight from a barrel suspended overhead. Out back, dozens more barrels are stacked around a large table in a dimly lit room that looks to have been prepared for a clandestine meeting of Prohibition-era mafiosos (it’s actually a private event space).
“I think there’s a real demand for so-called experiential tourism,” Will Willis said, explaining that a growing cluster of nearby alcohol-makers such as Dorchester Brewing Co. should help draw patrons to the out-of-the-way neighborhood. “There’s a certain cachet to that hard-to-find place.”
Willis said the tasting room fits with Bully Boy’s “inch-wide, mile-deep” strategy — the company has used a personal touch to build sales close to home instead of striking distribution deals up and down the East Coast. To perfectionists like the Willis brothers, the idea of someone they’ve never met pitching their product is downright terrifying.
“Our success has been a connection between the consumer and us,” Will Willis said. “The second that connection is lost or weakened, we’re no different than any of the big global brands. We have to protect that.”