If you live in New Hampshire, there’s one place you definitely need to check out: NEW ENGLAND SWEETWATER FARM & DISTILLERY. The family-owned business was founded by Robert Patton-Spruil in 2015, who spent the majority of his summers as a kid visiting his grandfather — who taught him the art of distilling.
And if there’s one lesson he learned, it’s that quality was better than quantity.
In 2020, two sisters Alisa Lawrence and Nilaja Young, along with their partners Karl Lawrence and Kenny Young, purchased NESW from their cousin Robert. This is a true testament of family legacy, building the blocks for the next generation of business owners and distillers. Both sisters were previously working in the medical industry and music business, but now carry on the task of producing exceptional spirits, while fostering diversity and celebrating the rich heritage of black women within the industry.
To date, Sweetwater has established themselves as a trailblazer, in an industry historically dominated by male counterparts. Unfortunately within a 6-month span, the sisters lost both their parents due to medical conditions. Now, the sisters view NESW as a diving calling, giving them the opportunity to reconnect and further bond with their parents before their passing.
Sheen spoke with both sisters about the
How did you guys first come up w/ the idea for NEW ENGLAND SWEETWATER FARM & DISTILLERY?
Alisa Lawrence: The idea for the distillery was the brainchild of our cousin, Robert Patton Spruill who learned the art of distilling from his Grandfather Bob. Rob built and opened the distillery in 2015 and we purchased it from him in 2020 as part of his effort to keep it in the family.
What was the reality of getting the business off the ground?
Alisa Lawrence:The reality of getting the business off the ground hit us when we realized quite quickly that we could not commute from NY to NH to run the business.
Talk about your background and how it plays into the business. How important is it to celebrate black women in the industry?
Nilaja Young: I believe that my degree in Business Administration, along with my background in healthcare management and pharmaceutical sales provided some valuable skills and experiences that have been very beneficial to me in the spirits business. To name a few, business management, compliance and regulations, marketing and sales, quality control and safety, and customer relations are some of the skills I have acquired over the years, which help me tremendously in my day-to-day at the distillery. Plus, we are of Caribbean and South American decent, and everyone knows that we can get down in the kitchen! I use my love of bold flavors and textures, as well as my love for cooking, to create the most aromatic, fruit forward, flavorful, and savory drinks and food. Celebrating black women in the industry is extremely important for so many reasons. Firstly, it recognizes and appreciates their contributions and talents in an industry that has historically been dominated by other demographics. Recognizing black women in the distillery industry paves the way for greater representation, creating more inclusivity for future generations.
Alisa Lawrence: I believe that my background in Entertainment Management and Marketing has definitely prepared me for the business of spirits! Daily operations and management in this business is key. We understand how extremely blessed we are to not only be amongst other women in this industry, but other black women as well and how much they have celebrated and welcomed us into the fold.
Cheers to us!
How do you plan to continue the legacy your cousin Robert started?
Alisa Lawrence: Our plan to continue the legacy the our cousin Rob began starts by building a generational brand that builds generational bonds by refusing to compromise on taste. We want to be nationally known for crafting memorable spirits and protecting our legacy and principles as we grow.
How important is generational wealth?
Alisa Lawrence: Generational wealth is extremely important. All cultures, colors and creeds need to understand what it means, why it’s necessary to build it and educate the younger members of a family as soon as they are able to read! Our mom was able to give us our first $25,000 to help purchase the business, and it was because she understood about investing and legacy that she could do that.
What did it mean to move your families to New Hampshire?
Nilaja Young: Moving our families to New Hampshire meant that we got to be closer to our parents and the kids, their grandparents. It also meant a better quality of life for us all.
We are from Brooklyn, New York, where things are happening 24/7. Moving to New Hampshire forced us to slow down and focus a little more on self-care and spending more quality time with each other.
For Alisa and Karl, it meant the same, but they are also newly empty nesters, so moving to New Hampshire meant that they got to enjoy that aspect of their lives once again.
How did losing your parents ignite the fire in you to continue?
Alisa Lawrence: Losing our parents fuels the desire to grow and scale on a daily basis.
Every spirit that is bottled, every label that we place on a bottle and every cork that we use is because of them. They were our biggest cheerleaders.
What accomplishments are you most proud of?
Nilaja Young: The accomplishments we are most proud of are that our Ashuelot Gin and Clark and Chesterfield American Single Malt Whiskey, both earned top honors at the 2022 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Plus, we achieved the distinction of being named “Best of New Hampshire 2022 Editor’s Pick” by New Hampshire Magazine.
Finally, we won the award for Gold in The Keene Sentinel Choice Awards for “Best Local Distillery,” for 2022 and 2023.
What can we expect next?
We have some great things ahead. Working with great distribution partners to expand our brands regionally and even nationally in the coming year is tantamount.
Photo Credits: Courtesy of NEW ENGLAND SWEETWATER FARM & DISTILLERY