Melissa Elsmo

I made my way to Quincy Street Distillery in Riverside, Illinois in search of a cocktail and a conversation. Upon arriving at the cozy tasting room boasting a black and white checkered floor and bottle-after-bottle of artisanal spirits, I ordered a classic prohibition style cocktail called the bees knees. Drink in hand, I settled in for a conversation with Derrick Mancini, owner-distiller, at Quincy Street Distillery. I sipped the tart and satisfying combination of Old #176 Railroad gin, lemon juice, and honey syrup and listened to the man behind our local source for craft spirits.

Mancini, clearly passionate about his products, quickly informed me the gin in my bees knees cocktail was distilled off the same corn mash used to produce Quincy Street whisky based on a method dating back to the 1800’s. Old #176 Railroad Gin, is single distilled in in a copper pot and has dominant juniper flavors, but additional botanical elements including both coriander seed and licorice root add to the spirit’s complexity. To make matters more interesting, “#176” honors  the first custom deigned engine to roll through Riverside on the tracks located within view of the establishment.

Moments in to my experience it was clear these folks are peddling more than drinks; Quincy Street Distillery serves sips of significance.

Mancini earned a PhD in Physics and worked at Argonne Laboratory when dreams of opening a a winery lead him down a new career path. He believed his study and understanding of Portuguese wine producing methods would drive a successful grape-focused business in Michigan, but a series of serendipitous events brought him to the front door of a 1912 Arts and Crafts influenced space in the middle of Riverside, Illinois. 

As a 20-year resident of the Olmstead-designed community, Mancini’s dreams of owning a mid-west winery morphed into developing a hyper-local, spirit-focused operation honoring the history of his hometown. As a scientist, Mancini, considered himself a creative and his career change allows him to marry his love of science with his interest in food and drink, history, and his beloved Riverside community.

Upon opening in 2012, Quincy Street Distillery, was only the 5th craft distillery operating in Illinois; today Quincy Street one of 30 craft distilleries in the state, but remains the only spirit producing operation in the western suburbs and the smallest “grain-to-glass” distillery in Illinois.

“We are not really well known just yet” says Mancini, “but our production is disproportionate to our size.” The diminutive distillery produces more than 20 craft spirits and recently expanded its distribution to include California and New York allowing the small (yet mighty) distillery to explore  broader markets. 

“Sure, we are absolutely looking to become well known for our high-end products,” says Mancini of the future, “but we don’t want to lose our neighborhood feel.” 

Mancini acknowledges the artistry behind their approach to craft spirits lies in looking to the past to drive the process. Quincy Street Distillery honors classic formulas, from as far back as the 17th century, to coax their historically significant gin, vodka, and whiskey assortment into existence. In the speakeasy, the bar-manager turns out a balanced array of retro and innovative high-end cocktails using their array of grain-forward, small batch spirits.

In keeping with that community-focused mission, the speakeasy at Quincy Street Distillery has become a destination for local craft-cocktail aficionados. Mancini and his team of five full time employees treat the tasting room like a like a laboratory coupling their knowledge of cocktails with their knowledge of spirits. 

Believe me, a visit to Quincy Street in Riverside really is the bees knees. Make a visit to savor your own sip of significance and learn a little about our local history a long the way.

The Quincy Street Distillery Speakeasy

39 East Quincy Street 

Riverside, IL 60546

  • Wed 5-9pm
  • Friday 4-10pm
  • Saturday 2-10pm
  • Sunday 12-7pm

*The Distillery offers tours by reservation to teach interested guests about distilling craft spirits, including operation of the still and storing spirits in barrel.

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