Running saved Michael Paluzzi‘s life.
If he hadn’t noticed his sudden inability to run, how his heart rate would skyrocket from jogging to running, then he wouldn’t have seen the doctor. Now with a stent aiding his artery, he’s good to go. Where did he go? He went straight to the liquor cabinet.
“It was time to think about what was that last passionate career before I hit the grand old age of retirement,” says Paluzzi, 60, now close to securing a space for Falls Church Distilleries.
After completing distilling classes in San Diego and Denver, plus spending time drinking and chatting with the experts in Kentucky, Paluzzi developed a business plan. But the act of making alcohol is not new to Paluzzi.
“I’ve been around winemakers ever since I can remember,” says Paluzzi, bragging that all four of his grandparents are Italian and would hand-roll cigarettes and make wine, limoncello, amaretto, etc. in upstate New York. After college and the Air Force, he moved to San Francisco and became so enamored with the Northern California wine scene he was awarded WSET Level 2, just for fun.
Now with 40 years in IT—he is currently full-time at IBM and still employs tech jargon—Paluzzi is ready to move into the spirits world.
He’s keeping it in the family with his son Lorenzo, who will be 24 next month and is a student of chemistry, as the master distiller. To start, Falls Church Distilleries will release both a traditional vodka and one flavored with pepperoncini. “I’m Italian, right?” jokes Paluzzi.
There will also be gin, with possible flavors like lemon verbena or pineapple sage, and a blended whiskey. Paluzzi hopes to open this fall and to contract with a local distillery (he mentioned chatting with Bristow‘s MurLarkey Distilled Spirits and Manassas-based KO Distilling) so he can offer spirits when the facility opens.
“Everyone is trying to rebuild this industry,” says Paluzzi, commenting on the friendliness and openness of those he met in the booze world. He uses the term coopetition, something he faced often in the tech world, where businesses both compete against each other but also work together.
Eventually, the distillery will produce brandy, applejack, whiskey and bourbon, says Paluzzi. However, he hopes to create more than a space to taste, buy and leave.
The tasting room will offer Italian-themed small plates and snacks (bruschetta, cheese, olives, gelato) and will also make space for taps filled with Virginia-made beer and a nonalcoholic option: kombucha scoby (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) or, more appetizingly put, naturally effervescent sodas made with fruits and vegetables with a pop of ginger.
“Virginia made some strides,” says Paluzzi, pointing to the growing spirits industry. “It’s finally getting past the Prohibition hangover.”
MORE: July’s A Guide to Distilleries is on newsstands now.