In good spirits: Polish family distillery prepares for St. Pete debut

The family-run Kozuba & Sons Distillery is bringing vodka, whiskey and more to St. Petersburg.

click to enlarge Jacob Kozuba manages the finances, Zbigniew is the head distiller and Matthias handles sales and marketing. - Ryan Ballogg
Ryan Ballogg
Jacob Kozuba manages the finances, Zbigniew is the head distiller and Matthias handles sales and marketing.

When Polish biochemist Zbigniew Kozuba tired of overseeing his company’s diagnostic labs in the early 2000s, he decided a tiny change was in order. He promptly sold his business and his house in the city of Warsaw, leaving it all behind for a small town in the quiet Polish countryside. His newfound time was filled with old hobbies, including the creation of fruit cordials.

His concoctions attracted the attention of everyone from the priest to the police chief, and before long, he thought he might try making them on a grander scale.

Ten years later, and with the help of his two sons Matthias and Jacob, Zbigniew’s hobby has morphed into Kozuba & Sons, a family-owned craft distillery producing whiskey, vodka and cordials. Pending a permit, their new St. Petersburg distillery (which marks the second distillery for the city) will open within the next month in the Warehouse Arts District. A grand opening is slated for late February or early March.

Their building at 1960 Fifth Ave. S. has been through more than a year’s worth of renovations, adjustments and inspections to get it up to snuff. There are a few final touches left to add, murals and a shop among them, but the distillery, tasting room and warehouse are in good shape for the guided tours that the Kozubas plan to hold as soon as they debut. Allowing for 20 to 25 people per group, the tours will be 30 to 40 minutes long, with time for tasting and shopping at the end. They hope to host events on-site if the city approves it.

Zbigniew and his sons moved from Poland to St. Petersburg with their families in 2014 to set up this newest addition to their operation. They haven’t shied away from a challenge, expanding from fruit cordials to vodka and whiskey. Both varieties of Kozuba and Sons vodka won gold medals from Chicago’s Beverage Tasting Institute after two years on the market, and now they see bourbon and gin in their future.

Matthias said the family has been careful in selecting the process they use for spirit distillation, sacrificing quick production times for the proper aging techniques for full flavors. Their malt whiskey, Mr. Rye, is aged in American white oak barrels for two years. Their aged vodka, Starkus, which Matthias describes as “the perfect vodka for whiskey amateurs,” is based on a traditional Eastern European-style vodka called starka.

click to enlarge The Kozubas are running off of stores from their Poland distillery, but two new custom-made copper stills are ready to begin production in St. Pete. - Ryan Ballogg
Ryan Ballogg
The Kozubas are running off of stores from their Poland distillery, but two new custom-made copper stills are ready to begin production in St. Pete.

The current Kozuba and Sons lineup also highlights a straight vodka, white whiskey, and quince and cranberry cordials. According to Matthias, they will offer limited 1,000 to 2,000 bottle runs of select liquors as well.

“These will be unique spirits that offer unique tasting experiences,” he said.

Since arriving, Matthias and his brother Jacob have been visiting local liquor stores one at a time, slowly spreading their wares and the word. It’s the same way they did things back in Poland. With their story, craft process and mid-range prices ($25 to $45 a bottle), Matthias said he thinks they’re a perfect match for millennials and a community-driven place like St. Pete.

“They just have to get to know our story, taste our spirits and decide if they are worth paying a little extra for,” he continued.

The artwork adorning Kozuba and Sons’ products and website is distinct, too, featuring dapper gentlemen, white dogs and dark city streets and nightclubs. Up to this point, the family has worked with young artists in Poland and plan to do the same here.

In the meantime, the curious can find Kozuba & Sons spirits at more than 50 liquor shops in the region. Check their Facebook page for tasting events at area restaurants and bars — there are usually two per week.

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