Alumni Matthew LeBlanc, '04, Peter Behnke, '90, and Alan Balavender, '86, from left, stand on the production floor of their craft distillery in Bloomfield, Connecticut. The three men and fellow Quinnipiac graduate Mark Gombotz, '95, helped launch Waypoint Spirits in 2013 and offers spirits including Spicy 13 Vodka and Honey Habanero Whiskey.

Keeping their spirits up

Alumni Matthew LeBlanc, '04, Peter Behnke, '90, and Alan Balavender, '86, from left, stand on the production floor of their craft distillery in Bloomfield, Connecticut. The three men and fellow Quinnipiac graduate Mark Gombotz, '95, helped launch Waypoint Spirits in 2013 and offers spirits including Spicy 13 Vodka and Honey Habanero Whiskey.

B

efore the handmade gin was bottled, faith and courage were the tonics that flowed at Waypoint Spirits, a distillery in Bloomfield, Connecticut — not far from Bradley International Airport — but quite far indeed from the bindings of convention.

The ambitious start-up represents the dream of a group of core investors, including four Quinnipiac alumni: Alan Balavender ’86, Peter Behnke ’90, Mark Gombotz ’95 and Matthew LeBlanc ’04.

Alumni Peter Behnke, '90, and Alan Balavender, '86, right, fill vodka bottles at Waypoint Spirits in Bloomfield, a craft distillery launched with the help of Behnke, Balavander and fellow Quinnipiac graduates Matthew LeBlanc, '04, and Mark Gombotz, '95.

Living the dream

Alumni Peter Behnke, '90, and Alan Balavender, '86, right, fill vodka bottles at Waypoint Spirits in Bloomfield, a craft distillery launched with the help of Behnke, Balavander and fellow Quinnipiac graduates Matthew LeBlanc, '04, and Mark Gombotz, '95.

“A lot of people talk about doing something like this, but to actually pull the trigger and do it, that’s a little different,” Behnke said.

As LeBlanc fills 750 ml bottles — four at a time — Behnke and Balavender seal the deal with stoppers and shrink wrap.

Although they all have day jobs, the friends enjoy being part-time stewards of this distillery, which can yield up to 1,000 bottles a day.

“All of us — not just the Quinnipiac alumni — are people who have been reasonably successful and wanted to come together and do something really interesting and really fun,” Behnke said.

Most people are familiar with Bacardi and Absolut, but the shelf space allotted to craft distillery products is relatively small. Waypoint Spirits wants to change that with a robust portfolio of Wintonbury Gin, Labrador Noon Vodka, Man Overboard Spiced Rum, Spicy 13 Vodka, Goodman Coffee Liqueur, Honey Habanero Whiskey and other Special Batch Whiskey.

“At this point, our sales are enough that there’s always an order being filled,” Behnke said. “We’re always replenishing something, and it’s often some of everything — the distributors usually want a pallet of this, two pallets of that, half a pallet of this. We have cases of Spicy 13 bottled up and ready to go. Today, we’re working on gin.”

In some ways, the foundation for Waypoint Spirits was laid a generation ago, when Balavender, Behnke and Gombotz earned physical therapy degrees at Quinnipiac and went to work for Balavender’s older brother, Hank, a 1974 Quinnipiac alumnus who owned a physical therapy practice in Farmington, Connecticut.

Today, Alan Balavender is president of Physical Therapy & Sports Medicine Centers with 18 locations across the state, and Gombotz works for Select Physical Therapy as its regional director of operations for 35 offices in Connecticut. LeBlanc and Behnke work in medical malpractice insurance for Integro Insurance Brokers as principals. 

“The intimacy of the school and the opportunity to make lifelong friends was huge,” Balavender said.

For LeBlanc, who earned a public relations degree, the chance to buy into Waypoint Spirits was too good to pass up.

“When people ask me what I do, I don’t say I’m an insurance guy,” LeBlanc said. “I like to tell them I own a distillery.”

Read the full story in Quinnipiac Magazine in August.