Anthony Piscazzi’s local, handcrafted, small-batch spirits are making a big splash in Northeast Ohio

Anthony Piscazzi’s new Towpath Distillery is rooted in family lore. During Prohibition his Italian immigrant ancestors were successful bootleggers in the Akron area. (Photography: Payton Burkhammer)

By Mitch Allen

Anthony Piscazzi, founder of the popular The Merchant Tavern, in Akron’s Merriman Valley, has quite the pedigree. His great-uncle John “The Merch” Piscazzi was the founder of Akron’s beloved The Wine Merchant, while his great-grandmother prepped for the restaurant in her Italian home kitchen. In high school, Anthony bussed tables for Liberty Street Brewing Company’s legendary Dave Russo, who spent 13 years working in famous New Orleans restaurants learning from big names like Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse.

And just after Anthony’s Italian ancestors emigrated penniless from southern Italy to Akron in 1917, Prohibition began, so the industrious new arrivals suddenly became “entrepreneurs.”

“They were bootleggers,” Anthony smiles. “And there are so many family stories. They had stills spread around different houses in Akron where they vented them up the chimney so nothing seemed suspicious. And they had more stills is barns in places like Orrville.”

After Prohibition, Anthony’s great- grandparents, aunts and uncles became upstanding citizens, creating a better life for their families, their neighbors and their descendants—like Anthony.

“I feel a tremendous amount of gratitude for my family,” Anthony says. “They took great risks, coming here with nothing and working so hard. My great-grandfather came through Ellis Island and would carry his shoes so he didn’t scuff them before job interviews. Everything I do is to honor my family, and that includes the distillery.”

Towpath Distillery produces rum, bourbon, gin, vodka and specialty small batches.

The Distillery
Leveraging the success of The Merchant Tavern, in 2019 Anthony began researching distillation and spent time working in a distillery in New Orleans to learn the ropes. When he came home, he launched Towpath Distillery.

“When Covid hit, we had to close the restaurant,” Anthony says. “But that gave us time to dedicate exclusively to constructing the distillery.”

Towpath Distillery, which is located inside The Merchant Tavern adjacent to the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath, is now producing four different spirits—bourbon, vodka, gin and rum—along with seasonal batches like Red Wine Barrel Bourbon and Holiday Spiced Rum, both of which will likely be sold out by press time.

Towpath Vodka, Anthony says, is produced mostly from Ohio corn and Ohio fruits, and distilled six times. The vodka has already won a gold medal from the blind tasting organization The 50 Best, based in Manhattan.

“As a small producer handcrafting small batches, we can pay close attention to every detail of the process. That’s how you create a high-quality product,” says Towpath head distiller David Sheffer, who served as assistant wine maker for a popular Napa winery, and cut his teeth as a sales rep for a wine barrel manufacture.

Towpath Bourbon is made from corn, rye, and barley sourced from throughout Ohio, the Ohio River Valley and other parts of the Midwest. “Our barrels are Appalachian American oak,” Anthony adds, “but our goal is to experiment with different types of oak and different mash bills. We want to be known for creating a variety of different bourbons and whiskeys.”

Towpath head distiller David Sheffer.

The Towpath Bourbon style is full-bodied and full-flavored. “We create bourbons that are great in a cocktail, but also great served neat. That requires layers of flavor and complexity.”

Towpath Gin uses the vodka base with the addition of nine different macerated botanicals, like juniper, citrus, cinnamon, anise and various root compounds.

Towpath Rum, which is in its infancy, features a high-grade molasses out of Florida. “It’s a silver rum three times hot distilled,” Anthony says. “And we’re beginning to add barrels for our aging program. There is so much more to come.”

Where To Find It
You can usually find Towpath Distillery spirits at these locations (or inquire at your favorite store):

• Corkscrew Johnny’s (Richfield)
• Buehler’s (Medina)
• Buehler’s – North Court Beverage (Medina)
• Acme (Montrose, West Akron, Hudson, Tallmadge)
• Giant Eagle (Wadsworth, North Canton, Uniontown, Stow, Cuyahoga Falls)
• Lake’s Beverage (Akron)
• Silver Spirits Liquor (Akron)
• Lakemore Wine & Liquor (Akron)
• Royal Park Fine Wine & Liquor Agency (North Royalton)
• Downtown Liquor (Cleveland)

Towpath Distillery spirits are available at the locations listed in the sidebar on this page and at the distillery, which is located inside The Merchant Tavern, 1824 Merriman Road, in Akron. For more information, visit