Stay Everwild: Local couple brings bourbon and more to downtown Sandusky

When Rick Lynch and Gia Gennari-Lynch founded Everwild Spirits in 2020, they wanted to make bourbon that was more than a product sold on grocery store shelves.

They envisioned their distillery having an inviting and modern lounge and tasting room full of people chatting and sipping what would become Everwild's award-winning bourbon and craft cocktails.

“We wanted to build a brand and offer an experience,” Rick says. “It's cozy and comfortable. You want people to feel like they can come, relax and take their time.”

Since their lounge and distilling room opened July 1 in downtown Sandusky, they have accomplished that goal.

On many nights, the lounge is packed with customers relaxing and chatting in the cozy large booths, on the plush blue velvet couches and comfortable, modern chairs arranged in clusters while sipping cocktails crafted with Everwild's signature bourbons.

The Lynches decided to open their own business after the financial company Rick helped to found sold to a larger company, and they knew they wanted their venture to be in Sandusky. Gia is native of the city, and Rick is from nearby Norwalk.

After considering several ideas, they settled on bourbon distilling. They enjoy bourbon and thought a distillery would be a good fit for the area, in part because many top cities with amusement parks also had distilleries. The couple also has a family connection to the distilling business.

Rick's great-great grandfather, John Kennedy Lynch, was a whiskey distiller from 1880 until Prohibition in 1920 in Oswego, New York. His picture and an advertisement for his Gold Wedding Fine Rye Whiskey hang on the wall in the lounge entrance.

“I grew up hearing my grandfather talking about his grandfather and the family business,” Rick says. “That was just kind of like family lore. At times, my wife said, “Wouldn't that be cool to get that going again?'”

In 2020, they began barreling, bottling and storing bourbon in their warehouse in Huron. It takes at least two years to age bourbon, and the couple believes aging it for four years gives better, more complex flavor.

“The fun of tasting it at year four is exciting to me,” says Gia, who Rick calls Everwild's chief tasting officer.

Until their own bourbon is ready, they are using sourced bourbon and adding their own blends of rye and wheat to create their own unique Everwild bourbons.

Their first offering was Seekers Straight Bourbon Whiskey, a four-grain blend of corn, barley, wheat and rye. Most bourbons are three-grain, Rick says.

“It's a really excellent bourbon, and we're not having to compete with a lot of other products,” he says. “There's not a lot available.”

Judges at the 2022 World Wine and Spirits Competition in New York agreed, giving Seekers the silver medal, awarded for showing outstanding refinement, finesse and complexity. The award puts Everwild in the same level as some well-known Kentucky distilleries, such as Blanton's.

Everwild's second bourbon was Seekers Toasted Oak Cask Finished Bourbon Whiskey, which is aged four years in a charred-oak barrel like all bourbon but then transferred to a toasted oak cask for another 60 days to add more flavor.

“You're going to get more of that sweetness,” Rick says of using the toasted oak cask. “It's a little bit lighter, almost a nuttier oak taste.”

Next, Everwild is working on a wheat bourbon that it plans to release Dec. 1. The Lynches love to see the reactions of customers who enjoy their bourbon.

“I think they're pleasantly surprised,” Rick says. “I think they're a little startled at how good it is. I've heard people say 'It's better than some of the top bourbons out there.'”

Everwild bourbon is sold in 45 area restaurants, he says. They are also used in the popular cocktails the distillery sells in its lounge.

The honey vanilla bourbon sour and strawberry basil bourbon smash were huge sellers over the summer, and Everwild's fall menu of bourbon cocktails with cinnamon and cider have also been very popular.

The lounge itself, at 212 Hancock St., is a destination. Located in a historic building that housed car dealerships, an auto shop and other ventures over the years, the lounge showcases some of the historic parts of the building, such as an exposed brick wall, while giving it a totally modern makeover. Updated wood paneling lines many of the walls, and the whole building is spotlessly clean.

Everwild owners Rick and Gia Gennari-Lynch

Gia's brother, Jude Gennari, partnered with the couple on the business and brought his 25 years of restaurant experience to manage Everwild's food service side.

The food is divided into “befores,” flatbread pizzas and appetizers, and “afters,” delectable desserts, including bourbon pie and a chocolate truffle flight. Everything pairs with Everwild's bourbon and cocktails. Every Friday and Saturday, Everwild features live music in the lounge.

When the Lynches were selecting a name for their distillery, they wanted to continue the modern theme.

“There are a lot of bourbons named after an old dead guy or a place,” Rick says. “We didn't necessarily want to copy those approaches.”

Instead, the fun aspects of Sandusky and the people who enjoy the area were the inspiration for Everwild.

“People come here to fish, to boat and go to the beach, to visit Cedar Point and just to get away from their everyday lives,” he says.””Everwild is meant to capture the spirit of the vacationland area.”

Everwild also has a spirit of collaboration with other local and Ohio businesses. Its products are as representative as possible of Ohio, from the charred oak barrels bought from Speyside Bourbon Cooperage in Jackson to grains from local farms used in the spirits to the bottle labels made by Label Aid in Huron.

The distillery has also partnered with local breweries CLAG Brewing Company and Saucy Brew Works by giving them used bourbon barrels to create bourbon barrel aged beer.

The Lynches credit the City of Sandusky and Erie County Economic Development Corporation for helping Everwild become established in the city and by making the process for necessary permits easily navigable.

“Gia and I love that we are adding to the variety of options in downtown Sandusky,” Rick says. “We love contributing to that momentum that is kind of getting people excited, getting rejuvenated, growing and expanding.”

Everwild is an important addition to business and tourism in Sandusky, says Chris Lewis, Marketing and Sales Director for Shores and Islands Ohio. In addition to becoming a favorite with locals and regular visitors, it could draw new visitors to the area.

“Once they visit the establishment, they now have an incentive to keep exploring our destination and discover all that there is to do in Shores and Islands Ohio,” Lewis says. “Everwild is also a great example of how local businesses are transforming the area into a year-round destination.”

Kristina Smith is a writer and photographer based in Port Clinton. A graduate of Eastern Michigan University, she writes for various publications in Ohio. She is the author of the local history book "Lost Sandusky" and co-author of a book about Ohio creature legends and ghostly tales that is scheduled to be published by The History Press next year. Follow her on Twitter at @kristinasmithNM. Send her story ideas at [email protected]