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Showing posts from May, 2017

Cooper River Distillers: an island of craft emerges in Camden

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On it's website, Cooper River Distillers in Camden, NJ, plays up a sliver of land in the middle of the Delaware River, Petty's Island, as the namesake for its flagship rum.  Although I have crossed the Delaware many times, I have never noticed an island. Similarly, I'm sure many people seek out Philly's craft spirit and beer scene without realizing there is a perfectly proficient distillery just across the river.

Ben, one of the distillers at Cooper River, is a bit apprehensive when I show up one Saturday morning. It's looking like he's going to turn me away. He says he is the only one there and he can't do a tasting. Clearly, wires are getting crossed somewhere. We end up chatting as Ben goes about his tasks. It gets noisy every now and again, but the place is small enough -think a hangar for a commuter jet; or better, the former auto body shop it was- for us to shout.

Ben is not too long out of college and has a pretty interesting background. In his juni…

Philadelphia Distilling: all Shiny and New

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I show up at Philadelphia Distilling after a slog through most of the city's distilleries. Luckily, they are all within a couple miles of each other in an already-up-and-came area called Fishtown. It just goes to show how randomly the gentrification gods work. When I was growing up in New Jersey and would visit relatives in the suburbs of Philadelphia, the only cool area of the city I knew of was South Street. That consisted of a couple blocks of punk t-shirt shops and a tree completely covered in wads of gum.

Fishtown is tucked away northeast of downtown, abutting the Delaware River. As you can imagine from its name and location, old factories and warehouses abound. Into one of these hulking brick buildings has moved Philadelphia Distilling. Its neighbors are a comedy club and a casino.

Walking into the distillery feels like entering the lobby of a luxury apartment building. It has an awning extending out to the street, which leads me to the glassed-in vestibule/gift shop.  I…

Red Brick Craft Distillery: This is not your summer camp birch beer

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I can't say I know Brian Forrest, distiller and owner of Red Brick Craft Distillery in Philadelphia, that well. But I've always believed you get a glimpse of people's true selves in how they handle life's bumps, big or small. For Brian, on this sweltering April afternoon, it's a delivery several hours late.

"It's like waiting for the fucking cable company," Brian quips, clearly out of frustration. He had just been on the phone with the truck driver for some time. I, in the meantime, sit there and wonder how many times I can inspect the back of the same label. Brian's unfazed. He knows I couldn't help but listen, so he fills me in right away. The delivery guy claims he came by earlier and for whatever reason couldn't get in. So he went to make other stops and will "try his best" to come back by 5pm. Brian has a newborn baby at home and his wife has been expecting him back for hours. Now that I think about it, I'm surprised no…

Running the Gauntlet at New Liberty Distilling

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I was not prepared for the sheer amount of spirits I'd find atNew Liberty Distillingin Philadelphia. Let's just say I'm happy I took the train.
I should have known something was up when I spot the mock Ted Cruz campaign bus parked in the back lot of the distillery.  I peer over the fence to get a better look. Along with a hand-painted monicker of "Low Energy," there are depictions of Donald Trump's minuscule hands and something called "Marco Rubio pops" - a flavor of icey, I'm guessing. So is Philadelphia where relics of the "resistance" come to rust?
Rob Cassell, owner and master distiller, later explains that the owner of the property, from whom they lease the building, is a political whacko. The bus was just one of his many protests incarnate during the past presidential campaign. The back lot of the distillery is the perfect size for it. Ok, moving right along to drinking.
I only get to meet Rob in passing. He is on his way out to a t…

Social Still Rises from the Rust

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Billy Joel's song "Allentown" can be misleading. The closing of steel mills and subsequent generalized despair are very true (and supposedly got our current president elected) but he is singing about Bethlehem, not neighboring Allentown. I guess not much rhymes with "Bethlehem."

My entry into town is fairly dramatic. The storm clouds have just begun to part as I round a corner on the freeway into town.  The first thing I notice are the hulking skeletons of the furnace stacks. I don't need to get closer to know they are the no-color of filthy water. But I do get closer, and the reality on the ground begins to shift. There are signs of a city coming back to life. Some of the ancient brick walls have freshly painted signs: vintage stores, a "pet resort," and the obligatory brewery or two.  

I pull up to Social Still before it's open. This gives me time to wander around the gardens of the Museum of Industrial History across the street (reclaimed …

Chad Butters is Bringing Back the Tradition of the Farmer Distiller, One Acre at a Time

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Visiting distilleries all over the country, I'm inadvertently learning a lot about US history. I don't mean facts such as the date of Washing crossing the Delaware (I've crossed over the Delaware River plenty of times, and have never thought it a particularly noteworthy achievement. Making it from Exit 1 on the New Jersey Turnpike to the interchange with the Parkway, however, in under two hours should be commemorated.) I mean more of what would be called "social history," or just how plain folks lived.
For instance, it's hard to imagine from the vantage of the present, but a century ago, the majority of people made their living from farming - or otherwise relied on it for food. What most people don't know -and I only learned from speaking with folks who've studied the history of distilling- is that farmers almost always had surplus crops that would spoil unless found another use. Fermenting and then distilling grains or fruit not only created an imperi…