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Showing posts from June, 2017

Twin Valley Distillers: A Crazy Costa Rican Making Whiskey in Maryland

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I don't know what kind of conversation I've walked in on when I stop by Twin Valley Distillers in Rockville, MD on a Sunday afternoon, but it sure is lively. The culprit, I will later learn, is owner/distiller Edgardo Zuniga. Edgardo fashions himself an expert on a number of topics: distilling, Maryland history, snazzy tropical shirts. But if you really want to see him get riled up, ask him the difference between two random Caribbean cultures. That's what he and a group of black folks are heatedly discussing at the bar, when I walk in.

I don't even think anyone notices me at first. I grab a chair on the far end and listen. One of the ladies -apparently of Haitian heritage- is arguing how Haitians are the most mistreated group among the Caribbean. In fairness, she admits partial blame. They are also the most proud. Edgardo goes on about how most Costa Ricans don't even think of themselves as Latino, until they get to the US, of course, and are lumped in with all th…

Thistle Finch Distillery: Great Spirits Made in Amish Country

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"Amish Country," as most of Lancaster County, PA is called, can often feel like a different country. Or more accurately, it can feel like suburban/rural America has been taken over by time travelers from the past. Their high-tech vehicles: black horse-drawn buggies with a giant reflective triangle stuck to the back.  If you're driving in Central Pennsylvania and suddenly hit an out-of-nowhere traffic jam, one of these buggies is probably the culprit - clomping along at 20 mph at the front of the line.
Besides rolling farms, Lancaster County offers a cute capital city of the same name. Think of tidy redbrick row houses and wood porches, laid out in a grid. In what was once an industrial/warehouse section of this city stands Thistle Finch Distillery. Specifically, the building it inhabits was once a tobacco warehouse from the turn of the 20th Century. (And most recently, recording studios for local 90s rock band, Live. The band has since retreated to the very top floor, w…

It's always a party at Bluebird Distilling

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As much as I enjoy the spirits at Bluebird Distilling in Phoenixville, PA, the impression that sticks with me the most is the sheer graciousness of bartenders Mike and Matt. The first time I show up, I'm optimistic. It's 4:30pm on a Wednesday. The sign on Bluebird's door tells me they do not open until 5. The small parking lot out front is still roped off. I peer through the distillery/bar's ginormous windows and see movement inside. Then the sign: "Closed for a private event."



I walk in and see that the movement I saw from outside is Mike and Matt, cleaning glasses and setting up their respective stations.  Mike tells me he'd be happy to pour me some samples over the next half hour, but by 5pm I'd have to skeedoot. I consider this as I look around the bar: leather sofas worthy of an oligarch's library, a separate room of picnic tables surrounded by full barrel ricks, and on the wall behind the bar, a blackboard full of cocktails, grouped by base…

Karaoke to Wake the Dead at Five Saints Distilling

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"Karaoke Night". There are more dreaded two-word phrases in the English language. As far as what you'd want to put on a chalkboard out front of your business, "free colonics" could probably draw in more people, if only out of curiosity.
I sit at the bar at Five Saints Distilling in Norristown, PA, waiting for John George, co-owner and distiller, to wrap up his five-song set. It's not a bad turnout for 6pm on a Friday. What gets me through some pretty iffy Elton John is bartender, Ben. As a bartender should be, he's a very outgoing guy. He has the look of a linebacker. Sure enough, he confirms he was en route to play in college but suffered a car accident and hasn't been able to play since. There are many perks to being a standout high school athlete in a small town like this. Where everyone knows you and your travails, there will follow plenty of offers to help. In Ben's case, John offered him a job behind the bar.
As Ben pours me a sampling of Fi…