Spirited cooperation at area brewpubs and distillers

Holding a Faber Gin, Sloe Gin Fizz, Beth Fox Brown, general manager of the taproom at St. Benjamin Brewing Co. in Kensington, stocks the gamut of Pennsylvania spirits, thanks to last summer' liquor-law changes that allowed Pennsylvania limited wineries, brew pubs, and distillers to sell each other's products for on-premise consumption.

Creative spirits in Pennsylvania brewpubs and distilleries are reveling in a new law that allows them to serve each other's products.

Beth Fox Brown, taproom manager at Saint Benjamin Brewing Co., for example, dove right into stocking the bar at the brewpub on the edge of Kensington in North Philadelphia.

"I didn't want people to come to the bar and miss Jack Daniels or Captain Morgan," said Fox Brown, who is happy to offer Pennsylvania bourbon and spiced rum, instead. 

"It was kind of a really fun thing because you can't get certain things in Pennsylvania. I learned how to make sweet vermouth because we wanted good Manhattans," Fox Brown said. To make vermouth, she used a Bancroft Cellars Chambourcin wine from Penns Woods Winery in Chadds Ford and Amaro herbal liquor from Pennsylvania Pure Distilleries in near Pittsburgh.

Saint Benjamin, whose taproom and brewery are in the carriage house and stables of the defunct Theo. Finkenauer Lager Beer Co., has spirits from about 20 Pennsylvania distillers in stock, Fox Brown said.

The legal changes that allowed Pennsylvania brewpubs, which were already selling Pennsylvania wine, to serve Pennsylvania spirits were part of a law that brought major changes to the state's alcoholic beverage landscape, including wine sales in supermarkets, direct wine shipping, and longer Sunday hours for state stores.

Some brewpubs and distillers have embraced their new freedoms, but it is not so clear how the changes will play out among wineries, beyond those that have an events business and now can more easily offer beer and liquor.

"I've already heard from distilleries and breweries who have contacted us about selling their products. I can tell you that they are pretty happy about it," said Anthony Vietri, who owns Vala Vineyards in Avondale.

"It's not something we're looking into doing. My feeling is for us, it's better to stay focused" on our product, Vietri said. "I know that doesn't apply to everybody."

At Bluebird Distilling in Phoenixville, owner and distiller Jared Adkins has not only expanded sales of his bourbon, gin, rye, and other spirits through numerous brewpubs and taprooms, including Saint Benjamin, he has also welcomed beer and wine into his cocktail bar.

"We are blending wine and beer into cocktails. We're using a local wine to mimic a Manhattan," Adkins said, naming wines from A'Dello Vineyard & Winery in Perkiomenville and Black Walnut Winery in Sadsbury Township. Adkin said he has been using beers from Levante Brewing in West Chester and Neshaminy Creek in Bristol Township.

Scott Rudich, the owner of Round Guys Brewing Co. in Lansdale, said he took advantage of the new law right away and has worked closely with Boardroom Spirits, also in Lansdale, Cardinal Hollow Winery in West Point, and others.

"We're very much in a blue-collar area, so we still have a lot of that traditional —  he likes beer, she likes mixed drinks. He's dragged her to a brewpub to try all the beers, and she just wants her vodka and cranberry or rum and coke," Rudich said.

The focus at Round Guys remains on beer, which accounts for more than 90 percent of sales, Rudich said, but he is clearly having fun collaborating.

A new effort involves a local coffee roaster, Backyard Beans.

"I'm a huge fan of Black Russians and White Russians," Rudich said, but he cannot  buy Kahlúa because no one in Pennsylvania makes it.

"My only choice is to infuse coffee into the vodka and add some simple syrup to make Kahlúa and then that's our take on the Black Russian," Rudich said.

"It's creating more of a craft within the industry."