Philadelphia distillers, tired of being among the city’s best-kept secrets, this spring banded together and formed the Philadelphia Distillery Trail for craft-spirits enthusiasts.
Traci Browne, co-owner of Rowhouse Spirits, led the effort. Inspired by similar trails around the country, she designed a website (phillydistillerytrail.com) to allow easy exploration of the region’s craft-spirits scene.
Most distilleries already were operating tours as a way to connect with customers, but collaborating on a website gave the distilleries more visibility.
“Craft spirits, just like craft beer, it’s a rising tide against the big, bad conglomerates of the world,” said Federal Distilling co-owner Matt Quigley.
Each distillery has a distinct atmosphere and approach, and together they offer a diverse collection of spirits. From vodka to gin, rum to whiskey, there is something for everyone.
1. Mountain Laurel Spirits
925 Canal St., Building #4, Door 16 Bristol
The trail map starts here, a stone’s throw from the Bristol SEPTA station, at the home of Dad’s Hat Pennsylvania Rye. Owners John Cooper and Herman Mihalich opened the distillery six years ago to fulfill a dream of bringing rye back to Pennsylvania. Saturday tours include tastings of the rye and special batches available only at the distillery. Before continuing on, Cooper and Mihalich suggest visiting the Bristol riverfront or picking up an Italian hoagie at Mazzanti’s.
MUST DRINK: The Bristol Mule, with rye and ginger beer.
2. Red Brick Craft Distillery
2628 Martha St., Philadelphia
Tours of this distillery, which uses Pennsylvania barley, come with a tasting of its Sugar Wash Rum, Single Malt Whiskey, and Barrel Strength Whiskey. In addition to the neighborhood distilleries, co-owner Brian Forrest also suggests checking out local bars such as Martha, which carries many local spirits. “You could do a distillery trail at Martha bar.”
MUST DRINK: The bar offers tastings and classic cocktails. Forrest recommended his favorite, an Old Fashioned.
3. Rowhouse Spirits Distillery
2440 Frankford Ave., Philadelphia
Wrapped in a painting of barrels from Mural Arts Philadelphia, Rowhouse is hard to miss. Co-owner Dean Browne usually can be found behind the bar serving spirits and answering questions, the distilling room visible through windowpanes that divide the space. Visitors also can stop at the nearby Greensgrow Farms to see the source of the botanicals used in the gin.
MUST DRINK: Five dollars for three half-ounce tastes. The gin and Aquavit are popular, but the adventurous may want to try the Poitín or the coffee liqueur made from ReAnimator beans.
4. Federal Distilling
1700 N. Hancock St., Philadelphia
Federal focuses on one product: Stateside Urbancraft Vodka. Owners Matt and Bryan Quigley transformed the former abandoned warehouse into a roomy distillery and stylish tasting room with craft cocktails and a full-service kitchen. The $10 tour comes with a shot. After, try a cocktail and flatbread, eat at one of the neighborhood restaurants, or visit the BYOB Keystone Mini Golf and Arcade next door.
MUST DRINK: Try the All Inclusive, a jalapeno-infused vodka margarita, or the Cleanse, a cocktail with lemon and mint.
5. Philadelphia Distilling
25 East Allen St., Philadelphia
Philadelphia Distilling, the first Pennsylvania distillery since Prohibition, is the birthplace of Bluecoat American Dry Gin. In its new space by The Fillmore in Fishtown, visitors can watch distillery operations through large windows behind the bar. Tours, complete with samples in a fourth-floor tasting room with sweeping city views, often sell out and are best booked in advance.
MUST DRINK: Penn’s Woods, with citrus and herbs, or the Dutch Courage, made with barrel-finished gin.
6. Cooper River Distillers
34 N. Fourth St., Camden
Housed in a garage near City Hall, this distillery may be in New Jersey, but it’s only minutes from Philadelphia via PATCO or the RiverLink Ferry. Sip drinks and crunch on local K-Z pickles at the bar, take a free tour, or settle in on the couch. Check out waterfront attractions such as the Battleship New Jersey before heading home.
MUST DRINK: “I think our Petty’s Island Rum really shines in a mojito,” owner James Yoakum said.
7. Palmer Distilling Company
376 Shurs Lane, Philadelphia
Cross the city to Manayunk, where the W.P. Palmer Distilling Company sits a few blocks off Main Street in an old textile mill with whitewashed brick and clerestory windows. Palmer’s Liberty Gin is the star, but the more elusive Manayunk Moonshine is also available behind the bar. Tours are free and informal, and the space also hosts art exhibits and live music.
MUST DRINK: The cocktail of the day, often a gin and tonic, or the Liberty Lemonade, a cucumber, lemon, and gin concoction.
8. Five Saints Distilling
129 E. Main St., Norristown
Mere blocks from the SEPTA station, Five Saints Distilling is housed in a 180-year-old firehouse that owner John George transformed into a distillery and bar in July 2016. The “grain to glass” operation started with vodka and expanded into white whiskey, Savory Tuscan Gin and a blood-orange liqueur. Tours include a look at the distilling process as well as the history of the building. Later this year, George plans to turn the upper floors into a restaurant.
MUST DRINK: The Moscow Mule, American Mule or Tuscan Mule, each made with a different Five Saints spirit.
9. Boardroom Spirits Distillery
575 W. Third St., Lansdale
Housed in a former fire-sprinkler factory, Boardroom Spirits was started by three owners with a background in business. The distillery produces gin, vodka and naturally flavored vodka, as well as unique spirits distilled from beets and carrots. A free weekend tour tells all about the process and comes with tastings.
MUST DRINK: Tasting the vegetable spirits is strongly encouraged, and there is a cocktail menu of 20 options, including the Beetle Gin and Juice.
10. Thistle Finch Distillery
417 West Grant St., Lancaster
In a former tobacco warehouse in the center of Lancaster, Thistle Finch makes rye, white rye, gin, black pepper and black coffee-flavored whiskeys. Take a tour or hang out at the cocktail bar frequented by locals and visitors alike. While in town, Martin also suggests checking out the famous Central Market.
MUST DRINK: Martin’s favorite is the Pop Deluxe, made with the black pepper whiskey, vanilla-flavored root beer and bitters.