Thursday, June 27, 2013

Philadelphia Distilling - Craft Distilling in the City of Brotherly Love (PA)

So, I was on my way to visit some friends in suburban Philadelphia when I dipped into a liquor store to see of I could purchase some local wines to bring home with me. While I was searching around, I came upon a table with a man sampling spirits from a local small craft distiller Philadelphia Distilling. The gentle pouring was excellent in promoting the product! Friendly. Knowledgeable.

With the help of two business partners, Master Distiller Rob Cassell turned his passion for spirits into the first thriving craft distillery in Pennsylvania since Prohibition.

First, in 2006, the company introduced the world to Bluecoat Gin, an award-winning floral spirit made from certified-organic botanicals and distinguished by its smooth finish. Its signature blue-glass bottle has become a fixture on the bar scene and is widely used by savvy bartenders.

The 8,000 square-foot, Northeast Philadelphia-based distillery has since followed up that early success with Penn 1681 Rye Vodka, a spirit made with organic local rye, and Vieux Carre Absinthe Supérieure, the first absinthe to be legally distilled, bottled and sold in the East Coast of the United States in 100 years. An emphasis on local ingredients has resulted in high-quality, affordable products which are available online, at PA state stores and at discerning liquor stores around the country.

Custom made of pure, hand-hammered copper, our pot still is the only one of its design and size in the world. Batch distilling using a pot still is the traditional method of distilling. By taking advantage of modern technologies, Philadelphia Distilling has been able to marry those traditional methods with cutting-edge design. Craft distilled spirits are made one batch at a time using a pot still. Philadelphia Distilling insists that they use only premium ingredients, and that their small batch process allows the Master Distiller to impart his individual creativity to the production of the spirit. Needless to say, their goal is to make spirits of the highest level, one small batch at a time.
XXX Shine Whiskey bottle
Unaged and hard edged, XXX Shine is a classic white Whiskey: a blend of hand selected American corn is distilled three times (XXX) in a copper pot still. High proof, yet surprisingly smooth, this Whiskey rocks! Rob has tried his best to blend the traditions of the backwoods with the talent and sophistication of the city to forge a truly exceptional spirit. Clean and with a punch, this whiskey was great by itself, or as a mixer for cool cocktails. I tried only the oriinal. Now there are two new XXX’s: Shine LiberTea and Shine Salted Caramel (which already sounds like it would be among my favorites).
Bluecoat American Dry Gin is distilled using this small batch process. Rob’s unique procedure calls for an extremely slow heating of the pot. This 10 hour process allows him to utilize their custom still design to most efficiently separate the impure alcohols from those he desires to bottle as the finished product. Only the small portions of our distillate that meet our purity requirements while matching the desired botanical flavors are collected for bottling. The rest of the distillate is discarded as impure. What has been collected for bottling is then blended with triple filtered water to 47% alcohol by volume, or 94 proof, then run through a spirit filter and tasted.
One of the most distinguishing features of Bluecoat American Dry Gin is the botanicals that are used to provide its complex flavoring. Only certified organic botanicals are used. While the specific recipe for Bluecoat American Dry Gin is a closely guarded secret, the one thing Rob stresses is their Juniper berry.  As with all gins, botanical flavoring starts with the juniper berry. Bluecoat American Dry Gin uses an organic juniper berry, which gives it more earthy, spicy characteristics. This organic berry is more plump than a traditional London Dry Gin juniper berry, with slightly different flavor characteristics.
The resulting gin is extremely aromatic and absolutely delicious! I have tried a number of small craft gins of late, but this was instantly among my favorites. This was sitting in ice when I got there along with the vodka, but again, just wasn't as cold as I would personally like for a martini for example. But since I loved this too, I was thrilled to imagine what this might taste like with a whiff of vermouth and three olives. Fantastic! 

Penn 1681 Rye vodka is made by Pennsylvania Distilling and meant--by virtue of the year in which King Charles II granted William Penn the land to create the "Commonwealth of Pennsylvania"--to pay homage to the founding of the state of Pennsylvania. It is made with organic rye selected from local farms. In Penn 1681 Rye Vodka the column still removes rough and undesirable alcohols, resulting in a smooth spirit. This vodka is carefully guided all the way from local Pennsylvania rye grains through the artisan distilling process and into bottles made locally from partially recycled glass. I though it was incredibly smooth at only slightly below room temperature. Cold or on the rocks, I can't imagine how lovely this vodka would be. Very elegant and light!

I wasn't able to taste the final product, but I thought I would pass along their tasting notes:
The French Quarter, locally known as Vieux Carré, is the soul of New Orleans, Louisiana. This city is replete with culture, architectural beauty and culinary arts. Philadelphia Distilling pays tribute to the unique and colorful history of Absinthe in New Orleans with the release of Vieux Carré Absinthe Supérieure. The first batch of Vieux Carré was released on December 31, 2008. It is the first legal absinthe to be distilled, bottled and sold on the east coast of the United States in nearly 100 years.
This was among the biggest finds of that weekend! I love Philadelphia Distilling. I loved all three products I tried, and came away desperately wanting a martini with their exquisite gin. When I later told a friend of mine from Philadelphia how impressed I was he nodded at me with a smug look. What? I asked. "I've been drinking it for years," he said with some attitude. "It's an excellent gin." Lucky bastard!