It’s a boozy celebration! A visit to the Stateside Urbancraft Vodka distillery and a review of locally made whiskey & gin as part of Philly Craft Spirits Week in today’s special edition of Thymeline.
Philly Craft Spirits Week 2017
It’s no secret that craft distilling is on the rise in the United States. Evolving laws and the popularity of craft breweries have lead the way for local producers, both large and small across the country, to take root and find success. Pennsylvania is no exception, and the Philadelphia area is seeing more than its share of enterprising distilleries rise up and take notice in recent years.
Looking to showcase this amazing talent is Philly Craft Spirits Week (Oct. 26 – Nov. 3), presented by Foobooz and Philadelphia Magazine. In its second year running, events started last week and continue through this Friday, with participating companies hosting events and taking over restaurants throughout the city. It’s a great chance to try what Philly has to offer, but if you haven’t been able to make it out yourself, I did a little a footwork for you. Hopefully, you’ll be able to check out some of these amazing local distilleries on your own.
Stateside Urbancraft Vodka
This past Saturday, I had the pleasure of attending the Philly Craft Spirits Week Block Party at the Federal Distilling Room, home of Stateside Urbancraft Vodka. I knew I couldn’t make many PCSW events this week, and was excited to see that this daytime party would feature samples from several local distilleries. I’d also heard amazing things about Stateside, and was happy for the excuse to visit.
Located in northeast Philadelphia’s Olde Kensington district, the large industrial building has a lot of character, with their word mark proudly displayed in white and blue on the brick wall. Stateside has only been in operation for two years, but is already carried in over 600 venues. It’s had amazing growth in a short time, competing with some of the major vodka producers on the market.
In preparation for the event, the street next to the distillery entrance was blocked off to provide a nice outdoor gathering space, complete with a great DJ. We’d arrived on the early side, so things were a bit empty to start. Sam and I quickly spotted the whole roasted pig on display though, and began planning our lunch as we waited for activity to pick up. I adore pulled pork, and we ordered their pulled pork sandwich, a pair of pulled pork tacos, and a side of Mexican street corn to share. No lie, the food was incredible. The pork was perfectly marinated and, paired with sharp cheese and broccoli rabe, the sandwich was probably one of the best I’ve had in a long time.
Full and happy, we were ready to dive into the tastings. Paying homage to the venue, our first stop was the Stateside table, where Julia and Ashley introduced us to their seven-time distilled corn-based vodka. As a unique twist, it’s also blended with electrolytes. After a sip, we weren’t surprised by the vodka’s popularity. I don’t normally use a lot of vodka at home, due to the spirit’s usual lack of flavor. But this was different. With no burn and a subtle sweet flavor from the corn, I could imagine all sorts of cocktails elevated by the addition of the liquor.
Inside the tasting room, we had to opportunity to try just that. Between the two of us, Sam and I tried the ‘Friends with Benefits’ cocktail (vodka, pineapple juice, elderflower liquor, and champagne) and the ‘Ima Come At You Like A Cider Monkey’ (vodka, orange bitters, and housemade cider). Both were nicely made, and the bartender was marvelous. Needless to say, I’m a convert – I walked out of the bar with a bottle of Stateside and a t-shirt with their classy logo. We’ll definitely be back for a tour, and if that pulled pork is an example of their menu offerings, probably a bite to eat as well.
Philly Craft Spirits: A Mini Review of Whiskey & Gin
Of the eleven local craft distillers participating in PCSW, six (including Stateside) set up tables at the Stateside Block Party. Whiskey in all its forms made a strong appearance, with varieties from Bluebird Distilling, Dad’s Hat Pennsylvania Rye Whiskey, Manatawny Still Works, and New Liberty Distillery. Blue Coat American Gin (out of Philadelphia Distilling) had their Classic and Barrel Reserve versions (as well a big batch cocktail) to share, and Bluebird Distilling had a fabulous gin as well. While not present, The Revivalist Spirits, Red Brick Craft Distillery, and W.P. Palmer Distilling sent along samples of their craft spirits for the event as well
From everything I tried, each of these local distilleries deserve their own visit and full review once I get the chance. In the meantime, here are my highlights:
Best Showing: Aside from Stateside with a hometown advantage, Bluebird Distilling probably had the most impressive table. Not only did they have a poster-sized infographic of the distilling process that included tasting notes and info on their products, five (of the company’s ten) signature spirits were available for tasting. I love the graphic design of their labels, which were strikingly colorful when all lined up together. While a bit of a trek, I’m scheduling time to head out to Phoenixville, PA to visit their distillery as soon as possible.
Favorite New Whiskey Find: I think I’ve confirmed a suspected fondness for rye whiskey. Of all the whiskeys I tried at the event (and there were quite a few), I liked the simple mix-ability of Dad’s Hat Classic Rye and the smokiness of New Liberty’s Kinsey Rye the most. Runner Up: Bluebird Distilling’s American Single Malt Whiskey.
Most Unique Whiskey: I’m paraphrasing, but Dani (bartender and tour guide from New Liberty Distillery), said it best: people either love or hate New Liberty’s Dutch Malt Whiskey. I personally found the notes of bitter chocolate and coffee intriguing and delicious, but it’s not for everyone. Runner Up: Dad’s Hat Rye Whiskey Finished in Vermouth Barrels.
Favorite New Gin Find: Juniperus Gin by Bluebird Distilling had a full, balanced flavor unlike any gin I’ve had before. Sweet with notes of citrus and cucumber, it’s no wonder it’s won a number of accolades.
Most Unique Gin: I already knew I liked Bluecoat American Dry Gin, but I was taken aback by their more recently released Barrel Reserve. I’ll be honest – seeing it on shelves I thought the idea of finishing gin in oak barrels might just be a gimmick, but I was wrong. The spirit has an incredible smokiness, while still maintaining balanced juniper notes. It would mix equally well in both traditional gin and bourbon drinks for a special twist on a classic. Runner Up: DragonDance from The Revivalist Spirits.
All in all, experiencing so many amazing craft spirits and chatting with everyone who made the day possible was a true pleasure. I look forward to watching these businesses grow and supporting their work. Hopefully next year, Philly Craft Spirits Week will be an even bigger series of events!