Gin and Juice: Philadelphia Distilling Company Opens Its Doors to Community
Last week, the Philadelphia Distilling Company (PDC) opened the doors to their new Fishtown distillery and became the newest piece in the continuously expanding entertainment district surrounding the former Ajax Iron Works building.
“There’s kind of a whole entertainment district that has emerged over the past two years, in Fishtown, but in a new part of Fishtown that hasn’t been used in 50 or 60 years,” Andrew Auweerda, owner and distiller at the PDC, said. The new facility is next door to the Fillmore and Revolutions and across from Punch Line Philly along Allen St. The new building will be the new home base for all their products.
According to Auweerda, the distillery has made a large-scale expansion to their operation. “We’ve tripled the size of our distillery and production facility,” Auweerda said. In addition to a larger production facility, the PDC also added a 2,500-square-foot cocktail bar where visitors can enjoy some featured cocktails, all while gazing at the giant tanks through a giant window. “Over the shoulder of the bartender is a massive two and a half story high window,” Auweerda said.
The PDC was founded in 2005 and, according to Auweerda, they were one of the first companies to open a distillery in Pennsylvania in a very long time. “We started the first distillery in PA since prohibition in 2006,” Auweerda said.
Since then, their flagship spirit, Bluecoat American Dry Gin, has won best gin at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Meanwhile, Vieux Carre, their version of Absinthe, has won several gold awards itself. The PDC also distributes to 42 states and maintains friendly relationships with many of the local Riverwards businesses serving their spirits.
According to Auweerda, several years ago, the laws regarding retail sale at distilleries were changed in Pennsylvania. The revision allowed distilleries to be able to sell their products on site and to also be allowed to operate a cocktail bar on the premises.
The PDC’s old facility in Northeast Philadelphia didn’t have a front of house, so giving the public a place to purchase and sample their spirits on site was a major factor when deciding where to move the operation. “It basically took me this long to find the right location and build a distillery,” Auweerda said. “A big part of what we’re trying to do is get people to see our production facility and enjoy our spirits right where we make them.”
Auweerda also sees the bar as a place to test small batches of new spirits. “The distillers have to have a passion for something — they certainly do for whiskey — and that will be coming down the line,” Auweerda said. “This cocktail bar is a great room for us to make up a batch or two and see our work revealed.”
Spirit News was invited to check out the new facility on Thursday, February 16th. We took a tour of the facility with co-owner and distiller Aaron Selya. According to Selya, an average batch of Bluecoat takes 11 hours to make and produces 1,300 bottles. The Bluecoat Gin comes out at a boozy 158-proof. It’s then blended with purified water to get it to a comfortable 94-proof. That purified water is also local.
“It all starts as city tap water,” Selya said, adding that the PDC is about a month away from having Fishtown-produced Bluecoat on the shelves.
Selya says the new production gear will allow them to make new spirits. “All the new toys — the new still, all the wooden fermenters, the mash tun — are all for whiskey production for the future,” Aaron Selya said. “We haven’t settled on a style yet, but we’ve done a lot of test distillations. As a company, it’s sort of a toss-up between bourbon, rye and malt whiskey.”
Selya says the distillers are paying attention to creating a sustainable product. “Everyone wants to see all the whiskey in Pennsylvania made with grain grown in Pennsylvania,” Selya said.
As you step into the Philadelphia Distilling Company’s cocktail bar, the room opens up to a warm space with windows to the outside and a massive window looking onto the enormous tanks where all the Bluecoat is made. The super tall ceilings make the 2,500-square-foot bar seem small, but the couches and barrel tables make plenty of space to post up and enjoy one of their delicious cocktails.
We sampled a few of the cocktails. The PDC’s take on the classic gin drink Gimlet uses Bluecoat and freshly squeezed lemon. It’s super simple and very refreshing. Another good cocktail we sampled was the Library Co., which features Bluecoat Barrel Finished Gin. This cocktail uses bitter aperitif, balsamic, house rouge and orange. The taste was unique and reminded me of an Old Fashioned. The barrel-aged gin really shines through and you can taste the wood in the cocktail.
Our favorite cocktail was called Penn’s Woods. This cocktail uses regular Bluecoat and artfully mixes in dill, basil, coriander, lemon and club soda. The drink is green, and a sprig of dill is carefully attached to the rim of the glass with a tiny brown clothespin, giving the appearance of foliage on top of your drink. The herbs all come together in the cocktail and your nose catches a hit of the dill each time you take a sip.
According to Auweerda, the PDC also wants to offer space to non-profit events on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays as a way to give back to organizations in the community. He hopes to have one to two events per week.
Auweerda sees Fishtown as the best place for the distillery to be.
“Fishtown is a real up-and-coming fun neighborhood with a maker community,” Auweerda said. “It was pretty exciting to be part of revitalizing an area of Philadelphia super close to Old City, the Liberty Bell and the historic parts, but far away enough so we can have our distillery and also be in a neighborhood.”