Horse stalls still line the wood planks of the former stables behind Kensington’s Crane Arts Building. These days, instead of animals, they’re full of barrels holding something more valuable than livestock: Whiskey.
The historic 1906 building is a fitting home for New Liberty Distillery, whose signature Kinsey whiskey is fashioned after spirits from a liquor company founded in Pennsylvania back in 1870. Though the Kinsey brand was very popular in the early 1900s, winning medals at expositions across the nation, Prohibition hit it hard. The brand was revived after Repeal, but never became more than a regional name, and ceased production entirely in the 1970s. Kinsey labels became near-impossible to find.
Until Rob Cassell resurrected them.
Cassell is a Pennsylvania spirits pioneer. He was an original partner in Philadelphia Distilling, the company that was issued the first Pa. distilling license since Prohibition, and was the company’s master distiller. Bluecoat gin, the local favorite now found around the country, was his creation.
More recently, Cassell branched out with his own company, Millstone Spirits Group. He came up with a design for modular distilling equipment, created to facilitate small-scale, craft spirits-making, and the company sells this product to other distillers. But Cassell also loves hands-on work, so he also built his own distillery using the works.
New Liberty Distillery makes Kinsey rye, Kinsey 7 Year Old whiskey, cask strength versions of both and also two clear liquors — a rye vodka and a white whiskey. The brown spirits are available in select Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores and are served at dozens of Philly bars (Amis, The Fat Ham, Rex 1516, Bru Craft & Wurst, etc.).
But there’s an even better place to get your hands on them: At the distillery itself.
At the beginning of July, New Liberty launched tours and tastings. Each Saturday you can choose between a 1 PM or 3 PM start time and get a guided walk through the historic space. You’ll see the spirits being made, and then get to taste them (the basic $10 price includes three samples, pay $20 for a souvenir glass and additional premium tastes).
Here’s what to look forward to when you go.
A roll-up garage door opens onto the distillery main floor and reception area.
The booze gets made in a still designed by Cassell. The top part is modular, and can be swapped out for making different kinds of spirits.
If you’re lucky, you’ll get to taste the unaged spirit — hot and spicy, but still good.
Behind the still are rows of fermenters that get fed the yeast, grain and water that gets turned into the raw alcohol destined for distillation.
On the way upstairs is a bathroom that Bill Clinton once used as an impromptu dressing room during a Philadelphia visit. He may or may not have actually used the porcelain throne while he was there.
Barrels make their home throughout the second floor. They’re from several sources, having previously held Spanish sherry and various California wines, and range in size from 5 to 53 gallons.
All of the woodwork is original to the early 1900s. “Is it going to be strong enough to hold up all the barrels?” wondered Cassell when he first saw the space. The answer is a definitive yes.
Bottling also takes place on the second level, and it’s all done by hand.
On the third floor is a tasting room, complete with a bar and tables made from old whiskey barrels and reclaimed pallet wood.
Rob Cassell might even pour your tastes himself — with that much experience, you know he makes a killer drink.