What are you doing on February 17, 2042? If you happen to have the date available, mark it down for the 25th anniversary celebration of Philadelphia Distilling’s new Fishtown location.
If you have a moment before that, the gorgeous new distillery and cocktail lounge next to the Fillmore is worth a visit.
After launch on Monday, Feb. 20, the sleek marble bar will be open to the public four days a week, Thursday through Sunday. People who visit before or after a show or for one of the day’s scheduled distillery tours can order cocktails made with house spirits and local ingredients by a staff of enthusiastic bartenders — all of whom seem extremely pumped to be slinging drinks in a place where they can actually help craft the ingredients.
“The other day we were wishing we had a certain kind of amaro to work with,” said head bartender Canyon Shayer, who described the eight custom drink recipes on the opening menu as a collaborative effort from the whole staff.
“Then [head distiller] Aaron [Selya] heard us talking and was like, ‘Oh, you need that amaro? I’ll make it for you.’”
In the decade since PD founder Andrew Auwerda and partners battled their way through outdated code and wrested the state’s first distilling license since prohibition from the PLCB, the market has become increasingly competitive. Craft distilleries have popped up across the region and even throughout the city, crowding the “local spirits” marketplace.
But sales of PD’s signature brand, Bluecoat Gin, have remained strong. And the recent infusion of capital that allowed for the outfitting of the luxurious tasting room that fronts the 15,000-square-foot space just off Frankford Avenue also provided for a huge equipment upgrade.
Instead of one copper Forsyth still from Scotland, there are now two, the second nearly twice the size of the first. Along with a row of four, 800-gallon wood fermenters by local builders Hall-Woolford, plus racks upon racks of huge oak barrels that tower two stories overhead, that means Philadelphia Distilling will soon be getting into whiskey production.
Selya has already proven his whiskey game is tight.
He has a background in brewing, so he knows how to source and handle grain. And last month, in collaboration with Yards Brewing Co. he made a very limited edition of a whiskey out of spent malt from the nearby brewery. The resulting spirit, dubbed “Tough Broad,” was excellent — and sold out almost immediately.
More whiskey is surely coming. As soon as Selya and co-distiller Ryan Scheswohl get Bluecoat production up and running again, they’ll start work on the brown stuff.
For now, the drinks made with other PD products are plenty enticing, especially those that incorporate Bluecoat Barrel-Finished Gin.
The Library Co. uses that wood-enhanced juniper spirit as the base for a seductive twist on a Negroni, with house vermouth, bitter aperitif and a spoonful of balsamic vinegar.
On the lighter side is the Penn’s Woods, which matches regular Bluecoat with a syrup of dill, basil and coriander, sparked by lemon juice and finished with a splash of soda and a sprig of fresh dill (see top photo). Other cocktails make use of Penn 1681 Rye Vodka and Vieux Carre Absinthe Superieure. Most are made with hand-cracked ice, and prices range from $8 to $12.
You can also pick up whole bottles of the stuff at the retail store by the entranceway to the PD complex, along with branded shirts and bags and other cool swag. (You’ll notice a logo medallion in the floor by the register — that’s the time capsule, to be opened at that 25th anniversary party scheduled for 2042.)
Four stories up, accessed by an elevators whose shaft is wrapped in Bluecoat patterning, is an event space with exposed brick walls and sweeping views of the Ben Franklin Bridge through wrought-iron windows.
Back on the ground floor, there’s space to add a kitchen for catering (the hood is already installed), and later this year, there will also be a patio built out along the side of the building, available for parties or just regular bar customers.