Autumn and Five Saints Distilling

Autumn and Five Saints Distilling

I’ve been out visiting distilleries throughout the summer, but I have no intention of stopping now that autumn is here. The cooler temperatures remind us that whiskey and spirits are warming and satisfying this time of year. It isn’t just good for the whiskey drinkers, it’s also a productive time of year for farmers and distillers.

Rye, winter wheat, and barley are go into the ground in September. Small grains, which are necessities in the creation of whiskey, need the short growth spurt in late September and October to establish themselves and anchor the soil (reducing erosion) before the frost causes the plants to go dormant. (They will return in full force in the spring for harvest in the summer.) The distillers are welcoming the lower temperatures that help to cool their fermenters more cost effectively and slow the barrel aging process. The seasonal change is one of the major influences on American whiskey’s distinctive character. That being said, it is the perfect time of year to get out and visit one of the many new distilleries popping up near you!img_0982

I finally made it out to Norristown, Pennsylvania’s Five Saint’s Distillery earlier this month. It’s wonderful to see them open and thriving in their beautifully historic landmark location. John George, the owner and distiller, moved into the Humane Fire Engine Company No. 1 building about a year ago. John is originally from upstate New York, but has lived in the area for over 20 years. His distilling interest stems from his experience as a pharmacist and his love for home brewing. After looking at a few locations for his distillery, the firehouse and its connection to the community and family made it an easy choice. The ground floor has been renovated without removing its unique, firehouse charm. The large engine entrance doors at the front of the building open to street on warmer days and accentuate the vastness of the space. img_0980The tasting room offers plenty of seating and the large copper topped img_0978bar runs the length of the room. History and photographs from the old firehouse adorn the walls along with helmets, antique fire equipment and award plaques. The still is visible through windows in the rear. img_1005I was eager to see it all first hand, and John was kind enough to show me around.img_0979

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Mashtuns

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3 Fermenters

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Top of the auger leading from the hammer mill to the top of the mashtun.

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Corn and rye

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Giovanni, the Carl pot still

The name Five Saints comes from the 5 fathers that raised and supported John throughout his life. “I wanted to name it Five Fathers, but that name is owned by Jim Beam. So, I figured these men were saints to put up with me growing up, so the name Five Saints stuck,” John explained. His own father passed away when John was young and the job of raising him fell to his three uncles, Joe, Bob and Ray and his mother’s partner, Giovanni. Each of these men’s portraits are displayed above the bar. Each piece of major distilling equipment is named after them as well. The flashy, 450 liter copper Carl still is named Giovanni who was a well coiffed and well dressed man. It is being used to make vodka and white whiskey now, but John has plans to age rye and bourbon in the future. He’s sourcing his corn locally from Bill Beam Farm (yes, one of those Beams) in Elverson, Pa.img_0990 The corn is ground in a RAD hammer mill on site into a fine flour which he loads into a 2100 liter stainless steel mashtun named Marcella, after his grandmother. The vodka is 100% corn based and the white whiskey is 75% corn with a balance of rye, also sourced from Bill Beam. The mash is then loaded into three 500 liter fermenters named Joe, Bob and Ray. After fermentation, the distiller’s beer is pumped into the still for distillation. The white dog passes quickly through a barrel before bottling so that it can legally be called white whiskey on the labels. Even the boiler in the basement is named Puff, after the dragon he remembers fondly from his childhood!

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The main room on the third floor at the front of the building will be converted into an event space.

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The second floor at the top of the stairs. Many trophies and historic heirlooms are still in the glass cases that ring the room.

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An old copper sink in the same dressing room that held the cabinets for the firemen’s gear.

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Cabinets that once held firemen’s gear.

The tour led me upstairs into the historic remnants of the old firehouse. It was thrilling to see how intact and untouched the historic architectural elements and cabinetry were. The wooden and glass closets for the fireman’s uniforms are still there and the cases of helmets, flags and badges were all behind glass. It was like a high ceilinged time capsule! Even the brass pole and railing were there untouched. John’s plans are to refurbish the 2nd and 3rd stories and convert them into a restaurant and event space.
I hope people get to see most of what’s there even after the restoration. They certainly don’t make buildings like this anymore! I’ve seen many distillery locations before, but this firehouse is a striking and impressive structure and definitely worth a visit.

In time, John George will be forced to expand his distillery to accommodate barrels for aging his whiskeys. Norristown is growing up around the downtown area, and as locals become more aware of Five Saints, there will be a need to ramp up production. Thankfully, John is committed to sourcing his grain locally and keeping his spirits “grain to glass.” I am excited to see him join the many successful distillers of Pennsylvania as they carve a new future for whiskey and spirits production here. It’s a wonderful thing to see an historic building preserved while promoting a burgeoning modern spirits industry. I can’t wait to taste their aged spirits down the road. In the meantime, stop in and taste their vodka and white whiskey or one of their many cocktails and infusions. Find out what Norristown already knows! It won’t be a secret for long!

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Address: 129 E Main St, Norristown, PA 19401
Hours:

Tuesday Closed
Wednesday 5–10PM
Thursday 5–10PM
Friday 4–11PM
Saturday 12–11PM
Sunday 1–7PM
Monday Closed