Summer 2016 PA Distillery Tour #1- Social Still in Bethlehem, Pa

Summer 2016 PA Distillery Tour #1- Social Still in Bethlehem, Pa

The next few months of my summer will be spent touring Pennsylvanian distilleries. Pennsylvania is one of the fastest growing distilling states in the country, which is exciting for me. A growth in the number of PA distilleries means a shift in our state’s history with distilled spirits. It means opportunity for grain farming in our fertile state and attention paid to our water sources. It means a “new” industry with connections to and effects on local economies. This isn’t just good for creativity in the distilling of craft spirits, it is good for our cities, small towns and counties.

The first distillery I popped into was Social Still in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. They are located on the south side of Bethlehem where the blue collar steel workers once lived before the steel industry left the town. The building is a restored Prohibition-era bank. I was personally excited after parking in the large lot next to the distillery to find large morels growing along the edge of the blacktop! After entering the distillery, the first thing that strikes you is the large openness of the space. It was definitely a bank! Loads of light streamed in through the windows and the towering copper and stainless steel distilling equipment was the first thing I saw. The still and other modern distilling equipment is encased in a glass room behind the bar. The manager was kind enough to offer me a small tour of the building. Normally tours are given on Saturdays, so this being a Sunday afternoon, I was thankful that the manager was able to take the time for me. Social Still’s owners, Kate and Adam Flatt, weren’t in yet. Thankfully, I had a chance to meet them at the American Whiskey Convention and was thrilled to see their enthusiasm first hand last March. (Tours can be reserved for $10 at http://www.socialstill.com/tours)

The main floor is a restaurant and above the back third of the space is a balcony that overlooks the first floor with more seating. I didn’t have time that afternoon to sit down and taste their menu, but their chef, Philip Ruggerio, has been getting some great reviews. The manager led me down some back stairs to the basement where most of the magic happens in the distillery. The first thing you see are the 55 lb bags of pre-milled grain. Their main supplier was Small Valley Mill which grows everything from heirloom purple corn to rye on their beautiful farm in Halifax, Pa. It was a pleasure to see that they were sourcing their product from inside of the state. After moving past storage areas, we made our way into the main basement area where Maria Sebastionelli, their head distiller, works. Her work space is covered with jars of experimental infusions and test equipment. The fermenters are hooked up to pumps that can move the fully attenuated distiller’s beer up to the first floor and into the still. It was a neat little white washed basement room that brought to mind an industrial kitchen oddly set up in a cave. The barrel aging was being done in the old vault of the bank. The rush of aging booze filled my nostrils immediately when the vault door was pulled open. It felt like standing in there too long would have given me a buzz!

The tour was short and sweet and the next stop was the bar. They seem to have a great many cocktails that their bartenders have designed, and those experimental infusions that their distiller was working on going into them. I tasted their barrel rested gin, white rye, rye whiskey and their bourbon. Any four spirits can be tasted in a flight for $10 or individually for $2.50. The white rye was quite nice and showed a lot of potential. My favorite was the barrel rested gin which, sipped neat, really expressed the vanilla character of the wood and tamed the stronger herbal gin flavors. I regret now not trying the Social Still Gin by itself. I’m sure my next visit will have to involve a martini.

Bethlehem is a beautiful little town near Allentown and there is a lot to do downtown, as well. Social Still’s owners are locals and can certainly give advice on good places to visit around town. There are plenty of festivals, events, and places to grab a drink. I recommend McCarthy’s Red Stag Pub off of Main Street downtown for a dram. Cheers to Social Still!

 social still logo

Social Still
530 East 3rd St
Bethlehem, Pa 18015
610-625-4585

Wednesday — Thursday
4pm — 10pm
Friday —Saturday
12pm — 11pm
Sunday
12pm — 8pm