Tag Archives: Pottstown

Drink Like You Know


A rash of craft distillers is now freckling our region, all of them making some truly elevated hooch. Reforms passed in Pennsylvania in 2011 and in Jersey in 2013 ignited a small-batch spirits boom, the likes of which our region hasn’t seen since the halcyon days before Prohibition, or even much further back in some areas.

You’ve likely heard of (and probably tried) the first to bear fruit—Dad’s Hat, in Bristol; HEWN, in Pipersville; Manatawny, in Pottstown—now the established guard of the movement. But the landscape’s filled in around them over the last year or two. Whiskey, vodka, rum, even if you’ve been a lifelong drinker of one or the other, this latest generation of artisans is finding its niche in nuance, crafting variations that are, in equal shares, truer to form and far more exotic than anything you’ve tasted before.

With some long, gray months ahead of us, the time’s come to meet the most appetizing of these new makers. After all, their spirits may become our sole salvation.

By Scott Edwards

Eight Oaks Craft Distillers | New Tripoli

After a 25-year career in the military and far too many nights spent away from his family, Chad Butters’ retirement plan was purely personal in its inception: Run a family business. Nearly a year in, Eight Oaks is, above all else, just that. His daughter oversees the tasting room, where his son tends bar. Her husband is the master distiller. His sister is the distillery’s attorney. And her husband, Jesse Tyahla, is Butters’ partner. (It took me a few passes, too.)

Eight Oaks Craft Distillers | New TripoliIn the waning months of his service, Butters and Tyahla attended distilling workshops at Michigan State and Cornell universities and toured about 25 distilleries. Then, they interned at another in Spokane, Washington. When they returned home, full of confidence, Butters and his wife promptly sold their home and bought a farm, where, in short order, they began growing grain—wheat, rye and barley, along with corn—and constructed the distillery.


WHAT THEY MAKE Vodka, gin, rum and applejack (In the works: rye whiskey, bourbon, aged applejack and spiced and aged rums.)

THE LOWDOWN What you get in Eight Oaks is a self-contained process steeped in tradition. “Really, for us, it’s back to that whole concept of grain to glass,” Butters says. “That sounds simple. And it sounds a little bit like a marketing term. In reality, the application is exceptionally difficult.”

With so many variables at play in the distillation, not to mention the farming, Butters defers to the historical precedent as often as it’s appropriate. And science when it’s not. In fact, the very first spirit that came out of Eight Oaks’ still was a nod to the craft’s history.

As rum grew scarce during the Revolutionary War, farmers stumbled upon applejack, which Butters describes as “the original American spirit.” It’s basically fermented cider—that grew more potent as the winter wore on and the farmers removed the ice. When we talked, Butters was favoring a far more subdued version, an applejack hot toddy, as a cold remedy.


Skunktown Distillery | Flemington, NJ

Like so many other great ideas, Skunktown Distillery was born during a liquor-fueled night around a bonfire. “I said, ‘We’re smart guys. Let’s figure out how to make this.’ We both kind of laughed it off,” Caine Fowler says, referring to himself and longtime friend Paul Hyatt. “The next morning, he called me up and said, ‘You know, you had a really good idea last night.’ I said, ‘No. That was a stupid idea.’ ”

Fowler (pictured, left) is an IT project manager in the pharmaceutical industry. He’s traveled all over the world for his work and drank just about everything there is to drink in the course of it. But Hyatt (pictured, right), a tile-setter, has the far more sophisticated palate between them. He comes from a long line of drinkers. Not happy-hour mainstays. Drinkers.

“He can say, ‘This is what’s good. This what’s pretty good,’ ” Fowler says, “Everything does the right thing to me but tastes kind of harsh.”

Once they began to realize just how well they complement each other, the idea of a distillery started to sound a lot less, well, drunken. They founded Skunktown in September 2015 but only received the last of their licensing this month. When you’re the first distillery to launch in the county in 200 years, the scrutiny’s relentless, apparently.


WHAT THEY MAKE Vodka, whiskey and rum. (They’re expecting the first bottles to be available by Christmas.)

THE LOWDOWN The official line: Fowler and Hyatt are aiming for simple and pure, just as they regard the town in which they both live and after which they named their distillery. That would be Sergeantsville, NJ, formerly known as—I kid you not—Skunktown. No one’s entirely sure why. The obvious answer seems to be the most plausible: Lots of skunks at an unfortunate time, when naming rights were still up for grabs. But I digress. They’re using basic, local ingredients, doing little to them and distilling in a copper still, which is the oldest way, and still the truest.

The unofficial line: These are two old drinking buddies basically egging each other on. (Read: This could get fun fast.) They’re already working through the recipe for a scorching pepper vodka. Fowler, a lover of all things spicy, grows the Carolina Reaper, the hottest variety there is. “But that’s not the recipe that’s going to be bottled,” he says. “Don’t worry.”


Boardroom Spirits | Lansdale

Boardroom launched 10 months ago as an escape plan from corporate life, fueled by a renewed appreciation in heritage. Brothers Marat and Vlad Mamedov are Armenian. Zsuzsa, Marat’s wife, is Hungarian. Both are strong brandy cultures. Trouble is, ours isn’t. Another obstacle: Distilling brandy isn’t as forgiving as distilling the likes of vodka, gin and whiskey.

“If you mess up picking the wrong fruit, if you mess up fermentation, if you mess up distilling, you’re pretty much done,” Marat says.

So they opted to build their brand with the basics and revisit the brandy in the near future, being the experienced strategists that they are. With the help of a distiller in Europe, they spent a year working through recipes—85 in all. Once they settled on a line, they hired a master distiller here. Marat, Vlad and Zsuzsa stick to their strong suit: managing the operation. If a single, prevailing thought came out of the recipe trials, Marat says, it’s this: What I like doesn’t really matter.


WHAT THEY MAKE Vodka (straight and infused), gin, rum and a beet spirit. (In the works: whiskey and brandy.)

THE LOWDOWN Precision-crafted. No eyeballing here. The Lansdale distillery is the North American showroom for Hagyo Distilling, a Hungarian manufacturer with a reputation for state-of-the-art innovation. Where most small-batch makers will build their brand around the handcrafting, not here; everything’s fully automated.

Boardroom’s aim is to cherry-pick spirits from all over the world and turn them into household names here. “But at the same time, we want to make sure that we’re very precise in our distillation process”—it came up more than once—”so that they ring true to the category,” Marat says.

Example A: Their beet spirit, which was introduced this fall. They hauled in 2,000 pounds of beets, ground them down, then fermented and distilled them like a brandy. It’s the first installment in their periodical table-themed series. Thus, the capital B on the label. Next up: apple (A) and carrot (C).

“We want to keep things simple and let pure, natural flavors shine through,” Marat says. “When it comes to crafting our spirits, it’s all about, how do we derive the flavor naturally?”


Thistle Finch Distillery | Lancaster

Curiosity compelled Andrew Martin to follow his friends into home-brewing. Soon after, he happened upon distilling, and he immediately understood why they were all so entranced. He dropped brewing then and there and started reading everything he could find on distilling.

Martin grew up in Lancaster County and moved back to Lancaster proper 16 years ago. Every distiller in this portfolio carries a profound appreciation for the craft’s roots and their regions, but only Martin’s built his own still from scratch. And he named his distillery after a bird that’s become synonymous with Lancaster. Among the countless hex signs that appear in Pennsylvania Dutch folk art, known as fraktur, you’ll often find a bird. That bird is a thistle finch, and it’s meant to represent happiness and good luck.


WHAT THEY MAKE White rye whiskey; black pepper rye whiskey; black coffee rye whiskey; straight, two-year-old rye whiskey; gin and vodka

THE LOWDOWN In case it wasn’t already obvious, Thistle Finch specializes in rye whiskey. The white rye whiskey, an unaged whiskey that Martin describes as “kind of like a high-class moonshine,” was the first spirit he bottled three years ago. Cut to present day, Thistle Finch just bottled a two-year-old, straight rye whiskey, becoming only the third distillery in Pennsylvania to offer it. “That’s definitely the biggest milestone since we opened,” Martin says.

“We’re doing rye whiskey because that would have been the historic spirit made here in eastern Pennsylvania,” he says.

Typically, farmers around here planted rye in the winter to help preserve the soil. As such, back in the day, it was the cheapest grain that distillers could get their hands on and why rye whiskey was so prolific. But those distillers fell off the map with prohibition. This latest boom has brought a new wave of them, but few are like Thistle Finch.

Martin may be a traditionalist at heart, but he’s not making a traditional rye whiskey. The standard recipe calls for 100 percent rye or two-thirds rye mixed with a third of corn. Thistle Finch is making its from 60 percent rye, 30 percent wheat and 10 percent malted barley, which is what’s referred to as a “high-wheat rye” by those in the know. The thinking behind the move is that, where rye possesses a dry, spicy flavor profile and corn is sweet, the wheat will introduce a smoother, more robust taste. Basically, your grandfather’s rye whiskey, this is not.


Photos (from the top): courtesy Eight Oaks Craft Distillers (2); Josh DeHonney; courtesy Boardroom Spirits; courtesy Thistle Finch Distillery


6 Holiday Home Tours to Hit


For a couple precious weeks each year, we can enter the homes of complete (and, sometimes, not) strangers and gawk at their stuff. To ensure that you satisfy your curiosity, we offer a brief guide to the prime snooping—err, tours.

By Scott Edwards

‘Tis the season to scope out some of the most inspiring halls around us, public and private. And, of course, soak up some holiday vibes. But, let’s be honest, we drag the dog out for a walk out most nights as a convenient excuse to peer through our neighbors’ floor-to-ceiling windows. These are the couple of weeks of the year when we can drop the act and walk right in. What follows is a guide to the season’s most promising house tours. Rest assured that every property will be decked out. You’re probably more interested in what lies beneath the garland, though. As are we.

Newtown Historic Assoc. Holiday Open House Tour | December 3
Six homes and seven public buildings, all in Rockwell-ian Newtown Borough, comprise this year’s self-guided walking tour, which dates back to 1963 (when admission was a buck-fifty; it’s $30 now). You’ll find some of the most impressive examples of colonial-era architecture in Bucks County among this collection.
Chadds Ford Historical Society Candlelight Christmas Tour | Dec. 3
Several historic Chadds Ford and Pennsbury township properties will be decorated and awash in candlelight—or, rather, sunlight; the tour starts at 1 p.m.; but candles will be burning, or plugged in, at least—for the self-guided tour. This one’s most appropriate for the history savant. Most of the featured stops played a role in the 1777 Battle of Brandywine.


Chestnut Hill Community Assoc. Christmas-Holiday House Tour | Dec. 3
Navigate the five featured homes on your own, by car, or aboard one of the trolleys that’ll be tracing the route throughout the day.




Fonthill Holiday Lights Meander | Dec. 10
There’s only one stop on this tour, but it’s a doozy. In broad daylight on an average Tuesday, Henry Mercer’s personal castle in Doylestown, Fonthill Museum, is akin to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, if Wonka was a freak craftsman instead of a sugar fiend. Adorned with garland, candles and designer Christmas trees, it’s sensory overload.
Haverford Holiday House Tour | Dec. 11
Five homes, the oldest dating back to the 19th century. Expect lots of wide-plank floors, short doorframes and built-in shelving and cabinetry. In other words, the kind of authentic nuances that, despite our boundless innovation since their inception, have become impossible to replicate.


Pottsgrove Manor by Candlelight | Dec. 11
On the 12th day of Christmas, the English colonists got down with their God-fearing selves—indulgent dinners, lavish parties. So, here, actors will be recreating some of those scenes throughout the 264-year-old mansion of Pottstown’s founder. There will be something on all three floors—dancing in the parlor, cooking in the kitchen and, we’re expecting, a secret rendezvous in the servants’ quarters.



Hauntings for the Timid


You like a good scare, but you’d prefer not to wet your pants. Follow us.

By Christine Olley


Halloween, like salsa, is an occasion that’s served at various intensities. Some of us may kick back with The Wizard of Oz and then call it a night. Black-and-white if we’re feeling brave (or buzzed), Technicolor if we’re alone and especially paranoid, with all those trick-or-treaters roaming around. Others may opt for a haunted hayride. Just enough of a fright to cause a spike or two of adrenaline, but never too threatening. And then there are those whose every action over the coming weeks suggests that Halloween is, in fact, the dawning of the end of times.

Our compilation of some of the coolest Halloween attractions now playing favors the mild-to-moderate side of the palate. We figured if you were seeking something hot, you weren’t going to refer to a magazine called Home + Table. Still, there are ample reasons to feel afraid. Just think more along the lines of goosebumps than night terrors.


Nassau Inn | Princeton, New Jersey

If you tend to weather your hauntings better on a full stomach, the Nassau Inn, which sits across from Princeton University, in charming Palmer Square, is offering private dinners for groups of 20 or more chased by a tour of the campus’s most notoriously haunted nooks. ($75 per person.) You’ll be armed with EMF meters, dousing rods and night-vision flashlights and fed lots of graphic stories for dessert.


The House in the Hollow | Newtown

If not for Halloween, we’d likely never realize that we’re surrounded by so many turn-of-the-century asylums and orphanages. And thanks to whichever reality TV-ghost hunter you favor, we’re all now well aware of the horrific treatment that played out within their walls. So what we have here at Malfate Manor, a.k.a. The House in the Hollow, is the perfect storm: Our own ridiculous preconceptions colliding, head-on, with lots of dark corners and costumed teenagers jumping out from them.


Waldorf Estate of FearLeighton

Imagine a haunted house where you and your friends are the attraction. That’s the idea behind Waldorf’s newest scene, the Zombie Escape Room. You’ll be offered refuge from the encroaching apocalypse and then given a half-hour to figure out the clues that’ll lead to the exit. Think “The Walking Dead,” but without the armfuls of guns. If there are enough of you—10 are admitted per turn—make a game of it. Slowest to exit buys dinner. Then align with your Type A friends.


Temple of Terror | Pottstown

The legend has it that Damon DeMonio returned home after fighting in the Civil War only to discover that his new wife was, um, nurturing an army of her own. He lost his head. The result was not pretty. Skip ahead 150 years: An actual freemasons lodge sits atop the plot where DeMonio’s home once stood. Strange things, reportedly, happen there, like freemasonry. Also: a three-story haunted house. But, really, freemasonry is plenty creepy enough.


Costume Dash 5K/10K | Philadelphia

When you’re moaning your way up a small hill, barely maintaining a walking pace, do you ever think, What could make this jog even better? A bulky, awkward-fitting costume? Yes! Then the Costume Dash is just the opportunity you’ve been looking for to further sabotage your fitness. And if that wasn’t already a weird enough site, there’s a pub crawl afterward. Nothing says, “You’re a man now,” to a 10-year-old like forcing him to witness Iron Man and his super friends stumble out of a bar in the middle of the afternoon.


PAFA After Dark | Philadelphia

The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts is hosting a “Stranger Things”-themed party (Will!) October 19, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., (free with museum admission; registration required) complete with pumpkin decorating (resistance is futile) and tarot card readings (find out when you’re going to die through a party game!). There’s also going to be ghost tours of the galleries, including one of Fernando Orellana’s ghost machines. It’s a site-specific installation where Orellana’s configured four robotic machines through which he’s attempting to interact with the ghost of Thomas Eakins.


Photos courtesy (from the top) Waldorf Estate of Fear; Nassau Inn; Waldorf Estate of Fear; Costume Dash

Your CSA Field Guide


The time to register is now, before the growing gets good. But every share’s a little different, so allow us to play matchmaker.

By Bill Gelman

We’re in the throes of CSA registration season. A few years ago, that news would have elicited a faint “Yay!” from the back of the room. Today, a mad scramble just broke out, because there are precious few shares still up for grabs. Community Supported Agriculture is a booming industry. There are now more than 12,500 of them nationwide, but the interest has grown just as fast, if not faster. Even with work requirements and more cucumbers than you’d ever want to eat in five lifetimes. What follows is a field guide to some of our favorite to CSAs to help you find the share that’ll best fit your family. Or, considering the urgency, just help you find a share.

Anchor Run Farm | Wrightstown

A pioneer of the movement around here—this is Anchor Run’s 13th CSA season—it’s also one of the earlier adopters of sustainable farming. All of its crops are chemical- and GMO-free. Those looking for an easy haul, however, may want to continue their search. Every share comes with a work (harvesting, planting, weeding and thinning) requirement—eight hours, at least, over the course of the season for full shares and four for half-shares. Seasons Spring, Summer, Fall Cost $410-$800

Myerov Family Farm | Perkasie

Half- and full-shares are available with and without work requirements (12 hours for full-shares, six for half). You’ll end up saving a little under 20 percent by pitching in. Sweetening the enticement even more, Myerov gets creative with how, exactly, you can knock off those hours. They don’t necessarily need to be spent out in a field under a soul-scorching sun. Host a pick-up location instead or a potluck dinner, or write the CSA’s blog. Wait. Never mind that last one. Seasons SSF Cost $360-$720


Blooming Glen Farm | Perkasie

If you’re an adventurous eater, welcome to your new CSA. Blooming Glen will set you up with all the staples over the next several months—arugula, heirloom tomatoes, sweet potatoes—and they’ll also throw you the occasional curveball, like Hakurei turnips and kohlrabi. Come those weeks, refer to their blog, where they’ll post recipes so that you can act like you know what you’re cooking. Seasons SSF Cost $420-$795


Honey Brook Organic Farm | Hopewell, NJ

Honey Brook’s actually comprised of four separate farms, two in Hopewell Township and another two in Chesterfield Township, in Burlington County, New Jersey. Pick-ups are available in both locations, and crops are shared among them (different conditions mean certain crops grow better and longer at one than at the other). An innovative box share program is also available. There, shares of various sizes are delivered weekly to several central locations around Pennsylvania and Jersey. If you’ve been overwhelmed by the size or your share in summers past, the box share is the way to go. Seasons SSF Cost $369-$769


Sandbrook Meadow FarmStockton, NJ

It’s the end of July, and if you so much as lay eyes on another cucumber, you’re liable to fly into a Walter White rage. Brilliant as farm-fresh produce is, it can get a little monotonous, even at the height of season. Especially at the height of the season. Sandbrook’s come up with a savvy way around that. Membership fees are converted into credits, which you can then use as liberally or as frugally as you like throughout the season. Snatch up all the strawberries that you can fit in your car and then skip the next couple weeks entirely as you slowly realize your eyes were bigger than your stomach. Seasons SSF Cost $425-$925


J & J Farm of Glen Mills | Glen Mills

Farms, of course, are good for more than fruits and veggies, but that can get lost in a CSA’s onslaught. Not with J & J’s, though. Every other week—it’s a biweekly schedule—they also toss in free-range eggs from their own chickens, along with something out of the ordinary, like pickles in the summer and apple cider in the fall. Basically, the kind of small-batch stuff that lured you to a farmers market in the first place. Seasons Summer, Fall, Winter Cost $195-$360


Jack’s Farm | Pottstown

We realize that the costs we’re throwing around here are not insignificant amounts. And a lot of these farms require that the whole thing be paid up front since the brunt of their expenses comes over the winter. So, if you’re wading into the CSA waters for the first time, Jack’s is the safe play. The extent of your commitment here is one week. Seriously. Every week, the farm emails its subscribers a list of the available produce and what the share will cost. You decide then and there whether you want in—usually. Some weeks, there won’t be enough to go around, and because you’re a newbie, you’ll get last dibs. Seasons SSF Cost T.B.D.


Kimberton | Kimberton

You’re looking at the OG of the CSA movement around these parts. Barbara and Kerry Sullivan, with a little help from some neighbors, doled out their first harvest almost three decades ago, making Kimberton the first known CSA in Pennsy. Even now, Kimberton remains on the forefront. They’ll see your organic certification and raise you a biodynamic farm. It’s a deeply intensive practice. But all you really need to know is that it yields the purest fruits and veggies. Seasons SSF Cost $500-$910