The team at Bridgeworks Enterprise Center is in good spirits these days. Literally.
After two years of planning, permitting, design and construction, County Seat Spirits opened earlier this month to provide visitors and at local restaurants with products now being produced at the 1,000-square-foot distillery, which includes a tasting room.
County Seat joins The Colony Meadery and HiJinx Brewing at the Bridgeworks, positioning the manufacturing incubator as a leader in a region already known for its prolific production of beverages, alcoholic and non-alcoholic.
County Seat Spirits is the brainchild of Anthony Brichta and John Rowe. Brichta is a Center Valley native who graduated from Allentown Central Catholic and Lehigh University before earning his law degree from Duke University. Now a practicing attorney in West Chester, he became enamored with small-batch distilleries in October 2012 after visiting Kings County Distillery in Brooklyn during a birthday party celebration with friends.
“That’s how I first got the idea that this was feasible in small batches,” Brichta says. “When I got back I started to look into it, doing the research, reading books and educating myself.”
Brichta partnered with his uncle, John Rowe, a former air traffic controller at Lehigh Valley International Airport who had reached the mandatory retirement age of 56 and was looking for a new endeavor.
“We pretty much each do it all, but John is our head distiller and I take the lead on the paperwork, sales and other parts of the business,” Brichta says.
“The hardest part was finding a site. You can’t really plan out what your distillery will look like until you have a site, because of the regulatory oversight imposed on distilleries,” Brichta said. The partners learned of the Bridgeworks after hearing about The Colony Meadery and visiting with its owners, Mike Manning and Greg Heller-Labelle.
“It’s a great place,” Brichta says of the manufacturing incubator. “There are a lot of shared resources. Setting up production is very capital intensive. We needed a loading dock, a forklift, access to industrial-sized utilities. It would have been prohibitively expensive for us if we had to find all of that in a single space, on our own.”
“The biggest benefit, though, is being next to an award-winning meadery and a fantastic craft brewery. We don’t have a big marketing budget so people don’t know who we are yet. Being next door to HiJinx and Colony Meadery is really helping us get the word out,” he continues, noting that the experience of Manning and Heller-Labelle at the meadery and brewery partners Curt Keck and Chris Becker has also been invaluable as they set up their own shop. “We’re walking distance to a whole host of experts on flavors, fermentation and craft beverages – it’s a unique space.”
“We started production in early December and filled our first bourbon barrel on Christmas morning before joining our families for the holiday,” Brichta said. Though it will be roughly a year before the bourbon is aged enough for sale, County Seat Spirits has already begun bottling and selling white liquors, such as vodka and white rum, which do not need to age.
County Seat Spirits is a “grain-to-glass” distillery, which means Brichta and Rowe take raw grains such as barley, wheat, corn and rye and mill them on-site before adding the water and yeast to begin the fermentation process. They are also using their location to promote the region’s historical heritage by naming the products after different noteworthy icons of the Lehigh Valley.
The vodka, for instance, is called “Class 8” to recognize Allentown and the model of Mack Truck once produced at the Bridgeworks site. They also offer their “Sand Island” rum for Bethlehem and “Lock Keeper” gin for Easton’s canal history. The distillery is also working on an “Ironmaster” whiskey in honor of the region’s steel production heritage and George Taylor, an early ironmaster and original signer of the Declaration of Independence.
The bourbon will bear the name “Hidden Copper” to recognize the role the Zion UCC Church in Allentown played in hiding the Liberty Bell from the British Army during the Revolutionary War.
“Our short-term goal is to make sure the quality of our product is as high as it can be and that we can reliably sell to the Lehigh Valley market. Eventually, we hope to sell to the Pennsylvania state store system and beyond,” Brichta says. “I think it has been pretty good, so far. People have come in and enjoyed the tours and enjoyed the products. It’s very rewarding to be able to make something, manage the whole process, and see people enjoying it on site.”
County Seat’s tasting room is open from noon to 5 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday.