03 Mar A Chat with Philly Beer Scene
Philly Beer Scene came in for a visit in early March to add us to their issue #41. We were able to discuss the distillery and tasting room with them, as well as when we plan to launch and how we plan to do so. See what the full article says below:
“With what seems like an endless influx of distilleries in opening their doors in the greater-Fishtown area of Philadelphia, one would think they would start becoming redundant, with everyone putting out similar products. With each opening though, it’s proven otherwise. La Colombe is keeping things simple and focused with a single spirit to showcase their signature item, coffee. Rowhouse is taking a brewer’s mentality into the distillery and putting out products such as Bear Trap, their herbal liquor unlike anything else in the region. Red Brick Craft Distilling is the smallest of the bunch but is also the only one with a whiskey on the market that was distilled and aged in the distillery. Millstone Spirits Group is Rob Cassell’s foray back into the local distilling scene after departing from Philadelphia Distilling; he launched by bleeding barrels of whiskeys to revive the late Kinsey brand. And now, within that same 10-block radius, Federal Distilling is open and taking a completely different approach: vodka.
Yes, most craft distilleries have a vodka. Many of them lead with their vodka, due to it being one of the quickest spirits to make, but Federal Distilling is taking vodka to another level and making vodka their pure focus.
After high school, brothers Matthew and Bryan Quigley, went their own ways. They chose different colleges, different career paths, and travelled different parts of the world. It took a while to get back to Philadelphia together, but as family often does, they found their way home. Bryan had just returned from some time in Spain and was trying to figure out what to do next. Matt was living in California and was about to return as well, so discussions intensified and once the idea of starting a distillery came up, the discussion ended. “I asked Bryan how he felt about making vodka, and he was like, ‘two thumbs up.’ We immediately started buying equipment and planning,” said Matt
This led to Matt accepting an apprenticeship in Michigan. There was a research and development program out there that was run by a group from Michigan State University. The program was used for larger distilleries to make test batches and research new products. The distillery would tell them the type of product they were looking for and then Matt and the team at the research and development program would put together about a dozen options. They would then be able to just scale up the product of their choosing. This was Matt’s first foray into professional distilling.
Upon coming back to Philadelphia, Matt took a job working for Pravda Vodka, which is actually owned by the Philly-based Jacquin’s. His time at Pravda was spent doing research and development on filtration and blending techniques. With the experience needed, they opened Federal Distilling in Old Kensington.
Bryan spent his time at a financial institution where he was a licensed stockbroker. It’s a role he still has but is now limited to just a few hours, one day a week. The experience in sales though is leading the way to his main role at the distillery, which is selling vodka. “It’s easier to sell alcohol than it is security products,” as he says.
Matt’s experience researching in filtration and blending now plays a large role in making Stateside Vodka. “Two things that really make our vodka different is the way we aerate it and the way that we blend the water back into it at the end,” as Matt puts it. The in-depth water filtration system they have set up allows them to get the mineral compound of the water ideal for blending back into the vodka when proofing down. Their custom carbon filtration plays a crucial role in this as well. As for the aeration process, Matt has found that placing the proofed down product in an aeration vessel allows him to skip the typical four to six week resting period a lot of un-aged spirits (such as vodka and gin) typically go through. This resting lets the spirit interact with the air around it, which leads it to letting off doers and cleaning up the taste palate. While bottling takes four days, time is of great importance to a small distillery, especially when they can also produce what they believe is a cleaner-tasting product at the same time.
Without moving up to automation though, they haven’t found a way to speed up the bottling process. “It’s going to be four days of boy’s club because you just end up sitting there talking about everything and nothing. You end up learning everything about the other guys’ lives,” Matt jokes. “That process really sucks,” laughs Bryan. “The day we need to automate is a great day, but right now it’s just getting friends to come in here and help for a day.” A full batch takes eight days to make, but then takes four guys, four full days to bottle.
All of the focus is on vodka. If they have it their way, it’s the only product they’ll ever release. “You won’t see another product from us for two to three years,” Matt says. Though you may see some small test batch products show up in their tasting room from time to time. As much as Matt and Bryan love vodka, sometimes you just have to have some fun and play around in the distillery.
Their showcase tasting room will serve as a bar and private event space. They have a full liquor license as well, but don’t expect a full-on bar, likely just a few random bottles for mixing cocktails. No matter what though, it’ll make for a great space to grab a drink and wait to see what distillery opens next to develop the blossoming scene even more.”