STORY WRITTEN BY MIKE ARGENTO/ firstname.lastname@example.org @FnMikeArgento on Twitter
The York County Convention and Vistors Bureau’s Wine Just Off The Vine event gives wine aficionados the opportunity to try some new vintages and varietals, the nouveau wines that make their debut in the late fall.
But sometimes you crave stronger drink. Sometimes, you feel like a cocktail or a glass of sipping whiskey or some apple pie moonshine.
Or maybe you crave a nice hard cider.
What to do?
You could tag along with your wine-loving friends and sample some of the new pinots or local versions of the ever popular Beaujolais nouveau, all the while harboring a thirst for something with a bit more kick, more spice, more punch.
Well, now you don’t have to suffer in silence as your friends wax poetic over a glass of vino. You can sample some, well, booze.
The Old Republic Distillery in York has been part of the Mason-Dixon Wine Trail for a year and a half, offering visitors chance to tour the distillery and sample some of its libations — its fruity Love Potion, Battlefield Vodka or Apple Pie Moonshine, just like grandpa used to make, if grandpa ran a still out in the barn.
“We were kind of nervous joining a wine tour,” said co-owner Denise Mathias. “But everybody enjoyed it. It was a nice break after all the wine, having something different.”
And this year, there is a new player in the distilled liquor venue, Lancaster’s Thistle Finch Distillery.
The new distillery — which just opened on Christmas Eve 2013 — offers rye, a liquor that has deep roots in Pennsylvania history.
The distillery’s Andrew Martin said the company decided to make rye its signature offering in honor of the history of the libation in this region. As far back as colonial days, rye has been a staple liquor in Pennsylvania and Maryland, much like bourbon in Kentucky.
The reason is simple: Rye grain was readily available and inexpensive. It was used as a cover crop in the winter and other than rye bread, had few uses. Early distillers used it to make a spicy and savory liquor because it was cheap, Martin said. Before Prohibition, rye whiskey was hugely popular, especially in Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh was historically the epicenter for rye production, at one point selling half a barrel for each man, woman and child in the country.
Prohibition set rye back, though. While bourbon distillers in Kentucky were given special licenses to continue manufacturing their signature whiskey — ostensibly for export purposes — rye distillers were not afforded such a break and after Prohibition’s repeal, rye nearly disappeared.
Martin said in addition to honoring that history, he had ulterior motives.
“I just like it,” he said.
For now, the distillery is offer a white rye, one that isn’t aged in oak casks, a step that give whiskey its color and deep woody flavor. Since it has just opened and begin production, it hasn’t had a chance to age its whiskey the required minimum of two years. The white rye, Martin said, has more of the grain taste than the smoky, oaky flavor of aged whiskey. The distillery, he said, is also working on gin and vodka to hold it over until the aged rye is ready.
If whiskey or moonshine aren’t to your taste, and you prefer a spirit other than wine, also new to the tour this year is Wyndridge Farm in Dallastown, which offers, in addition to its private-label wines, craft beers and hard cider.
Cider is the star. Steve Groff, who owns the farm with his wife Julie, said hard cider was once the libation of choice in early America. And now, he said, it is enjoying a resurgence. In the past three to five years, he said, the market for hard cider has grown exponentially. Part of it, he said, is because the drink is gluten free and that women who like beer enjoy cider. The farm sells its cider regionally and has begin shipping to Texas, Groff said.
It was a natural for this area, he said. “York and Adams counties are the Napa Valley of apples,” he said. “No disrespect to local wineries, but it’s like making Cabernet with Napa Valley grapes.”
The farm, which also brews a golden ale and an IPA and makes craft sodas, gets all of its juice locally, from Brown’s Orchard, just down the road in Loganville.
That also contributes to the popularity of the cider and accounts for the fact that the farm has gone from one to 45 employees in one year.
“People are going back to their roots,” he said, “and people want to buy local.”
IF YOU GO
What: The York County Convention and Vistors Bureau’s Wine Just Off The Vine tour
When: Nov. 15-16
Where: Twenty wineries and distilleries in Pennsylvania and Maryland
Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in our sister publication www.flipsidepa.com