STORY WRITTEN BY BERNARD J. SCALLY
Digital First Media
@MrBScally on Twitter
MANAYUNK >> In an old warehouse, a new business is booming.
Walter Palmer Distilling Co. released its first product this May: Palmer’s Liberty Gin. If the trend follows the initial support, Palmer could create a liquor history counterpoint to Yards Brewing Co.
“It has been overwhelming and humbling,” said business owner Walter A. Palmer III.
Palmer, formerly of Roxborough, who resides in Chestnut Hill with his wife, said that the business started as a matter of necessity. Due to the 2012 recession, Palmer lost his job at a nonprofit after 27 years of service. Palmer said that he spent the next two years searching for a new job.
“I needed to come up with a plan B,” said Palmer.
Palmer had some homebrewing experience while growing up. He had a fine arts degree and “liked making things. According to Palmer, the area was already saturated with plenty of craft beer, so why not try spirits? Palmer said he took a few distilling classes at Cornell University. Palmer had a copy of an 18th century whiskey still built by a company in Portugal. It arrived in October 2014.
“It is basically a copper pot with a lid,” said Palmer.
The decision to make gin was one of convenience. Palmer want to do whiskey, but it is time-consuming, as the product needs to age before it is consumed. According to Palmer, the legal definition of gin is pretty broad. There is a joke that vodka truly only comes in two flavors: vodka and gin.
Philadelphia has one gin already, Bluecoat from Philadelphia Distilling Co., which describes itself as an “American Dry Gin.” Palmer did his research to make his gin distinctive as well.
“I wanted to make a gin that is from the time of the Revolution in Philadelphia,” said Palmer.
Palmer approaches his new business as a craft, carefully selecting ingredients: spring water from Pennsylvania, most of the botanicals come from the U.S. except Grains of Paradise, which is an African spice. According to Palmer, he found documents through Google on Dutch spice traders and the recipe for his gin. Palmer said he had a panel of eight tasters before settling on the final recipe for production. Palmer’s Liberty Gin is a classic summer spirit — clean yet peppery, with juniper and citrus. Palmer said that he also did some research with Bartram’s Garden, the American Philosophical Society and the Pennsylvania Historical Society.
“They have so much information and they will help you,” said Palmer.
Palmer also researched the location for his distillery, currently at 376 Shurs Lane. The space, once occupied by Three Potato Four, is still zoned industrial, which did not require a variance. It has high ceilings and a driveway in case of deliveries. Having lived in the neighborhood, Palmer also choose the location for the people.
“It has the right people that would support a distillery,” said Palmer. “A population that enjoys craft beer is a good base to start from.”
With only a little sign, according to Palmer, the gin has been selling out every weekend. Father’s Day “cleaned out,” Palmer said; people walked up the steep grade of Shurs Lane to his distillery from the Manayunk Arts Festival, merely because they saw his sign offering free tasting.
So far, Palmer has been distilling about 100 gallons a week but is looking to ramp up production this summer. Palmer said that he is experimenting with white whiskies and will expand into aged whiskeys in the future. Palmer said that unlike Liberty Gin, these future products will have more local names. Palmer said he hopes to build out the front of the distillery into a proper tasting room. It is currently just a hardwood table. He would like the tasting room to showcase the product in certain ways, such as cocktails or other mixology.
“But I really don’t want it to be a bar,” said Palmer.
Palmer said that he has been approached by a number of establishments about carrying his gin. According to Palmer, a few already do, such as The Goat’s Beard on Main Street. Palmer said he would be happy to have his product become a regional brand.
“Right now, it’s kind of word of mouth and the sign; I kind of like it,” said Palmer.
For more on Palmer Distilling Co. and Palmer’s Liberty Gin, log on to palmerdistilling.com.