Whiskey a ‘go go’

By on October 15, 2014
Erik Wolfe is part of the whiskey dream team that is bringing distillery history back to the region. (photo by Michael C. Upton)

Erik Wolfe is part of the whiskey dream team that is bringing distillery history back to the region.                                                    (photos by Michael C. Upton)

LR20141016_CWhiskey1For the first time in more than 100 years, a Lititz company put whiskey in a bottle.

Bottling of Bomberger’s Distillery whiskey took place on Wednesday, said Lititz resident Erik Wolfe, who is helping to reprise the historic and once defunct brand. Wolfe is one part of Heritage Spirits, the parent company behind Bomberger’s Distillery and is joined by his wife Avianna and distilling legend Dick Stoll.

“We have been compiling our dream team,” said Wolfe. “We have been fortunate enough to meet Dick Stoll. He was the master distiller of Michter’s.”

Much of what Heritage Spirits represents is a dedication to the history of distilling in Lancaster County and the surrounding area. Michter’s (formerly Bomberger’s), regarded as one of the great American whiskies, was once distilled near Schaefferstown. After realizing the production of a new Michter’s whiskey was occurring outside of the state, Wolfe knew he had to act soon to save the Bomberger’s name and preserve its history as a Pennsylvania brand.

Before this realization, the Warwick grad had moved to New York and worked in marketing. He then moved to L.A. to pursue acting and writing. Wolfe headed back to New York because he “didn’t dig L.A.”

“One thing I realized when I came back to New York is how much Lancaster County is used to represent agriculture and wholesome values. None of it was real. Some businesses just co-opted Lancaster County to represent what they wanted,” said Wolfe, who saw the representation of his native area’s quality first-hand while operating a critically acclaimed green restaurant in New Jersey. “I’m a Lancaster County boy, which is something I never thought I’d be sitting here saying.”

The first bottling of Bomberger’s is a whiskey blend (not a blended whiskey associated with Canadian whiskey). The finished product will contain 35 percent rye, a traditional staple of Pennsylvania whiskey.

“Young whiskey can be harsh. What we are doing is creating a blend that is more rounded, a bit more floral. We are very proud of this; it is an intermediate step in our process,” said Wolfe.

Heritage Spirits blended their first batch on Monday and Tuesday and started bottling Wednesday with the help of owner Andrew Martin of Thistle Finch Distilling. Ultimately there will be 4,000 bottles of the inaugural run of Bomberger’s, which will be processed at the Thistle Finch facility in Lancaster. Wolfe plans to use the profits to help fund a distillery in Lititz.

Wolfe and Dick Stoll during this week's blending of Bomberger's Whiskey. (photo by Michael C. Upton)

Wolfe and Dick Stoll during this week’s blending of Bomberger’s Whiskey. (photo by Michael C. Upton)

In February, Heritage Spirits got a boost when they were enrolled as a startup in the Netrepid Virtual Incubator.

“Sometimes you need to get some recognition before you get recognized,” said Wolfe of the program awarding consulting and a $6,000 technology platform. “They have offered us counseling on our business plan and are helping us work with the state.”

Although the group has been looking for a physical location in Lititz there has been little action taken to secure a spot to create their own distilling plant. Wolfe hopes to have more information on a location by the end of the year. Heritage Spirits will not only be a producer of quality alcohol, but a museum. The group has already begun accumulating items relevant to the area’s history of distilling and alcohol production.

“Our mission is to help preserve the local tradition and history, specifically the Bomberger’s aspect,” said Wolfe.

Eventually, Wolfe has plans to craft a straight rye whiskey, a high bourbon, and potentially something that resembles colonial era spirits like schnapps or apple jack. Wolfe hopes to have the whiskey blend available at a Lititz location soon, but it can be found in Lancaster at POUR and Hunger n Thirst. For now, bottles of the 86-proof spirit will be self-distributed at Thistle Finch Distillery. The facility can put out 1,000 bottles every three hours, by hand … and just in time on Wednesday. Mechanical complications delayed the delivery of the last barrel needed for blending, and Heritage Spirits plans to unveil Bomberger’s at the Philadelphia TASTE Festival of Food, Wine, & Spirits this weekend.

Wolfe admits the formation of his team and bottling of Bomberger’s whiskey took a slightly unorthodox path, but it was important to Heritage Spirits to avoid big corporate sponsorship. Bomberger’s is once again a part of distilling history, now as a work in progress rather than a defunct brand.

Michael C. Upton is a freelance writer specializing in arts and leisure. He invites your comments and suggestions at facebook.com/SomebodiesProductions.

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