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SWEP Spirits of Sustainability – June 24

The Spirits of Sustainability

Back in April, several Society of Women Environmental Professionals (SWEP) members, including a few from Environmental Standards, had the opportunity to enjoy a tour and happy hour at Philadelphia Distilling. Philadelphia Distilling was originally founded in 2005, and it was the first craft distillery in Pennsylvania since the time of prohibition. In fact, the state had to create a brand-new distillery license form for founder Robert Cassell! Despite its first and most popular spirit being a gin, the distillery has also released vodka, absinthe, whiskey, and bitters.

Following a 2-year renovation process, Philadelphia Distillery moved from Northeast Philadelphia into the old Ajax Metal Company building in 2017. As we awaited our tour, we enjoyed a spacious lounge area and peered through the large windows into the distillery, where the giant stills and the catwalks used to access them could be seen. Aaron Selya, the Director of Operations, lead our tour group. He opened by offering all attendees a complimentary cocktail to sip during the tour! It was a very nice touch and a great introduction to the product.

We found ourselves being whisked around the warehouse as Aaron described the distillation process and equipment; Philadelphia Distilling prides itself on the hand-hammered Forsyth stills and fermentation vessels, both from long-running family businesses. We also discussed at length how the distillery sources its botanicals, even venturing into the (strongly scented) storage room. Aaron explained that unlike its European counterparts, Philadelphia Distillery’s Bluecoat American Dry Gin emphasizes citrus over juniper as its primary flavor, thereby appealing to the sweeter American palate. In order to maintain the flavor it’s known for, the distillery is very selective about the intensity of the juniper it uses and adjusts ingredient ratios as needed so that the batches come out just right.

Aaron also filled us in on some more history of the building, including the fact that during the 2-year renovation process, two large smelting pots were discovered buried under the floor. They opted to leave the equipment there, and it lies under the warehouse floor to this day.

Exploring the distillery was a wonderful experience, but we were also there to learn about what the distillery was doing to lessen its environmental impact. After the excitement of the distillery itself, we sat down to learn about the distillery’s sustainability efforts. Philadelphia Distilling is now owned by Heaven Hill Distillery, a whiskey distillery based in Kentucky. Its Director of Environment and Sustainability, Rachel Nally, was gracious enough to join us for a discussion about the steps they’ve taken to lessen the impact of their work. Among their strategies are:

  • Working with loggers to sustainably source the white oak that is used for aging spirits.
  • Recirculating the cooling water from the gin distilling process to reduce how much is used in the process.
  • Sourcing materials locally as much as possible.
  • Investing in a system that will use distillation byproducts to create animal feed.

When I reached out to Aaron to follow up on our tour, I also learned that since our visit in April, Philadelphia Distilling has begun composting all organic waste through a composting service, Bennett Compost. Ideally, this will allow the distillery to downsize its current dumpster usage.

All in all, the event was quite enjoyable. Aaron and Rachel were both very welcoming and transparent with us, and I found the experience quite valuable. We cannot always control our impact on the environment, but learning about the sustainability initiatives of a company gives us an opportunity to make more educated decisions. Cheers!