Lancaster’s Thistle Finch Distillery tries to use local ingredients when possible for its whiskeys, gin and vodka, says owner Andrew Martin. That includes rye, wheat and malted barley from Snavely’s Mill in Lititz.
“We would love to source more of our grain locally and work directly with farmers here in Lancaster,” Martin says.
But there are a few challenges. The distillery doesn’t have space to store grain at its headquarters on West Grant Street. Milling on-site would be messy. Changing ingredients also means altering a liquor’s flavor profile.
It’s also tricky to find a farmer who is local and willing to sell.
Martin answered a classified ad about rye from a farmer in Strasburg. He actually was selling rye from Canada.
Another man with a Mennonite background had milled rye, but it didn’t work out.
“They were uninterested in providing us with grain because we’re producing alcohol,” Martin says.
One product that has worked out is the Market Alley gin, with its signature ingredient of mint, which grows abundantly in Lancaster.
A few blocks away, Lancaster Distilleries in the Cinema Stillhouse started producing vodka, rum and gin in July.
Nate Boring, partner and distiller, legally could make vodka out of anything with fermentable sugar. He chose corn grown locally.
“It just made the most sense for me to use corn because we’re Lancaster County,” Boring says. “Cornfields are everywhere.”
However, buying from a farmer means he needs to buy more, compared to a food supplier, and figure out storage.
Sugar for the rum comes from Golden Barrel in Honey Brook.
And a new American-style gin is brilliant green from the addition of rose geranium grown by Eli Weaver of Lancaster Farmacy.
That’s a way to support the local economy, small businesses, agriculture and farmers. The quality’s also a bonus.
“It doesn’t get fresher than when you can go to the farm and have it the very same day it’s been harvested,” Boring says.
He also asked a farmer supplying the Stillhouse’s kitchen about local pawpaws. He’s now working on a recipe to make a pawpaw brandy with 500 pounds of foraged fruit.
And while a lot of interest at Stoll & Wolfe in Lititz has focused on the heritage grain rosen rye, the distillery uses corn and rye from Lancaster and Dauphin Counties. Next up is an apple brandy made with local apples.