Erik and Avianna Wolfe are on a mission.
They are reviving a label, but they are also attempting to revive a tradition.
Later this month, the first bottles of their Bomberger’s Distillery Whiskies will become available.
The whiskey, a blend of bourbon and rye, is a revival of the Bomberger name that was attached to whiskey distilled in this area from about 1860 to at least the prohibition era that began in 1919.
The Bomberger Distillery, near Schaefferstown, Lebanon County, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. With distilling there dating to 1753, it may have been the oldest distillery in the country at the time of its closing in 1989.
“For us it became a mission of preservation and education,” said Erik Wolfe, who became interested in Pennsylvania’s distilling history and learned of his distant genealogical connection to distiller Abraham Bomberger.
Within a year, the Wolfes hope to open their own distillery in Lititz. First, they must undergo the extensive federal permitting process.
“Our goal is to preserve the local heritage and keep it local,” Erik Wolfe said, adding that he hopes to use local grain to make his whiskey.
The initial Bomberger’s Distillery Whiskies will be bottled in Lancaster by Andrew Martin’s Thistle Finch distillery.
Martin will also be selling Bomberger’s from his location, at 417 W. Grant St. He will also be making it available to area bars and restaurants.
A price for Bomberger’s has not been determined, he said.
The initial bottling will be 3,750 bottles. Most of those will go to a distributor in New York City. Between 500 and 1,000 bottles will be reserved for local distribution, Erik Wolfe said.
The initial Bomberger’s whiskey will be a blend of 75 percent 2 ½-year-old MGP Bourbon, distilled in Indiana. That bourbon is 75 percent corn whiskey, 21 percent rye and 4 percent malt. The remainder of the blend is 2-year-old McKenzie Rye Whiskey from the Finger Lakes Distillery in New York.
Erik Wolfe said the blend is approximately the kind of whiskey produced in this area in the 1800s.
The blend differs from Canadian blends, which mix corn whiskey with mineral alcohol, he said.
Guiding the Wolfes is Dick Stoll, the former master distiller of Michter’s Distillery, the successor to Bomberger’s, before the Schaefferstown facility closed.
“He knows so many things from doing this for decades, that he doesn’t even know what he knows,” Wolfe said of Stoll, who his now in his 80s.
Wolfe compared the revival of small-scale distilling with that of craft brewing.
Wolfe, now working as a brewer at JoBoy’s Brew Pub, said consumers are rediscovering the variety of beers and he believes the rediscovery of traditional distilled spirits, and their array of flavors, is not far behind.
Distilling was once a common way to use grain that would otherwise mold in storage. With the unstable currencies in colonial and early America, whiskey was used to trade for goods.
Wolfe noted that Abraham Bomberger was a Mennonite preacher when he bought the Schaefferstown distillery in 1860. There was no religious prohibition against drinking alcohol at that time, he said.
Pennsylvania was the center of distilling in the new United States, noted Wolfe. Many of the whiskey distillers that later became famous in southern states actually moved there from Pennsylvania following the Whiskey Rebellion in the 1790s, when a tax on whiskey imposed by the new federal government was opposed.
He hopes to build an awareness of both local craft distilled spirits and Pennsylvania’s place in whiskey-making history.