Phoenixville >> Pennsylvania has been making changes to its liquor control laws over the last couple of years. How those laws are affecting the craft brewing and distilling industry was the topic of discussion in Phoenixville Wednesday.
State Rep. Warren Kampf (R-157th Dist.), a member of the Pa. House Liquor Control Committee, wanted the group to come to Phoenixville because of its vibrant craft alcohol industry. Phoenixville boasts five breweries, three wineries and one distillery in the downtown area.
The committee heard testimony from representatives from the craft brewing and distilling industry, as well as Borough Manager Jean Krack and Jessica Capistrant, president and CEO of the Phoenixville Regional Chamber of Commerce.
“The latest developments with craft brewing and distilling coming to the town are very interesting,” Kampf said.
Phoenixville carries the distinction, according to Capistrant, of being No. 1 in the state and #10 nationally for craft alcohol businesses per capita. One change to the liquor laws — known as Act 39 of 2016 and Act 166 of 2016 — allows establishments to sell brewed beverages from other licensed breweries, wineries or distilleries.
Mark Sofio, head brewer at Phoenixville’s Crowded Castle Brewing Company Inc., 242 Bridge St., said the provision has made the business more competitive.
“We have people come in and their friends may not like wine and they don’t drink beer and ask if we sell cocktails. We found that to be helpful in promoting ourselves and to bring people in,” he said.
Christian Lampe is president of the Brewers of Pennsylvania and part-owner of Weyerbacher Brewing Co. in Easton.
“Having the ability to add wine and distilled spirits into the taproom appeals to a broader group,” he said.
Jared Atkins, founder of Phoenixville’s Bluebird Distilling, 100 Bridge St., agreed.
“We can crisscross the promotions with the others. It makes a difference when that third person comes in with a different preference,” he said.
Ted Zeller, general counsel to Brewers of Pennsylvania said that when the provision went into effect, all of the organizations saw increases in sales of about 25 percent.
Crowded Castle Brewing has been open just under one year, according to Sofio. He said changes to the laws in 2015 allowed breweries to have taprooms as part of their establishments.
“At that time so many breweries were warehouses with tasting rooms on them. While it was fun to go there, it didn’t have the same feel the wineries had,” Sofio added. “In 2015 that allowed us to come to Phoenixville and put ourselves in the midst of a historic community and a great place to do business — and to create a beautiful space for people to come in and experience our product.”
Another provision that generated discussion dealt with the brewers ability to sell at festivals and farmer’s markets.
“It’s about marketing and getting people to know who you are. We go to all of them. As a brewer it is advantageous for us.” Sofio said.
Kampf asked Sofio if the mix of craft alcohol establishments in Phoenixville has been a catalyst for business or a challenge.
“We find it actually works as a catalyst — there is a bigger geographic area where we can draw people from. People can pick and choose and taste,” he said.
Atkins said Bluebird Distilling operates a tasting room and full production facility in Phoenixville, adding that the 3-year-old company has begun distributing throughout Pennsylvania, Delaware, Illinois and New Jersey.
“We opened the doors and were able to make money right away — hire personnel right away,” he said, adding that the tasting room represents about 75 percent of the company’s profit.
Atkins and Robert Cassell, co-founder/master distiller of New Liberty Distillery in Philadelphia and president of the Pennsylvania Distillers Guild, told the committee about challenges they face in getting Pennsylvania products displayed in the Pennsylvania’s Fine Wine and Good Spirits stores. Cassell said Pennsylvania-made wine and spirits don’t always receive the best placement in the stores.
Another issue mentioned by Atkins deals with the weekend hours of operation for the distillery.
“We close every night at 11. But on Friday and Saturday the breweries can be open until midnight,” he said, adding that gaining those additional two hours would allow him to hire a full-time employee. “It stinks for us to close and see the customer go somewhere else.”
Beyond comments from industry representatives, the committee wanted to hear about Phoenixville’s transformation from a former steel town to a craft alcohol destination.
Krack said that when Phoenixville’s transformation began in 2004, the focus was put on “living and play, versus the work side.”
As development began, he said there was an interest in doing festivals.
“That was the genesis of what we currently have — the feeling that this is a great place to come to and to enjoy yourself,” he said.
Krack added that Phoenixville’s transformation got a boost when the first brewery — Iron Hill — located in the downtown, followed by others.
“What we saw is they are not against each other; they work together. There’s a unique relationship. They are not threatened by each other,” he said. “The fact that the laws have changed to allow that to happen has been good for this community.”
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