One of the smartest changes to Pennsylvania's challenging liquor laws in recent years was the decision to extend the right to craft distilleries (as well as wineries and breweries) to open satellite tasting rooms beyond their production facilities. And aside from their own spirits, they are permitted to pour wine, beer, and ciders – as long as they were made in Pennsylvania. This has allowed some of the fine beverage artisans from beyond the city limits to finally gain a foothold in Philadelphians' cups and reinforcing a regional identity to what we sip, as well as what we eat. Bluebird Distilling brought a taste of its Phoenixville spirits this year to Liberty Place. Chambersburg's Roy Pitz brought its sour beers to a barrel-aging room on Spring Garden Street. Manatawny Still Works from Pottstown is the latest to make a Philadelphia landing, in a compact but inviting bar on East Passyunk Avenue just south of the Singing Fountain.
It's an intriguing spotlight for a distiller that's grown by leaps and bounds since it opened across from the Sly Fox Brewery in 2013. What its spirits might lack in complexity, compared to some other distillers, they make up for in creative treatments, like a gin aged in tequila barrels, or, even more impressive, its series of small-batch whiskies. These one-off bottles change with every issue, and Batch14 is especially smooth — because it's blended with local honey from Swarmbustin' Honey. What I like most about this spirit is that it's not too sweet (unlike some treacly mass-produced competitors), which makes for a perfect balance of the spicy, oak, and cinnamon notes of its Keystone whiskey (made from malt, wheat, oats, and rye), and a kiss of Chester County buckwheat honey so dark and earthy, and also a touch funky, that it almost looks and smells like molasses. This was bottled as a limited edition, and the supply is expected to last only a few weeks. If ever there was a good new reason to visit East Passyunk Avenue and check out Manatawny's new Philly digs, this is it.
Batch14 Honey Whiskey, $44.99 750 ml bottle, Manatawny Craft Spirits Shop & Tasting Room, 1603 East Passyunk Ave., 267-519-2917.