Thistle Finch distillery and Wacker Brewing Co. offer unique combination
LANCASTER >> Buying a beer and a whiskey in the same establishment is nothing new. You can order a shot and a brew at nearly any bar.
But in a nondescript building in back alley in downtown Lancaster, you can buy both a beer and a whiskey, or a mixed drink, that were made on-premises.
Thistle Finch distillery and Wacker Brewing Co. both call 417 W. Grant St. home. Andrew Martin, founder and owner of Thistle Finch, opened the distillery in late 2013, and Wacker moved in in September 2014.
While they're two separate businesses – technically, Martin is Wacker's landlord – Martin is hoping they can complement each other.
"We're hoping that their tasting room and ours play off each other and have some good synergy," he said. "You'll be able to come here and visit both businesses and sample both products."
Out of the Way
Martin, 37, had no distilling experience before opening Thistle Finch on Christmas Eve in 2013. So far, he said, business has been very good.
"We definitely have a lot of people coming out, especially on weekends to check out the tasting room, have a look at the distillery, buy bottles and try cocktails," he said.
The distillery is located in the former Walter Schnader tobacco warehouse on West Grant Street, an alley between West Orange and West King streets. Originally built in 1900, the building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990.
Martin spent about a year and a half making major renovations using wood from century-old barn that was torn down in the Lititz area.
Although the location is not necessarily ideal, Martin said the building had everything he was looking for – a loading dock, a concrete floor, a sprinkler system and some character.
"It just happens to be in a back alley, out of the way that's hard to find," he said. "We definitely get a lot of phone calls from people in the alley or on the loading dock trying to find the way in."
He started building the still about four years ago, before he even had a home for a distillery. With help from friends, he built the still in a garage using an old steam-jacketed kitchen kettle he bought from a restaurant-salvage company in Texas and copper sheets he had rolled in Lancaster metal shops.
"It's not perfect," he said. "If you look at it, you'll notice there's some dings and dents from frustration along the way, but it's definitely working and getting the job done."
Thistle Finch currently makes three spirits: unaged white rye whiskey, gin and vodka. Martin plans to eventually offer aged whiskey, but it still needs to age for more than a year.
Martin also hopes to release two flavored whiskeys this fall, a black-pepper flavored whiskey and a coffee-infused rye whiskey.
Thistle Finch's cozy tasting room offers free samples, sells whiskey by the glass and serves cocktails. Full bottles are also available for purchase.
"We got about 10 to 12 cocktails using the spirits that we make here, and we rotate those out," Martin said. "Every month we have something going off and something else coming on. It's just a way for people to get an idea of what you can do with the spirits we make, or come in and have a drink."
Thistle Finch's whiskey will soon be available in some state-run Fine Wine and Good Spirits stores in eastern Pennsylvania. Martin plans to also submit the gin and vodka for selection to state stores later this year.
A Brewing Legacy
The Wacker name was associated with brewing in Lancaster long before the small brewery that bears its name opened last year.
Wacker traces its origins to 1853, when the Sprenger family founded Eagle Brewing in Lancaster. Joseph Wacker purchased the brewery from Jacob Sprenger in 1870 and changed the name to Wacker Brewing.
The company changed hands several times over the years and survived Prohibition, but it eventually closed in 1956.
"It was originally over on Water and Walnut streets," said Michael Spychalski, head brewer and operations manager for the current incarnation of Wacker Brewing Co. "It took up a whole city block. It was a large, production brewery, one of the largest in Lancaster.
"They made everyday, working-class style beers, and we kind of do the same in homage to the brand and the area, too, because Lancaster has a huge brewing heritage," Spychalski added.
Wacker makes just two beers – Wacker Beer, a German-style pale ale, and Little Dutch Dunkel for distribution. Wacker beers can be found in several restaurants in the Lancaster area, Quip's Pub for whom Wacker brew a house beer.
Business has been great since opening in September, Spychalski said.
"We've been received really well in a lot of bars around Lancaster, and to tell you the truth, we're having some trouble keeping up with them," he said. "We're selling out every week."
Spychalski, who was a homebrewer for about nine years before starting with Wacker last year, brews on a 10-barrel brewing system that uses repurposed dairy tanks.
"We thought that would be fitting," he said. "And the steel industry can be really wasteful so we figured we might as well reuse as much as we can."
The brewery is currently open just three days a week for growler fills. However, construction is underway on a tasting room adjacent to Thistle Finch's tasting room that will not only allow for expanded operating hours, but more beers as well.
The tasting room will have six taps, so Spychalski will be able to brew other styles, one-offs and seasonals.
There will have to be some sort of separation between the two tasting areas. Martin said he is still waiting on what the state will require, but he's considering building a "standing bar" to separate the spaces so patrons can stand on either side with either a beer or a spirit.
If you go
Thistle Finch and Wacker Brewing Co. are located at 417 W. Grant St. in Lancaster, an alley between West Orange and West King streets.
Thistle Finch is open on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 6 to 10 p.m., Fridays from 6 to 11 p.m., Saturdays from 2 to 10 p.m. and Sundays from 2 to 8 p.m. The distillery does not offer tours, but most of the distillery production area is visible from the tasting room. For more information, visit www.thistlefinch.com.
Wacker Brewing Co. is open Wednesdays and Fridays 4 to 8 p.m. and Saturdays from 2 to 6 p.m. for growler fills. Hours will increase once the tasting room is open. For more information, visit wackerbrewing.com.