Distillery built in 1700s could start production again after law change

DILLSBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Pennsylvania has a rich history of distilling dating back centuries.

A York County group wants to revive that history, and a recent change in the law just might let them.

From the old tools on the wall to a copper still from the early 1800s, the distillery at Dills Tavern and Plantation screams history.

The people who run it know all about it.

“This is a masonry still,” Sam Mckinney said Tuesday, motioning to what’s essentially a wood-burning brick oven. “And this is the kind of still that was built in the 18th century.”

McKinney is a member of the Northern York County Historical and Preservation Society.

The earliest mention the group can find of whiskey-makers on this Dillsburg property is 1750; that’s nearly 50 years before George Washington started distilling at Mount Vernon.

“We have real extensive records of how the production was carried on here, the types of grains that they used,” McKinney said.

When the Dillsburg property changed hands in 1800, new owners the Eichelberger family ramped up rye whiskey production, hitting nearly 10,000 gallons around 1814. The family kept distilling and taking their liquor to Baltimore to sell up until the 1830s, when production stopped.

The historical society is rebuilding the distillery because they might finally be able to make alcohol there again.

“What we’re trying to do is tell that part of Pennsylvania’s history,” said Mike Lintal, NYCHAPS’s executive director.

Up until last month, historic distillery licenses cost more than $5,000 (the same fee for a full-scale distillery), more than three times the price for a limited distillery, which typically makes more liquor than NYCHAPS wants to.

The organization contacted Rep. Mike Regan about it, and he agreed the pricing made no sense.

Historic licenses were “arbitrarily” among the highest fees, Regan said Tuesday, and it was damaging to the “slice of Americana” the Dills Tavern and Plantation represents.

So, he wrote up a bill to change the fee structure. Gov. Tom Wolf signed the bill in February, so now it costs $1,200 for a historic license.

NYCHAPS is hoping to be the first historic distillery in the state.

“We merely want to be able to make just enough — less than 120 gallons a year, actually — to have a little something at the end of the tour,” Lintal said.

The group spent a few minutes Tuesday night discussing plans with the borough council.

“The main thing that we are really doing is building community,” Lintal told the council.

The society told borough leaders that legally making liquor the way the earliest distillers did is part of Pennsylvania’s story.

Back at the former and future distillery, McKinney said it’ll probably take time to fine-tune the process, but he can’t wait for that first sip.

“Oh my gosh, it’s been two years. It’s going to be amazing. It’ll be a real thrill to be able to finally say, ‘Yes, we have our license!'”

NYCHAPS thinks it could take anywhere from a few months to over a year to get that license to start distilling again.


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