Boutique moonshine distilleries pop up — and North Huntingdon has one
With flavors like pumpkin pie, birthday cake, chocolate-covered strawberries, and root beer float, tastings at North Huntingdon's new Country Hammer Moonshine Distillery sound like heaven for dessert lovers.
Careful, though. Those little shots of sweetness — among 50 flavors total — carry a bit of a kick. In some cases, the kick is over 100 proof, or 50 percent alcohol.
A boutique moonshine distillery, Country Hammer first set up shop with its Allegheny County location in Bethel Park.
The new business, around the back of 7770 Route 30 at South Thompson Lane, opened on Oct. 4 and offers more than 20 rotating flavors, including Long Island Iced Tea and Chai Tea.
"I feel that I have something special," says Tim Baureis, 47, president/founder.
The Jefferson Hills resident hopes to open additional sites in Cranberry and Moon by spring.
A former sous chef, and roller hockey referee, Baureis became interested in making moonshine while living in the Farmington area of the Laurel Highlands for several years.
"When I lived up in the mountains, they all (made moonshine). I thought, 'I can do this better.' ... I had a huge following when I did it as a hobby," he says. "(North Huntingdon) is an up and coming area. It was a no-brainer."
GOING INTO THE 'SHINE BUSINESS
Getting established was a two-year process, Baureis says, as he worked with an attorney and obtained state and federal liquor licenses.
"I'm called a limited distillery," he says.
That designation allows him to produce up to 100,000 gallons a year.
Distilleries are not new to the region, and seem to be gaining in popularity.
Ridge Runner Distillery in Chalk Hill, Fayette County, and Tall Pines Distillery in Salisbury, Somerset County, have for several years included numerous flavors of moonshine in their inventory.
The American Craft Spirits Association is holding its "Bridging the Future" distillers' convention and vendor trade show on March 5 and 6 at the Wyndham Grand in Pittsburgh.
Baureis introduces his moonshine at farmers markets and special events, using word of mouth to attract purchasers.
"People try it, then come buy a jar," he says.
Baureis says the product is made in an Allegheny County warehouse, where he combines corn, yeast, water and sugar — the more sugar, the smoother, he says — in a commercial still, producing 12 to 14 gallons a batch.
He then adds flavorings to five-gallon batches.
"It's like an assembly line. ... The base is like making a cake," he says.
Baureis employs about 15 at his several locations. Offering so many flavors helps him compete, he says.
He sells his moonshine in several sizes, including "two-shot" mini jars and special containers for holidays — Easter egg cartons, Halloween coffins and treat pails. He'll have Christmas flavors like candy cane and gingerbread, and the new site offers snacks, salads, dips, mixed drinks and moonshine shakes.
He hopes to book wedding rehearsals, work parties and social events at the site, which can seat up to 50.
Gina C. Lynn, executive director of the Greater Rostraver Chamber of Commerce, says she is both a customer of Baureis' and a professional supporter of his business plan.
"He's been a member with us since he opened his Bethel Park store. When he opened up his North Huntingdon store, he reached out and asked if we would do the grand opening," she says.
Congrats Country Hammer Moonshine on the opening of your 2nd location! RT. 30 N. Huntingdon. pic.twitter.com/2qe0c59H5w— Gr Rostraver Chamber (@GRCOC_1) October 7, 2017
"I think he has a great product. I've seen him at so many farmers markets and events. I've introduced people to the product, female friends. We've totally embraced it," Lynn says.
She believes his variety of flavors, and using them in mixed drinks, appeals to customers.
"His root beer is root beer. His watermelon is watermelon. His flavoring is spot-on," she says.
"I think he will develop quite a following with it with people who frequent different places, looking for something unique. I'm really captivated, as a chamber of commerce director, in how he markets the product, packages the product, and that new demographic he's bringing into the product," Lynn says.
Baureis used to make his moonshine for people looking for a little bottled warmth on hunting and fishing trips.
"Now, it's mostly women, 35 and up," he says.
They like the flavors and packaging, Baureis says, often stocking up for entertaining or gift-giving.
"This is truly a speciality product. You buy a jar, you go tailgating, camping, to a block party, Christmas party. Senior citizens buy this for their kids and grandkids," he says.
People still stop in and ask "Is this legal?" and "Is this real?" Baureis says.
"People are snake bit when they come in here," he says.
They may be thinking of the stereotype of moonshine, or have sampled less smooth versions.
"You still get the burn — the good burn — going down the throat," Baureis says.
He offers free samplings, and suggests ways to mix the product to make cocktails or dessert drinks.
"I'm so confident in my product, you try it, you buy it," Baureis says.
Mary Pickels is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-836-5401 or firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @MaryPickels.