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Tours, tastings will be part of experience next month at Homer City distillery

| Saturday, July 19, 2014, 9:05 p.m.
Daniel Kubus | TRIB TOTAL MEDIA
Jason Gamble, an employee at Disobedient Spirits distillery, works with a mix of barley and blue corn on Thursday, July 17, 2014 in the company’s Homer City facility.

Vodka is flowing at Disobedient Spirits, a craft distillery set to open in Homer City after months of dealing with bureaucracy, protests and building renovations,.

Distillery President Bob Begg, a retired Indiana University of Pennsylvania geography professor, said he and “master distiller” Bob Sechrist, who teaches geography at IUP, plan to offer tours and tastings several times a week beginning next month.

Days and times to see the 9,000-square-foot facility at 30 S. Main St. have not been set. The pair hope to hold a grand opening in October or November.

“I think we've got enough of a buzz,” Begg said, but the pair still need federal approval of recipes and bottle labels.

At the distillery, visitors will enter a tasting room outfitted with a large bar that is illuminated by gold pendant lights. It stretches the length of the room.

Wooden stools with backs made by a craftsman in Punxsutawney line the bar, and there are several high-top wooden tables etched with the distillery's logo.

Once through the tasting room, visitors will watch a presentation in a classroom-type space about distilling and the history of Disobedient Spirits. Photos of historical figures who were considered “disobedient,” including Ghandi, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, will adorn the walls, Begg said.

From there, tourists will go see the distilling process, from pumping distilled water into a vat of mash to transferring the mixture to fermentation tanks and eventually running it through a 50-gallon steel and copper column still.

Tasters will be able to sample three, half-ounce pours of flavored vodkas. Though bottles of Disobedient Spirits' product are not yet for sale, there are T-shirts, flasks, drink mixers and other items available to purchase.

Begg said tastings were offered last Sunday during the annual Hoodlebug Summerfest, and several hundred people stopped in to try teaberry, orange, maple, oak, blue corn and hop-infused vodkas.

“I'm more optimistic than I was before Sunday,” Begg said. “We're getting closer.”

“I've always been optimistic,” Sechrist said.

Women tended to favor the maple and teaberry flavors, but a few liked the orange, Begg said.

Sechrist said the distillery is experimenting with flavors to see what works. Ultimately, they'd like to produce two product lines: a higher-end set of triple-distilled vodkas made without sugar — “which is absolutely the best,” Begg said — and a less-expensive “house line” of products made from bulk alcohol that the distillery purchases, redistills and filters.

“I hope some local bars will pick that up as their house vodka,” Begg said.

Once the vodka recipe is perfected, they'll start putting some aside to turn into whiskey, which needs to age for at least three years, Begg said.

The distillery has been two years in the making. The professors incorporated in August 2012, Sechrist said.

Last spring, the business faced opposition from nearby Homer City United Methodist Church, which hosts meetings for Celebrate Recovery, a 12-step program to help people overcome substance abuse, addictions and other challenges.

Church members protested the distillery's name, hours and location, but borough officials granted the zoning and other approvals needed last year.

Since then, Begg and Sechrist have purchased and renovated the former Runzo grocery store, which housed a flea market for more than a decade.

About 4,400 square feet on the left side of the building is sectioned off for leasing, Begg said.

Craft distilleries have been opening rapidly across the country.

Thirty-four limited distillery licenses have been issued in Pennsylvania, with 20 being active, according to the state Liquor Control Board. The $1,500 license allows companies to produce as much as 100,000 gallons of liquor a year and sell their products on their premises, not just in state wine and spirits stores.

Nationally, craft distilleries have more than quintupled since 2003, according to the American Distilling Institute. Membership has grown from 69 members to more than 450 members.

Kari Andren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2856 or kandren@tribweb.com.

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