"Are you ready for some moonshine?" yelled Bill Mathias from behind the tasting counter as two women stepped into the former machine shop that now houses Old Republic Distillery.
Believed to be the first distillery in York County since Prohibition, the dream of Mathias and his sister, Denise Mathias, opened his past weekend in Seven Valleys, coinciding with the first weekend of the 8th Annual Tour de Tanks.
"It's something different," Alicia Shimko, of Lititz, said. Shimko was with a group and Old Republic Distillery was their sixth stop on the tour. "When you walk into a liquor store you see all the shelves and wonder, am I going to like this?"
The tasting room at the distillery takes the guessing out of the equations, Shimko said. It is also small which most members of her group preferred.
"The smaller, family kind of places give you a better experience. They're more passionate," Shimko said.
Bill and Denise, both graduates of Spring Grove Area School District who live in West Manchester Township and York Township respectively, created a business with a personal focus.
"The heart of it is to promote local," Denise Mathias said.
From the production to the label, local plays a role. The distillery uses local fruit and the plan is to pair with area farmers to eventually create a product that is from seed to bottle a York County product.
The distillery currently offers three fruit liqueurs, all 55 proof, with plans to expand into vodkas, ryes and single malts, according to Denise Mathias. Apple Pie Moonshine, Blueberry Apple Pie Moonshine and Love Potion, are available by the bottle.
Bill Mathias said he has about six more recipes he plans to submit for approval and expects to be able to produce at least two of them by the fall.
"From York County soil and seed, all the way to producing a whiskey or different product, that would really make me so proud," Bill Mathias said.
The labels, designed by Denise Mathias, each tell a local story. The Apple Pie Moonshine tells the story of York as the first capital of the nation. The Blueberry Apple Pie Moonshine is dedicated to their uncle, John Calvin Reils, a York native who died in World War II only a few days before the war ended.
Reils is not the only veteran in the family and the duo plan to create a veteran wall in the tasting room for their family members who have served. The label for Love Potion, a strawberry and blueberry combination created by Bill Mathias, tells the story of how their grandparents met and fell in love.
For future bottles, they will tap other local tales. Possibilities include the burning of the Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge by Union troops to prevent the advance of the Confederates during the Civil War, or Marquis de Lafayette's visit to York during the Revolutionary War.
"We'll probably be doing a lot of research to get the stories about York that some natives don't even know," Denise Mathias said.
Even the distillery's name takes a page from history, according to Bill, who said York has a deeper, richer whiskey history than Kentucky or Tennessee. It was York County rye farmers who used their remaining rye to make whiskey they sold off the docks in Baltimore, Md. And it was those farmers who traveled to Kentucky and took their recipes with them, Bill Mathias said.
Prior to the Revolutionary War there was a distillery located near the Pennsylvania-Maryland border, its location no longer known, that provided whiskey to the Continental Congress. The whiskey it produced was used to pay the fledgling country's military and it was known as the New Republic Distillery.
"When the British found out about it, they burned it down. And that made us so mad we kicked the British' butts," Bill Mathias joked.
Also of interest:The the Tour de Tanks