It sounds simple: open a cocktail bar inside your distillery, and shake and stir your house-made spirits and others to mix up inventive cocktails. But it’s not quite that easy in some states.
Coming out of the wine industry in Pennsylvania, Adam Flatt was aware of the challenges with the state’s liquor board. So when he opened craft distillery and cocktail bar Social Still last year in Bethlehem, PA, he came equipped.
“If you come from another industry, it might seem impossible. But because of my family business, we had the tools in place to get past the challenges,” Flatt says.
Pennsylvania law prohibits any bar operated by a distillery to serve any alcoholic items that are not produced in the distillery. That includes the wines Flatt’s family makes at nearby Franklin Hill Vineyards.
So Social Still staffers create upwards of 20 spirit infusions at any given time, which are mixed with other legally permitted ingredients (read: juices and mixers) for what the bar deems its “Impenetrable Cocktails.”
“We ask our chef about flavor combinations, and we ask our staff about their favorite flavors,” says Flatt. “Sometimes we roll the dice and try something out of the blue.”
The most popular combos include the rosemary-, thyme- and cucumber-infused gin, which is mixed with fresh lime juice and simple syrup for The Herbalist cocktail ($11); the jalapeño-infused vodka, which can be mixed with pineapple juice, mint-infused syrup, lime juice and club soda for the Jalapeño Heist ($10); and hopped gin, which is shaken with grapefruit syrup and lime for The Hopper ($11).
The menu is ever-changing, based on the availability of seasonal ingredients and the whim of the bar staff.
The American-style tapas kitchen includes small plates such as the Ahi Tuna Martini ($12), tuna tartar, toasted sesame seeds, wakame salad, apples, wasabi foam and wonton chips. Large plates include a bourbon barbeque pork shank with roasted potato hash ($16) and a pan-seared Maryland-style crab cake with sweet pea risotto, lemon-dill compound butter ($22). Social Still also has a flatbread menu.
Banking on History
Social Still is housed in one of just eight buildings in the city that’s been placed on the National Historic Places Registry: an historic bank on the South Side of Bethlehem adjacent to the old Bethlehem Steel facilities.
The site was originally the Gosztonyi Savings and Trust, which helped Eastern European steelworkers settle in Bethlehem before becoming Union Bank. Steelworkers cashed their paychecks until the plant closed in 1995.
“We wanted to honor the past and repurpose the bank for the next generation,” Flatt says. To that end, the restoration preserved as much as possible—including uncovering the original ceiling, using an old safe as the host stand, and aging whiskey in a former vault.
A stool at the Social Still bar gives a front seat to the large glass jars of macerating concoctions. Just beyond a glass wall, the shiny copper stills remind guests that what’s in those jars is made on the premises.
A Smoking Scene
The distillery currently produces vodka, gin and gum, and will soon be releasing unaged rye, unaged rum, barrel-aged gin and bourbon. These offerings will give Social Still ample opportunities to play around with other boozy combinations.
The bar recently began using a culinary smoker, infusing applewood, hickory and oak flavor directly into the glass in drinks such as the Smoke & Stormy ($11). Flatt says the smoker adds an earthy flavor to cocktails and ups the “wow” factor.
Flatt views Social Still as a meshing of the Chicago vibe with Brooklyn’s hip culture. The bar’s very name is a nod to the conviviality and interaction that ensues when people enjoy a drink or two together.
And those challenges Flatt and his team faced at the onset about how to source ingredients for the shaker have proven to be the very thing that makes the concept unique. “We call our bartenders ‘chefs,’ and we are proud of how we reinvented the cocktail,” he says.
Kelly Magyarics, DWS, is a wine, spirits and lifestyle writer in the Washington, D.C. area. She can be reached through her website, www.kellymagyarics.com, or on Twitter or Instagram @kmagyarics.
Featured Photo: The bar at Social Still in Bethlehem, PA, gives guests a view of the distillery’s gleaming copper gear.