In the historic area of the Strip District, history is being made again with the first spirits store not exclusively run by the State of Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Libations is doing something that until recently seemed like a pipe dream to most Pennsylvanians: a boutique-style shop for PA spirits selling outside the Wine & Spirits state store.
“It was difficult. It’s never been done before,” says Christian Simmons, owner & founder of Pennsylvania Libations.
For Christian, it’s not about a battle against the state. It’s an effort to introduce local spirits to the public. The store, he hopes, will help to close the gap that exists between local craft distillers and the customers they want to reach.
“Nobody is calling for local products in bars and restaurants. The brand equity [for small local brands] just isn’t there. People told me “You’re going to fight the rest of your life selling local”.
Getting locally-made spirits in front of customers is a struggle for independent distilleries when their competition are huge name brands with vast corporate marketing. By providing a venue for local distilleries to showcase their products, Christian hopes to introduce Pennsylvanians into the world of craft spirits. One they otherwise may have overlooked. And how does Libations aim to accomplish that? By letting customers try these local brands before they make a purchase.
“The best way to build brand equity [for local producers] was to open a store. Because you can try before you buy. Sampling is what brings people in. Our goal is to encourage people to try the products. If they go and see that product in the state store, they will know what it tastes like. It benefits everyone–the distillers, the business, and the state.”
Their focus is just as much on helping to educate customers about their products as it is about sampling them. Pennsylvania Libations staff members boast experienced resumes behind the bar and are clearly passionate about their craft.
“From the water, to the farmers, to the agriculture, processing, to distilling… We know everything. There are 130 years of industry experience among all our employees.”
Libations also looks to introduce bars and restaurants into the local spirits scene, and encourage them to provide PA craft options to their customers.
“When a bar or restaurant works with us we don’t just sell a product. We do training and cocktail programming for no cost as long as they buy the product. [For a distillery to succeed] their products have to be great, branding has to be great… They need to supply a product that is undeniably good, and worth selling in stores, as well as bars and restaurants.”
Their selection of PA spirits is impressive, including distillers like Boyd & Blair, Big Spring, Maggie’s Farm, Ridge Runner, and Thistle Finch, among more. Christian looks forward to adding more distilleries to the Libations family.
“We’re open to working with anyone. But right now, we’re limited by space.”
Christian plans to change that in the near future, eyeing Philadelphia as their next location.
“It’ll be two central hubs: Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, and we will be able to exchange business and products between the two hubs. In Philly, we can do wines, ciders, and meads. And we want to expand in Pittsburgh to do the same.”
Pennsylvania Libation’s mission is all about growth and helping PA distilling brands reach their full potential. As the craft scene continues to develop in Pennsylvania, Christian looks forward to bringing these distillers together and introducing them to a bigger public market.
“As I grow, they grow. Everybody grows together.”