Good Life

Eats & Drinks | Spirits spring to life at Bellefonte distillery

Visitors sample distilled spirits at Big Spring Spirits in Bellefonte during the Aug. 10 meeting of the local American Culinary Federation Southern Alleghenies chapter.
Visitors sample distilled spirits at Big Spring Spirits in Bellefonte during the Aug. 10 meeting of the local American Culinary Federation Southern Alleghenies chapter. Photo provided

There are jobs that are work, and there are jobs that are play. Spreading hot asphalt on roads, installing powerlines and providing the subterranean infrastructure for the high-rise going up at Atherton Street and College Avenue all qualify as “hard work” jobs.

Kevin Lloyd, co-owner and production manager at Big Spring Spirits in Bellefonte, is a professional whiz kid who is at ease discussing the intricacies of stills and blending tanks.

The former co-owner of Exygen Research, Lloyd is in his element where he is today, masterminding the transformation of “Pennsylvania’s Best Tasting Water” into distilled spirits and having fun while he does it.

With all his responsibilities, logistics and engineering challenges, his job is more aligned in the “fun” spectrum.

The Aug. 10 meeting of the local American Culinary Federation Southern Alleghenies chapter held at Big Spring Spirits in Bellefonte was a great opportunity to see men and women at work and at play. The culinary professionals had a deep appreciation for taking a few simple ingredients — like water and rye or water and corn — and creating something magical with them — like whiskey.

Kevin Lloyd toured the group of 15 through the distillery, explaining each step of the process.

The gleaming fermentation and holding tanks were in operation, and the still, perched like a copper onion dome, sported a fleece warm up to help control the temperature courtesy of “Mom,” as Lloyd referred to co-owner Paula Cipar, another person who knows how to make work fun. The distillery currently produces vodka, white corn whiskey, gin, rum, coconut rum and spiced rum as well as rye and wheat whiskey.

The first distillery in the country to earn LEED certification, Big Spring is proud of being a sustainable business model. This is especially noteworthy because the re-purposed, historic Match Factory Building required certification for three different building occupancies. H-3, or High Hazard, covers the ethanol production area with its busy still and blending tanks, all encapsulated behind a 2-hour fire wall. F-1, for Factory and Industrial, covers the manufacturing, storage and bottling area while A-1, of Assembly, relates to the elegantly furnished tasting room with bar and tables for casual sipping and comparing.

Who wouldn’t want to work, or play, in a space that could explode, to put a lid on what you create, and then hang out in a tasting room evaluating its merits?

The menu at Big Spring is primarily limited to charcuterie, though they also partner with The Blonde Bistro in Bellefonte to offer dinners delivered to the distillery on Friday and Saturday evenings. On Thursdays there is a cheese fondue for two special, but the ACF members were not concerned too much about food the night they were there. A battery of small beakers lined the bar when the tour was over and Lloyd delivered the thirsty group to Lucy Roger’s capable hands to lead the sampling. Rogers is the tasting room manager and always on-hand to answer questions relating to the transformation that they accomplish every day. Another critical member of the team is Phil Jensen, the man with the palate and title of Head Distiller. Both team members know how to make their work fun.

Jennifer Hesssert, the office manager at Tait Farm also presented at the meeting that night, with samples of the Original Shrub line. The fruit flavors blend well with the various spirits and create a large number of flavor variations for craft cocktails.

Production at Big Spring Spirits is growing exponentially since Big Springs Vodka was recently listed with the PLCB and all the stores in the commonwealth will be required to stock it. This Big Spring team is poised for that gargantuan leap. More fun in store for all the players!

The next meeting of the Southern Alleghenies Chapter of the American Culinary Federation will take place Sept.14 and the location and time will be posted on their Facebook page, www.facebook.com/southernalleghenychefs. You can also contact Chapter President Zach Lorber for more information at zml2@psu.edu. Meetings are open to any culinary professional or food enthusiast who would like to network with other interested food-centric people and are usually held the second Monday of each month from 7-8 p.m.

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