Kindred spirits launch Red Brick whiskey distillery in Kensington [video]

Kensington’s newest craft distillery has just brewed its first commercial batch of whiskey and hopes to introduce Philadelphia’s drinkers to the process of making spirits.

Over the course of November, Brian Forrest and Zach Cohen, co-owners of Red Brick Craft Distillery brewed, distilled and barreled their first commercial batch of whiskey for aging. Their single-malt, single-barrel, signature drink will be available in about six to nine months.

Opening and operating the distillery have constituted a journey for Red Brick’s owners — birthed from a love of drinking spirits and a love of any and all things local, said Cohen. And Kensington was the ideal location for a distillery, since many of the old factory buildings are still zoned for industrial use.

Red Brick’s operations are split into three sections, all housed in the basement of a warehouse on 2600 Martha St.: the distilling room; the aging room; and the tasting room that’s open to the public on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. It offers a unique opportunity to observe the distillery’s whiskey-making process for visitors who are separated only by a wall of recycled-glass windows.

Watching the process makes Red Brick more than just a drink to people, Cohen said.

“It’s an experience that people can really feel connected to. Watching people enjoy the flavor, that’s rewarding, but more than that, I think we have an opportunity to share the knowledge we have about how whiskey is made.”

By the time Red Brick’s whiskey is ready for bottling, the chocolaty, smoky spirit will register a whopping 96 proof. It’s dwarfed only by the Red Brick Simple Shine, which comes in at a chart-topping 110 proof. The distillers recommend using this sugar-wash rum for cocktail mixes.

But back to the whiskey at hand.

For making whiskey, the main ingredient is barley. And Red Brick chooses a 100 percent malted barley, very carefully, sourcing it from Deer Creek Malthouse, right in Glen Mills, Delaware County.

It’s then brewed and spends about two weeks fermenting before undergoing two distillations. After that, it’s aged in white oak bourbon barrels.

When the process is finished, Forrest and Cohen ship off the used grain to Saul Agricultural, a high school in Roxborough, where it’s composted or used as feed for cattle.

“We live around here, and we’re mostly interested in selling to people around here,” said Forrest, who’s hoping to take the business as far as a second location in the neighborhood with about 10 employees.

Forrest, a carpenter by trade, was surprised by the initial feedback he received from their first tasters. He wondered if the process wasn’t really that complicated at all. But after repeating and refining, he can now look back and recognize that a little luck was definitely involved.

“It wasn’t until people started asking and giving us all this positive feedback that we really began to believe that this is happening,” said Cohen, a doctoral student of clinical psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.

Red Brick is not the only distiller in the area. Rowhouse Spirits and New Liberty Distillery/Millstone Spirits Group are less than a mile away from Red Brick.

Citing the Kentucky Bourbon Trail as inspiration, Forrest and Cohen are hoping to one day organize a “distillers trail” in the neighborhood. They hope that by working together, Kensington’s distilleries could make Philadelphia a destination for tasting spirits.

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