Stoll and Wolfe Distillery in Lititz is not only blending whiskey, but they are also blending traditional and modern aspects of Lancaster County’s historic whiskey culture.
For those who don’t know, Lancaster County was once the epicenter of whiskey production in the United States. Before Kentucky became the hotbed for American whiskey, Lancaster, Pa. held that title.
“Michter’s Distillery, just six miles down the road here, is historic,” said Erik Wolfe, Stoll and Wolfe distiller and owner. “The National Register of Historic Places lists Michter’s Distillery as one of the five most historically significant food manufacturing companies in all of North America.”
However, even before prohibition, Lancaster started to lose its whiskey roots. People packed up and headed west and south in search of new opportunities, and religion took over and made drinking alcohol basically a sin.
Wolfe, who’s originally from Lancaster, wanted to bring that history back to the area.
Stoll and Wolfe Whiskey
Currently, Stoll and Wolfe offer three variations of whiskey. They have two ryes, one blended and one single barrel, and another American Whiskey that contains a blend of sourced whiskey.
Stoll and Wolfe Rye offers a classic take on the spirit. It’s smooth with spice throughout and features notes of butterscotch, toffee, caramel, and a hint of smokiness.
While the blended combines three to four selected barrels from a single batch, the single barrel is one particular barrel that they wanted to highlight.
“The blend is more like a chorus of flavors, while the single barrel acts like a solo to highlight one barrel that we think is especially flavorful or funky,” said Wolfe.
The current Single Barrel Rye has a bit more spice and smoke character to it than the blended. It still drinks smooth with a beautiful lingering finish of a sweet caramel note at the end. My personal favorite of the bunch.
Their third offering is a Blended American Whiskey that is comprised of 20 percent Death’s Door Whiskey from Wisconsin and 80 percent from MGP Distillery. Sourcing whiskey is a common thing in the whiskey world, especially with younger distilleries.
Stoll and Wolfe also offer a full cocktail menu made with their own spirits as well as spirits from Heritage Spirits in Lititz.
Their cocktails include a variety, from classics like Whiskey Sour and Sazerac to drinks of their own creation like the Au Courant, a vodka drink with almond syrup, black currant, and lemon juice.
Wolfe said they aren’t tied down to one style and will play around with molecular gastronomy in a few cocktails to help bridge the traditional and modern.
Along with cocktails and straight spirits, visitors can also enjoy a rotating selection of local craft beers and Pennsylvania wines.
The bar has plenty of seats to pony up to and sample their whiskey or grab a cocktail. The rest of the space has ample seating, including a leather couch that looked very comfortable. Although I was there during the day, it looks like a spot that could transport you to a cocktail lounge anywhere in the world once the sun goes down.
Reviving local history
Before venturing out to create a distillery in his hometown, Wolfe was in digital marketing in New York City but realized he wanted to do something more.
“I wanted to do something with my hands,” said Wolfe. “I wanted to touch what I was creating, and I just wasn’t getting that from my job.”
Wolfe started working in the high-paced NYC restaurant industry right when the local and farm to table fad was first gaining ground, and he said he noticed something interesting across menus.
“A lot of people were talking about Lancaster County and items labeled as Lancaster County,” said Wolfe. “I saw this, but I didn’t see the Lancaster County heart in it. People were just trading off of the name.”
Wolfe said this realization led him to look into the culinary culture of his birthplace.
“When I started looking into everything that made Lancaster County what it is, I was really surprised to learn that it was the birthplace of American whiskey,” said Wolfe.
Whiskey production in Lancaster County started as a way to preserve the grain indefinitely. If rye got wet, it would have horrible side effects like ergot mold, which was a leading cause of “witches” in Salem.
“So in the end, you had all of these farmers in especially in Warwick County, where the overshot water mill is still on our town logo, with all of this grain to distill,” said Wolfe. “So this area then became the epicenter of American whiskey.”
Starting a distillery
Wolfe and his wife, Avianna, wanted to get out of New York but didn’t know what they wanted to do.
It was on a trip back to New York while driving through Shafferstown, the former home of Michter’s, where they had the idea for a distillery.
After his research on the area’s history, he found that Dick Stoll, the former master distiller from Michter’s, still lived in the area and wasn’t working with anyone.
Stoll is a distilling legend. He was master distiller for Michter’s back in its heyday and had worked with Everett Beam of the Jim Beam Family. He’s credited with distilling A.H. Hirsch Bourbon, which sells for about $1,500 a bottle, and is one of the most sought-after bourbons ever.
“When we were planning the distillery and found out that Dick wasn’t distilling anymore, we knew we had to go and find him,” said Wolfe.
Wolfe not only wanted Stoll to be involved in the production of the whiskey, but he said it was essential for him to be a partner as well.
“I couldn’t believe I didn’t have to climb a mountain to find this Tibetan monk,” said Wolfe referring to Stoll. “I thought there would be 1,000 people waiting in front of me to work with him. Luckily there wasn’t, and thankfully he chose to continue this tradition and work with us.”
Stoll has a heavy hand in the distilling and in selecting the barrels when they source their American Whiskey.
Stoll and Wolfe distilled their very first batch in a distillery in Virginia in 2016. They use a somewhat unorthodox system where they have both a pot and column still to distill their spirits, and the Virginia distillery’s system almost mirrored theirs.
Wolfe said that this gives them the most control over the end product, and he believes better flavor in the finished product.
Once they got their license approved, they moved the barrels of whiskey to their space in Lititz to rest and age before their first bottling run.
Stoll and Wolfe officially opened their doors in October of 2017. In the future, they plan to start distilling their own gin and vodka, while continuing their whiskey production as well.