On Penn Avenue in the Strip District, nestled between Mon Amiee Chocolate and Mery’s Gifts and Crafts, is a storefront that’s rapidly transforming into Pennsylvania’s first privately-owned liquor store.
Pennsylvania Libations is a process nearly two years in the making. Owner Christian Simmons has been working as a broker for different Pennsylvania spirit companies for several years, and in mid-2015 he started seriously considering making a physical store for alcohol manufacturers based in Pennsylvania.
As a small business owner himself (he co-founded Four Seasons Brewing in 2013), Simmons understood that opening a store, or even paying a representative to travel around the state for any of these craft liquor companies is often cost-prohibitive for these small brands. This is why he became the champion of putting them all under one roof.
“Pennsylvania Libations is the base ground for small businesses around Pennsylvania that are in the alcohol industry,” says Simmons. “It is a place where they can know their products are being cared for and represented correctly. It’s an incubator, but it also gives the public the opportunity to taste these products. It would take anyone a week and probably over 1,000 miles to drive around PA and visit all these places. ”
Simmons got his start in the alcohol industry when he moved out to Oregon to snowboard, and worked at Deschutes Brewery, where he fell in love with brewing.
When he returned to Pennsylvania, a lucky coincidence led to Four Seasons Brewing.
“Years passed, and I ran into one of my old friends at a gas station. He was home brewing and needed ice. He invited me over, and from that point forward I home brewed with him for years. One day we decided to start a brewery, and 22 months later we opened a brewery.”
After a year and half at Four Seasons, Simmons and his partner drifted, and he removed himself from day-to-day operations at the brewery. This is when he began representing different liquor companies in the state.
After adding more accounts and spirit companies to his portfolio, Simmons began asking questions and seeing if one physical location could be possible. What followed was much legal legwork, and negotiation with different brands.
Pennsylvania Libations is now set to open in March of 2017, but it will be more than just a state store.
“Anything to do with alcohol, as long as it is legal, we will do it,” says Simmons
The store will be a retail shop, but is also a place where consumers can come in and educate themselves. Patrons can sample something if they are intrigued, and if they really want personal attention, that is an option too.
“We will be setting up appointment times on our website, so if you want personal attention or to taste more than one or two products, you can book that online.”
In addition, the shop will be offering consultations for restaurants and bars. Pennsylvania Libations plans on working with bartenders and restaurants to help educate their staff if they want to become more cocktail-centered. Some of the most renowned bartenders in Pittsburgh will be offering their services, and working retail. They will assist restaurants and bars in designing cocktail menus, training staff to create the drinks, and looking professional while doing it.
These services will also extend to weddings, corporate events, bachelor parties, or “whatever,” says Simmons. “If people want us to help them, we will do a private tasting, pick what alcohol they want, build a cocktail list, and then be their bartenders. “
The store will launch by featuring around 25 manufactures, with over 200 wines, spirits, ciders, and meads available. Boyd & Blair, Pittsburgh Winery, Rowhouse Spirits, Thistle Finch, Maggie’s Farm Rum, and Arsenal Cider are just some of the brands set to be sold in the store.
For opening updates, follow the shop’s progress online.
Pennsylvania Libations (2103 Penn Avenue)
Madeline Quigley is a writer living in Pittsburgh. She runs the travel and adventure website The Gal-Ivanter.